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Encyclopedia > Rabbits
For other uses, see Rabbit (disambiguation).

A cottontail rabbit in Louisiana
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Lagomorpha
Family: Leporidae


Rabbits are small mammals in the family Leporidae, found in many parts of the world. There are seven different genera in the family classified as rabbits, including the European Rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus), cottontail rabbits (genus Sylvilagus; 13 species), and the Amami Rabbit (Pentalagus furnessi, an endangered species on Amami Oshima, Japan). They are distinguished from the related hares in that they are altricial, having young that are born blind and hairless; many also live underground in burrows.

For jackrabbits, which are actually hares, in the genus Lepus, see hare.


Rabbits in the wild

Rabbits vary in size and weight. As a lagomorph, they have 4 sharp incisors (2 on top, 2 on bottom) that grow continuously throughout their life, and two peg teeth on the top behind the inscisors, dissimilar to those of rodents (which have only 2 each, top and bottom). Rabbits have long ears, large hind legs, and short fluffy tails. Rabbits move by hopping, using their long and powerful hind legs. To facilitate quick movement, rabbit hind feet have a thick padding of fur to dampen the shock of rapid hopping. Their toes are long, and are webbed to keep themselves from spreading apart as they jump.

They are well-known for digging networks of burrows called warrens, where they spend most of their time when not feeding. The young being born blind and furless, in a furlined nest in the warren, and totally dependent upon their mother.

Rabbits and hares were formerly classified in the order Rodentia until 1912, when they were moved into a new order Lagomorpha. This order, in addition to containing rabbits and hares, also includes the pikas.

See also: Rabbits in Australia for details of it as a pest species in that country.

Domesticated rabbits

Rabbits taking a nap.

The only rabbit to be domesticated is the European Rabbit. These rabbits have been extensively domesticated for food or as a pet. Domesticated Rabbits have mostly been bred to be much larger than wild rabbits, though selective breeding has produced a wide range of breeds which are kept as pets and food animals across the world. They have as much color variation among themselves as other household pets. Their fur is prized for its softness, and even today Angora rabbits are raised for their long soft fur, which is often spun into yarn. Other breeds are raised for the fur industry, particularly the Rex, which has a smooth velvet like coat. and comes in a wide variety of colors and sizes.

In the middle-size breeds, the teeth grow approximately 125 mm (5 in) per year for the upper incisors and about 200 mm (8 in) per year for the lower incisors. The teeth abrade away against one another, giving the teeth a constantly sharp edge.


The typical diet for a pet rabbit should consist of water, hay, pellets, fresh vegetables, and its own caecal pellets. Anything else, including fruit and other treats should be given only in very limited quantities, as it may cause obesity in a rabbit.

Pellets should be less than a couple of months old to ensure freshness, and should consist of a minimum of 18% fibre, low protein (14–15%), and less than 1% calcium. Depending on the amount of vegetables available, an adult rabbit should be given between and cup of pellets per 6 pounds body weight (20 ml to 40 ml per kilogram)daily. Pre-adolescent and adolescent rabbits (7 months and younger) can be given as much pellets as they can consume, although additional vegetables are preferable to additional pellets. An older rabbit (over six years) can be given more pellets if they are having difficulty maintaining a steady body weight. Timothy hay-based pellets are great for rabbits that have stopped growing and do not need to gain weight. Alfalfa-based pellets are best only for young, growing bunnies or older bunnies who are under-weight.

Pellets were originally designed for rabbit breeders for the purpose of providing as much food energy and vitamins as inexpensively as possible. This is optimal when the rabbits are being bred for food or for experimentation, but the long-term effects of a pellet-based diet on rabbits are quite negative, resulting in an obese, unhappy, and unhealthy rabbit.

Vegetables are essential to the health of rabbits. At least two cups of three different vegetables per 6 lb (170 ml/kg) of body weight should be fed to the rabbit daily, ideally half in the morning around sunrise, and half in the evening around sunset, as this is when wild rabbits most frequently graze. Remove vegatables that have not been consumed within a half-hour, as they can develop unhealthy amounts of bacteria. A wide variety of vegetables will result in the healthiest rabbit; preferably a combination of dark green vegetables and a root vegetables. Stay away from beans or rhubarb, as they can cause the rabbit to become sick. Additionally, it is wise to select vegetables that are high in Vitamin A.

To ensure that the rabbit can tolerate a specific vegetable, add one vegetable at a time to its diet. If the rabbit starts to act lethargic, or exhibit diarrhea or loose stools, then discontinue use of the new vegetable immediately. Vegetables considered healthy for a rabbit:

Alfalfa, radish & clover sprouts

Artichoke (Jerusalem)
Beet greens (tops)†
Bok choy
Broccoli (mostly leaves/stems)†
Brussels sprouts
Carrots & carrot tops†

Collard greens†

Dandelion greens and flowers (beware pesticides)†
Green peppers
Lemon Balm

Mustard greens†

Pea pods†
Peppermint leaves
Radish (tops)
Raspberry leaves
Romaine lettuce (no iceberg)†
Wheat grass

† = Contains Vitamin A. ‡ = Contains goitrogens and/or oxalates, and may be toxic over long periods of time.

Hay is essential for the health of all rabbits. A steady supply of hay will help prevent hairballs and other digestive tract problems in rabbits. Additionally, it provides a number of necessary vitamins and minerals at a low calorie cost. Rabbits should be provided with a constant, unlimited supply of hay for their consumption. Rabbits enjoy chewing on hay, and always having hay available for the rabbit may reduce its tendency to chew on other items in the house. It is also a good idea to provide hay in the rabbit's litterbox, as rabbits enjoying munching on food while they are defecating.

Timothy hay and other grass hays are considered the healthiest to provide the rabbit. As a persistently high blood calcium level can prove harmful to the rabbit, hays such as alfalfa and clover hay should be avoided. Alfalfa is also relatively high in calories, and a constant diet of it can cause obesity in rabbits.

Treats are unhealthy in large quantities for rabbits, just as they are for humans. Most treats sold in pet stores are filled with sugar and high food energy carbohydrates. These should be avoided; the vitamins they claim to provide are not needed, since the vegetables will provide all the vitamins the rabbit needs. In addition, they contain high quantities of sugar and other simple carbohydrates which will make the rabbit obese. If determined to feed the rabbit treats, the best treat to provide it with is fruit. Papaya is an excellent fruit to use as an occasional treat for bunnies. Papaya contains an enzyme that helps eliminate hair balls. Look for dried papaya with no sugar added, and feed only a very small amount per day. Below are some other acceptable fruits:

Apple (no stem or seeds)



Orange (including peel)



† = Use very sparingly, as rabbits will eat only these, and ignore their other food.

Caecal pellets are mostly digested food that rabbits defecate and subsequently reingest; a process known as refection, a form of coprophagia. Usually a rabbit will eat the pellets straight from their anus, and as such, many people do not know of this aspect of a rabbit's diet. They are often referred to as "night pellets" or "night droppings", since the rabbits tend to eat them a few hours after their evening meal.

Caecal pellets are soft, smelly, clumpy feces, and are a rabbit's only supply of Vitamin B12. Due to the design of the rabbit's digestive system, they cannot extract some vitamins and minerals directly from their food. At the end of their digestive system is an area called the caecum where cellulose and other plant fibers are broken down and ferment. After they have been broken down and passed, a rabbit's digestive system can finally extract the vitamins from them.

Occasionally, the rabbit may leave these pellets lying about their cage; while smelly, this behavior is harmless. If their caecal pellets are consistently wet and runny, this may indicate either too little fibre, or too many starches in their diet. This probably means that they need to be fed additional hay.


Rabbits are famed for their reproductive capabilities. Although certainly not the strongest, fastest, or smartest of the mammals, they have carved out a strong ecological niche through their impressive ability to multiply quickly. This leads to the saying "breed like rabbits". As of November 2004 there were about 40 million European Rabbits in Britain.

Rabbits have a very high success rate for impregnation, due to the fact that female rabbits ovulate at the time of copulation. The gestation cycle for a rabbit averages 31 days, although it can vary anywhere between 29 and 35 days. Litter sizes generally range between two to twelve rabbits.

Rabbits are known by many names. They are commonly referred to as bunny / bunnies. Young rabbits are known by the names bunny, kit, or kitten. A male rabbit is called a buck, and a female rabbit is called a doe. A group of rabbits is known as a herd. Colloquially, a rabbit may be referred to as a "coney" or a "bunny", though the former is archaic.

It is highly recommended to have pet rabbits either spayed or neutered. Female rabbits in particular face a high chance of contracting some form of reproductive cancer (ovarian, uterine or mammarian) at approximately two years of age. Spaying the female rabbit will nearly eliminate this risk. Furthermore, spaying and neutering will make the rabbit less prone to destructive behavior (such as spraying, chewing, and digging). In addition to being less destructive, they will be calmer and will generally make better companions. This also helps in litter-training.

Rabbits and people

Rabbits are an example of an animal which is treated as both food and pet by the same culture. Snares or guns are usually employed when catching wild rabbits for food. Dogs are often employed in rabbit hunting. Rabbits are often raised for meat, a practice called cuniculture. Rabbit pelts are a widely used fur for clothing.

Because of their appetites, and the rate at which they breed, wild rabbit depredation can prove problematic for agriculture. Gassing, barriers (fences), shooting, snaring and ferreting have been used to control rabbit populations, as has the disease myxomatosis.

Rabbits as pets

Rabbits are popular pets which are either confined to a cage, or allowed to roam free in their guardian's residence (which greatly increases their potential lifespan). Rabbits can be very loving attentive companions or aloof and cat-like in their personality.

While pet rabbits can live either indoors or in outside hutches, most rabbit adoption programs discourage outside living for rabbits. Living outside provides a significant amount of additional stress to a creature unprepared for the natural environment. Since rabbits can quickly and easily be taught to use litter boxes they can run loose in many homes. Many rabbits do have a habit of chewing on wires if available, all wires in areas the rabbit has access to should be protected, for the rabbit's safety and the wire's.

Many rabbits are happier living with other rabbits (provided that each animal has enough space). In addition, house rabbits are known to get along well with guinea pigs and cats of an equivalent size to the rabbit. However, male rabbits left un-neutered do not get along and will fight each other. It is best to either get the males living together both neutered or separate them. Otherwise, they will begin to fight and get into 'spraying' contests, to out smell each other.

Rabbits For Exhibiton

Most people are not familiar with domestic rabbit shows. The parent organization for rabbit exhibition in the United States is The American Rabbit Breeders Association. The American Rabbit Breeders Association currently has over 30,000 members thruoghout the United States, Canada, and in various other countries. The leading states for exhibition are Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Illinios, and parts of California. There are shows in every state throughout the year and in some locations the shows take place virtually every weekend.

In recent years the exhibition of rabbits has turned into a thriving family event. The focus has changed from a male dominated hobby to one of family involvement. At many shows there are events and contests that focus on youth education and youth developement.

Rabbits in culture and literature

Rabbits are often used as a symbol of fertility. It is possibly as a consequence of this that they have been associated with Easter. The species' role as a prey animal also lends itself as a symbol of innocence as an animal that seems to wish harm on no one, another Easter connotation.

It is also a common folklore archetype of the trickster who uses his cunning to outwit his enemies. The most common example of this is Br'er Rabbit from African-American folktales; by extension the Warner Brothers cartoon character Bugs Bunny also typifies this image.

Anthropomorphic rabbits have appeared in a host of works of film and literature, most notably the White Rabbit in Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland in the popular novel Watership Down, by Richard Adams, and in Beatrix Potter's works such as Peter Rabbit.

It is commonly believed that a rabbit, if injected with a woman's urine, will expire if the woman were pregnant. This is not true. However, in the 1920s it was discovered that if the injected urine contained the hormone hCG, a hormone found in the urine of pregnant women, the rabbit would display ovarian changes. The rabbit would indeed need to be killed to have its ovaries inspected, but the death of the rabbit was not the indicator of the results. Later revisions of the test allowed technicians to inspect the ovaries without euthanizing the unfortunate creature.

There is a rabbit among the 12 animals in the Chinese zodiac. See Rabbit (Zodiac).

Rabbit feet are considered lucky and fake rabbit feet are often sold as cheap trinkets.

In Japanese tradition, rabbits live on the Moon where they make Mochi - a popular sticky snack.

See also

External links

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