An investigation into how accurately UK rabbit owners identify pain in their pet rabbits

Charlotte Forder, Livia Benato, Nicola J Rooney*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review


Rabbits are popular family pets. They are prey species and so have evolved to hide signs of illness and pain. Recent research has developed robust pain scales for use in a clinical setting, but to date none has examined rabbit owners’ ability to recognise pain in their animals. This study investigated how owners identify pain in their pet rabbits and their ability to correctly identify different levels of pain, in order to determine any need for owner education in this area.

Owners were recruited via Facebook and a two-part online survey was distributed. Part one collected data on demographics, owners’ knowledge of pain signs and beliefs about pain in rabbits. Part two asked respondents to pain score eight videos of rabbits in different levels of pain for comparison to pain scores made by three experts. We used a simplified version of the Bristol Rabbit Pain Score (BRPS) which involved a single 0 to 3 scale. We explored the number of pain signs each respondent could list, the total score given to the videos, and their deviation from the experts’ scores.

A total of 500 respondents completed part one of the survey and 345 additionally completed Part two. Respondents were on average able to state five signs of pain (range 0–12), but females stated significantly more (p = 0.018), as did those who worked with rabbits (p = 0.004) and those with experience of their rabbit having an operation (p = 0.01). Overall, 98.6% of respondents thought rabbits felt pain as much or more that dogs and cats. In Part two, respondents more frequently agreed with the experts when identifying rabbits in no pain (88.8%) and severe pain (65.2%), but there was lower agreement when identifying mild (28.4%) and moderate pain (43.2%). Respondents overall rated pain lower than experts with an average total pain score of 11.9 compared to 18 given by the experts.

Most rabbit owners are able to list numerous pain signs and are generally able to identify pain-free rabbits and those in severe pain. Owners’ ability to differentiate between mild and moderate pain is more limited and could benefit from training in the subtler signs of pain. Veterinary professionals are well placed to educate owners about signs of pain in rabbits and should be aware of areas where owners’ knowledge can be improved.
Original languageEnglish
Article number122
Pages (from-to)122
Number of pages12
JournalBMC Veterinary Research
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 27 Mar 2024

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s) 2024.


  • Humans
  • Female
  • Rabbits
  • Animals
  • Cats
  • Dogs
  • Cat Diseases
  • Ownership
  • Pets
  • Dog Diseases
  • Pain/veterinary
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • United Kingdom


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