Articles, Blog

Rabbits

August 21, 2019


Jeff Wyatt: Thank you all very much. Thank
you for coming back after lunch. You know, continuing on the theme of telos we’re going
to spend a few minutes going through about nine references looking at the natural history
and the behavior of the European wild rabbit which is Oryctolagus cuniculus the New Zealand
white rabbit and we’ll be looking at that to frame an approach to social housing rabbits.
We’ll also be reviewing a 70 person ACLAM diplomate survey about successes disappointments
and contributors to both uh, specific to social housing rabbits. And then we’ll land where,
at least for the University of Rochester, where we are with our social housing which
our IACUC has excepted and uh, you know we reevaluate every six months truly just to
see if there is something new in the literature, so I really hope this year will be the year
of the rabbit, uh especially related to peer review publications, and I know AALAS is gonna
have a, a fair number of social housing presentations and unfortunately I won’t be able to attend
those and I’m really curious about the one with the buck urine spraying the doe’s, if
you haven’t seen that, so don’t miss out on that. You know pairing monkeys is easy, Kate,
Kate Baker we need your help. Pairing monkeys is a lot easier than social housing or pairing
rabbits. We’ve all been struggling with this ever since the Guide uh, the eighth edition
came out with some new expectations. I won’t be reading all of this but I’ll be highlighting
a lot of the blue that’s on the slides, but the eighth edition of the Guide really looks
at single housing as an exception and you can have justification for single housing
as we all know based on experimental requirements and related concerns which could include compatibility
and aggression, and we need to keep reviewing these, these exceptions to the program. The
Guide also goes on to say that you know, appropriate social interactions among members of the same
species are essential um, and we need to consider if animals are naturally territorial or communal
and how they should be housed and an understanding of the species-typical natural social behavior
is critical. So when you’re developing any kind of social housing program, you know,
you really gotta go back to the literature and you can frame your approach looking at
the literature and being able to explain your rationale based on the literature, based on
your own experiences uh, which may not be all that comprehensive and based on other
institutions experiences as well, which was the approach we took at the University of
Rochester. We have a relatively small rabbit program but whenever we do have rabbits we’ve
been plugging away at social housing and I’ll include some of our approaches there as well.
�Not all members of a social species are necessarily socially compatible.� That’s
important to remember for rabbits and I think we all know there are different life stages
with some animals, just like Joe mentioned this morning, tigers are solitary by nature
unless they’re receptive to breed. Polar bears are kind of the same way and if you force
them when they’re usually not tolerating each other into a confined experience you may be
disappointed. You’ve really gotta factor in the natural history of our animals considering
all of their life stages and where it’s appropriate to social house considering the constraints
we have as well, and risks of social incompatibility are reduced you know, of course we all know
if they are raised together as young animals and in fact working in the zoo world we’ve
found that’s a powerful tool as well. You can rear tiger cubs together, lions together
which are very social but where the males might not be, but you can rear these young
animals and they’ll be compatible later in life uh, and we’ve found that this is true
for rabbits as well, but recognizing that incompatible individuals need to be separated.
So I have nine, nine references and interestingly a lot are from the 50’s and 60’s, a ton. I
was really kind of surprised uh, that there’s uh not much in between and most of these came
from Australia where they were studying these European wild rabbits in really large spaces,
2 acre pens, plus or minus, so something that� I really enjoyed Joe’s uh reference to uh
how many mouse cages are in let’s say 2 acres you know, and I uh didn’t have time to do
the math but it’s a tremendous amount of space with most of these studies describing the
complex relationships these animals have with each other. Uh, so this is a very useful reference
describing the establishment of this wild colony, first breeding season and second breeding
season. You might notice that some of these points are highlighted in blue, those are
also gonna appear later on as a summary, so we might have some lessons learned there as
far as uh framing in our social housing strategy. This particular one had almost a 2 acre enclosure,
it was in Australia. They started with 9 rabbits and they had a 1:1 male to female ratio in
this almost 2 acre enclosure and by the second breeding season they had 67 and they recognized
of course, a rigid linear inherited hierarchy of dominance. Males have their linear hierarchy,
females have their linear hierarchy and to establish those they have severe vicious fighting,
severe vicious fighting. And um, some of the manuscripts I was reviewing had some pretty
cool pictures of these airborne rabbits going at it and uh I can’t uh underscore enough,
severe vicious fighting. Uh, and these territorial advantages of course is all about reproduction.
You want to figure out what motivates them to do this it’s all about carrying on their
genes. However there are you know, some good sound bites here where there’s mutual toleration
of grazing bunnies um, and then the 4 month old males get chased away by their dads and
that’s about when they would sexually mature. The same uh author describes severe injuries
due to burrow possession and that’s male and male, and female and female. Uh, dominant
bucks would always attack a buck. They would pull these animals out for some procedures
experimentally from the 2 acre plot and whenever they would return um a buck, a dominant buck
back, whoever has taken his place there was a major battle. And so when out of sight,
you know every day is a new day for some rabbits I think uh that uh, it was of course it a
battle and having called many of you who social house rabbits, some of you have a two hour
rule, a four hour rule, so once you take one out you have to start all over again if it’s
an adult. And something that is cool that I think will be an interesting tool for us
is that all of this aggression is diminished at the end of the breeding season in between
breeding seasons, and that happens to be in Australia December thru February. And December
thru February they have a really long daylight cycle and that might prove to be a useful
tool for us as it seems like that’s the peaceful time for bunnies in the wild. Here’s another
article uh that uh describes uh more effects on density and season population increase.
So this was three groups of rabbits and three outdoor enclosures, the three enclosures were
2 acres, uh almost an acre and about half an acre and you can see uh 63/80 is male female
ratio, 63 males to 80 females, 76 males to 125 females, 119 males to 130 females, so
a lot of rabbits in these enclosures. And the social pressures were absent December
thru February. Absent, they were resting, they were playing, they were grooming. So
huh? Didn’t know that, and uh their feeding peaks were in the evening uh 8pm to midnight.
They did say that aggression between adult males was always high. Uh, aggression between
females was low at lower densities and they weren’t really defending against grazing areas
and uh if you would have uh decreased resting if they were fed at separate times. So implying
that free choice hay is a good idea for social housed rabbits. It settles, apparently in
the wild when they were supplementing these rabbits, it settles them down. This is uh
the area of Australia where most of these studies occurred and at the bottom you can
see those are calendar months so 1 is January and on the other side 12 is December and uh
you can see that December, January and February, those are the peaceful times when you are
gonna have any peace in the war at all and it just so happens those are long daylight
hours, 15 light, 9 dark. It wasn’t about food, it wasn’t about water uh, its sexual aggression
for the most part. Chinning is a behavior that the males do, they’ve got a gland on
their chin and they’ll mark areas uh and they usually only do that when again the females
are in estrous, receptive to breed. He’s marking his territory. And I suspect that might have
something to do with uh, when we see the AALAS presentation on urine marking, we’ll have
to see. Uh there’s a lot of chasing during estrous, a lot of circling, licking, nuzzling,
but taking ownership in the females for breeding purposes. And enurination where they’ll flip
up on their back and that jet of urine will fly in all directions and especially on the
females during estrous or on a rival male which if you’ve had any experience social
housing rabbits you’ve probably seen that where you get the urine spray all over the
place, and that’s in protected contact or free contact. They uh, you’ll see uh males
again chasing and fighting other males and again it’s in estrous so it makes you wonder
about that peaceful time when the females aren’t in estrous. Uh the males may attack
a virgin female, a new female when they breed them but if it’s an older doe they don’t mess
around with fighting with the female. Most of our programs in our facilities are non-breeding
situations but the reason I’m bring this up, it shows you that a lot of what motivates
the aggression is um estrous. And uh this particular author never found a fatal, never
found a fatal occurrence between the males but pretty severe bites and lacerations especially
genitals and uh I think we’ve all seen that if you’ve been involved with housing, social
housing rabbits. I know I’ve seen it. And aggression always increases with population
density, so looking at space, it’s all about space, even in these 2 acre plots and uh so
after, even after you get a stable group of breeding animals, guess what? The aggression
decreases half. You still have aggression and you have these injuries and these wounds
that you know, as we’ve been learning more about our constraints are very significant
for us to consider. What’s up with the females? Well they fight too, as many of you know.
And a lot of it’s about burrows uh, they don’t like foreign females, and they go through
this crankiness associated with estrous. It’s a periodic crankiness that um probably is
responsible for some of our incompatibilities that have surprised us with females that have
been paired for long periods of time, and something to stay on top of. Uh however, there’s
also been per this author sometimes fatal evisceration, uh especially at the beginning
of the breeding season. So we’re getting back to that whole breeding season and uh they,
apparently the females, and I haven’t seen this, have a savage biting at the base of
their spine at their tail that can be really debilitating uh for the one on the receiving
end, and again its this crankiness associated with estrous. This author made a lot of really
cool observations and uh the December thru February months uh are still again key and
animals that were associated with each other during the months before the breeding season
which were those months they develop strong bonds of acquaintanceships, males and females,
so there’s something about that timeframe that might help us look at compatibility.
Uh rejected virgin females form compatible groups, rejected males, forget it. The rejected
males they are always fighting with each other, whoever they could find. And aggression in
males, these were adult males, always resulted in you know, a more defined hierarchy and
again it was always during breeding season, even at low densities. And for females unlike
males, they did develop mutual tolerance. And I think that’s where we’re seeing some
of these females that get along together as adults that they are mutually tolerant of
each other. And those have been some successes others have experienced and that’s probably
why. And they form these bonds with a low rate of fighting. This other author has a
similar observation of penned animals and these were a variety of species, New Zealand
whites, lopped, crosses and they used castrated males though and I know some Canadian facilities
that have been castrating males and that’s something that I think many institutions are
concerned about doing when you’re looking at replicating the work but it’s a powerful
management tool I’ve been told but we haven’t done that yet, but they had females and castrated
males and they also had some older animals uh, penned rabbits 2 or 3 years old and then
caged rabbits at 5 months old. The agonistic, the fighting, the biting, the chasing it was
seen in the 2 to 3 year old penned rabbits, females and castrated males, but it was only
2.5% of their behavior, so that’s not so much. So then you have to use your judgment about
where you draw the line. Now that’s a pretty small square foot per rabbit, 2.4 to 4.4 square
feet per rabbit and they saw more problems when more rabbits were introduced. Now we
know that most of the caging is just 3 square feet if you, you know around the 3 kilogram
weight range. Then a pattern you’ll see in another article is that the stereotypic behaviors
were really limited to caged rabbits and uh, and it was 6.3% of their behavior. And these
comfort behaviors that we all like to see sneezing, stretching, yawning uh 41% of the
pen rabbits uh had that behavior where it was less often in the single caged animals.
Here’s another one on farmed and laboratory rabbits. There’s a lot of information on the
meat industry for New Zealand white rabbits, that’s really what their big job is is for
the meat industry. And uh you know there’s uh lessons learned and you know the meat industry
is really focused on cost effective management of animals but you know the Europeans have
been looking at welfare and how rabbits are housed for the meat industry as well trying
to look at social housing where possible. So this was intensive husbandry with these
farmed animals and the does and bucks are single housed uh for uh breeding purposes.
The does were on that long light to dark cycle and I was curious about that uh and they have
a fattening period from weaning to 85 days of age where they fatten them so up to about
12 weeks of age is when they raise these and they can be in mixed groups or littermates,
it doesn’t seem to matter. They fatten them up for slaughter. And they were trying to
look at how these weanlings would do in what you call a colony cage, which is still pretty
small but they were social housed, very barren environment, they were still unable to do
the things we like to see rabbits do, pretty small caging, and they had uh very small floor
space per rabbit. So they did see the same stereopathies you’d see, they saw some male
to male aggression and uh they concluded that group housing males is impossible due to aggression,
and that group housing females there was intense competition and fighting for nest boxes. Yet
another European wild rabbit article, this was a 14 year study. Can you imagine that?
A 14 year study with wild European rabbits on 5.4 acres, 5.4 acres and on average they
had 24 males and 36 females on those 5.4 acres. And they saw what many of the other authors
were seeing on these big open spaces. Males and females have separate linear rank orders
maintained by intense fights and that their peak activity was just before sunrise. Latrines,
I’ve been curious about people who’ve been able to use latrines especially in large social
housing. So this was on the isle of May in the firth the fourth. Isn’t that great, the
isle of May on the firth the fourth on the east coast of Scotland. I had to practice
that a few times. It’s a 3 year study and they had these dung hills or dedicated latrine
sites. You know they would also indiscriminately defecate throughout their pastures as well
uh but it turns out that these latrine sites are really a pheromone communicator option
and that rabbit odors come from several key places on the rabbit, one is that submandibular
gland, where they do the chinning. One is in the urine and one is the anal gland and
it’s passed through their feces. And all of these latrine sights were visited in the evening
and typically in the high breeding season too. So very busy place, and if they had novel
feces placed in the latrine sights, it got very interesting for everybody, and everybody
kept defecating more in that latrine sight. Which I’m thinking might be an interesting
tool for social housing, if we uh, you know if we are looking at cost-effective ways to
maybe manage a group of rabbits. Here’s another one. And this was in a laboratory cages, so
somebody did a 24-hour ethogram with New Zealand white rabbits in cages that were not so big.
Males and females and they were 8 to 13 months of age and these were all single housed. And
so the most common behavior they saw in the single housed animals, and the reason I’m
bringing up single house is because we’ve got to also look at, you know the cost, the
welfare cost of single housing animals, compared to social housing. But 43% just kind of laid
around, dozing. And again the mature males, they did that enurination, jetting urine off
in all directions, especially if they were adjacent to other males. And all of them had
stereopathies. Repetitive hair chewing, bar chewing, head weaving, pawing, they called
it boredom and cage frustration. So the welfare concerns that this author had was an inability
of animals to perform natural locomotion which we’ve been concerned about all along, even
with our new cage dimensions, can a rabbit really hop forward and how many hops can they
go, and uh, is that good enough? You know we’ve got our standards but we are looking
critically at, do they really meet the welfare of the animals? And here’s another one. This
was the meat industry again and they had the 1 to 4 month fattening period and started
out with young animals and they always slaughtered them at 12 weeks, so they never saw problems
because they were always slaughtering them before they became sexually mature and uh,
you know, a solid conclusion that I agree with here is that the, the social behavior
of our domestic rabbits, our new Zealand white rabbits, corresponds largely to that of their
wild counterparts and ancestors. I don’t think we can get away from that, I think we’ve been
seeing that, we’ve got to remember it and honor that. This is a great article by Joy
Mench and company and I believe uh, Annie Volucas who’s during the urine, our buck spring
article is a student of Joy Mench. In all, then in a summary, let’s see, a summary that
just again revisiting multisex groups, you know up to about 20 adults and several breeding
pairs, um, and we’ve already gone through the dominance hierarchies and they had a goal
to look at rabbits paired in single housing conventional cages and not a lot of enrichment.
Uh, they had uh, 9 week old female New Zealand white rabbits paired and 4 single housed encaged
for five months. Only one pair had to be separated at the end of the study for fighting and they
concluded that there was a beneficial effect to pair housing, and it decreased abnormal
behavior and increased locomotion. And I’ve been on the phone a little bit with, uh, I
went to Allentown Caging, and tried to find out who’s using these cages and so I did a
little searching and got some information from some institutions and just keeping them
anonymous, um, but this one report back I got was uh, they had male and female rabbits,
they were four months old, um, not litter mates, they were very territorial, started
in the same sex pens, oh boy. Pens per, huh. Same pens per room, same sex pens, oh, sorry.
My uh, let’s go on. Same sex comma pens, and uh, anyway, they weren’t having success with
uh, starting that way and then going into these Allentown cages, no success so far and
they were wishing they could have large floor pens for the bunnies, but they had some constraints,
and we all have those and uh, and we all want them to have more space. Another one had uh,
some pair housing, they had 15 successful and 4 unsuccessful pairs. Uh, and this was
uh, in these cages, same sex littermates, pairs, weanlings, this was a breeding program,
so they luckily had all these weanlings that you could keep together. Some of their, uh,
lessons learned, pair in neutral cages or pens. Um, the males were incompatible after
18 weeks. There’s been a moving number there, our, our uh, experience is more like 16 weeks
at the university. Most were only for short term use so that’s all easy, and uh, you don’t
have to deal with that, um, estrous and reproductive. Their showstopper was to uh, they continued
to chase, bite, scratch, bleeding for hours, they would call it quits but not give up right
away because sometimes they do chase each other to exhaustion. As long as they’re not
bleeding, we have the same philosophy and breaking up fights with a water bottle. So
I sent out a survey in 2013. It was just a two question survey. We all hate surveys so
it was uh, uh, 799 of the diplomates, the rest of their emails failed to be delivered
from the 2012 directory. You know how that goes, bouncing back. So two questions and
I only expected to hear back from anybody who has any experience with social housing
rabbits. In your experience, what are the contributors to successful pair or group housing
of rabbits, and are there any showstoppers. So I got 71 responses at a 9% return rate,
but those are 71 responses that had something to say, and it wasn’t always bad news. So
a quick summary of the survey, looking at contributors to success, pens. Abundant enrichment,
rotating toys including chewable, multiple feed stations, so 48% of the respondents said
these are all good things. Hiding spaces, 48%, so this really contributes to success.
Uh, burrows, boxes, visual barriers and the more floor space, the better, so we had a
range of floor space that was provided by some of the respondents from the smallest
was six square feet per rabbit, um, our institution was at the 13.5 square feet per rabbit. As
we were housing our rabbits in sheep runs, dog runs, and so they had a lot of space,
and only six animals in a lot of space. And uh, we got some photos sent to us, this is
at the University of Rochester. You know lots of bedding, lots of things to climb around
on, these are uh, immature male rabbits that were involved in a pretty simple study, a
carotid surgical study, so minimally invasive, not a lot of interaction, not a lot of pulling
them out of the room and it worked extremely well. This is another institution that just
sent examples of how they social house, you know lots of space, run through burrows and
tunnels, two feeding troughs out there in the front. This is the back view of our dog
run and uh, sealed epoxy floors, lots of bedding. Our behaviorist really wanted a box, a cardboard
box that they could run through instead they get trapped in, and they seemed to spend a
lot of time going through those boxes and hopping on top of them as well. This is another
institution pigmented rabbits apparently have a bad reputation but not true for all, some
say it’s a no, no challenge with pigmented rabbits. This is another institution showing
how they’ve been able to accomplish it, you know similar patterns, lots of space, places
to hide, lots of bedding. Yet again another example and if you’re seeing the similar,
similar patterns. So what are the disadvantages per the survey? Labor-intense, especially
with pens and lots of space. But you know we really need to start tracking our labor,
considering we don’t have to wash cages. We didn’t find it such a labor-intense experience
and uh, we haven’t yet been able to uh, pull the trigger on the latrine use, the litter
pan use but I think that’ll be kinda fun to see as we learn more about how that might
help us with our spot cleaning. Some people say you know, you can’t track the diet intake
per animal, and if that’s important to you, I guess that, that could be a problem, and
uh, another comment was that if they’re intact males, if they can’t be group-housed for whatever
reason at whatever age, then they didn’t feel they could do the females either because of
uh, comparison and toxicology studies. And that would definitely have to be an IACUC
discussion. More disadvantages, not worth the risk due to aggression and spending hours
suturing wounds. Hours suturing wounds. I wonder if that was a veterinarian who sent
that in. It wasn’t this veterinarian, but we’ve had to suture wounds so. Over time,
they all fight regardless of sex. Reintroducing to a group after experimental procedure increases
risk of incompatibility. You know as we all share more information, we’re all saying the
same thing pretty much. We really need to have a forum to share all this info. So I’ve
got a lot of quotes here and that’s a male that’s been castrated, which is a pretty common
occurrence with fighting male rabbits. Especially mature male rabbits. So as soon as juvenile
males become sexually mature, they castrate each other, a complete disaster, I’ll never
try again. And you know, you can uh, you can see how that’s disappointing and if you see
it over and over again, maybe there is a lesson learned. Mature males again castrate each
other, housing three males in a highly enriched pen worked well, but when he tried it at the
next facility it was a disaster twice. Can you imagine going, oh I’ve got a lot of experience
with this, really. It’s gonna work, and then twice it failed, and who knows what the variables
were there. That’s why we need, we really need some formal studies like Kate Baker has
been doing with primates. We’re desperate for that kind of information. So uh, somebody
else said six months is a showstopper and the pigmented rabbit story. Here’s another
comment. We just tried social housing males in the same manner as females. It went well
Tuesday through Sunday with some minor scuffling noted, one animal had an eye scratch but A-OK.
Then the next Monday or Tuesday we came in and had to euthanize three animals out of
18 in a pilot project. We had to euthanize three out of 18 for severe injuries including
lacerations to the scrotum. Needless to say, we’re rethinking this. Apparently pseudo pregnancy
can be a problem with group housed females. And you know, someone else had problems with
initial pairing of females that were 3-4 months of age, you know initial pairing of uh, you
know an older female, and uh, fought with a back trauma, and uh, had to euthanize it
and it dampened their enthusiasm to try again. There are a lot of benefits, uh, especially
if you are getting the right rabbits that don’t kill each other. It’s really great for
morale, staff like it, they go in and sit with the rabbits, the rabbits approach them,
uh, it’s pretty awesome, they’re not hard to catch. They jump on your lap, um, and it’s
all PPE appropriate, believe me. They become very friendly. Uh, and more uh quotes here,
some people are real champions of it and so champion, such champions maybe some of you
are in the room that 20 years of experience social housing for polyclonal antibody producing.
Over 100 rabbits at a time. No showstoppers. We’ve found that the rabbits are easier to
handle and actually bleed better than those housed individually in cages. Now these are
adult females that probably have mutually bonded, like they may do even in the wild.
But nothing’s perfect there. And then uh, here’s a really uh, promising comment about
someone observing, um, astonishing behaviors that they’ve never seen before. Animals resting
together, jumping, running, uh, in general much more animated than single housed rabbits,
such a good thing to see. And uh, good group housing provides enormous behavioral benefits
even with the mishaps. Once we did it made me feel guilty that we had single housed for
so long. So the survey conclusions were uh, it’s possible to social house rabbits, it’s
got some benefits. Younger animals are more successful, either sex. 6 to 15 weeks is what
the survey was saying, survey says 1.4-3.6 kilograms, again younger animals are a lot
easier. Maturation in both males and females, increased risk, and uh for males anyway, there’s
uh, histologically mature testicles at 13 to 18 weeks and that seems to be the timeframe
where you might start running into trouble with uh, male incompatibility. Intact females
much higher success than males and littermates, littermates, littermates, increase success
but there are vendor space constraints. Some of the vendors can house weanlings for only
such a period of time and smallish numbers and they can’t really house six weanlings
same sex for you very easily given their constraints, but there’s a lot of effort from vendors to
try to help us succeed at least with littermate social housing. And pens that are big make
a lot of different. Greater, greater than six square feet per rabbit with many hiding
spaces. Barriers, visual barriers, shavings, lots of enrichment, ever changing, many food/water
opportunities. Um, and then considering the operational cost, the per diem impact has
to be factored in. Contributors to success. Females were awesome, younger the better,
small weight, young animals, it’s all correlated. Never pair males unless castrated was one
comment, castrate before 6-10 weeks of age, uh, and you may be able to house castrated
males with younger castrated males. Littermates again, same sex, easier, and uh, vendor-paired
siblings, easier. Side by side protected. Still you get the enurination going on. Just
looking at it a little differently in a pie chart, uh, you can see uh, pens are good,
hiding areas are good, immature is good, space is good, females are good, and then you get
a little bottom there of littermates and vendor-paired. So these are all social success stories and
you can see where uh, you know as you’re framing in an approach of social housing, you need
to consider these. Real quickly going through the review of the literature, uh, you know
social behavior does correspond to the wild counterparts. The severe fighting with hierarchy
with dominance, severe injuries to the male on male, female on female, inter-male adult
fights weren’t fatal, but pretty severe, uh, female aggression is periodic, crankiness
associated with estrous sometimes fatal which I’ve never seen. Severe injuries due to fighting.
Dominant bucks always attack the other buck when he’s returned. Once compatible group
of females established, then uh, you have uh, pretty good time except for the crankiness
and eagerness to defend burrows, again the non-breeding season, December through February,
uh, seems to be key, uh, with the Australian summer and uh, aggression between males, adult
males always is high during breeding season, even at low densities. There is an association
with those months and you know, some rejected females from the group are compatible, same
but not with males, they’re fighting and uh, they do develop mutual tolerance, the females
do, which I think is where we’ve had some success with females. And you know we’ve covered
the agonistic fighting, biting, chasing, which you would expect to see, uh, and uh, in animals
that are social housed, but it depends on what’s your acceptable rate. And stereotypic
behavior you’re going to see in single housed animals. Free choice food, if group housed,
slaughter at 12 weeks and latrines are used for olfactory communication. So where are
we in the University of Rochester? I just put a little acronym up there, uh, symposium
on social housing of laboratory animals, SOS, OLAW. Distress, hello. Distress, hello. But
uh, so where are we? Uh, where we’re, how we’re handling this at the U of R, is uh,
we’re uh, all of our animals so far really, and all that we planned to use in the near
future are juveniles. And so it’s, we got it pretty easy with 6 to 16 week old animals.
We’re trying our best to always get littermates, we’re starting a new look at this next week
with another program. Uh, social house same sex in the room, relatively easy. You’ve gotta
keep watching the males though because even at 16 weeks, we’ve seen aggression and we
just monitor them and I’ve noticed that I’ve seen more than just aggression. Uh, more space
the better, so we’ve got anywhere from 10 to 15 square feet per rabbit in our, depending
on what dog run that we use and since our dogs are on a very low number, we’re able
to house rabbits in these pens pretty easily. Um, females, if we had females coming in that
were older or if we were growing females up from our uh, juvenile program, uh, we would
uh, you know, look towards mutual bonding, we haven’t had to experience this yet, uh,
and watch, monitor for aggression and again more space the better. So we’re committed
to looking at using pens for the adult females as well. And for males greater than 16 weeks,
we uh, plan to single house. And that’s a tough position to take but that’s where we
are now considering the, what we’ve seen in other institutions and our own institution
with their incompatibility driven by their sexual aggressive behavior. With the caveat
that all single housed animals must be in visual contact with other rabbits, highly
enriched and ideally provided with periodic opportunity to demonstrate normal hopping
and rearing behavior in a pen alone. So we’ve got a play pen that we have in the room with
the cages. So we’ll take one rabbit out for half a day or so depending on the time schedule
and that rabbit will spend all day or half the day in the play pen, and they’ll just
rotate every day, uh, even on weekends and it just depends on how many rabbits we have
in inventory, if they’re single housed. And we have had some single housed animals in
the past that we’ve done that for. What we’re next considering though is light cycle. So
we wanna consider the 15 light, 9 dark non-breeding cycle to see if that might affect or prolong
or expand or extend our success with social housing. We haven’t done that yet but I think
it’s worth considering if the IACUC is okay with looking at it as a variable. Uh, we’re
gonna consider the litter pan latrine which reduce costs and of course free choice hay,
multiple feeding stations and abundant visual barriers, shelves and shelters. They like
to hop up and climb around. But you know what we really, really need is funded, scientific,
controlled, behavioral studies and peer reviewed publications. We’re, you know we’re working
on just all of our own experiences and uh you know we uh, we’re, we’re starting a program
next week with some rabbits that we might have enough numbers to draw some conclusions
but we really need to uh, look forward to uh, advancing this in a similar way we have
with primates and maybe some of our uh, program practices that we have on our policy will
change as we learn more about risk assessment and harm benefit analysis. So happy social
housing guys. Thanks a lot for your attention.

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