Cute rabbit survey uncovers most popular bunny face

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.

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."

Co-author of the study, Associate Professor Mark Farnworth of Nottingham Trent University’s School of Animal, Rural and Environmental Sciences, 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.”

  • Notes for editors

    More information is available from Dr Naomi Harvey at naomi.harvey@nottingham.ac.uk (not for publication) ; or Charlotte Anscombe, Media Relations Manager for the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences in the Press Office at The University of Nottingham, on +44 (0)115 74 84417, charlotte.anscombe@nottingham.ac.uk

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    Notes to editors:

    The University of Nottingham is a research-intensive university with a proud heritage, consistently ranked among the world's top 100. Studying at the University of Nottingham is a life-changing experience and we pride ourselves on unlocking the potential of our 44,000 students - Nottingham was named both Sports and International University of the Year in the 2019 Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide, was awarded gold in the TEF 2017 and features in the top 20 of all three major UK rankings. We have a pioneering spirit, expressed in the vision of our founder Sir Jesse Boot, which has seen us lead the way in establishing campuses in China and Malaysia - part of a globally connected network of education, research and industrial engagement. We are ranked eighth for research power in the UK according to REF 2014. We have six beacons of research excellence helping to transform lives and change the world; we are also a major employer and industry partner - locally and globally.

    More news…

    Nottingham Trent University (NTU) was named University of the Year 2019 in the Guardian University Awards. The award was based on performance and improvement in the Guardian University Guide, retention of students from low-participation areas and attainment of BME students. NTU was also the Times Higher Education University of the Year 2017, and The Times and Sunday Times Modern University of the Year 2018. These awards recognise NTU for its high levels of student satisfaction, its quality of teaching, its engagement with employers, and its overall student experience. The university has been rated Gold in the Government’s Teaching Excellence Framework – the highest ranking available.

    It is one of the largest UK universities. With nearly 32,000 students and more than 4,000 staff located across four campuses, the University contributes £900m to the UK economy every year. With an international student population of more than 3,000 from around 100 countries, the University prides itself on its global outlook. The university is passionate about creating opportunities and its extensive outreach programme is designed to enable NTU to be a vehicle for social mobility. NTU is among the UK’s top five recruiters of students from disadvantaged backgrounds. A total of 82% of its graduates go on to graduate entry employment or graduate entry education or training within six months of leaving. Student satisfaction is high: NTU achieved an 87% satisfaction score in the 2019 National Student Survey.

    NTU is also one of the UK’s most environmentally friendly universities, containing some of the sector’s most inspiring and efficient award-winning buildings.

Cute rabbit survey uncovers most popular bunny face

Published on 27 September 2019
  • Category: Press office; School of Animal, Rural and Environmental Sciences

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