Most people probably saw their first rabbit as a child, whether in a book like “Goodnight Moon,” a movie like “Bambi” or “Zootopia,” cartoon characters like Bugs Bunny, or just wild rabbits hopping around the neighborhood. Simply put, rabbits are small, furry mammals usually known for their ears and reproductive capability. But rabbits are more complicated than that, especially pet rabbits.
The pet rabbits of today descended from the European rabbit, Oryctolagus cuniculus. The American Rabbit Breeders Association recognizes 49 rabbit breeds. The British Rabbit Council recognizes even more. This makes for quite a range of sizes, colors, shapes, and fur types of rabbits.
Most all bunnies are mammals with fur and a tail. They move on four legs with a hopping gait, and they can “stand up” by raising their front legs and sitting on their haunches. Rabbits range in size from 2.5 pounds to 16 or more pounds for giant breeds. Fur can be normal shorthair, woolly, rex, satin, or a mix. Their ears are upright, except for lop breeds whose ears hang down. Some bunny breeds have extremely long ears, such as the English Lop, while others have small, upright ears, such as the Netherland Dwarf.
Bunnies are not just brown, white, or black. Some breeds come in more than 20 different colors! Numerous patterns add to the variety. Eye color also varies and includes brown, blue, ruby, and blue-gray iris colors.
Rabbit Traits And Behavior
Rabbits are herbivores whose main diet is grass hay. They also enjoy some fruits and vegetables, but these and other rabbit-safe treats should be limited. And it’s important to know which fruits and vegetables are safe for rabbits to eat. A limited amount of rabbit-specific pelleted food also adds crucial vitamins and minerals to a rabbit’s diet. Clean, fresh water that’s available at all times is vital to rabbit health.
Rabbits are herd animals, and most prefer to live in pairs or groups. The thumping sound rabbits make with their rear feet is likely used to alert other members of the rabbit group of possible danger and/or to express annoyance. Bunnies are individuals, and not all bunnies get along. Bonding bunnies requires care and patience. Never add a bunny to the family without following bonding procedures. This avoids possible bunny fights or injuries.
Chewing and digging are favorite activities for many rabbits. Both seem to be instinctual, which means owners must rabbit-proof for the protection of their pets and their belongings. Providing toys that tap into these activities keeps your rabbits entertained.
Another instinctive behavior is being territorial. Rabbits mark areas and even people with their scent glands. Spraying urine is another behavior, but it’s less common and greatly reduced by neutering.
Rabbits are not known for vocalizing. If a rabbit screams, something is seriously wrong. They are prey animals, which makes them wary of loud noises, sudden movements, and hands “swooping down” from above. If they feel unwell, they hide their illness for as long as possible to avoid appearing vulnerable to a predator. This means that if you notice your bunny seems sick, he or she might have been sick for a while and a veterinary visit could be needed sooner rather than later.
Rabbits look cute and cuddly, but many rabbits prefer not to be cuddled or picked up. Some rabbits do enjoy lap time. Pay attention to your rabbit’s body language and actions to figure out likes and dislikes. Not being a cuddlebug doesn’t mean that your rabbit won’t want to interact with you. Rabbits just prefer to interact on their own terms. Let them approach you for interaction, and if your bunny pal walks away from head scratches, honor his or her current wish for personal space.
Fascinating Rabbit Facts
- According to the book “Ferrets, Rabbits, And Rodents Clinical Medicine And Surgery,” rabbits have a heart rate of 180 to 250 beats per minute. The various breed sizes account for this wide range, with smaller breeds having a faster heart rate.
- Many sources quote 10 years as the typical rabbit life span. This varies with breed and care.
- Rabbit teeth grow continuously, which is why they need the high fiber of hay to chew daily to stop overgrowth.
- Rabbit skin is delicate and tears easily. This means brushing must be gentle and trimming out fur mats requires skill.
- Rabbits have delicate bones. Their back or legs can break if they are picked up and struggle for release, or if they are dropped.
- Unlike dogs, cats, and many other animals, rabbits do not have paw pads. The bottom of their feet is just fur.
- Rabbits have a blind spot just beneath their mouth due to the placement of their eyes.
- Small- and medium-sized breeds may reach sexual maturity as early as 4 months of age, with large breeds reaching it at 5 months, according to “Ferrets, Rabbits, And Rodents Clinical Medicine And Surgery.” Females mature faster than males. Gestation usually takes 30 to 32 days.
Rabbits inspire characters in books, movies, cartoons, and more. The list of famous rabbits reads like a who’s who: The Easter Bunny, Bugs Bunny, Peter Rabbit, Roger Rabbit, Harvey, Thumper, Bunnicula, The Velveteen Rabbit, Pat The Bunny, Judy Hopps, Ricochet Rabbit, Trix rabbit, Energizer bunny, and many more.
Oddly enough, Mickey Mouse might only exist because Walt Disney lost control of Oswald Rabbit. Oswald was the first animated character he created that starred in a series of film shorts.
Many songs also include bunnies. Perhaps the most famous rabbit-themed song, “Here Comes Peter Cottontail,” inspired a Rankin/Bass TV special of the same name that can be seen on YouTube.