Female rabbits get in a flap over being with other bunnies

December 19, 2003

Human females may be accused of rabbiting together, but Edinburgh University research has found that female bunnies will push open cat flaps to socialise with other females.

Shirley Seaman of the animal behaviour and welfare group at Edinburgh's veterinary school found female New Zealand White rabbits were as keen on company as food. Dr Seaman carried out the research under the auspices of the Universities Federation for Animal Welfare to determine the best way of housing rabbits in captivity.

All of the rabbits had previously been housed alone. They were given a choice of cat flaps behind which were food, a bolt-hole, visual and tactile contact through a mesh panel with other rabbits or an empty area.

Dr Seaman discovered that the rabbits were just as keen to gain short periods of contact with other rabbits as they were to reach food or a bolt-hole. All the rabbits were rehomed at the end of the study.

Dr Seaman said: "Rabbits may have to be singly housed in a variety of situations, so we wanted to find out how important it is to let them have some social contact."

The research showed that rabbits needed their own space and should have choices about socialising, she said.

"Although the rabbits worked to gain access to social contact, after gaining access they chose to spend just over a third of the time not in direct visual contact with the other rabbit," Dr Seaman said.

"This shows the importance of allowing rabbits the choice of whether or not to have direct visual contact."

She said the research did not explore the issue of the importance of physical contact between rabbits in the same cage, as rabbits who did not know one another but were housed together were apt to have rows that could turn aggressive.

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