Effect of cage type on the behaviour patterns of rabbit does at different physiological stages

Clara Alfonso-Carrillo, Erika Martín, Carlos De Blas, Miguel Ángel Ibáñez, Paloma García-Rebollar, Ana Isabel García-Ruiz


Interest in commercially farmed rabbit welfare has increased in recent years. As a result, new alternative
housing systems have been developed, although they require evaluation in order to demonstrate their potential for improving welfare. The aim of this trial was to study the behavioural traits of rabbit does housed in 2 different types of cage (TC): conventional vs. alternative with an elevated platform, at different physiological stages (PS); lactation and gestation. Behavioural observations were carried out on 12 rabbit commercial does using continuous 24 h video recording. Independently of PS and TC, rabbit does spent most of their time on foot mats (on av. 57.7%). However, due to the use of platforms (on av. 23.0% of time), lactating does spent 36.6% less time on foot mats (P<0.001) and gestating does spent 27.0% less time on wire mesh (P<0.001) in alternative cages than in conventional cages. Alternative cages allowed for standing posture, but this behaviour was only observed in gestating does (on av. 4.6 times a day). Frequency of drinking was higher in conventional than in alternative cages (24.6 vs. 19.1 times a day; P<0.05). Gestating does housed in conventional cages reached the highest duration and frequency of interacting with neighbours (276 s/d and 4.6 times/d; P<0.05). The frequency of interacting with kits was lower in alternative than in conventional cages (2.4 vs. 8.6 times a day; P<0.01). Doe behaviour was influenced by the time of day, with less activity during the midday hours. During dark hours, rabbit does more frequently performed restless behaviour such as hyperactivity or nursing, matching the time at which rabbit does spent more time on the platform. The platform was frequently used by rabbit does, regardless of their physiological stage, and during late lactation phase, when mothers were not receptive to nursing, does housed in alternative cages used the platform as a mean to flee from kits trying to suckle. Use of the platform might lead to hygienic problems due to retained faeces on the platform and faeces and urine falling onto animals located in the lower part of the cage. The absence of stereotypies in rabbit does of this trial, suggested that animal welfare was not compromised by the type of housing (conventional or alternative cages).


animal welfare;rabbits;platform;behaviour

Full Text:



AOAC. 2004. Official methods of analysis, 2 vol., 18th edition. Association of Official Analytical Chemists, Arlington, VA, USA.

Dawkins M.S. 1990. From an animal’s point of view: Motivation, fitness, and animal welfare. Behav. Brain Sci., 13: 1-61. doi:10.1017/S0140525X00077104

Dawkins M.S. 2008. The science of animal suffering. Ethology, 114: 937-945. doi:10.1111/j.1439-0310.2008.01557.x

EFSA (European Food Safety Authority). 2005. The impact of the current housing and husbandry systems on the health and welfare of farmed domestic rabbits. The EFSA Journal, 267: 1-137. Available at: http://www.efsa.europa.eu/en/efsajournal/doc/267.pdf Accessed february 2014

Fernández-Carmona J., Solar A., Pascual J.J., Blas E., Cervera C. 2005. The behaviour of farm rabbit does around parturition and during lactation. World Rabbit Sci., 13: 253-277. doi:10.4995/wrs.2005.513

Finzi A., Margarit R., Calabrese A. 1996. A two-floor cage for rabbit welfare. In Proc.: 6th World Rabbit Congress, 9-12 July, Toulouse, France, 423-424.

Gunn D., Morton D.B. 1995. Inventory of the behaviour of New Zealand White rabbits in laboratory cages. Appl. Anim. Behav. Sci., 45: 277-292. doi:10.1016/0168-1591(95)00627-5

Hansen L.T., Berthelsen H. 2000. The effect of enviromental enrichement on the behaviour of caged rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus). Appl. Anim. Behav. Sci., 68: 163-178. doi:10.1016/S0168-1591(00)00093-9

Hughes B.O., Duncan I.J.H. 1988. The notion of ethological ‘need’, models of motivation and animal welfare. Anim. Behav., 36: 1696-1707. doi:10.1016/S0003-3472(88)80110-6

Lehmann M. 1987. Interference of a restricted environment as found in battery cages– with normal behaviour of young fattening rabbits. In Auxilia T. (Ed), Rabbit Production Systems Including Welfare. Commission of the European Communities Publishing, Luxembourg, Brussels, 257-268.

Lidfors L. 1997. Behavioural effects of environmental enrichment for individually caged rabbits. Appl. Anim. Behav. Sci., 52: 157-169. doi:10.1016/S0168-1591(96)01141-0

Love J.A. 1994. Group Housing: Meeting the physical and social needs of the laboratory rabbit. Lab. Anim. Sci., 44: 5 11.

María G.A., Salduendo D., López M., Alierta S. 2005. Enriquecimiento ambiental en conejas reproductoras alojadas en jaulas individuales. In Proc.: XXX Symposium de ASESCU. 18-20 May, 2005. Valladolid, Spain, 71-76.

Martrenchar A., Boilletot E., Cotte J.P., Morisse J.P. 2001. Wirefloor pens as an alternative to metallic cages in fattening rabbits: influence on some welfare traits. Anim. Welfare, 10: 153-161.

Mirabito L. 2007. Logement et bien-être du lapin plus de questions que de réponses ?. INRA Prod. Anim., 20: 59-64. Available at:http://www6.inra.fr/productions-animales/2007 Volume-20/Numero-1-2007/Logement-et-bien-etre-du-lapin plus-dequestions-que-de-reponses Accessed February 2014.

Moreno S., Delibes M., Villafuerte R. 1996. Cover is safe during the day but dangerous at night: the use of vegetation by European wild rabbits. Can. J. Zoolog., 74: 1656-1660. doi:10.1139/z96-183

Morton D.B., Jennings M., Batchelor G.R., Bell D., Birke L., Davies K., Eveleigh J.R., Gunn D., Heath M., Howard B., Koder P., Phillips J., Poole T., Sainsbury A.W., Sales G.D., Smith D.J.A., Stauffacher M., Turner R.J. 1993. Refinements in rabbit husbandry: Second report of the BVAAWF/FRAME/RSPCA/ UFAW joint working group on refinement. Lab. Anim., 27: 301-329. doi:10.1258/002367793780745633

Princz Z., Radnai I., Biró-Németh E., Matics Zs., Gerencsér Zs., Nagy I., Szendrő Zs. 2008. Effect of cage height on the welfare of growing rabbits. Appl. Anim. Behav. Sci., 114: 284 295. doi:10.1016/j.applanim.2008.01.006

Princz Z., Dalle Zotte A., Radnai I., Biró-Németh E., Matics Z., Gerencsér Z., 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

Ribikauskas V., Ribikauskienė D., Skurdenienė I. 2010. Effect of housing system (wire cages versus group-housing) and inhouse air quality parameters on the behaviour of fattening rabbits. World Rabbit Sci., 18: 243-250. doi:10.4995/wrs.2010.777

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.

Spanish Royal Decree 1201/2005. 2005. Real Decreto 1201/2005. Sobre protección de los animales utilizados para experimentación y otros fines científicos. Boletín Oficial del Estado, 252: 34367-34391. Available at: http://www.boe. es/boe/dias/2005/10/21/pdfs/A34367-34391.pdf Accessed February 2014.

Statistical Analysis Systems Institute. 2008. User’s guide statistics, version 9.3. Edition SAS Institute Inc., Cary, NC, USA.

Szendrő Zs., Matics Zs., Odermatt M., Gerencsér Zs., Nagy I., Szendrő K., Dalle Zotte A. 2012. Use of different areas of pen by growing rabbits depending on the elevated platforms’ floor-type. Animal, 6: 650-655. doi:10.1017/S1751731111001819

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

Trocino A., Xiccato G. 2006. Animal welfare in reared rabbits: a review with emphasis on housing systems. World Rabbit Sci., 14: 77-93. doi:-10.4995/wrs.2006.553

Abstract Views

Metrics Loading ...

Metrics powered by PLOS ALM


Cited-By (articles included in Crossref)

This journal is a Crossref Cited-by Linking member. This list shows the references that citing the article automatically, if there are. For more information about the system please visit Crossref site

1. A review of recent research outcomes on the housing of farmed domestic rabbits: reproducing does
Zsolt Szendrő, Angela Trocino, Steffen Hoy, Gerolamo Xiccato, Arantxa Villagrá, Luc Maertens
World Rabbit Science  vol: 27  issue: 1  first page: 1  year: 2019  
doi: 10.4995/wrs.2019.10599


 Universitat Politècnica de València


Official journal of the World Rabbit Science Association (WRSA)


e-ISSN: 1989-8886     ISSN: 1257-5011   https://doi.org/10.4995/wrs