Not so happy bunnies: New RVC research reveals the breeds most at risk of tear duct inflammation this International Rabbit Day

New research by the Royal Veterinary College (RVC) has revealed the rabbit breeds most at risk of developing dacryocystitis, an inflammatory condition of the tear ducts, including Lionheads, Mini Lops, Lops and Dwarf Lop rabbits. The research also uncovered the prevalence of the subsequent medical conditions associated with dacryocystitis.

Dacryocystitis is relatively common among pet rabbits due to the unique structure of their nasolacrimal duct which can easily become obstructed. The condition is therefore associated with a range of other dental, respiratory, aural and ocular problems which can be painful and uncomfortable for the animal.

In undertaking the research, the team, comprised of Dr Joanna Hedley, Senior Lecturer in Exotic Species and Small Mammal Medicine and Surgery; Victoria Ede, RVC graduate; and Dr Charlotte Dawson, Senior Lecturer in Veterinary Ophthalmology, conducted a retrospective review of medical records from all rabbit cases evaluated at a single first opinion/referral UK exotics clinic between 2015 and 2018. This included analysing data from 821 rabbits which recorded their most recent weight, sex, neuter status, breed and presence of lop ears.

After analysing the data, the researchers found that 6.7 per cent of the rabbits had dacryocystitis. Of those rabbits, dental disease was found in 45 per cent, respiratory disease in 38 per cent, concurrent ocular disorders in 23 per cent and aural disease in 13 per cent.

The study also revealed that sex/neuter and breed status were the two most significant risk factors in developing dacryocystitis, with male neutered rabbits and Lionheads, Mini Lops, Lops and Dwarf Lop rabbits amongst the groups found to be most likely to have the condition. Interestingly, these breeds are often brachycephalic, suggesting the field requires further research into the relationship between sex, breed and condition.

The research is hoped to help veterinarians advise owners and path the way to further research into breed susceptibility.

Dr Joanna Hedley, Senior Lecturer in Exotic Species and Small Mammal Medicine and Surgery at the Beaumont Sainsbury Animal Hospital, Royal Veterinary College, said:

"This research has been crucial in helping us conclude that a breed predisposition for dacryocystitis may exist, particularly for the popular Lionhead and Dwarf Lop rabbits. We hope that these findings can now help us better understand how to prevent and manage this condition, so that vets can advise owners accordingly."


Hedley J, Ede V, Dawson C. Retrospective study identifying risk factors for dacryocystitis in pet rabbits. Vet Rec.2022;e1903.

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