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A behavioural comparison of New Zealand White rabbits ( Oryctolagus cuniculus ) housed individually or in pairs in conventional laboratory cages

By L. R. Chu, J. P. Garner, J. A. Mench

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Abstract

Despite their gregarious nature, rabbits used for research are often housed individually due to concerns about aggression and disease transmission. However, conventional laboratory cages restrict movement, and rabbits housed singly in these cages often perform abnormal behaviours, an indication of compromised welfare. Pairing rabbits in double-sized cages could potentially improve welfare by providing both increased space and social stimulation. We compared the behaviour of female New Zealand White rabbits Oryctolagus cuniculus housed either individually (n=4) in cages measuring 61 cm x 76 cm x 41 cm or in non-littermate pairs (four pairs) in double-wide cages measuring 122 cm x 76 cm x 41 cm. The rabbits were kept under a reversed photoperiod (lights on 22.00-12.00 h). Each rabbit was observed five times per week for 5 months, using 15-min focal animal samples taken between 08.00-09.00, 12.00-13.00, and 16.00-17.00 h. Data were analysed using a repeated measures General Linear Model (GLM). Over the 5 months, individually housed rabbits showed an increase in the proportion of the total behavioural time budget spent engaged in abnormal behaviours (digging, floor chewing, bar biting), from 0.25 to 1.77

Date 2004
Publication Title Applied Animal Behaviour Science
Volume 85
Issue 1/2
Pages 121-139
ISBN/ISSN 0168-1591
DOI 10.1016/j.applanim.2003.09.011
Language English
Author Address Department of Animal Science, University of California, One Shields Avenue, Davis, CA 95616, USA.jamench@ucdavis.edu
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Tags
  1. Abnormal behavior
  2. Animal behavior
  3. Animal housing
  4. Animal husbandry
  5. Animal rights
  6. Animal roles
  7. Animal welfare
  8. Behavior and behavior mechanisms
  9. Deviant behavior
  10. Laboratory and experimental animals
  11. Laboratory animal science
  12. Lagomorpha
  13. Leporidae
  14. Mammals
  15. rabbits
  16. Social behavior