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Open AccessArticle

‘All Ears’: A Questionnaire of 1516 Owner Perceptions of the Mental Abilities of Pet Rabbits, Subsequent Resource Provision, and the Effect on Welfare

School of Veterinary Medicine, College of Medical, Veterinary and Life Sciences, University of Glasgow, Glasgow G61 1QH, UK
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Animals 2020, 10(10), 1730; https://doi.org/10.3390/ani10101730
Received: 10 August 2020 / Revised: 19 September 2020 / Accepted: 21 September 2020 / Published: 23 September 2020
(This article belongs to the Section Animal Welfare)
Recent research has found that pet rabbits are frequently inappropriately housed, fed, and not routinely provided with healthcare, often suffering painful medical conditions and shortened lifespans as a result. Using an online survey, this study provides a new understanding of rabbit owners’ perceptions of rabbits, how these affect the resources (e.g., diet) that rabbits are provided with, and how these resources impact rabbit welfare. Our results found that variation in owner perception influenced provisions of conspecific partners, level of enrichment, diet, and type of housing provided. Welfare scores (produced from owner-reported behavioral frequencies) were improved with a diet of mainly grass/hay, a larger variety of enrichment, free-roam housing, and increased time spent with owners. These results suggest that a practical approach to improving the welfare standard provided to rabbits may be to target improving owner perceptions. This information would be beneficial in tailoring public education programs to increase provision of welfare enhancing resources, improving the human–animal relationship, and improving the welfare standards for rabbits.
Pet rabbit welfare is a hidden crisis: Inappropriately housed, fed, and not routinely provided healthcare—rabbits can often suffer painful conditions and shortened lifespans. This study provides novel understanding of owners’ perceptions of rabbits’ mental capabilities; how this impacts their husbandry; and subsequent effects on rabbits’ welfare. A survey was designed to investigate owner and rabbit demographics, owner perception of rabbits, resources provided, and rabbit behavior. Distributed online and by the Rabbit Welfare Association and Fund, the survey received 1516 responses. It was found that increased owner perceptions of pain, emotions, and intelligence resulted in increased likelihood of providing a partner, increased enrichment variation, and a more appropriate diet and type of housing. Welfare scores were associated with diet, housing, variety of enrichment, and time spent with owners. These results suggest that a practical approach to improving the welfare standard provided to rabbits may be to target improving owner perceptions of the species’ intelligence, emotionality, and experience of pain. This information would be beneficial in tailoring public education programs to increase provision of welfare enhancing resources, improve the human–animal relationship, and thus improve the welfare standards for this species. View Full-Text
Keywords: rabbit; welfare; perception; survey; behavior; human-animal interactions; resources; pet rabbit; welfare; perception; survey; behavior; human-animal interactions; resources; pet
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McMahon, S.A.; Wigham, E. ‘All Ears’: A Questionnaire of 1516 Owner Perceptions of the Mental Abilities of Pet Rabbits, Subsequent Resource Provision, and the Effect on Welfare. Animals 2020, 10, 1730.

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