Unwin, S. L., Saunders, R. A., Blackwell, E.-J., et al. 2020. A double-blind, placebo-controlled trial investigating the value of Pet Remedy in ameliorating fear of handling of companion rabbits. Journal of Veterinary Behavior 36, 54-64.
Rabbits are popular companion animals. There are numerous welfare issues affecting the majority of the population, including the fact that most rabbits are fearful when handled. Pet Remedy ™ (Unex Designs) is an herbal product containing valerian, marketed as a natural calming aid. Its efficacy for domestic rabbits is previously untested. We describe a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial into the effectiveness of Pet Remedy. Fifty rabbits underwent a baseline test followed by both a placebo and a Pet Remedy treatment. We measured rabbit’s behavior by a novel arena test, responses to the experimenter when in the home enclosure and when being handled, and heart and respiratory rates during handling. Repeated measures analysis of variance tested differences between treatments, taking into account rabbits’ individual baselines. Exposure to Pet Remedy was associated with a significant decrease in heart rate during handling (F(1,42) = 4.41, P = 0.042) and a significant increase in the number of positive behaviors observed in the novel arena (F(1,47) = 4.52, P = 0.039). Other variables which may have been predicted to change were unaffected. Rearing in the novel arena increased with day (F(1,45) = 6.91, P = 0.012). Significant individual variation occurred throughout, and heart rates were universally high suggesting that handling is generally an aversion to rabbits. The results suggest that Pet Remedy may have potential value for rabbits during periods of acute stress, slowing heart rate, and allowing the performance of more positive, relaxed behaviors. It may be useful during veterinary visits and initial handling. However, given the high levels of physiological and behavioral stress exhibited by rabbits, optimal handling and appropriate habituation and desensitization and counter-conditioning protocols should also be simultaneously implemented.