Use of high concentrations of carbon dioxide for stunning rabbits reared for meat production
Keywords:animal welfare, aversion, behaviour, CO2, rabbits, stunning
Abstract: An investigation was performed to determine whether high concentrations of carbon dioxide (CO2) at 70-98% in atmospheric air are a suitable alternative for stunning rabbits compared to conventional approaches such as electronarcosis. Aversion to the gas and efficacy in causing prolonged unconsciousness and death were studied in a total of 480 rabbits by means of behavioural parameters, physiological indicators (presence of rhythmic breathing and corneal reflex) and electroencephalography (EEG, brain function). The use of any of the 4 studied concentrations of the gas caused more nasal discomfort and vocalisations than the use of atmospheric air (P<0.001). EEG activity confirmed that loss of posture is a good indicator of the onset of unconsciousness in rabbits exposed to CO2, occurring earlier (P<0.05) at 90 and 98% than at 70 and 80%. Rabbits showed signs of aversion for 15 s before the onset of unconsciousness, which occurred around 30 s after the beginning of the exposure to the gas, similar to species such as swine in which high concentrations of CO2 are also used for stunning. CO2 at 80 to 98% is suggested as a reasonable concentration range to induce a long state of unconsciousness and death in rabbits, while 70% CO2 is not recommended because it requires too long duration of exposure (more than 360 s) to ensure effectiveness. Despite the advantages in terms of pre-stun handling and irreversibility, CO2 is not free of animal welfare concerns. In consequence, a debate is necessary to ascertain if CO2 can be considered a suitable alternative to stun rabbits, considering the advantages and drawbacks cited, quantified in the present study as 15 s of aversion (nasal discomfort and vocalisations) before losing posture.
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