Alternative and enriched housing systems for breeding does: a review

ZS. Szendrő, J.I. McNitt, ZS. Matics, A. Mikó, ZS. Gerencsér


The main results and observations on group and individually housed rabbit does were reviewed by Szendrő and McNitt in 2012, but in recent years several new papers in this field have been published. This provides a new opportunity to summarise the current knowledge on alternative housing systems for breeding does. In Switzerland, rabbit does are generally housed in group systems. The recently legislated Belgian and Dutch housing systems will be converted step by step into group housing systems. Recent research demonstrated that with semi-group housing systems much better performance levels are possible than with the Swiss group housing system. However, solutions to eliminate aggression, stress and injuries which are common among rabbit does in group housing systems have yet to be found. Some authors are of the opinion that individual cages are too small and allow limited possibilities for movement and social contact. Positive results were seen when platforms were inserted into the cages and the possibility for movement increased. The does and their kits could jump up and down using the platforms. Using footrests, the incidence of sore hocks declined. Several environmental enrichments which increase the well-being of rabbit does can also be used. These enriched cages (equipped with platforms, footrests, gnawing sticks, etc.) are fully in line with animal welfare requirements. Increasing the size of cages and enriching them increases the production cost and the meat will be more expensive.


rabbit does; group housing; individual housing; enrichment; welfare

Full Text:



Alfonso-Carrillo C., Martín E., De Blas C., Ibáñez M.A., García-Rebollar P., García-Ruiz, A.I. 2014. Effect of cage type on the behaviour pattern of rabbit does at different physiological stages. World Rabbit Sci., 22: 59-69. doi:10.4995/wrs.2014.1396

Andrist C.A., Bigler L.M., Würbel H., Roth B.A. 2012. Effects of group stability on aggression, stress and injuries in breeding rabbits. Appl. Anim. Behav. Sci., 142: 182-188. doi:10.1016/j.applanim.2012.10.017

Andrist C.A., van den Borne B.H.P., Bigler L.M., Buchwalder T., Roth B.A. 2013. Epidemiologic survey in Swiss grouphoused breeding rabbits: Extent of lesions and potential risk factors. Prev. Vet. Med., 108: 218-224. doi:10.1016/j.prevetmed.2012.07.015

Andrist C.A., Bigler L.M., Würbel H., Roth B.A. 2014. Masking odour when regrouping rabbit does: Effect on aggression, stress and lesions. Livest. Sci., 170: 150-157. doi:10.1016/j.livsci.2014.10.017

Barge P. Masoero G., Chicco R. 2008. Raising rabbit does in platform cages. In Proc.: 9th World Rabbit Congress, June 10- 13, 2008, Verona, Italy, pp.1153-1157.

Bignon L., Bouchier M., Coutelet G., Galliot P., Souchet, C., Fortun-Lamothe L. 2012. Individual housing of young does in different sized cages: Impact on welfare, economic costs and productive data. In Proc.: 10th World Rabbit Congress, September 3-6, 2012, Sharm El- Sheikh, Egypt, pp.1045-1049.

Buijs B., Hermans K., Maertens L., Van Caelenberg A., Tuyttens F.A.M. 2014. Effects of semi-group housing and floor type on pododermatitis, spinal deformation and bone quality in rabbit does. Animal, 8: 1728-1734. doi:10.1017/S1751731114001669

Carrilho M.C., García A.B., López M. 2005. Estudio del comportamiento de machos Gigante de España en jaula enriquecida con latas de refresco vacías. XXX Symposium de Cunicultura, May 19-20, 2005, Valladolid, Spain, pp.77-84.

Cowan D.P. 1987. Group living in the European rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus): mutual benefit or resource localization? J. Anim. Ecol., 56: 779-795. doi:10.2307/4948

Dalle Zotte A., Princz Z., Matics Zs., Gerencsér Zs., Metzger Sz. Szendrő Zs. 2009. Rabbit preference for cages and pens with or without mirrors. Appl. Anim. Behav. Sci., 116: 273-278. doi:10.1016/j.applanim.2008.08.011

De Jong I.C., Reimert H., Rommers J.M. 2008. Effect of floor type on footpad injuries in does: A pilot study. In Proc.: 9th World Rabbit Congress, June 10-13, 2008, Verona, Italy, pp.1171-1175.

Edgar J., Seaman S. 2010. The effect of mirrors on the behaviour of singly housed male and female laboratory rabbits. Anim. Welfare, 19: 461-471.

EFSA (European Food Safety Authority) 2005. The impact of the current housing and husbandry systems on the health and welfare of farmed domestic rabbits. EFSA Journal, 267: 1-31.

Farm Animal Welfare Council (FAWC) 1992. FAWC updates the five freedoms. Vet. Rec., 131: 357

Gacek L. 2002. Effect of visual contact on reproductive and rearing performance of rabbits. Ann. Anim. Sci., 2: S181-S184.

Graf S., Bigler L.M., Failing K., Würbel H., Buchwalder T. 2011. Regrouping rabbit does in a familiar or novel pen: Effects on agonistic behaviour, injuries and core body temperature. Appl. Anim. Behav. Sci., 135: 121-127. doi:10.1016/j.applanim.2011.10.009

Holst D. von, Hutzelmeyer H., Kaetze P., Khashei M., Schönheiter R. 1999. Social rank, stress, and life expectancy in wild rabbits. Naturwissenschaften 86: 388-393. doi:10.1007/s001140050638

Holst D. von, Hutzelmeyer H., Kaetze, P., Khashei M., Rödel H.G., Schrutka H. 2002. Social rank, fecundity and life time reproductive success in wild European rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus). Behav. Ecol. Sociobiol., 51: 245-254. doi:10.1007/s00265-001-0427-1

Jenkins J.R. 2001. Rabbit behavior. Vet. Clin. North Am. Exot. Anim. Pract., 4: 669-679.

Johnson A.C., Pallozzi A.W., Geiger L., Szumiloski J.L., Castiglia L., Dahl P.N., Destefano A.J., Stacy J., Prat J.S., Hall J.S., Beare M.C., Gallagher M., Hilton J., Klein J.H. 2003. The effect of an environmental enrichment device on individually caged rabbits in a safety assessment facility. Am. Assoc. Lab. Anim. Sci., 42: 27-30.

Jones S.E., Phillips C.J.C. 2005. The effects of mirrors on the welfare of caged rabbits. Anim. Welfare, 14: 195-202.

Jordan D., Gorjanc G., Kermauner A., Štuhec I. 2008. Wooden sticks as environmental enrichment: effect on fattening and carcass traits of individually housed growing rabbits. World Rabbit Sci., 16: 237-243. doi:10.4995/wrs.2008.619

Jordan D., Gorjanc G., Kermauner A., Štuhec I. 2011. The behaviour of individually housed growing rabbits and the influence of gnawing sticks as environmental enrichment on daily rhythm of behavioural patterns duration. Acta Agric. Slovenica, 98: 51-61.

König B. 1997. Cooperative care of young in mammals. Naturwissenschaften, 84: 95-104. doi:10.1007/s001140050356

Leach M. 1989. The rabbit. Shire Natural History, Shire Publications, Aylesbury. Lebas F., Tudela F., Gidenne T. 2010. La domestication du lapin (Oryclolagus cuniculus) s’est faite dans des clapiers. Cuniculture Magazine, 37: 54-58.

López M., Carrilho M.C., Gómez C. 2004. Evaluation of the use of straw as an entertainment in Gigante de España rabbit cages: The effect of the placing of the straw in cage on the behaviour. In Proc.: 8th World Rabbit Congress, September 7-10, 2004, Puebla, Mexico, pp.1241-1246.

Maertens L. 2013. Housing regulation of rabbits in Belgium: The step by step plan. In: 18th International Symposium on Housing and Diseases of Rabbits, Furproviding Animals and Pet Animals, 22-23 May, 2013, Celle, Germany, pp. 53-58.

Maertens L., Buijs S. 2013. Performances de femelles logées temporairement en groupe dans des parcs polyvalents et en système tout plein tout vide. In Proc.: 15èmes Journées de la Recherche Cunicole, 19-20 novembre 2013, Le Mans, France, pp. 35-38.

Maertens L., Buijs S., Davoust C. 2013. Gnawing blocks as cage enrichment and dietary supplement for does and fatteners: intake, performance and behaviour. World Rabbit Sci., 21: 185-192. doi:10.4995/wrs.2013.1195

Maertens L., Buijs S. 2015. Production performances of semigroup housed rabbit does. In: 19th International Symposium on Housing and Diseases of Rabbits, Furproviding Animals and Pet Animals, 27 May - 28 May 2013, Celle, Germany, pp. 22-31.

Maertens L., Rommers J., Jacquet M. 2011. Le logement des lapins en parcs, une alternative pour les cages classiques dans un système "duo"? In Proc.: 14èmes Journées de la Recherche Cunicole, 22-23 November 2011, Le Mans, France, pp. 85-88.

Mikó A., Szendrő Zs., Odermatt M., Gerencsér Zs., Radnai I., Matics Zs. 2013a. Aggressive behaviour of group-housed rabbits after establishing the group In:. 18th International Symposium on Housing and Diseases of Rabbits, Furproviding Animals and Pet Animals, 22-23 May, 2013, Celle, Germany, pp. 69-75.

Mikó A., Szendrő Zs., Odermatt M., Gerencsér Zs., Radnai I., Matics Zs. 2013b. Mating behaviour of group-housed rabbits after establishing the group. In: 18th International Symposium on Housing and Diseases of Rabbits, Furproviding Animals and Pet Animals, 22-23 May, 2013, Celle, Germany, pp. 53-58.

Mikó A., Matics Zs., Gerencsér Zs., Odermatt M., Radnai I., Nagy I., Szendrő K., Szendrő Zs. 2014. Performance and welfare of rabbit does in various caging systems. Animal, 8: 1146-1152. doi:10.1017/S1751731114001244

Mikó A., Szendrő Zs., Matics Zs., Radnai I., Odermatt M. 2012. Location preference of rabbit does between common sized and double sized cages. Acta Agric. Slovenica, 100: 299-302.

Mirabito L., 2002. Le bien-être des lapines: impact de nouveaux systèmes de logement. Journée Nationale ITAVI, Elevage du lapin de chair, Nantes, France, 13.

Mirabito L., Buthon L., Cialdi G., Galliot P., Souchet C. 1999. Effet du logement des lapines en cages rehaussées avec platforme: Premiers résultats. In: 8émes Journées de la Recherche Cunicole, June 9-10, 1999, Paris, France, pp. 67-70.

Mirabito L., Galliot P., Souchet C., Dumont F., Thomeret F. 2005a. Logement collectif des lapines reproductrices: Conséquences zootechniques. In: 11émes Journées de la Recherche Cunicole, November 29-30, 2005, Paris, France, pp. 53-56.

Mirabito L., Dumont F., Galliot P., Souchet C. 2005b. Logement collectif des lapines reproductrices : Conséquences sur le comportement.n: 11émes Journées de la Recherche Cunicole, November 29-30, 2005, Paris, France, pp. 57-60.

Mugnai C., Dal Bosco A., Castellini C. 2009. Effect of different rearing systems and pre-kindling handling on behaviour and performance of rabbit does. Appl. Anim. Behav. Sci., 118: 91-


Mykytowycz R. 1958. Social behaviour of an experimental colony of wild rabbits. Oryctolagus cuniculus (L.) I. Establishment of the colony. CSIRO Wildlife Research, 3: 7-25. doi:10.1071/CWR9580007

Negretti P., Albani A., Finzi A. 2004. Location and social behaviour of young rabbit bucks. In Proc.: 8th World Rabbit Congress, September 7-10, 2004, Puebla, Mexico, pp. 1257-1262.

Negretti P., Bianconi G., Finzi A. 2008. Mutual visual relationships of rabbits raised in individual cages. In Proc.: 9th World Rabbit Congress, June 10-13, 2008, Verona, Italy, pp. 1213-1216.

Princz Z., Orova Z., Nagy I., Jordan D., Štuhec I., Luzi F., Verga M., Szendrő Zs. 2007. Application of gnawing sticks in rabbit housing. World Rabbit Sci., 15: 29-36. doi:10.4995/wrs.2007.607

Princz Z., Dalle Zotte A., Radnai I., Bíró-Németh E., Matics Zs., Gerencsér Zs., Nagy I., Szendrő Zs. 2008. Behaviour of growing rabbits under various housing conditions. Appl. Anim. Behav. Sci., 111: 342-356. doi:10.1016/j.applanim.2007.06.013

Princz Z., Dalle Zotte A., Metzger Sz., Radnai I., Biró-Németh E., Orova Z., Szendrő Zs. 2009. Response of fattening rabbits reared under different housing conditions. 1. Live performance and health status. Livest. Sci., 121: 86-91. doi:10.1016/j.livsci.2008.05.018

Rödel G.H., Starkloff A., Bautista A., Friderich A.C., von Holst D. 2008. Infanticide and maternal offspring defence in European wild rabbits under natural breeding condition. Ethology, 114: 22-31. doi:10.1111/j.1439-0310.2007.01447.x

Rödel H.G., Bora A., Kaiser J., Kaetzke P., Khaschei M., von Holst D. 2004. Density-dependent reproduction in the European rabbit: a consequence of individual response and agedependent reproductive performance. Oikos, 104: 529-539. doi:10.1111/j.0030-1299.2004.12691.x

Rommers J.M., Meijerhof R. 1996. The effect of different floor types on footpad injuries of rabbit does. In Proc.: 6th World Rabbit Congress, 9-12 July. Toulouse, France. Vol. 2, pp. 431-436.

Rommers J.M., Meijerhof R. 1998. La dimension de la cage influence-t-elle la productivité et le bien-être des lapins. Cuniculture, 25: 67-72.

Rommers J.M., Jong de I.C. 2011. Technical note: Plastic mats prevent footpad injuries in rabbit doe. World Rabbit Sci., 19: 233-237. doi:10.4995/wrs.2011.868

Rommers J.M., Boiti C., de Jong I., Brecchia G. 2006. Performance and behaviour of rabbit does in a group-housing system with natural mating or artificial insemination. Reprod. Nutr. Dev., 46: 677-687. doi:10.1051/rnd:2006038

Rommers J.M., Gunnink H., Klop A., de Jong I.C. 2011. Dynamics in aggressive behaviour of rabbit does in a group- housing system: a descriptive study. In Proc.: 17th International Symposium on Housing and Diseases of Rabbits, Fur Providing Animals and Pet Animals, May 11-12, 2011, Celle, Germany, pp. 75-85.

Rommers J.M., Kemp B., Houwers H.W., Gunnink H., de Jong I.C. 2012. Description of nestbox visits and suckling events in a group housing system for rabbit does as compared to individual cages. World Rabbit Sci., 20: 231-240. doi:10.4995/wrs.2012.1231

Rommers J.M., Gunnink H., de Jong I.C. 2013. Effect of different types of places on aggression among does in a group-housing system: A pilot study. In Proc.: 18th International Symposium on Housing and Diseases of Rabbits, Fur Providing Animals and Pet Animals, May 22-23, 2013, Celle, Germany, pp. 59-68.

Rommers J.M., Reuvekamp B.J.F., Gunnink H., de Jong J.C. 2014a. Effect of hiding places, straw and territory on aggression in group-housed rabbit does. Appl. Anim. Beh. Sci., 157: 117-126. doi:10.1016/j.applanim.2014.05.011

Rommers J.M., Bracke M.B.M., Reuvekamp B., Gunnink H., de Jong I.C. 2014b. Cage enrichment: rabbit does prefer straw or a compressed wooden block. World Rabbit Sci. 22: 301-309. doi:10.4995/wrs.2014.1353

Rosell J.M., de la Fuente L.F. 2008. Culling and mortality in breeding rabbits. Prevent. Vet. Med., 88: 120-127. doi:10.1016/j.prevetmed.2008.08.003

Rosell J.M., de la Fuente L.F. 2009. Effect of footrests on the incidence of ulcerative pododermatitis in domestic rabbit does. Anim. Welfare, 18: 199-204.

Rosell J.M., de la Fuente L.F. 2013. Assessing ulcerative pododermatitis of breeding rabbits. Animals, 3: 318-326. doi:10.3390/ani3020318

Ruis M. 2006. Group housing of breeding does. In: Maertens, L. and Coudert, P. (Eds.): Recent Advances in Rabbit Science. ILVO, Belgium, 99-105.

Seaman C.S. 2002. Laboratory rabbit housing: An investigation of the social and physical environment. PhD thesis, University of Edinburgh. Available:, Accessed March 2015.

Seaman C.S., Waran K.N., Mason G., d’Eath B.R. 2009. Animal economics: assessing the motivation of female laboratory rabbits to reach a platform, social contact and food. Anim. Behav., 75: 31-42. doi:10.1016/j.anbehav.2006.09.031

Selzer D., Lange K., Hoy St. 2004. Frequency of nursing in domestic rabbits under different housing conditions. Appl. Anim. Behav. Sci., 87: 317-324. doi:10.1016/j.applanim.2004.01.013

Southern H.N. 1948. Sexual and aggressive behaviour of the wild rabbit. Behaviour 1: 173-194. doi:10.1163/156853948X00092

Stauffacher M., 1992. Group housing and enrichment cages for breeding, fattening and laboratory rabbits. Anim. Welfare 1: 105-125.

Szendrő Zs., McNitt J.I. 2012. Housing of rabbit does: Group and individual systems: A review. Livest. Sci. 150: 1-10. doi:10.1016/j.livsci.2012.09.017

Szendrő Zs., Mikó A., Odermatt M., Gerencsér Zs., Radnai I., Dezséry B., Garai É., Nagy I., Szendrő K., Matics Zs. 2013 Comparison of performance and welfare of single-caged and group-housed rabbit does. Animal, 7: 463-468. doi:10.1017/S1751731112001760

Zucca D., Marelli S.P., Redaelli V., Heinzl E., Cardile H., Ricci C., Verga M., Luzi F. 2012. Effect of environmental enrichment and group size on behaviour and live weight in growing rabbits. World Rabbit Sci., 20, 89-95. doi:10.4995/wrs.2012.1082

Abstract Views

Metrics Loading ...

Metrics powered by PLOS ALM

Official journal of the World Rabbit Science Association (WRSA)

© Universitat Politècnica de València. All rights reserved

© World Rabbit Science Associated. All rights reserved

e-ISSN: 1989-8886     ISSN: 1257-5011