Funder and dates: PhD Studentship awarded by UFAW Pharmaceutical Housing and Husbandry Steering Committee, SRUC, 2002
Rabbits are widely used in research, especially medical studies, with over 15 000 used each year in the UK and 260 000 used yearly in Europe. They tend to be housed in barren cages which lead to poor welfare and inaccurate scientific results. In order to improve laboratory welfare, motivation to reach enrichment items (a platform and social contact with another rabbit housed behind wire mesh) was measured and compared to the motivation to reach food and a non-enriched space. Motivation was measuring by asking the rabbits to pay a cost (push through a weighted door) to access the different items and the cost was increased every 2 days.
It was found that rabbits ranked food ≥ social contact ≥ platform ˃ empty cage. Travel cost consumer surplus (area under the demand curve of cost (amount of weight) vs number of visits) ranked food and social contact similarly but higher than the platform, as did expenditure rate (cost vs visits per day). However aggregate consumer surplus (area under the plot of cost (weight) vs number of rabbits paying each price level for a resource) placed food higher than social contact and the platform and reservation price (max weight pushed) did not distinguish between the 3 resources.
Overall rabbits’ motivation for access to limited social contact came close to their motivation for food, suggesting this was valuable to the rabbits. Rabbits were also motivated to be near the platform but rarely used it, suggesting it may serve a ‘bolt hole’ function. This means that lab rabbits should be housed socially where possible or at least be provided limited contact (e.g. through wire mesh) with conspecifics and that access to a platform could be a cheap and easy laboratory enrichment item for rabbits.