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Study finds lop-eared rabbits are more prone to ear and dental problems than erect-eared rabbits

Study brings into debate the ethics of breeding and buying lop-eared rabbits

Lop-eared rabbits are typically more prone to health issues such as narrowed ear canals, excess wax build up, and ear pain. Their associated skull shape also causes dental issues, such as misaligned and overgrown incisors, molar overgrowth and molar spurs. Although there has long been an assumption amongst many professionals that lop ears and the related skull shape causes the frequent ear and dental issues in lops, there is a lack of scientific research to confirm or refute this.

Researchers at the Royal Veterinary College (RVC) sought to rectify this gap in knowledge by studying 15 lop-eared and 15 erect-eared rabbits from a rescue shelter. They examined the rabbits’ ear health by observing relevant behaviour, taking samples and inspecting ear canals with an otoscope and analysing medical records. They studied dental health by performing full dental examinations and analysing medical records.

The RVC researchers say their study confirms that the breed characteristics of lop-eared rabbits makes them more prone to ear and dental problems.

The conditions in question are often long-lasting and have the potential to cause pain, deafness or difficulty eating. They also mean that lop-eared rabbits can require frequent veterinary attention for ear-cleaning and dental treatment. By linking these welfare issues to lop-ears, a trait which breeders have historically bred for, the study’s findings help contribute to a wider debate on the ethics of breeding and buying animals with extreme traits.

Dr Charlotte Burn, Senior Lecturer in Animal Welfare and Behaviour Science at the RVC, who led the study said: “People now need to weigh up whether those cute floppy ears are worth the risk of pain, deafness, and difficulty eating for the rabbit, not to mention the extra vet bills.

“This study shows that it’s healthier for rabbits to have more natural ear-shapes. The findings are concerning because recent surveys suggest that over half of pet rabbits in the UK have lop-ears.”

Jade Johnson, the final year RVC Veterinary Medicine student who conducted the study, said: “Collecting the data revealed the extent of the ear and teeth pathologies present in lop-eared rabbits. They commonly had a high degree of narrowing of the ear canal, such that it was difficult to even insert the otoscope into the canal for examination. Attempting to examine inflamed and narrowed canals showed that this condition was painful for rabbits, and in this case the examination was shortened.”

The paper is currently under peer-review, and a draft is available online at BioRxiv, the preprint server for biology.

Article: Johnson, J. C., Burn, C. C. (2019). Lop-eared rabbits have more aural and dental problems than erect-eared rabbits: a rescue population study. BioRxiv [preprint not yet peer-reviewed] doi: 10.1101/671859

Article details

  • Date
  • 25 June 2019
  • Source
  • Royal Veterinary College
  • Subject(s)
  • Zoo-, Wild-, Laboratory-, and Other Animals