People: Maria Jackson, Charlotte Burn, David Brodbelt, Joanna Hedley, Dan O'Neill

Vet Compass Project Type: Rabbit

Dates: October 2021 - September 2022


There is early evidence that rabbits may experience compromised welfare because of artificial selection for extreme morphological traits, with ear morphology and the associated skull shape being a possible example. Two recent studies have suggested that lop-eared rabbits are more commonly affected with dental and ear disease than rabbits with more naturalistic morphology, but this has not been examined on a large scale and the breed differences and clinical implications are not well understood. Using the VetCompass database with approximately 100,000 rabbits annually presenting at UK veterinary practices, we will compare dental and ear disease associations between lop- and erect-eared rabbit breeds.


We aim to deepen understanding of the animal welfare impacts of dental and ear disease in rabbits, and to identify breed related risk factors for these. We plan to use the new information to improve rabbit welfare by raising awareness of any dental and ear health implications from selecting for rabbit with extreme morphology.  


The Objectives of this MRes are to:

  • Write a literature review of the animal welfare impact of dental and/or ear disease associated with differing conformations in rabbits.
  • Calculate the frequency of dental and ear disease in a large sample of practice attending rabbits, representing approximately 30% of UK practice.
  • Evaluate major risk factors for both types of conditions with particular focus on rabbit breed and associated ear conformation.  


Johnson JC and Burn CC 2019 Lop-eared rabbits have more aural and dental problems than erect-eared rabbits: a rescue population study. Veterinary Record 185: 758-766

O'Neill DG, Craven HC, Brodbelt DC, Church DB and Hedley J 2019 Morbidity and mortality of domestic rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus) under primary veterinary care in England. Veterinary Record: 105592

Richardson J, Longo M, Liuti T and Eatwell K 2019 Computed tomographic grading of middle ear disease in domestic rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculi). Veterinary Record 184: 679-679

Harvey N, Oxley J, Miguel-Pacheco G, Gosling E and Farnworth M 2019 What Makes a Rabbit Cute? Preference for rabbit faces differs according to skull morphology and demographic factors. Animals 9: 728  


This MRes is part funded by Universities Federation for Animal Welfare (UFAW).  


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