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Open AccessArticle

Assessing the Preference of Rabbit Does to Social Contact or Seclusion: Results of Different Investigations

1
Department of Agricultural, Food and Environmental Science, University of Perugia, Borgo 20 Giugno, 74, 06100 Perugia, Italy
2
Department of Animal Breeding and Genetics, Justus Liebig University, D-35390 Giessen, Germany
*
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Animals 2020, 10(2), 286; https://doi.org/10.3390/ani10020286 (registering DOI)
Received: 7 January 2020 / Revised: 7 February 2020 / Accepted: 10 February 2020 / Published: 12 February 2020
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Development and Assessment of Animal Welfare Indicators)
Many studies were developed to improve welfare of domestic rabbits and on the possibility to increase contacts between co-specifics using animal group housing. However, a lot of behavior disorder in rabbit does was reported. This study presents two experiments carried out, respectively, in Italy (experiment 1) and in Germany (experiment 2), to evaluate the does' motivation towards social contact. The Italian trial was based on a choice of test cages to investigate the preferences of nulliparous rabbit does for contacts with co-specifics (in a group of four animals) or seclusion. The German trial tested a different group-housing system constituted of four does and their kits to evaluate the same behavioral aspect. Experiment 1 showed that the time spent in seclusion or in group was almost the same (49.61% vs. 50.39%, respectively) whereas, experiment 2 showed that female does with kits preferred to stay alone (71.90%) rather than in a group, probably due to a hierarchical response stimulation. Besides, it showed a different individual preference; not all does like to share space with the others. This study suggests the need to find a cage adapted to the different physiological phase of does, for example, with the possibility to modify it during the breed cycle.
The aim of this study was to verify the motivation of rabbit does to social contact or seclusion. The results of two different research activities assessed in Italy (experiment 1) and Germany (experiment 2) through the use of motivational cages are reported. In experiment 1, only the average time of occupation of the group or seclusion zone was recorded of four nulliparous does, while, in experiment 2, the group-housing system provided space for does with kits and consisted of four single areas (nest boxes with individual electronic nest box recognition systems). Experiment 1 showed that does spent a similar amount of time in seclusion or in group (49.61% vs 50.39%, respectively). On the contrary, in experiment 2, does with kits appeared to prefer spending time alone (71.90%) rather than in groups. The presence of kits probably stimulates a hierarchical and aggressive response of the dominant does, with the low-ranking does staying secluded to avoid violent interactions. In fact, in each reproductive cycle, one doe did stay in the group area whereas the other three does used this area in different percentages of time. Further researches are needed to find a good combination of the cage with the does' physiological phases.
Keywords: rabbit does; motivational cage; social contact; preference test; group housing rabbit does; motivational cage; social contact; preference test; group housing
MDPI and ACS Style

Dal Bosco, A.; Cartoni Mancinelli, A.; Hoy, S.; Martino, M.; Mattioli, S.; Cotozzolo, E.; Castellini, C. Assessing the Preference of Rabbit Does to Social Contact or Seclusion: Results of Different Investigations. Animals 2020, 10, 286.

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