‘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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Received: 10 August 2020 / Revised: 19 September 2020 / Accepted: 21 September 2020 / Published: 23 September 2020
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.