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Original research
Rabbit welfare: determining priority welfare issues for pet rabbits using a modified Delphi method
  1. Fiona Rioja-Lang1,
  2. Heather Bacon1,
  3. Melanie Connor1 and
  4. Cathy Mary Dwyer1,2
  1. 1Jeanne Marchig International Centre for Animal Welfare Education, The University of Edinburgh Royal Dick School of Veterinary Studies, Edinburgh, UK
  2. 2Animal Behaviour and Welfare, Scotland's Rural College, Edinburgh, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr Cathy Mary Dwyer; cathy.dwyer{at}


Background Rabbits are the third most popular pet in the UK, but little research into their welfare needs has been conducted.

Methods A modified Delphi method was used to generate expert consensus on the most important welfare issues for rabbits in the UK. The study involved 11 experts, recruited from a range of disciplines. The experts generated an initial broad list of welfare issues via an online discussion board. Two rounds of online surveys were conducted to prioritise these issues. The final round was a workshop with a subsection of experts. The experts decided that welfare issues should be ranked considering: (1) severity, (2) duration, and (3) prevalence.

Results Experts considered that rabbits were often kept in inadequate housing, were not handled or socialised properly, were fed inappropriate diets and owners failed to vaccinate their rabbits against preventable diseases. Rabbits were thought to experience a reduced life expectancy. Lack of owner knowledge of rabbit husbandry and behaviour and, in some cases, also lack of veterinary knowledge, contributed to poor rabbit welfare.

Conclusions The Delphi process resulted in consensus on the most significant welfare challenges faced by rabbits and can help guide future research and education priority decisions.

  • welfare
  • behaviour
  • nutrition
  • owner attitudes to pets
  • rabbits

This is an open access article distributed in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial (CC BY-NC 4.0) license, which permits others to distribute, remix, adapt, build upon this work non-commercially, and license their derivative works on different terms, provided the original work is properly cited, an indication of whether changes were made, and the use is non-commercial. See:

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  • Funding This study was funded by the Animal Welfare Foundation (AWF). AWF is a fund-raising and grant-giving charity (charity number 287118) directed by veterinary professions, which uses veterinary knowledge to improve the welfare of animals through science, education and debate. More information can be found at

  • Ethics approval All research generated from this study was approved by the University of Edinburgh’s Human Ethics Review Committee (HERC).

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Data availability statement Data are available upon reasonable request.

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