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Lop-eared rabbits have more aural and dental problems than erect-eared rabbits: a rescue population study

Abstract

This research aimed to assess whether rabbits having lop ears, an artificially selected conformation, compromises welfare. We investigated the occurrence of aural and dental pathology in lop-eared compared with erect-eared rabbits. Thirty rabbits (15 lop-eared and 15 erect-eared) from a rabbit-only rescue shelter were examined. An otoscope was used to visualise the ear canals and mouth. Samples were taken from each ear to examine for mites, bacteria and yeast. Medical records were also examined. Lop-eared rabbits showed statistically significantly more frequent ear canal stenosis, higher scores of cerumen and erythema and more frequent potential pain response during ear examination, compared with erect-eared rabbits. We also found statistically significantly more frequent incisor pathology, molar overgrowth, molar sharpness, molar spurs and history of veterinary dental treatment in lop-eared compared with erect-eared rabbits. The effect sizes were often large. Age was not statistically significant between the lop-eared and erect-eared rabbit groups. Thus, lop-eared rabbits were at an increased risk of aural and dental pathology in this study. This brings into debate the ethics of breeding and buying lop-eared rabbits, as they are more likely to suffer conditions that negatively impact welfare, such as pain, and potentially deafness and difficulty eating.

  • animal welfare
  • conformation
  • dental pathology
  • otitis
  • rabbits
  • veterinary research
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