Rabbits in conventional farms are housed in wire net cages with mesh floors to separate them from droppings. In time, lacerations appear on the legs of adult rabbits causing ulcerative pododermatitis or sore hocks, a severe health and welfare problem. Pain causes behavioral changes; productivity is reduced and the most seriously affected animals die or are culled. In this study we evaluated the attention producers have given to this problem and its prevention by installing footrests in cages. We made 2,331 visits to 664 commercial farms in Spain and Portugal between 2001 and 2012, and evaluated morbidity by examining 105,009 females and 10,722 males. The study highlights that the rate of farms with footrests increased from 27.8% in 2001 to 75.2% in 2012. Prevalence of sore hocks in does in 2001 was 11.4%, decreasing to 6.3% in 2012; prevention of ulcerative pododermatitis was associated (P < 0.001) with the presence of footrests. Overall, prevalence was 4.87 ± 0.26 on farms with footrests and 13.71 ± 0.32 without (P < 0.01).
Keywords: animal welfare; disease prevention; footrest; rabbit; sore hocks; ulcerative pododermatitis.