Factors Affecting Interactions Between Companion Rabbits And Humans
The practice of keeping rabbits as companion animals is relatively new, but growing in popularity., We know less about healthy human relationships with rabbits than we know about healthy human relationships with dogs or cats. In this study, researchers set out to better understand rabbit behavior with the goal of creating a roadmap for better relationships between rabbits and humans. As a base, they outlined three key dimensions of rabbit behavior:
- Amicability, or positive behaviors towards the guardian.
- Aggression towards the guardian.
- Aggression towards strangers.
The study also found that the rabbit’s background and current experiences affect whether rabbits have a good relationship with humans.
Several factors influence all three dimensions: female rabbits and spayed or neutered rabbits are less amicable and more aggressive both to guardians and to strangers; and individuals who spend more time out of their cages or pens are more amicable and less aggressive, presumably because their needs are better met, and they have more contact with humans.
Dwarf rabbits, who were bred as pets, are more amicable. However, purebred dwarf rabbits are more aggressive towards strangers than meat rabbits or hybrid rabbits. Possibly, dwarf rabbits have been bred to be more amicable than other rabbits. But it’s also possible that their guardians rate them as more amicable because they’re “cuter,” even though they don’t behave in a more amicable way.
Rabbits adopted from shelters or bought through personal ads are less amicable than rabbits obtained some other way. These rabbits’ previous guardians perhaps gave them up because of their non-amicable behavior. The rabbits that are least aggressive with strangers are born at their human’s home or purchased from a small-scale breeder. The most aggressive rabbits came from large-scale breeders, pet shops, or fairs.
Rabbits have a “sensitive period” early in their lives in which they can be socialized to be around humans. If a rabbit’s guardian reports knowing a lot about the sensitive period, they are more amicable. Counterintuitively, rabbits whose humans were the least knowledgeable about the sensitive period showed the least aggression towards strangers.
Rabbits fed with fresh greens are more amicable, while rabbits fed with muesli are more aggressive. Because muesli is calorie-dense, rabbits who eat it spend less time chewing, which can cause tooth pain, and more time inactive. A nutritious diet suitable to the rabbit’s needs can make their behavior more appealing to humans.
Rabbits who live alone are more amicable, perhaps because they rely on their owner for more of their social needs. Rabbits kept with their mother even after weaning were more amicable than individuals separated from their mother before or during weaning. The relationship with the mother may provide essential socialization for rabbits. . As rabbits become increasingly popular as companion animals,.it becomes more important for people to understand what influences their rabbit’s behavior. Advocates should encourage guardians to feed their rabbits a healthy diet and give them enough time outside of their pens or cages. We should perform more research about companion rabbit welfare to better understand the relationship of the rabbit’s breed, the sensitive period, and other factors to the quality of the rabbit’s interactions with humans.