The effect of environmental enrichment on the behaviour of caged rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus)

  • Berthelsen H
  • Hansen L
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Abstract

Behaviour and use of the cage area were studied in 96 rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus) kept in an enriched cage system — with access to shelter and raised height at the back of the cage — and in a conventional cage system to estimate the effects of the environmental enrichment on the rabbits' welfare. The rabbits' behaviour and placement in the cage were observed, using continuous video recording through 24 h and direct scan sampling during the daytime. In addition, an open-field test was carried out with each rabbit, and after every single test, the rabbits' timidity of being captured was recorded. Rabbits kept in the conventional cage system, especially the females, showed more restlessness, excessive grooming, bar-gnawing and timidity than rabbits kept in the enriched cage system. This indicates increased stress in the rabbits kept in the conventional cage system. All the rabbits performed most of the active behavioural elements in the daytime and were resting mostly at night that shows that the rabbits in both cage systems were adapted to the daily activity in the animal unit; the enrichment had no effect on the daytime activity. Only a few rabbits, particularly the females, used the box as a shelter or resting-place. On the other hand, they more often used the roof of the box as a look-out or resting-place. Furthermore, the rabbits' behaviour showed that they utilised the raised height in the enriched cage system. These results indicate that rabbits kept in an enriched cage system, particularly the females, had better welfare than rabbits kept in a conventional cage system because they had access to shelter and a better chance of interacting with the environment.

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Authors

  • H Berthelsen

  • L.T Hansen

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