Swennes, A. G., Alworth, L. C., Harvey, S. B. et al. 2011. Human handling promotes compliant behavior in adult laboratory rabbits. JAALAS 50(2), 41-45.
Routine laboratory procedures can be stressful for laboratory animals. We wanted to determine whether human handling of adult rabbits could induce a degree of habituation, reducing stress and facilitating research-related manipulation. To this end, adult New Zealand white rabbits were handled either frequently or minimally. After being handled over 3 wk, these rabbits were evaluated by novel personnel and compared with minimally handled controls. Evaluators subjectively scored the rabbits for their relative compliance or resistance to being scruffed and removed from their cages, being transported to a treatment room, and their behavior at all stages of the exercise. Upon evaluation, handled rabbits scored significantly more compliant than nontreated controls. During evaluation, behaviors that the rabbits displayed when they were approached in their cages and while being handled outside their cages were recorded and compared between study groups. Handled rabbits displayed behavior consistent with a reduction in human-directed fear. This study illustrates the potential for handling to improve compliance in laboratory procedures and reduce fear-related behavior in laboratory rabbits. Such handling could be used to improve rabbit welfare through the reduction of stress and exposure to novel stimuli.