Buijs, S., Maertens, L., Tuyttens, F. A. M. et al. 2011. Glucocorticoid metabolites in rabbit faeces - Influence of environmental enrichment and cage size. Physiology & Behavior 104(3), 469-473.
The concentration of glucocorticoid metabolites (GCM) in rabbit faeces has been suggested as a non-invasive indicator of stress. In the present study, GCM concentrations were measured in faeces of fattening rabbits kept in groups of eight, at seven different stocking densities (between 5 and 20 animals/m2), with or without environmental enrichment (a wooden structure used mainly for gnawing and resting). Transport (30min) was used as an acute novel stressor to assess the glucocorticoid response to stress under the different housing conditions. GCM concentrations were elevated post-transport (P<0.001). Whilst cage size had no influence on GCM, enrichment reduced GCM concentrations before as well as after transport (P=0.007 in both cases). Effects of cage size and enrichment on growth characteristics were negligible, whilst enrichment decreased cage manipulation and social contact. The results indicate that even short transport durations may be stressful for rabbits, and that enrichment may decrease housing stress. They suggest that measuring baseline GCM concentrations in faeces is a useful tool to evaluate chronic stress in rabbits, whilst measuring the response to a novel stressor did not provide additional insight.