'All Ears': A Questionnaire of 1516 Owner Perceptions of the Mental Abilities of Pet Rabbits, Subsequent Resource Provision, and the Effect on Welfare

Animals (Basel). 2020 Sep 23;10(10):1730. doi: 10.3390/ani10101730.


Pet rabbit welfare is a hidden crisis: Inappropriately housed, fed, and not routinely provided healthcare-rabbits can often suffer painful conditions and shortened lifespans. This study provides novel understanding of owners' perceptions of rabbits' mental capabilities; how this impacts their husbandry; and subsequent effects on rabbits' welfare. A survey was designed to investigate owner and rabbit demographics, owner perception of rabbits, resources provided, and rabbit behavior. Distributed online and by the Rabbit Welfare Association and Fund, the survey received 1516 responses. It was found that increased owner perceptions of pain, emotions. and intelligence resulted in increased likelihood of providing a partner, increased enrichment variation, and a more appropriate diet and type of housing. Welfare scores were associated with diet, housing, variety of enrichment, and time spent with owners. These results suggest that a practical approach to improving the welfare standard provided to rabbits may be to target improving owner perceptions of the species' intelligence, emotionality, and experience of pain. This information would be beneficial in tailoring public education programs to increase provision of welfare enhancing resources, improve the human-animal relationship, and thus improve the welfare standards for this species.

Keywords: behavior; human-animal interactions; perception; pet; rabbit; resources; survey; welfare.