In a laboratory setting, it is important to provide housing that allows expression in a wide range of species-typical behaviors while also meeting the goals of the researcher. Substandard housing can lead to aggression, stereotypes, and anxiety. Understanding the animal’s natural behavior enables us to build quality environments that meet physical, behavioral, and social needs. Proper design is critical for improved health and welfare, both of which impact scientific validity.
Making changes to current housing standards can be challenging especially since facilities may be at very different levels of current housing. Work from where you are currently to make improvements. Also keep in mind that some of the recommendations below (e.g., providing increased exercise space to rabbits) can change some specific experimental models.
Before implementing housing changes, be sure to consult the relevant scientific literature and consider the requirements of your scientific model. Each facility may require an individual approach to increasing housing standards as much as possible.
Key Natural Behaviors of Rabbits
- Highly social with strong dominance hierarchies
- Crepuscular/Nocturnal (Though can be diurnal in the laboratory. (Jilge, 1991))
- Nesting for breeding does
- Stable social housing
- Pen housing
- Raised area or shelves
- Straw, hay, chew sticks, cardboard boxes
- Shelter from intense light
- Rotating, novel enrichment schedule
- Behavioral management
- Background noise
- Positive handling: early contact, full support while carrying, positive reinforcement training, etc.
- Nest boxes for does
- Larger exercise areas, especially for males
- Social housing
- Video: How to lift a rabbit & Video: How to restrain a rabbit
- Bradbury and Dickens. 2016. Appropriate handling of pet rabbits: a literature review. Journal of Small Animal Practice.
- Oxley et al. 2018. A Survey of Rabbit Handling Methods Within the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland. Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science.
- Blood Sampling