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Thursday, 01. January 2009 /

New Method of Assessing Pain in Rabbits

Project title:

New Method of Assessing Pain in Rabbits  

Project leader:

Matthew C. Leach  

Financial support:    
Project background:

Behaviour observation of animals is a well-established method for pain assessment in laboratory animals. Pain can occur after surgery or other invasive procedures were performed, or as a side-effect of treatment with compounds. By observing the animals over a period of time, it is thought that experienced and well-trained ethologists are able to recognize signs of pain in animals such as mice, rats or rabbits. Animals express pain in different physical forms, including decreased activity, abnormal postures (hunched back, writhing, rigidity), poor grooming, weight loss, increased respiratory rate, physical response to touch, teeth grinding, diarrhoea, tremors and more. However, there has been little objective evidence to support the commonly used methods of pain assessment.   The aim of this study, completely financed by Animalfree Research in 2010-2011, was to identify how observers focus on rabbits when trying to assess their post-procedural pain using behavioural-based indices, and their effectiveness.  

As a direct impact of this study, observers can now be trained on localizing pain in rabbits more precisely – not only concentrating on facial expression in rabbits (and possibly also other laboratory animals), and thereby improve efficiency of observation and reduce severity of experimental procedures on animals.    


2009 - 2010  


Leach M. C. et al. (2011): Are We Looking in the Wrong Place? Implication for Behavioural-Based Pain Assessment in Rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculi) and Beyond. Plos One 6: e13347.    


According to Matthew Leach, the method has been adapted by other working groups and an estimated >300 people were trained according to the findings of the publication. The method is currently being further optimized with further publications being drafted.