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Physical contact while handling is not necessary to reduce fearfulness in the rabbit

By A. Ducs, A. Bilko, V. Altbacker

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Rabbits handled around nursing time during the first week after birth show reduced fear response toward humans. Our earlier attempt to reduce the duration of daily treatment necessary to achieve this effect showed that even a minimal human contact, characteristic of animal caretaking in intensive rabbitries, results in reduced fearfulness. Being descendants of a nocturnal mammal species, olfactory cues are of central importance in rabbits, especially just after parturition, when the other sensory organs are undeveloped. In the present experiment, we investigated whether exposing newborn rabbit pups to human smell at nursing time is sufficient to reduce fear of humans in rabbits. For this, we exposed rabbit pups to one of the following handling treatments in the first week of life: (1) full handling, within 0.5 h after nursing, which consisted of removing the pups from the nest and weighing them (about 5 min/litter), (2) exposing rabbit pups to the smell of humans for about 5 min/litter, without touching them, (3) untreated controls. At 28 days of age, the timidity of the pups was measured in a 5 min approach test. Pups that were either handled or exposed to human smell appeared to be equally less fearful as they approached the experimenter's hand with a lower latency and more frequently than untreated controls. This indicates that olfactory exposure during handling results in imprinting even without a human contact in rabbits.

Date 2009
Publication Title Applied Animal Behaviour Science
Volume 121
Issue 1
Pages 51-54
ISBN/ISSN 0168-1591
DOI 10.1016/j.applanim.2009.07.005
Language English
Author Address Department of Ethology, Eotvos Lorand University, 2131 God, Javorka S. u. 14, Hungary.
Cite this work

Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  1. Animal behavior
  2. Animal reproduction
  3. Behavior and behavior mechanisms
  4. Birth
  5. Cleaning
  6. Fear
  7. Handling
  8. Imprinting
  9. Lagomorpha
  10. Latency
  11. Leporidae
  12. Mammals
  13. newborn animals
  14. odors
  15. olfaction
  16. peer-reviewed
  17. Primates
  18. rabbits
  19. stimulation
  20. young animals
  1. peer-reviewed