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Vets reveal the most typical well being circumstances in rabbits

  • UK vets explored the health of 162,000 rabbits under veterinary care
  • The most common disorders were overgrown nails and teeth, and obesity

Families looking to buy a rabbit should avoid those with floppy ears and a short head due to health issues, experts have warned.

In the largest study of its kind in the world, UK researchers explored the body shape of 162,000 rabbits under veterinary care during 2019.

Their analysis revealed that unnatural body shapes, as well as a poor diet and inadequate exercise, all have strong links to poor health in the furry animals.

Nearly 80 per cent of rabbits were classified as short-headed, 16.8 per cent as medium-headed and only 3.5 per cent as long-headed.

Long-headed rabbits are most similar in body shape to wild rabbits, showing just how much we have changed the rabbits we keep as pets today from their original natural conformation, the researchers said.

Families looking to buy a rabbit should avoid those with floppy ears and a short head due to health issues, experts have warned (stock image)

Families looking to buy a rabbit should avoid those with floppy ears and a short head due to health issues, experts have warned (stock image)

Some of the most common disorders in rabbits were overgrown nails, overgrown back teeth and obesity – all of which can be linked to limited exercise and unnatural diets

Some of the most common disorders in rabbits were overgrown nails, overgrown back teeth and obesity – all of which can be linked to limited exercise and unnatural diets

The most common health conditions in rabbits

  • Overgrown nails
  • Overgrown molars (back teeth)
  • Overweight/obesity
  • Dirty bottom
  • Disorder undiagnosed
  • Not eating
  • Gastro-intestinal stasis
  • Tear duct abnormality 

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Rabbits with shorter heads had a higher risk of tear duct abnormalities, haircoat disorder and a dirty bottom, they found.

The team also discovered that 57 per cent of rabbits were lop-eared – a feature that does not commonly occur in nature.

These rabbits, which are already known to be at higher risk of excess wax build-up and ear pain, were found to have a shorter lifespan compared to those with traditional erect ears.

Some of the most common disorders in rabbits were overgrown nails, overgrown back teeth and obesity – all of which can be linked to limited exercise and unnatural diets.

The research also revealed that the average pet rabbit weighed 2.26kg and had a five-year lifespan.

The study was led by Dr Dan O’Neill, associate professor of companion animal epidemiology at the Royal Veterinary College (RVC) in London.

He said: ‘This new study helps us to understand that the health of our pet rabbits is heavily dependent on the choices we make as owners.

The research also revealed that the average pet rabbit weighed 2.26kg and had a five-year lifespan

The research also revealed that the average pet rabbit weighed 2.26kg and had a five-year lifespan

‘Whether that be the body shapes of the rabbits we choose to acquire or the food and exercise we choose to allow our pet rabbits to enjoy, we play an important and influential role in determining whether their health is good or poor.

‘This research also tells us that we have the power to improve the lives of our much-loved pet rabbits.

‘Greater awareness by owners on the importance firstly of choosing a rabbit with a more natural body shape and then later on of the value of conducting regular health and cleanliness checks, along with providing good diet and exercise, particularly for unnaturally short-headed or lop-eared rabbits, can make a significant difference to their overall health and quality of life.’

The RVC recommends owners mainly feed their rabbits good quality hay or grass, supplemented with commercial food in small quantities and fruit – as well as carrots – as an occasional treat.

Rabbits should also be encouraged to exercise by giving them access to a large, predator-proof space, they said.

They should have food hidden around this environment rather than placed in a bowl or the same place each day to encourage foraging activity.

The findings were published in the journal Veterinary Record.