Investigation of whether lop-eared conformations predispose rabbits to ear and dental disease: a pedigree population study

Fund

AWF Research Fund

Grant

£26,130

Research Period

2022

Area of study

Breeding for Better Welfare

Description

Investigator(s): Dr Charlotte Burn

Project length: 12 months (due to start June 2023)

Lop-eared rabbits may be predisposed to ear and dental disease, according to recent studies of rescue and clinical rabbit populations. However, the studies were small-scale or retrospective, the rabbits’ histories unknown and owner-reported breeds unverified. Brachycephaly may also predispose to dental problems so it is important to compare lops with erect-eared rabbits of similar facial length.

This project will aim to investigate lop-eared conformations as risk factors for disease in British Rabbit Council (BRC) show populations of rabbits. The BRC will collaborate with RVC on this study, which comprises physical rabbit examinations, complemented by a targeted questionnaire.

A veterinary qualified research assistant will attend BRC shows and rabbit studs, with in-kind BRC support, and will systematically assess ear and dental health and facial length in rabbits of representative breeds. An otoscope will be used to visualise the ear and mouth. Behavioural signs of pain or discomfort will be recorded, and examination will cease if it causes distress. A BRC veterinarian will also independently assess rabbits to allow inter-observer agreement to be tested. The data will be used to analyse whether breed-related conformations are risk factors for either outcome, accounting for rabbit age, sex, and size. The online questionnaire will be disseminated via the BRC’s magazine, to enable us to collect data about rabbits’ clinical history relating to ear and dental health, and effects on behaviour, welfare, and mortality.

Findings will be used to assist the BRC to develop targeted breeding strategies to improve rabbit welfare, where needed.

  Read our interview with Charlotte Burn