Nicholson, G., Sheldon, E. L., Hamilton, J. et al. 2014. Sand pools as a novel enrichment for rabbits. American Association for Laboratory Animal Science [AALAS] Meeting Official Program, 571. (Abstract #P83).
For anyone who has housed rabbits in an artificial plastic environment, what to provide as a nonfood enrichment can be an issue. Nonfood enrichment, or environmental enrichment, can be any toy, engaging sights or sounds, or procedures that productively stimulate the animal, but does not necessarily increase the daily caloric intake. Environmental enrichment allows animals to engage in species typical behavior that may reduce the stress of the laboratory environment. While a wide number of behaviors can cross species, a typical behavior found in rabbits is digging. Our staff used 43-in. wide round plastic pools as a digging ground. The pools were filled with 3 inches of play sand. Play sand was chosen because it can be bleached, sanitized, or autoclaved and is easily commercially available. The entire pool was enclosed with a plastic playpen to contain the rabbit while still providing it with visibility of other rabbits in neighboring playpens. The rabbits were given between 45 min to 1 h to use the pool. Afterwards, any feces is scoop removed and properly disposed of. Initially the rabbits were uncomfortable in the sand pools, but acclimated overtime and began to use the sand pools as intended. We have noticed less stress-based aggression or hiding with the rabbits that used the pool regularly. In addition, our staff is able to more fully observe and evaluate the movement of the rabbits in our care. This novel enrichment also allows the rabbits to safely engage in a species-typical behavior, as well as giving them a larger space to exercise their muscles.