Williams-Fritze, M. J., Altieri, J. A., Clough, C. et al. 2010. Modification of a dog cage for use as an exercise unit for rabbits. American Association for Laboratory Animal Science [AALAS] Meeting Official Program, 703 (Abstract #P70).
The Guide for the Care and Use of Animals and the USDA Animal Welfare Regulations (AWR) outline minimum space requirements for laboratory animals, including rabbits. These documents encourage housing of animals in enclosures that allow adequate freedom of movement and postural adjustments, cognitive activity, species-typical behavior, and social interaction. Many of these normal behaviors, including rearing on the hind legs with ears erect, digging, and sequential hopping in one direction are not possible in the housing conditions recommended in the Guide and AWR. The inability to express species-specific behavior patterns and lack of cognitive stimulation can lead to stereotypic behaviors, such as bar-biting, hair-pulling and eating, nose-sliding on the cage bars, and pawing at the cage walls. Provision of extra housing space and enrichment can decrease expression of stereotypic behaviors. This report describes the modification of a large mobile dog cage for use as an exercise and enrichment unit for laboratory rabbits. The unit maneuvers easily through doorways, fits into a rack washer, and is fabricated with removable polycarbonate panel flooring lined with rubber matting, and a litter box for ease of cleaning. It is bilevel, with the option of complete separation of the levels into 2 separate exercise spaces, or the ability to attach a ramp connecting the 2 levels. The ramp provides rabbits with vertical space and allows choice over their environment, while promoting climbing activity. Play and exploratory behaviors are encouraged by the use of shelters, enrichment toys, food treats, and supplemental floor space. The additional floor space also allows for social housing, with adequate room for hiding retreats. The authors have observed that rabbits exhibit a wider range of species-typical behaviors in this cage, which are not ordinarily possible in their home units.