In contrast to wild lagomorphs, pet rabbits exhibit a noticeably high frequency of dental problems. Although dietary habits are considered as a major factor contributing to acquired malocclusions, the exact causes and interrelationships are still under debate. In this regard, an important aspect that has not been considered thoroughly to date is the effect of diet-induced phenotypic plasticity in skull morphology. Therefore, we conducted a geometric morphometric analysis on skull radiological images of wild and pet rabbits in order to quantify intraspecific variation in craniomandibular morphology. The statistical analyses reveal a significant morphological differentiation of the craniomandibular system between both groups. Furthermore, the analysis of covariance shows that the force-generating modules (cranium and mandible) vary independently from the force-receiving module (hypselodont teeth) in pet rabbits, which is in contrast to their wild relatives. Our findings suggest that the phenotypic changes in domestic rabbits impact mastication performance and, consequently, oral health. An adequate close-to-nature nutrition throughout the whole life and especially beginning early parallel to weaning (phase of increased phenotypic plasticity) is necessary to ensure a normal strain on the teeth by promoting physiological lateral gliding movements and avoiding direct axial loads.
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