Behaviorally, lab rabbits are very close to the wild relatives, so environmental enrichment can focus on natural behaviors. They spend most of their time underground in burrows, and venture out at night. They maintain a stable social order, and fighting is rare. Social groups usually contain both males and females. The ability to dig, forage and allogroom are often missing from the lab environment; a wide-ranging environmental enrichment program can provide balance for what is lost.
As with most small animals, foraging provides a time consuming activity. Providing straw or hay sprinkled with treats allows rabbits to engage in that activity. While most lab rabbit cages do not use bedding, some institutions either group house animals or allow for an activity pen where rabbits can explore and play with a number of toys. Forage materials presented in this environment provide an additive enrichment benefit. Rabbits are explorative; providing toys and novel objects , gnaw sticks, and manipulative items allow for exercise and exploration. Rabbits are a natural for group housing, based on their behaviors.
Whether group or individually housed, a shelter allows the animal a degree of choice and an escape. It can also provide additional comfort in a stainless steel cage. Providing fresh fruit and vegetables or hay blocks introduces variety in the diet, alleviating boredom, and reducing stress.
With rabbits, presentation can make the difference for animal acceptance. Suspending small toys on a chain provides some cage complexity, encouraging animal exploration. Since rabbits are manipulative, toys that they can rattle or push with their nose engage them for long periods of time.
Boredom shows up as over or under-grooming, leading to hairballs, weight loss and obesity. Stereotypic behaviors may also occur.
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