Welfare assessment in young pet rabbits and guinea pigs in the Netherlands
Knegt, S. de
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Rabbits and guinea pigs are common pets in the Netherlands, but they decease too early in life. This study focuses on the most common causes of death and illnesses in young deceased pet rabbits and guinea pigs related to zootechnical and welfare issues. Necropsy was performed on 92 rabbits and 60 guinea pigs between 2 and 36 months old. Owners filled in a questionnaire regarding the history of disease, housing and feeding conditions. 40,2% (n=37) of the rabbits and 35,0% (n=21) of the guinea pigs came from the province Utrecht followed by neighboring provinces. This was probably due to transport that owners had to arrange themselves. Striking was that 24 rabbits (26,1%) were between 2 and 6 months old. This was not found in guinea pigs. Time and gender distribution of both species did not show many fluctuations. 30 (32,6%) rabbits were euthanized, 54 (58,7%) were not and of 8 (8,7%) rabbits this was unknown. Infectious diseases were the main etiology of death (56,5%, n=52). The most common infectious diseases were encephalitozoonosis (26,1%), coccidiosis (10,9%) and pasteurellosis (8,7%). The most common diseases in general are dental disease (54,3%), pneumonia (30,4%) and encephalitozoonosis (26,1%). Uterine adenocarcinoma occurred rather frequently in young rabbits (10,5% of the does). Castration of does occurred in only 10,5%, while this is important to prevent uterine adenocarcinoma. Males were castrated more frequently (35,3%). 17 (28,3%) guinea pigs were euthanized, 38 (63,3%) were not and of 5 (8,3%) this was unknown. The most common etiology was non-infectious (60,0%), followed by unknown etiology (21,7%) and infectious etiology (18,3%). Most common diseases were pneumonia (43,3%), dental disease (30,0%) and myocarditis (16,7%). Remarkable findings in guinea pigs were that calcium deposits occurred in 24 (40,0%) guinea pigs. Ovarian cysts occurred in 6 (16,7%) sows while you expect it primarily in older sows. 2,8% (n=1) of the females were castrated, while this is important for prevention of ovarian cysts. Males were castrated more frequently (25,0%, n=6). Rabbits and guinea pigs are social living animals, thus this influence their welfare. The majority of rabbits and guinea pigs (65,3% resp. 81.7%) were housed socially. But social housed rabbits had significantly (p=0,012) more infectious diseases compared to solitary housed rabbits. There was no relation between social housing and etiology in guinea pigs (p=0,51). Rabbits and guinea pigs were kept inside as well as outside. There was no significant difference between housing location and the prevalence of infectious disease (p=0,378 resp. p=0,74). Bedding type and cleaning frequency are risk factors for developing respiratory disease, but in this study there was no significant difference (p=0,179 and p=0,078 for rabbits resp. p=0,81 and 0,56 for guinea pigs). Other housing conditions and nutrition could not be assessed, because owners did not fill in the questionnaire appropriately. 43,5% (n=40) of the rabbits were vaccinated against myxomatosis and/or rabbit hemorrhagic disease, 40,2% (n=37) were not and of 16,3% (n=15) this was unknown. In order to prevent the most common diseases that were found in this study, practical recommendations for owners were designed.