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TDK conference 2021

Health Survey of Pet Rabbits in Norway
Udengaard Kristensen Annika - year 6
University of Veterinary Medicine Budapest, Department Animal Breeding, Nutrition and Laboratory Animal Science
Supervisor: Dr. Nikoletta Hetényi


In Norway, the Animal Welfare Act aims to promote good animal welfare and respect towards animals. However, no specific laws or regulations exist to protect the biological needs of the pet rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculi domesticus), despite it being one of the most commonly kept household pets. This study aims to survey the current health and welfare of pet rabbits in Norway, based on recommendations for rabbit keeping put forth by the Norwegian Food Safety Authority and the Norwegian Veterinary Institute.

An online questionnaire consisting of 65 open and closed questions covering owner demographics, rabbit housing conditions, feeding routines, current rabbit health, rabbit behaviour, human-rabbit interactions, and costs of keeping, was developed and shared in the largest Norwegian pet rabbit interest group on Facebook with over 14700 members. Subsequently, two independent animal welfare organisations with 2500 and 5000 members respectively, one private small animal veterinary clinic with 1700 followers, and four private Facebook users, shared the questionnaire. Data collection lasted from March to May of 2021 and yielded 513 responses from pet rabbit owners representing all Norwegian counties.

The veterinarian was a source of information for 49.1% of rabbit owners (n=252). Most rabbits (n=442, 86.2%) were kept in a living space above the recommended 200x300 cm, where the most common conditions were an enclosed area within the house (n=110, 21.6%) and free ranging within the house (n=219, 42.7%). Forty-five percent (n=231) of the rabbits were female, 53.6% (n=275) were male and most of the rabbits (n=390, 76.0%) were neutered. Almost all rabbits (n=500, 97.5%) had permanent access to hay, where only three rabbits (0.6%) were given hay twice a month or less. Complete pelleted feed was the most fed concentrate (n=492, 95.9%), and only 3.4% (n=13) gave an unlimited amount. Almost all rabbits (n=497, 96.9%) were reported to be healthy at the current moment, although six (1.2%) of those who reported their rabbit to be healthy, said the rabbit was also currently being treated for a disease. Of the surveyed disease conditions, constipation (n=101, 19.7%), diarrhoea (n=63, 12.3%), and reduced appetite (n=92, 17.9%) were the most common, with constipation being positively correlated with reduced appetite. Overgrown teeth were reported in 29 rabbits (5.7%).

Although keeping conditions were reported to be of a high standard, pet rabbits are still suffering from preventable husbandry-related diseases. Education of rabbit owners is an important task of the veterinarian and should focus especially on feeding habits, and owner recognition of rabbit behaviour and diseases.

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