Rabbits behavioural response to climatic and managerial conditions – a review
Abstract. The domestic rabbit is deprived of the protection of burrows and of a social hierarchy and live in a limited space which is a fraction of a metre of a hard sanitized space, removed from odours, markers and social interaction. Hot climate was the main cause for abnormal maternal and sexual behaviour. Exposure to high ambient temperature induces rabbits to try to balance their excessive heat load by using different means. The doe that was capable to produce 10 litters a year may give only 4 to 5 litters in hot climate Noise in rabitries causes adverse effects including nervous and behavioural abnormalities and can cause a startled response and traumatic injuries to limbs and back. Particularly, most concern about noise effects has traditionally focused on impairment of reproductive and maternal behaviours, although few controlled studies have been done to support the observations of animal caretakers that noise inhibits production. Moon phases are one of the main causes of abnormal sexual behaviour in females. Crowdness causes that rabbits become aggressive and bite one another during the first few days of nest sharing, while successive litters live together. Keeping rabbits singly in cages is not compatible with the demand of housing with respect to animal welfare, since the singly caged rabbit is exposed to natural external stimulus, has no social contact and has no conditions for suitable locomotion. This may be the reason in that caged rabbits show nervous behaviour and altered forms of movement and low relaxed resting-behaviour, that may be due to the narrowness of the cage and the wire floor. Social deprivation in rabbits interferes with the development of normal adult behaviours. However, among group-housed rabbits, survival at weaning was estimated to be 39% instead of 87% in individual cages. The behaviour and welfare of caged rabbit can be positively affected with repeated handling by familiar people. Minimal handling reduces timidity, particularly when performed during the first week of post-natal life. Higher growth rate and higher activity levels were recorded in rabbits handled daily for 10 minutes from 10 days to 10 weeks of age. Abuse and pushing the animals hard because of the method of production are cases in which the animals do not get optimal facilities necessary to fulfill their behavioural (ethological) needs.