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The reactivity of neonatal rabbits to the mammary pheromone as a probe for viability.

  • Coureaud, G
  • Fortun-Lamothe, L
  • Langlois, D
  • Schaal, B
Published Article
Animal : an international journal of animal bioscience
Publication Date
Aug 01, 2007
DOI: 10.1017/S1751731107000389
PMID: 22444805


Newborn rabbits depend on a daily nursing interaction with the mother to gain milk and to survive. During this interaction, they localise and seize the nipples displaying a typical behaviour triggered by maternal odour cues. The mammary pheromone constitutes such a signal in domestic rabbits: it elicits sucking-related movements in more than 90% of the pups. However, some newborns remain unresponsive to the presentation of the pheromone, even pups apparently healthy and highly motivated to suck. The main goal of the present study was therefore to explore the link between the unresponsiveness of rabbit pups to the mammary pheromone and their growth and survival in breeding conditions. To that end, 293 newborns from 30 litters were tested for their head searching-oral grasping responses to the mammary pheromone on days 1 and 3, and their milk intake and mortality were followed up from days 1 to 21. It was hypothesised that unresponsive newborns would have subsequent difficulties in finding nipples, sucking and surviving. Early weight and success in milk intake were further considered as mediating factors in growth and viability. The results showed that pups that were unresponsive to the mammary pheromone on day 1 were less successful in gaining milk and had a higher rate of mortality than the responsive pups. However, this impact was modulated by the weight of pups: it appeared only in the lightest newborns. Moreover, this impact vanished on day 3. On the other hand, the pup weight and sucking success on days 1 to 3 strongly influenced viability and growth during the period extending from days 1 to 21. Taken together, the results show that the day-1 responsiveness of rabbit pups to the mammary pheromone can be considered as an indicator of individual viability in pups having a small weight (<48 g on day 1). The predictive validity of the pups' pheromonal reactivity seems however time-limited as it works only during the first, but crucial, postnatal days.

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