Owners and vets risk damaging the human-animal bond by failing to understand rabbits find being lifted off the ground frightening, a review has suggested.

Vet Guen Bradbury explained: “The only time a rabbit is picked up in the wild is when it is going to be eaten.”

Rabbit
“The only time a rabbit is picked up in the wild is when it is going to be eaten.”

Miss Bradbury, co-author of an article entitled “Appropriate handling of pet rabbits: a literature review”, said the problem stemmed from the fact vets don’t see as many rabbits in practice as they do other domestic pets.

‘Not that well taught’

Rabbits have also been domesticated for less time than their feline and canine counterparts, meaning vets have less intrinsic ability to read what they are saying and how they communicate it, meaning poor welfare indicators are also less apparent, she explained.

“Also, animal behaviour is often not that well taught; at some schools it is barely taught at all and, when it is, there tends to be a focus on dogs, a little bit on cats and very little on other species,” she said.

Estimates from owner surveys suggested around 60% of rabbits struggled when lifted, while fear-related aggression was common. They also showed 24% of rabbits had bitten their owner at least once.

Stumbling block

Despite this, Miss Bradbury still finds discussions with clients on the issue of handling a stumbling block. This is impacted by a lack of literature to support the idea rabbits find being lifted a negative experience.

“But the more research I did, the more I started to see indicators it is not a pleasant sensation for them,” she said.

“That starts to explain a lot about the problems we see; even when you correct a lot of aspects of husbandry, and the owner seems to be doing everything right, they still have problems interacting with their pet.”

  • Read the full story – including ways, Miss Bradbury said, vets can help tackle the issue – in the 14 November issue of Veterinary Times.
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1 Comment on "People not alert to rabbits’ handling fear, suggests vet"

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Madison
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5 months 6 days ago

Very interesting, thanks so much for sharing! It is very important to educate people about animal behaviour and fear, especially with animals where the signs are less apparent, such as with rabbits. Pet owners want their pets to be happy and safe and I’m sure knowing this will change the behaviour of owners and vets, it’s important to keep in mind and share.

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