Many rabbit caretakers will gravitate toward lop-eared rabbits. These floppy eared fluffballs are just so adorable. The way their ears frame their face and flop around when they run across the room make these rabbits irresistible. It’s no wonder that lop breeds are among the most popular rabbits that are kept as pets.
In general, lop rabbit care is similar to other breeds of rabbits. However, lops are more prone to ear infections, dental problems, and obesity. To care for them, you will need to keep a strict diet. As your rabbit ages, you may need to perform weekly ear-cleanings to reduce the chance of infection.
For the most part lop rabbit care is very similar to their uppity-eared counterparts. However, lop rabbit body language has some major differences because of the role their ears play. In addition, you will need to pay extra attention to their health.
In this article, I will be going over the specific differences you should expect when caring for a lop-eared rabbit as opposed to other, non-lop breeds. We’ll go over special considerations you need to make for their ears and overall health. If you want more general information about how to care for a pet rabbit of any breed (including lops), I recommend checking out the basic guide to rabbit care.
Care for lop rabbit ears
Lop rabbit ears are much more prone to infections and infestations. If you have a lop rabbit, you’ll need to take extra care of their ears. These rabbits have narrower ear canals, making it easier for ear wax and debris to get impacted. If left to build up, this can cause an infection in the rabbit’s skull.
Rabbits with lop ears also tend to have a more difficult time keeping their ears clean. This gives parasites, such as ear mites, a chance to burrow into the rabbit’s ears. Lop rabbits with long ears, can also get sores or crusted debris along the bottom of their ears from dragging along the ground. You need to check periodically to make sure your rabbit’s ears are clean and healthy.
How to clean lop rabbit ears
Because of their tendency to collect debris and have a buildup of earwax, many lop rabbits will require a regular ear cleaning. Before you start cleaning your rabbit’s ears out, it’s important for you to talk to a veterinarian that specializes in rabbits. They can let you know if your rabbit actually requires this care and can give you the proper medication to clean out the ears.
You’ll want to clean your rabbit’s ears in a bathroom or a room that is easy to clean because the ear-cleaning solution will get everywhere. This process is easier with two people since one person can hold the rabbit while the other cleans out the ears, but it’s possible to perform alone as well.
Tools you need:
- A vet-recommended cleaning solution
- A towel
- A few cotton balls
- Securely wrap your rabbit in the towel and hold them in your lap. If you have a partner, one of you can hold the rabbit while the other cleans the ears. Otherwise you’ll need to hold your rabbit with your legs.
- Hold your rabbit’s ear upright and pour in the cleaning solution until you can see the liquid pooling. You can place a cotton ball on the entrance to the ear canal to prevent your rabbit from shaking the liquid out of their ear.
- Massage the base of your rabbit’s ear with your fingers for 20-30 seconds. It will feel unpleasant or itchy for your rabbit and they will most likely try to shake their ears. Do your best to keep their ear upright so the solution won’t splash everywhere.
- Use a few cotton balls to gently clean out the loosened earwax. Now you can allow your rabbit to shake their head (and expect any leftover solution to spray everywhere).
- Use a towel to dry off your rabbit and fluff up their fur.
- Repeat on the other side.
Care for lop rabbit teeth
Lop rabbits tend to have a shorter skull than uppity eared rabbits. This affects the jaw and teeth alignment of lop rabbits, causing them to have a higher risk of developing dental problems. A recent study found that lop rabbits were 23 times more likely to have problems with their incisor teeth, and 12 times more likely to to have problems with their cheek teeth.
This means that it’s more important than ever to make sure you are giving your lop rabbit a healthy diet and regular teeth checks. A proper diet is key to preventing overgrown rabbit teeth and tooth checks will help you catch any sign of dental problems as quickly as possible.
A healthy diet
- Grass-based hay. A healthy diet should consist of unlimited grass-based hay (such as timothy hay). This is ideal for a rabbits digestion and it’s rough enough to help wear down a rabbit’s teeth.
- Fresh leafy greens. Fresh greens, such as basil, cilantro and leafy lettuces provide rabbits with nutrients that help them maintain a healthy body.
- Pellets. Rabbit pellets should only be given in small quantities (about ¼ cup a day).
- Limited treats. Rabbits should only be given a small amount of fresh or dried fruits and vegetables as treats to prevent tooth decay. Try to limit your rabbit to 1-2 Tablespoons of these sweet treats in a day.
Rabbit teeth check
- Feel the rabbit’s cheeks. Massage your rabbit’s cheeks and feel for the cheek teeth. You’re looking for any bumps or sharp points that shouldn’t be there. These can be an indication of overgrown cheek teeth.
- Check the front teeth. Gently pull your rabbit’s lips back to reveal their front incisor teeth. You’re looking to make sure their teeth are straight and not too long or curling inward.
- Look for signs of tooth problems. Other signs of tooth problems to look out for include: drooling, bad breath, a change in eating habits, and weight loss.
Preventing obesity in lop rabbits
Because most lop rabbits have been bred from French Lops, they have a stocky build and a tendency to put on weight quickly. Rabbits have a sensitive digestive system, so obesity can be a very dangerous condition. You want to make sure you help your rabbit maintain a healthy lifestyle so they can continue to be a happy and healthy bunny.
In addition to the healthy diet, you can do this by making sure your rabbit has a large enough enclosure and enough daily exercise. A rabbit’s enclosure should be at least three to four times the full length of the rabbit (but bigger is always better). This will give the rabbit enough space to hop around and be happy during the day.
In addition to a large enclosure, you’ll want to make sure your rabbit gets plenty of time out to exercise. They should get at least two hours a day in a bigger exercise area, but more time is always better. If you can, try to give your rabbit their exercise time in the morning or evening. Rabbits are crepuscular animals and they’re more likely to be active around these times of the day.
Helping Obese Rabbits Lose Weight
Lop rabbit body language
For a typical rabbit, you can learn a lot about what they are feeling and trying to communicate by watching their ears. The ears are like antennas that can tell us when a rabbit is alert, curious, or even angry and upset. Lop rabbits, however, can be a lot more difficult to understand. They have a very limited amount of control over their ears. Because of this, it takes a little bit more time and practice to understand the body language of a lop-eared rabbit.
How much control do lop rabbits have of their ears?
While lop rabbits definitely have less control over their ears than their uppity-eared counterparts, they do still maintain some ability to move their ears around. The amount that a lop rabbit can move their ears varies depending on how strong their ear muscles are.
Most lop-eared rabbits are, at the very least, able to rotate their ears so the inner ear is facing forward. Many are able to raise their ears at least a little bit, and some can even lift their ears to an upright position. It really just depends on the specific rabbit and their genetics.
Interpreting lop rabbit ears
It may be more difficult to understand the body language of lop rabbits, but we can still learn a little bit from the position of their ears. Some common ear positions you might see include:
- Ears pushed forward: A curious or cautious rabbit will push their ears forward a little so they can use all their senses to check out something that is interesting or scaring them. A rabbit with a lot of control of their ears may send them straight forward in front of their face, but a rabbit with less control will only be able to move their ears slightly forward.
- Rotated ears: A lop rabbit can rotate their ears slightly to find the direction of a nearby sound. You might see them move just one ear, making them look like a curious puppy, or they may rotate both ears.
- Airplane ears: Airplane ears are a common sight on lop rabbits who have some strength in their ear muscles. These rabbits will lift their ears straight out horizontally. You will most often see this behavior when your rabbit is excited, but you might also see it if your rabbit is on the alert.
Lop rabbit temperament
Because they have a history of being bred mainly as pets, lop rabbits tend to be friendly breeds of rabbits. They are very willing to socialize with people and often have personalities that resemble little puppy dogs. This friendly disposition, as well as the adorable appearance of lop-eared rabbits, makes them very popular as pets.
However, it is important to remember that all rabbits are individuals. There are many lop-eared rabbits that are shy or dislike human attention. The breed of a rabbit is not always the best indicator for their personality. You will need to meet a rabbit to judge their personality for yourself.
It’s also important to remember that lop-eared rabbits are not restricted to the purebred, recognized breeds. You may be able to find a mixed breed rabbit who also happens to have lop ears, so it’s best not to judge a rabbit’s personality solely on the orientation of their ears.
Lop rabbit history
It is believed that lop ears in rabbits first developed because their ears became too long and heavy to hold in an upright position. Rabbit ears serve the function of regulating a rabbit’s body temperature. The larger the rabbit’s ears, the more they are able to release excess body heat and survive in warmer climates.
The current theory is that some rabbits living in warmer temperatures eventually developed ears that were so large that they flopped over. The muscles at the base of the ear were no longer able to support the ear structure and some rabbits started to have lop ears.
People were attracted to the floppy ears of these rabbits and began to keep them domestically, breeding for the lop-eared feature. Lop rabbits were developed as a show breed by the mid 1800’s and became increasingly popular as pets over the next centuries.
Lop-eared rabbits have a slightly different skull structure than their uppity-eared counterparts. The way lop ears droop down the sides of a rabbit’s head causes the cartilage at the base of the ear to be slightly deformed. There will be a small bulge at the top of the rabbits head, commonly called a crown.
When at rest, the ears will generally be facing inward, with the inner ear facing toward the skull. Lop-eared rabbits do still maintain some ability to rotate their ears to better hear where sounds are coming from.
With the exception of English Lop rabbits, rabbit breeds have been developed to have a slightly shorter skull. Originally lop rabbits all had very long ears as well, but breeding experiments in the 1900’s have brought about some breeds of lop rabbits that have shorter ears.
Lop ears development
Baby rabbits are not born with lop ears. Instead, the flop of a rabbit’s ears happens when the muscles at the base of their ears are not strong enough to keep them in an upright position. When rabbits are young, their ears are not fully developed and their muscles are still able to hold up the ears. Eventually as the ears grow to their full adult length, a lop rabbit’s ears will fall to frame their face.
The exact timing will vary based on a number of factors. Some rabbits have weaker ear muscles, and some rabbits have ears that grow faster. Whatever the case, it takes on average one to four months for lop ears to fall, but there are many outliers. Some will have ears that fall within a couple weeks, and some can even take a year.
Half lop rabbits and mixed breeds
Not all rabbits have fully lop ears. There are many mixed breed rabbits that have a lot more control over their ears than a typical lop-eared bunny. These rabbits will have ears that appear lop when at rest, but they are able to control their ears and lift them to a full upright position if they want to. This is likely because the mixed genes of these rabbits have weakened the muscles at the base of their ears, but not so much that ear movement is impossible.
Similarly, half lop rabbits are also known to result from a mixed breed match. This is when a rabbit has one uppity ear and one lop ear. It’s an uncommon occurrence, but not unheard of. Once upon a time, in the mid 1800’s, some rabbits were even specifically bred to have just one lop ear.
Lop rabbit breeds
The oldest known breed of lop rabbit is the English Lop. The history of this breed’s development is mostly left a mystery, but records indicate that it existed as early as the 1700’s. Over time, this original lop rabbit breed was used to develop the French lop, which was subsequently used to breed many other types of lop-eared rabbits.
The American Rabbit Breeders Association (ARBA) currently recognizes 5 different breeds of lop eared rabbits: The American Fuzzy Lop, the English Lop, the French Lop, the Holland Lop, and the Mini Lop. Of course, there are other rabbits who are not purebred who may also show this gene. For example, I have seen a couple fabulous lionhead rabbits who also had lop ears.
American Fuzzy Lop
American Fuzzy Lop rabbits are the newest recognized breed of lops. They were added to the ranks of floppy eared rabbits in 1989 from a mix of Holland Lop and French Angora to get that fuzzy look. These rabbits are known for their long wooly coat, with short lop ears. They can be a whole variety of fun colors, and will have dark ears and dark markings around their nose. American Fuzzy Lops are a small breed of rabbit and will only weigh up to around four pounds.
English Lop rabbits are the oldest breed of lop rabbits. Their origin is not fully known, but in the 1800’s they were bred as show rabbits and prized for the excessive length of their ears. These rabbits can come in just about any color, and they have ears so long that they drag onto the ground. English Lop’s are actually very big rabbits, usually weighing in at around nine or ten pounds.
French Lop rabbits are the second breed developed after the English Lop. They are the largest breed of lop rabbit, weighing in at ten to fifteen pounds! Because of their size, this breed was typically raised as meat rabbits until they became more popular in the 1900’s. They have a thick and stocky body that made them more able to put on weight quickly. This sturdy rabbit was used to develop the smaller breeds of lop-eared rabbits that are so common today.
Holland lops are one of the most popular breeds of rabbits that are kept as pets today. They are one of the smallest breeds of lop rabbits, weighing in at four pounds or less. Holland lops have a short and compact face, with thick fur and short ears. These cuties can be pretty much any color and have become known as one of the friendliest breeds of rabbit.
Mini Lop rabbits have the appearance of a half-sized French Lop rabbit. They have a compact, round body with a thick coat that can be any color. Their ears tend to be a little long, causing the tips to just barely drag on the floor. Despite the name, Mini Lop rabbits are actually medium sized. They will usually weigh about five or six pounds when they are fully grown.
- Jade C Johnson and Charlotte C Burn. “Lop-eared rabbits have more aural and dental problems than erect-eared rabbits: a rescue population study.” Vet Record. BMJ Journals. 2019. Accessed: https://veterinaryrecord.bmj.com/content/185/24/758.
- “Lop-eared rabbits more likely to have tooth/ear problems than erect eared cousins.” ScienceDaily. October 2019. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/10/191001184929.htm.
- Shapiro, Amy. “Lops Are Mellow and Other Dangerous Myths.” House Rabbit Society. July 10, 2011. https://rabbit.org/lops-are-mellow-and-other-dangerous-myths.
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