Lop-eared rabbits more likely to suffer from ear and dental problems, study confirms for first time

Friday, June 21, 2019

It has been scientifically confirmed for the first time, by the Royal Veterinary College (RVC), that lop-eared rabbits are more prone to ear and dental problems than their erect-eared counterparts.

Given the welfare concerns these conditions cause, the findings call into question the ethics of breeding and buying one of the most popular breed groups of pet rabbit.

Lop-eared rabbits are typically more prone to health issues such as narrowed ear canals, excess wax build up, and ear pain. It is not only their ears that are affected though; their associated skull shape 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 has never been a scientific study conducted to confirm or refute this, until now.

RVC researchers 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 results from studying the two groups means the RVC is able to confirm 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.”

...follow the link to read the article in full on the RVC website...