ISSN 2398-2969      

Aggression: male

Clapis

Introduction

  • Aggressive behaviors are hostile behaviors that often lead to injury. Some injuries may be severe, including large areas of skin defect, amputation of the ear pinna, amputation of a limb or even death.
  • Aggression in rabbits is common and is the most commonly reported undesirable behavior.
  • Captive conditions increase the likelihood of the development of aggression in rabbits.
  • Aggression may include actions such as growling, chasing, kicking, biting or pulling hair. These behaviors are also known as defensive behaviors.
  • Characteristics of aggression and hierarchy described for intensive conditions (farms and research facilities) may not be the same as for animals kept as pets or in semi-wild conditions. 
  • Lop-eared rabbits are unable to use the position of their ears to indicate their emotional status; this might facilitate aggression by other rabbits.
  • Aggression is less common in bonded animals.
  • The types of aggression are not mutually exclusive and more than one form may occur in a single individual.
  • Can be inter-specific: can be directed to humans or other pets (dogs, cats).
  • Can be intra-specific:
    • Within same sex.
    • Between sexes.
Print out the Owner factsheets on Aggressive rabbits and Why does my rabbit...? to give to your clients

 

Diagnosis

  • For a proper diagnosis, the rabbit is best seen in its home environment. A video of the complete environment and the problem behavior can be very useful.
  • Rabbits are a prey species and may not show clear signals of being in pain or being fearful, which can lead to misdiagnosis of the underlying motivation for aggressive behavior.
  • Accurate diagnosis depends on observation and a complete case history.
  • The case history should include details of:
    • Age, sex, breed.
    • Medical history.
    • Complete physical exam - illness or pain may affect the bond between animals.
    • Social environment - past and present; find out whether the bonding is adequate.
    • Physical environment - past and present; find out whether the environment results in very restricted access to a favored resource (food bowl, water bowl, hay rack).
    • Daily routine - summer and winter.
    • Diet - past and present.
    • Changes in the environment (social and physical).
    • When the problem began; find out whether there is an obvious cause for the problem.
    • How the aggression is displayed; make sure the owner understands what aggressive behavior is (video evidence is useful).
    • Any possibly relevant events.

Tips for the treatment of aggressive behavior

  • Some advice is applicable for all cases of aggressive behavior.
  • If one rabbit is at risk of injury, it should be removed from the current situation. Rabbits may be separated by a wire fence (so they can see, hear and smell each other) and gradually reintroduced once the initiating cause has been identified and resolved.
  • If rabbits cannot be re-bonded, they should be permanently separated (either by a wire fence or by re-homing). This is not common.
  • Provide plenty of space, visual barriers and retreat/hiding areas. This may prevent aggression on many occasions.
  • The proper management of rabbits in groups is very important to ensure their welfare: rabbits are social animals and many owners may perceive that placing them in groups is detrimental due to aggression.
  • Mixing animals from different origins increases aggression when compared to stable groups.
  • Medication is not commonly used to treat aggression problems in rabbits.
  • Castration Castration is a common indication to resolve a number of aggression problems in male rabbits Aggression: male. However, castration may lead to ethical dilemmas, particularly when there are other options of treatment that should be applied first, such as providing proper environment (housing, space), avoiding the limitation of resources, and providing proper socialization to rabbits.
  • When rabbits are kept in pairs, neutered rabbits get along better. In addition, a pair of neutered male-female usually gets along better than a pair of neutered male-male.
  • Rabbits that have been raised together show less likelihood of aggression.

Dominance / hierarchical aggression

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Sexual aggression

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Owner-directed aggression

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Territorial aggression

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Frustration-related aggression

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Resource-related aggression

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Reinforced or learnt aggression

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Pain-related aggression

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Fear-related aggression

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Further Reading

Publications

Refereed papers

  • Recent references from PubMed and VetMedResource.
  • d’Ovidio D, Pierantoni L Noviello E et al (2016) Sex-differences in human-directed social behavior in pet rabbits. J Vet Behav Clin Appl Res 15, 37-42 SciDirect.
  • Andrist C A, Bigler L M, Würbel H et al (2012) Effects of group stability on aggression, stress and injuries in breeding rabbits. Appl Anim Behav Sci 142 (3-4), 182-188 SciDirect.
  • Graf S, Bigler L, Failing K et al (2011) Regrouping rabbit does in familiar or novel pen: effects on agonistic behaviour, injuries and core body temperature. Appl Anim Behaviour Sci 135 (1/2), 121-127 PubMed.
  • Vervaecke H, De Bonte L, Maertens L et al (2010) Development of,hierarchy and rank effects in weaned growing rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus). World Rabbit Sci 18, 139-149 PoliPapers.
  • Magnus E, McBride A & Hearne G (2005) Aspects of rabbit behaviour. Vet Review 99, 28-29.
  • Magnus E (2005) Behaviour of the pet rabbit: what is normal and why do problems develop? In Pract 27 (10), 531-535 VetMedResource.
  • Briganti F, Della Seta D, Fontani G et al (2003) Behavioral effects of testosterone in relation to social rank in the male rabbit. Aggr Behav 29 (3), 269-278 WileyOnline.

Other sources of information

  • McBride A, Magnus E & Hearne G (2010) Behaviour Problems in the Domestic Rabbbit. In:  The APBC Book of Companion Animal Behaviour. Ed: Appleby D. Souvenir Press, UK.
  • McBride A (2000) Why Does My Rabbit .....? 2nd edn. Souvenir Press, UK. ISBN 0285 635506.
  • Der Weduwen S & McBride E A (1999) Rabbit Behaviour and the Effects of Early Handling. In: Proc 2nd World Meeting on Ethology. Lyon, France.
  • Sandford J C (1996) The Domestic Rabbit. Blackwell Sciences, UK.

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