Rabbits: Social Housing and Socialization
The purpose of this document is to provide guidance for social housing and socialization of rabbits housed under BU IACUC protocols.
- “Single housing of social species should be the exception and justified based on experimental requirements or veterinary-related concerns about animal well-being.” NRC, 2011. Guide for Care and Use of Laboratory Animals, Eighth Edition, p 64.
- Many rabbits, especially sexually mature rabbits, are not socially compatible and may be exempt from socialization if observed behaviors precipitate veterinary concerns for animal wellbeing.
- Available caging may not be of sufficient size to accommodate multiple large rabbits in the primary enclosure. In those cases, supervised socialization outside of the primary enclosure will be provided and documented in the health record, unless individuals are determined to be socially incompatible or there is a protocol exemption.
Sexual maturity in rabbits: 4-6 months of age, for the purposes of socialization, young rabbits would be separated at 4 months or sooner if agonistic behavior or primary enclosure space regulations require it.
Rabbit health records should include attempts at socialization and any exceptions to socialization that may be recommended by the veterinarian or required by the experimental protocol.
- Rabbits that arrive socially housed and sexually immature may be grouped in same sex groups or pairs as cage size allows up until sexual maturity or if intragroup aggression is observed.
- Larger, sexually mature rabbits should be singly housed and only paired for supervised socialization outside of the home cage.
- Supervision should be continuous and personnel supervising rabbits should be comfortable handling and separating them in case of fighting.
- Records of interactions and compatibility should be maintained in the animal’s health record. Incompatible animals should not be re-paired.
- Supervised individual time outside of the primary enclosure for exercise may be appropriate enrichment for rabbits that are not compatible with any conspecifics.
- All ages may be exempt from social housing or socialization for experimental reasons or veterinary concerns for animal wellbeing.
6. Key References and Resources
- Animal Welfare Regulations §3.53 c.2
- NRC, 2011. Guide for Care and Use of Laboratory Animals, Eighth Edition, p 59.
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