Study reveals extent of rabbit ear conditions

27th July 2023
Industry News

More than a quarter of all pet rabbits were affected by painful ear conditions or ones that impaired their hearing, according to a study by the RVC.

The findings of a survey suggest ear problems are such an issue that more work is needed to improve recognition among breeders and owners to select healthy rabbits and seek treatment.

Ear diseases have been described as common in rabbits, with prevalence estimates in a previous study finding 3.5% of rabbits will experience certain conditions, but they can be difficult to spot and can be easily missed.

Behaviour signs of pain and hearing loss can manifest as unresponsiveness and reduced activity, and can go unnoticed by owners or vets, particularly in rabbits prone to hide when humans are around.

Conducting an online questionnaire that garnered 551 responses, the team found 49% of rabbits were reported as having lop ears, 43% erect ears and the remainder asymmetrical or one erect and one lop.

More than a quarter (29%) were reported by their owners with at least one problem, with 21% diagnosed by a vet.

Perceived reduction

Common ear conditions included ear infections such as otitis media and otitis interna, with 16% reporting their rabbits had impaired hearing, 14% ear-related problems and 7% having a perceived pain response.

Rabbits with ear pain responses were three times less likely to perform binkying behaviour and three times more likely to have a perceived reduction in overall quality of life.

In other results, 11% of rabbits with a vet-indicated ear problem were reported to flinch and pull away during an exam, compared with 3% of rabbits with no such indication.

Almost all conditions appeared more common in lop-eared and asymmetrical phenotypes and in this sample, lop-eared rabbits were 19 times more likely to be reported as having impaired hearing or deafness and 5.5 times more likely to have impaired quality of life because of the problem.

Painful ear infections

Charlotte Burn, associate professor in animal welfare and behaviour science at the RVC, said: “Rabbits are well known for their long ears, but it’s awful to think that, beneath the surface, many rabbits are experiencing painful ear infections or deafness.

“We want to raise awareness of this, because rabbits often hide their pain, and sometimes it can be hard to tell if they can hear properly. It’s also worrying that nearly a quarter of owners who suspected that their rabbits had ear problems had apparently not taken their rabbits to a vet for treatment or pain relief.”

Dr Burn added: “Some rabbits with ear problems frequently scratch at their ears, shake or tilt their heads, or avoid you touching their ears. This study also shows that rabbits with ear disease may not respond to regular important sounds, like the rustling of a treat packet, and they rarely binky about, which suggests that they may not feel like playing as much as other rabbits do.

“If a rabbit is relatively inactive, they could be in their own silent world of pain from an ear problem or from something else, so do get them checked by a vet.”


Chivers BD, Keeler MRD and Burn CC (2023). Ear health and quality of life in pet rabbits of differing ear conformations: a UK survey of owner-reported signalment risk factors and effects on rabbit welfare and behaviour, PLoS ONE 18(7): e0285372.


Credit to:  Study reveals extent of rabbit ear conditions (vet Times)

Vet Times. (2023).  Study reveals extent of rabbit ear conditions [online]

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