Mayfield, K. L., Livingston, L. G., Kirby, D. W. 2010. Floor housing rabbits to promote weight loss and species-specific behaviors. American Association for Laboratory Animal Science [AALAS] Meeting Official Program, 706-707 (Abstract #P81).
Standard rabbit caging offers little in the way of exercise, vertical space for species-typical movements (that is, standing on hind limbs), or ample space for proper social introductions. One commonly used rabbit breed, the New Zealand white, can grow quite large, weighing approximately 9 to 12 lb (4.09 to 5.45 kg). Weight gain and obesity are common sequelae of longer research studies, and may predispose for many health issues that could interfere or hinder research results. Pen housing on the floor can help increase exercise, decrease weight, and allow for more species-specific behaviors. This process could also be adapted for use with other small social species. A pen was constructed from PVC sheets within an animal room. The pen was designed into an “H” shape with two 8 × 3 ft pens connected by a small hallway. This allowed for movement of the rabbits from one side to the other while cleaning. An SOP was created to detail the relevant husbandry procedures. Three overweight rabbits were used in the pilot test of the pen. Monitored exercise within the pen was performed over 5 wk to condition the animals to prevent injuries due to skeletal or muscle atrophy. Socializations were performed during the last week of exercise to ensure compatibility. After a couple failed attempts with bottles, water was provided via watering valves attached to the room’s automatic watering system. In addition to their regular diet, fresh produce was given daily to compensate for any diminished water drinking. The floor of the pen was covered with a layer of butcher paper and then nesting shredded paper. The paper and bedding were replaced once a week and rabbits were removed for complete room sanitation every other week. Cat carriers with the doors removed were used as shelters within the pen and for transporting the rabbits. The floor housing pen has been a great success: healthy weight loss has been recorded, and observation of species-typical behavior has occurred frequently. Due to the success of this floor housing system in allowing increased socialization, species typical behavior, and healthy weight loss and maintenance, other principal investigators have expressed interest in social group housing of study animals. We are currently working on a similar pen to house our prairie dog population.