Cute rabbit survey uncovers most popular bunny face

26 September 2019

Experts have found the cutest looking rabbit face using a survey which was created to help them understand why people choose certain breeds of bunny.

The survey had an unprecedented level of interest, with over twenty thousand people completing it from around the world.

The results will be used to help guide the choice of potential rabbit owners to avoid some of the health problems associated with intensive breeding of popular rabbits.

Using the Rabbit Face Survey, which was launched last year, experts from the University of Nottingham’s School of Veterinary Medicine have found that rabbits with flatter, and shorter faces than wild rabbits, are the most popular.

This raises concerns among animal welfare experts as rabbits with flat faces are at a higher risk of considerable health issues including painful dental problems.

Rabbits are the third most common pet in the UK, with an estimated one and a half million kept as pets currently. There has previously been very little known about the animals and where they come from as the breeding industry is to a large extent unregulated.

The survey was launched last year as part of a collaborative project by experts at the University of Nottingham, Nottingham Trent University and two independent researchers to find out what factors influence people’s preference for breeds of rabbit. Experts created the survey so they could better understand what drives breeding for some for some of the more unusual looking rabbits available.

The findings, which are published in the journal Animals, will be used to inform safer breeding methods to help prevent some of the health problems that can happen as a result of intensive breeding to produce rabbits with more extreme facial features.

The survey found that mildly-flat-faced rabbits are the most preferred globally to any other kind, and that the longest faced rabbits are the least preferred.

Zoologist and animal welfare expert and lead author of the study Dr Naomi Harvey, said: “The results suggest that the creation and popularity of flat-faced rabbits may have been driven by people’s preference for these types of rabbits, which is most likely due to their more baby-like appearance. This is disappointing as these types of rabbits suffer from painful conditions because of the shape of their faces.”

Other features of rabbit faces that were preferred include appearing soft, medium-light fur appearance and generally having short fur.

“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.” said Dr Harvey.

The survey also found:

  • Younger people were more likely to prefer flat-faced rabbits – which could be due to younger people being more prone to liking baby-like features
  • Animal care professionals gave lower preference ratings to extremely flat-faced rabbits, which implies that knowledge of the health problems these animals suffer from can impact preference
  • This is supported by the fact that as people’s education levels increase, their preference for flat-faced rabbits decreased
  • People in Europe and Oceania preferred extremely flat-faced rabbits less than people from the rest of the world
  • Current rabbit owners preferred flat-faced rabbits slightly more than non-rabbit owners

Dr Harvey said: “The insights from the survey will prove useful for the development of education campaigns to raise awareness of conformation associated health issues in addition to providing insight into the impact appearance may have on rabbit purchasing behaviour.”

Richard Saunders, a Vet Specialist Advisor at the Rabbit Welfare Association & Fund (RWAF) , said: “The study by Dr Naomi Harvey at the University of Nottingham had huge input from a range of rabbit owners and animal professionals, and it demonstrates, worryingly, a preference amongst most potential owners for rabbits with flatter faces than the ideal “wild type” rabbit. Unfortunately, whilst these rabbits look cute, they are at greater risk of potentially fatal dental and ear problems.

“Here at the RWAF we would recommend selecting a rabbit based on its health, and trying to choose rabbits with as near to wild type head shapes helps with that.”

Associate Professor Mark Farnworth of Nottingham Trent University, and co-author of the study says: “This study helps us understand how people’s preferences may drive development of extreme breed differences. In cats and dogs this has, over a long period, resulted in numerous short-faced breeds, many with health problems. We hope this information can minimise the impact on future breeding of rabbits.”