WITH her neck twisted to one side and head at a painful angle, Megan the rabbit looked like she’d suffered a horrifying attack — or even had a stroke.
But the awkward posture was actually caused by her floppy ears.
Megan the bunny looks like she’s had a stroke, but it’s her floppy ears that are the problem[/caption]
Megan, who needs to be picked up carefully or she spins, with owner Sadie and her mum Jodie[/caption]
Megan is just one of around one million pet rabbits in the UK — making bunnies the third most popular pet behind cats and dogs.
Vets are now warning that many may be experiencing painful diseases or loneliness.
It’s feared that their “Instagram-ability” is leading rabbit owners to prioritise their pets’ looks above their health, following a similar trend in dogs and cats.
Celebrity pet bunny owners include Cara Delevingne and Kylie Jenner. While other stars including Rita Ora and Kylie’s sister Kendall have posted snaps of themselves holding cute bunnies — fuelling the increase in popularity.
Cara’s pet, Cecil, even has his own Instagram account.
But Megan’s severe condition means she may never make a full recovery.
Owner Jodie Salt, 40, from Frodsham, Cheshire, said: “The vet said it was an ear infection, and suspected ear parasite.
“Megan was given antibiotics for the infection, but the vet did say that it’s not uncommon and she may never recover her posture.
‘SAD THAT LOP EARS IMPACTED WELL-BEING’
“It affects her balance so you have to be very careful about picking her up otherwise she starts spinning because she feels disoriented. We really panicked when we first saw her in this state.”
Lop eared bunnies — which account for more than half of Britain’s pet rabbits — are some of the worst affected, with experts warning they are more susceptible to a host of medical problems because of their floppy ears.
Rita Ora has jumped on the bandwagon of posing with a cute bunny[/caption]
Stars like Kendall Jenner are fuelling the demand for ‘Instagramable’ pet bunnies[/caption]
A recent study by the Royal Veterinary College, published in the journal Vet Record, showed lops are far more likely to suffer excessive ear wax, ear pain and dental problems due to the shape of their head.
They are also at an increased risk of injury and even prone to obesity if the length of their ears restricts their movement, according to the report.
Mini lop brothers Comet and Cupid are two such victims — and their problems ended in tragedy.
Rae Todd, 45, from Taunton, Somerset, a director at the Rabbit Welfare Association and Fund, rescued the adorable bunnies on Christmas Eve, 2014.
She said: “Comet and Cupid weren’t even a year old. A combination of their breed and a poor diet meant that they both had horrendous dental problems.
“They were both such lovely boys, but probably both were in extreme pain.
“X-rays of Comet’s teeth showed how the roots were erupting out of his jaw. He had to be put to sleep just a few days later.
“He had about a week of freedom and love, but he was in such pain that he was not really able to enjoy it.”
Cupid was also put to sleep, as was Rudolph, another brother rescued at the same time who had an ear abscess, “the size of a golf ball” and was put on a palliative pain plan.
Blitzen was the only one of the four to survive more than a month.
Amy Ockleford, 30, a press officer, from Horsham, West Sussex, believes her late bunny, Louie also suffered ear problems.
She said: “I often wondered if Louie’s lop ears made him partially deaf. He was quite a nervous rabbit and could be shy and skittish around people.
“He would frighten easily and was jumpy. As a prey animal, not being able to hear well made him anxious. It’s sad to think that having lop ears impacted on his general state of wellbeing.”
It is not just lop eared bunnies who are suffering.
A landmark survey of more than 2,500 pet rabbits taken by vets found that lives of bunnies of all kinds were being blighted by overgrown claws and teeth, anorexia and myiasis, or flystrike, an often fatal condition caused by flies laying eggs on a rabbit’s skin.
Worse still, rabbits kept alone in hutches are thought to suffer crippling loneliness.
Dan O’Neill, a vet at the Royal Veterinary College who co-authored the research, said: “In rabbits we have a social species that is kept in isolation. That’s the ultimate punishment.”
How to buy a rabbit
- ADOPT don’t shop – consider taking on a rescue rabbit before buying a bunny from the pet shop. The RSPCA has lots of animals waiting for their forever homes at rspca.org.uk/findapet.
- DO your research before taking on rabbits – be sure you can provide for them for their whole lifetime before bringing them home.
- CHOOSE a responsible breeder or reputable seller. Ask lots of questions and check the environment your bunnies has been bred and reared in.
- ASK to see veterinary paperwork and question whether the rabbits or their parents have had any health problems which could have been passed over.
- UNFORTUNATELY cute lop eared rabbits can be more susceptible to health problems, so it is worth considering getting bunnies with upwards pointing ears to avoid this risk.
- FOR advice about caring for rabbits, visit the RSPCA website.
‘CRITICAL OWNERS THINK HEALTH OVER LOOKS’
Then there’s the problem with pedigree breeding, leading to health warnings similar to those about French bulldogs and Persian cats, which have also become popular on social media, but can suffer breathing problems from being bred to have flatter faces.
Now vets are warning about rabbit varieties such as the lionhead, which struggles to breath thanks to it short muzzle and mane of fur.
Daniella Dos Santos, President of the British Veterinary Association, added: “Sadly, vets tell us that all too often they’re seeing clients who have chosen a pet with certain features without being aware of the serious health and welfare problems they may have as a result.’
“It’s critical that prospective owners think ‘health over looks’ when choosing a pet, as extreme features may come hand in hand with hereditary problems that can lead to serious health problems and be distressing and costly to treat.”
The University of Nottingham’s School of Veterinary Medicine and Science has just published the results of its global survey of 20,000 people in which participants were asked to rate the “cuteness” of pictures of rabbits from one to 10.
The experiment, dubbed “bunny Tinder” was conducted in a bid to combat breeding of rabbits with extreme facial features, such as very flat faces.
It found that people are more attracted to animals with mildly flat faces, but interestingly, it also revealed pointed ears are preferable to lop ears.
Animal welfare expert and lead author of the study, Naomi Harvey, said: “Despite lop eared rabbits being very popular pets, people actually preferred erect-eared rabbits slightly more than lops.
“Since lop-ears are also associated with higher risk of ear and dental problems, this is an interesting find.”
The British Rabbit Council, however, believes pet owners should not shy away from lop breeds and its chairwoman, Hazel Elliott, is critical of the survey.
She said: “The smaller lops, the dwarves and minis, very rarely have problems. Those make up the highest number of lops.
“I’ve had dwarf lops that have lived to 11 years old and never had an ear problem.
‘UNLIKELY TO HAVE BEEN VERY WELL CARED FOR’
“If you speak to people who breed them to show, and would only breed two healthy animals together, I’m quite sure they would report the same.
“You can get ear infections in the larger lops, the French and English, but it tends to happen when they have other health problems as well. The problem with the paper is that it was a very small study, undertaken with rabbits from a rabbit rescue who are unlikely to have been very well cared for before they ended up in a rescue.
“With studies of this type, it’s really important not to take the evidence too seriously. It would need to be a much bigger study.”
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She added that domestic rabbits, bred from generations of caged animals, are “all used to living alone.”
Both the RSPCA and British Rabbit Council recommends buying pet rabbits from reputable, responsible breeders.
The BRC is happy to put prospective owners in touch with respected breeders.
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