Rabbit grimace scale

Read the training manual:

Rabbit Grimace Scale (RbtGS): The Manual

Read the original paper:

Keating SCJ, Thomas AA, Flecknell PA, Leach MC (2012) Evaluation of EMLA cream for preventing pain during tattooing of rabbits: Changes in physiological, behavioural and facial expression responses. PLOS ONE 7(9): e44437. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0044437 

Read papers that have validated this technique:

Hampshire V, Robertson S. 2015. Using the facial grimace scale to evaluate rabbit wellness in post-procedural monitoring. Lab Animal 44(7): 259-260. doi:10.1038/laban.806 

Modified version of the scale with additional images of each action unit:

Action units

Not present


Moderately present


Obviously present


Orbital tightening

  • Closing of the eyelid (narrowing of orbital area)
  • A wrinkle may be visible around the eye

Cheek flattening

  • Flattening of the cheeks. When ‘obviously present’, cheeks have a sunken look.
  • The face becomes more angular and less rounded


Nostril shape

  • Nostrils (nares) are drawn vertically forming a ‘V’ rather than ‘U’ shape
  • Nose tip is moved down towards the chin

Whisker shape and position

  • Whiskers are pushed away from the face to ‘stand on end’
  • Whiskers stiffen and lose their natural, downward curve
  • Whiskers increasingly point in the same direction. When ‘obviously present’, whiskers move downwards

Ear shape and position

  • Ears become more tightly folded / curled (more cylindrical) in shape
  • Ears rotate from facing towards the source of sound to facing towards the hindquarters
  • Ears may be held closer to the back or sides of the body


Images kindly provided by Dr Matthew Leach, Newcastle University, and Dr Patricia Hedenqvist, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences.

The Rabbit Grimace Scale would not have been developed without the continuing work of the Pain and Animal Welfare Sciences Group (PAWS) at Newcastle University.