Genetic Welfare Problems of Companion Animals

An information resource for prospective pet owners

Angora

Angora

Long Hair

Outline: The abnormally long fur of the Angora rabbit is due to an autosomal recessive gene. Angora rabbits are unable to groom themselves adequately and their coats are prone to becoming matted which can lead to skin infections. Because the fur often becomes matted and soiled, they are at particular risk of fly strike. They are also prone to gastric and intestinal stasis due to excessive ingestion of fur. The gastro- intestinal effects can be chronic or, if complete blockage occurs, acute and fatal within hours. These conditions adversely affect the animals’ welfare with effects ranging from discomfort to intense pain.


Summary of Information

(for more information click on the links below)

1. Brief description

The Angora rabbit is thought to have originated from Ankara (formerly known as Angora) in Turkey. Various breeds of Angora are recognised around the world. They are kept as pets, show animals and commercially for their “wool”. Breeds include the English angora, the French angora, the German and Giant angora (which are English angoras selectively bred to produce more wool), the Satin angora and, a new development - the Dwarf angora (http://www.angoras.co.uk/history2006.htm).

The fur of the rabbit varies with breed. The natural wild coat consists of two types of hair, a short soft undercoat covered by longer guard hairs (Meredith 2000). The undercoat, known sometimes as “wool”, is fine and acts as insulation, the longer guard hairs are silky and harder and act as a waterproof top layer (http://www.angoras.co.uk/history2006.htm)

In the Angora both the undercoat and guard hairs are very long (Meredith 2000). There is an increased amount of the wool undercoat and a decrease in the number of guard hairs.

Normally, rabbits groom and care for their fur themselves but this is impossible for the Angora. The long, fine, fluffy coat, with few guard hairs is very vulnerable to matting and this occurs rapidly without regular grooming (Meredith 2000; http://www.ontariorabbits.org/diet/careinfo7.html).

Also, because of the fewer guard hairs and hollow hair fibres, the coat is less waterproof than normal and is absorbent, so that Angora fur mats when wet and they easily get soaked through in the rain. As they then take a long time to dry naturally, this can leave them vulnerable to cold (http://www.angoras.co.uk/care2006.htm).

A matted coat causes discomfort and if severely matted, the skin underneath may become sore and infected. Large mats can physically affect the rabbit’s ability to feed if, for example, the mats are below the chin, or can interfere with normal movement when the mats involve the limbs (RWF 2007).

As well as matting of the fur, Angoras are predisposed to other problems because of their long coats. These include: difficulties in mating; difficulties in nursing - as the kits (baby rabbits) cannot easily find the nipples to feed; gastric stasis (decreased motility of the stomach) and gastrointestinal obstruction with bloat (blockage of the gut causing the stomach and intestines to fill with gas) and flystrike (in which flies lay their eggs on the rabbit and on hatching, the maggots feed on the its body tissues – eating it alive). Both acute gastrointestinal obstruction from ingestion of a hair mat and fly-strike are life-threatening, painful and distressing conditions.

Although regular grooming or clipping is recommended and will prevent the diseases associated with long hair, rabbits often find these procedures uncomfortable and stressful. Some rabbits are so distressed that they require sedation or anaesthesia before them (RWF 2007). Rabbit skin is thin and it is easy to cut whilst clipping – any such wounds need appropriate care and attention (RWF 2007).

Angoras are high maintenance rabbits needing significant and impeccable husbandry to avoid disease and discomfort.

2. Intensity of welfare impact

Angora rabbit fur mats readily. Matted fur can be uncomfortable causing irritation, sore and infected skin and, if severe, can affect ability to feed and mobility. Regular grooming or clipping can be stressful and maybe painful too. All these factors can compromise the quality of life for Angora rabbits.

The long coat and matting predisposes the breed to two life-threatening conditions: gastrointestinal obstruction and fly strike. These conditions cause significant pain, distress and suffering (Deeb 2000, Harcourt-Brown 2007, Cousquer 2006).

Veterinary visits can cause significant stress in prey species (such as the rabbit) and as rabbits show few obvious signs of pain their suffering may be underestimated and problems may be undetected until they are severe (RSPCA 2011).

As far as we are aware, the effects of the dense fur on thermal comfort has not been investigated but it seems likely that Angora rabbits may be at greater risk of thermal discomfort in warm environmental conditions than normal rabbits.

3. Duration of welfare impact

The welfare risks of long fur are life-long, and can only be reduced by regular clipping and/or daily grooming.

Matting, fly strike and gastric obstruction can occur at any age. Matting can cause discomfort and irritation of days to weeks in duration and can cause pain if the skin beneath the matting becomes infected. Fly strike can lead to a painful death within days and gastrointestinal obstruction can kill within hours. Incomplete obstruction may cause discomfort over days or weeks.

4. Number of animals affected

All Angoras have the coat qualities that predispose them to matting and the secondary consequences of this. We are not aware of any data on the prevalence of the conditions described here (matting, fly strike and gastrointestinal obstruction) but they are considered to be common conditions (Harcourt-Brown 2007, Cousquer 2006).

5. Diagnosis

Coat mats and fly-strike are easy to detect on careful examination although the extent of the tissue damage caused by the maggot infestation may need detailed veterinary examination under sedation or anaesthesia. Diagnosis of gastrointestinal obstruction requires veterinary examination, radiography (x-rays) and sometimes, exploratory surgery.

6. Genetics

The characteristics of the Angora coat are caused by an autosomal recessive gene. All Angoras have a pair of these recessive genes and so have the coat that puts them at particular risk of the conditions described here (De Rochambeau & Thebault 1990).

7. How do you know if an animal is a carrier or likely to become affected?

All Angora rabbits are homozygous for the autosomal recessive gene that causes their coat characteristics (ie both of their copies of this gene are abnormal). There are no unaffected carriers.

8. Methods and prospects for elimination of the problem

All Angora rabbits are homozygous for the autosomal recessive gene that causes their coat characteristics (ie both of their copies of this gene are abnormal). There are no unaffected carriers.


For further details about this condition, please click on the following:
(these link to items down this page)


1. Clinical and pathological effects

All domesticated breeds of rabbit originated from the European wild rabbit Oryctolagus cuniculus (Meredith 2000). Wild rabbits were probably introduced to Britain and northern Europe by the Romans and later disseminated widely around the world.

The Angora rabbit is thought to have originated from Ankara (formerly known as Angora) in Turkey. Various breeds of Angora are recognised around the World. They are kept as pets, show animals and commercially for their “wool”. Breeds include the English angora, the French angora, the German and Giant angora (which are English angoras selectively bred to produce more wool), the Satin angora and, a new development - the Dwarf angora (http://www.angoras.co.uk/history2006.htm). The breeds have slightly different coat characteristics. The natural wild coat consists of two types of hair, a short, soft undercoat covered by longer guard hairs (Meredith 2000). The undercoat, known sometimes as “wool”, is fine and acts as insulation; the longer guard hairs are silky and harder and act as a waterproof top layer (http://www.angoras.co.uk/history2006.htm).

In the Angora, both the undercoat and guard hairs are very long (Meredith 2000). There is an increased amount of the wool undercoat and a decrease in the number of guard hairs. The wool can be collected as a fibre for producing clothing (http://www.angoras.co.uk/history2006.htm). In the English angora guard hairs make up only 1-5% of the coat, the majority of it being the fine wool undercoat (http://www.angoras.co.uk/history2006.htm).

Normal rabbits groom and care for their fur themselves but this is impossible for the Angora. The long, fine, fluffy coat, with fewer guard hairs, is very vulnerable to matting and this occurs rapidly without regular grooming by the owner (Meredith 2000; http://www.ontariorabbits.org/diet/careinfo7.html). It has been reported that mats can appear overnight (http://www.angoras.co.uk/care2006.htm). Unless Angoras have their fur clipped regularly to keep it short, their coats need daily attention (http://www.angoras.co.uk/care2006.htm).

Because there are fewer guard hairs and hollow hair fibres, the coat is less waterproof than normal and indeed is absorbent, so the fur of Angoras mats when wet and the rabbits easily become soaked through in the rain. They take a long time to dry naturally and this can leave them vulnerable to cold (http://www.angoras.co.uk/care2006.htm).

A matted coat is uncomfortable for the rabbit. The skin underneath severe mats may become sore and infected. Large mats can physically affect the rabbit’s ability to feed if, for example, mats form below the chin and can prevent normal locomotion when the mats involve the limbs (RWF 2007).

Angoras are also predisposed to other problems, listed below, because of their long coats.

  • Difficulties in mating due to excessive hair around the vent of the female. It may be necessary to clip the doe to allow mating. The buck’s penis can also become enclosed in mats of wool (wool-bound) which prevents mating (http://www.angorarabbit.com/angora/angora-rabbit-manual/index.htm).
  • Kits (baby rabbits) can have difficulty suckling from their mothers because they cannot find the nipples. Clipping prior to giving birth may be required (http://www.angorarabbit.com/angora/angora-rabbit-manual/index.htm).
  • Hair accumulation in the stomach or intestines leads to gastric stasis (decreased motility of the stomach) and gastrointestinal obstruction (blockage of the gut by fur), causing distension of the stomach and intestines with fluid and gas.

Chronic gastric stasis due to hair accumulation in the stomach and acute blockage are the commonest causes of gastric problems in rabbits (Deeb, 2000). This is caused by a build up of the hair ingested by the rabbit during grooming. It particularly happens at times of moult or when the rabbit grooms excessively due to irritation from matted fur.

The signs shown by rabbits suffering from chronic gut stasis include decreased appetite and reduced faecal production. It is likely that affected animals feel some discomfort and malaise. Chronic stasis is less immediately serious than acute obstruction and has a fair to good prognosis with medical treatment (Deeb 2000).

Acute gastrointestinal obstruction is often life-threatening (Deeb 2000, Harcourt-Brown 2007). It is often caused by the ingestion of a hair mat.. The mat only needs to be the size of a large faecal pellet to cause an obstruction in the intestines (Harcourt-Brown 2007). In Harcourt-Brown’s (2007) study, 49 out of 64 cases of obstruction were caused by pellets of compressed hair.

With a complete obstruction in the small intestines, the stomach rapidly dilates with gas and fluid. Rabbits are physically unable to vomit (Deeb 2000). Affected animals need immediate veterinary attention. Signs shown include: sudden cessation of eating, depression reluctance to move, a hunched-up stance and grinding of the teeth (the latter are signs of pain). They may stretch out to try and get comfortable. Unless successfully treated, there is collapse due to shock and then death (Deeb 2000, Harcourt-Brown 2007, Lewis). Death can occur within eight hours of onset (Harcourt-Brown 2007). Even with medical and surgical treatment the prognosis is poor to guarded (Deeb 2000).

  • Fly strike (Myiasis): Certain fly species lay their eggs on animals and their hatched larvae (maggots) feed on the living animal’s tissues. The fly species implicated in the UK include the blowfly (Lucilia sericata). bluebottles (Calliphora species)and greenbottles (Lucilia species). Other flesh-eating fly species are found around the world (Cousquer 2006).

Such flies are attracted to moist hair and skin soiled by urine and faeces. They lay their eggs in the coat, and, on hatching, the larvae eat the living body tissues. Some of the fly species are capable of damaging intact healthy skin, others only if the skin is already damaged. The larvae will eat through tissues under the skin and unless prevented, will cause extensive damage (Cousquer 2006).

Fluffy and long-haired rabbits are prone to matting around the anus and perineum, which the animal is unable to alleviate through self grooming, so soiling persists and they are vulnerable to fly strike (Cousquer 2006, RWF 2005). The long hair and mats additionally can slow the detection of sore skin and maggots. Fly strike can develop rapidly. In warm conditions; the time from laying eggs to development of second stage larvae, which are most damaging, can be as little at 38 hours (Cousquer 2006).

Cousquer (2006) described this as an extremely distressing condition for the rabbit and owner. Rabbits become depressed and anorexic and lose weight. There may be an unpleasant, fetid smell. On examination, fly eggs and larvae may be seen in the coat and wounds caused by the maggots may be apparent. The rabbit may become dehydrated and collapse and die.

There is significant pain when extensive tissue damage occurs (Cousquer 2006). If caught early treatment may be possible but rabbits with more advanced disease often have to be euthanased. Treatment involves fluid therapy for shock, pain relief, removal of all eggs and larvae, and wound care and management, which may last for weeks.

Angoras are high-maintenance rabbits which need time-consuming and impeccable husbandry if disease and discomfort are to be avoided. This includes a programme of regular grooming (daily or several times a week) or regular clipping, and daily examinations to check for perineal soiling, particularly during warmer weather or in warmer climates. Care has to be taken that Angoras do not get wet (water bottles are recommended rather than ground water bowls), and it is often recommended that they be kept on wire-mesh to minimise contact with urine and faeces; (NB: The European Commission (2007) recommendations on the housing of animals used in research states that solid floors with bedding or perforated floors are preferable to grid or wire mesh floors for rabbits and that wire floors should not be used unless a resting area is provided large enough to hold all rabbits at any one time).

Although regular grooming or clipping will prevent the diseases associated with long hair, rabbits often find these procedures uncomfortable and stressful. Some are so distressed they require sedation or anaesthesia (RWF 2007). Rabbit skin is thin and it is easy to cut whilst clipping and any wounds need appropriate care and attention (RWF 2007)

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2. Intensity of welfare impact

Mats can be uncomfortable causing irritation and sore and infected skin. Depending on their size and location, they can interfere with feeding and movement. Angora’s have to be regularly groomed or clipped but these procedures can be stressful. The long coat and matting predisposes Angoras to two life-threatening conditions: gastrointestinal obstruction and fly strike. These conditions cause significant pain, distress and suffering (Deeb 2000, Harcourt-Brown 2007, Cousquer 2006).

Chronic gut stasis due to accumulation of hair in the stomach leads to decreased appetite and reduced faecal production. It is likely that affected animals feel some discomfort and malaise.

Complete blockage of the gut by fur is an acute emergency leading to distension of the stomach and intestines with fluid and gas. It is likely to be very intensely painful.

Likewise, the injuries arising through fly strike are likely to cause malaise and to be intensely painful.

As far as we are aware, the effects of the dense fur on thermal comfort has not been investigated but it seems likely that Angora rabbits may be at greater risk of thermal discomfort in warm environmental conditions than normal rabbits.

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3. Duration of welfare impact

The welfare risks associated with long fur are life-long, and can only be reduced by regular clipping and/or daily grooming.

Matting, fly strike and gastric obstruction can occur at any age. Matting can cause discomfort and irritation lasting from days to weeks and can cause pain if the skin beneath the matting becomes infected. Fly strike can lead to a painful death within days and gastrointestinal obstruction can kill within hours. Incomplete obstruction may cause discomfort over days or weeks.

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4. Number of animals affected

All Angoras have the coat qualities that predispose them to matting and the secondary consequences of this. We are not aware of any data on the prevalence of the conditions described here (matting, fly strike and gastrointestinal obstruction) but they are considered to be common conditions (Scarff 2000, Harcourt-Brown F 2007, Cousquer 2006).

Return to top

5. Diagnosis

Coat mats and fly-strike are easy to detect on careful examination although the extent of the tissue damage caused by the maggot infestation may need detailed veterinary examination under sedation or anaesthesia.

Diagnosing gastric stasis or intestinal obstruction with gastric dilatation usually involves a veterinary examination, abdominal radiographs (x-rays) and sometimes, exploratory surgery (Harcourt-Brown 2007).

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6. Genetics

The characteristics of the Angora coat are caused by an autosomal recessive gene. All Angoras have a pair of these recessive genes. The recessive gene (when not suppressed by the presence of a dominant gene) prolongs the phase of hair growth making the coat longer than in rabbits with the normal dominant gene (De Rochambeau & Thebault 1990).

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7. How do you know if an animal is a carrier or likely to become affected?

All Angora rabbits are homozygous for the autosomal recessive gene that causes their coat characteristics (ie both their copies of the gene are of the abnormal form). There are no unaffected carriers.

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8. Methods and prospects for elimination of the problem

Reducing the risks of the welfare problems described here would require selection for normal coat characteristics, involving out-crossing with other breeds. Without this, regular, significant and impeccable husbandry is necessary to avoid disease and discomfort.

Opinions differ as to whether it is ethically acceptable to breed animals whose welfare is at particular risk because of the abnormal characteristics for which they have been selected.

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9. Acknowledgements

UFAW is grateful to Rosie Godfrey BVetMed MRCVS and David Godfrey BVetMed FRCVS for their work in compiling this section and to Nina Taylor for her contribution to it.

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10. References

Cousquer G (2006) Veterinary care of rabbits with myiasis. In Practice 28: 342-349

Deeb B (2000) Digestive System and Disorders In: Flecknell P (ed) Manual of Rabbit Medicine and Surgery pp 39-46. BSAVA: Cheltenham, UK

European Commission (2007) Commission recommendations of 18 June 2007 on guidelines for the accommodation and care of animals used for experimental and other scientific purposes. Annex II to European Council Directive 86/609. See 2007/526/EC. http://eurlex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/site/en/oj/2007/l_197/l_19720070730en00010089.pdf (accessed 14 April 2011)

De Rochambeau H and Thebault RG (1990) Genetics of the rabbit for wool production. Animal Breeding Abstracts 58: 1-15

Harcourt-Brown F (2007) Gastric dilation and intestinal obstruction in 76 rabbits Veterinary Record 161: 409-414

Harcourt-Brown TR (2007) Management of acute gastric dilation in rabbits Journal of Exotic Pet Medicine 16: 168-174

Lewis W no date Acute Gastro-Intestinal Obstruction in Rabbits. On-line http://wildlife1.wildlifeinformation.org/S/00dis/PhysicalTraumatic/AcuteGIT_ObstructionRabbits.html. accessed 23.3.11

McBride EA., Hearne G and Magnus E (2006) Thumper, fiver, wee-er, biter - The natural behaviour of rabbits and its influence on behaviour problems. In: Companion Animal Behaviour Therapy Study Group: Natural Behaviour and its Influence on Behavioural Problems Birmingham, UK 19 Apr 2006. 3: 15-17.

Meredith A (2000) General Biology and Husbandry. In: Flecknell P (ed) Manual of Rabbit Medicine and Surgery pp 13-25. BSAVA: Cheltenham, UK

Rabbit Welfare Fund (RWF) (2005) Flystrike: Is your rabbit at risk. Owner information leaflet. Horsham, UK: RWF

RWF (2007) The long and the short of it. Caring for long-haired pet rabbits. Owner information leaflet. Horsham, UK: RWF

RSPCA (2011) Rabbits/ Health and Welfare. On-line http://www.rspca.org.uk/allaboutanimals/pets/rabbits/health. Accessed 21.3.11

Scarff D (2000) Dermatoses In: Flecknell P (ed) Manual of Rabbit Medicine and Surgery pp 69-79. BSAVA: Cheltenham, UK

http://www.angoras.co.uk/care2006.htm. Accessed 22.3.11

http://www.angoras.co.uk/history2006.htm. Accessed 22.3.11

http://www.angorarabbit.com/angora/angora-rabbit-manual/index.htm. accessed 23.3.11

http://www.ontariorabbits.org/diet/careinfo7.html. Accessed 23.3.11

© UFAW 2011


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