Basic Information Sheet: European Rabbit

European Rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus)

European rabbit

Image by William Warby from Flickr Creative Commons

Natural history

Originally from the Iberian peninsula, the rabbit was introduced to the Romans over 2000 years ago. Rabbits were fully domesticated by the 17th century, and they became popular as children’s pets during the Victorian era.


Class: Mammalia

Order: Lagamorpha

Family: Leporidae – hares, rabbits

Genus: Oryctolagus – European rabbits

Oryctolagus cuniculus


There are at least 42 pet rabbit breeds. Popular breeds include the Dutch, Netherland dwarf (adults weigh 1 kg or less), and Rex rabbit.


Hay is essential to a rabbit’s health. Rabbits should also be fed a small amount of high fiber pellets (minimum 18% fiber), and a variety of vegetables including leafy green like cilantro and parsley as well as root vegetables


Rabbits are crepuscular, but they can adjust their schedule somewhat to that of their human family’s schedule. Rabbits are also very social and territorial animals.

House rabbits on solid flooring with recycled paper product or aspen shavings. If wire flooring must be used, cover at least a portion with carpet remnants, grass mats, synthetic sheepskin, or towels (monitor for chewing). Rabbits may be litter pan trained.
Bunny-proof the home (or a room) by preventing access to electrical cords and other dangerous items while providing safe, chewable items and toys. Rabbits should also be provided with visual security such as a hide box.

Normal physiologic values

Temperature101.3-103 F38.0-39.6 C
Pulse180-325 bpm
Respiration30-60 bpm
Mean life span6-7 years
Sexual maturity4-6 monthssmaller breeds 4-4.5 months
larger breeds 4.5-5 months
Gestation30-33 days
Birth weight40-50 g
Litter size1-6 (average 2)
Weaning age6-8 weeks
Target environmental temperature:60-70 F15.6-21.0 C
Daily water intake120 ml/kg/day

Anatomy / physiology


  • The large ears of the rabbit are highly vascular, fragile and sensitive.
  • Rabbits possess a well-developed nictitans or third eyelid.
  • The eyes are positioned laterally and rabbits possess a wide field of vision and a central blind spot.
  • Rabbits compensate for the central blind spot and poor near vision, by relying on sensitive whiskers and lips to find forage.
  • The rabbit is an obligate nasal breather.



  • Dental formula: Incisors 2/1 Canines 0/0 Premolars 3/2 Molars 3/3
  • The peg teeth are the second pair of maxillary incisors positioned behind the first larger, chisel-like incisors.
  • All teeth are open rooted, erupting continuously through life.
  • The diastema is a large gap that functionally separates the incisors and cheek teeth.
  • Rabbits possess a long, narrow oral cavity.

Integumentary system

  • Rabbits have delicate skin and fine hair.
  • The dewlap is a fold of skin at the throat of many, large female rabbits and some males.
  • Rabbits do not have footpads. Instead coarse fur covers the toes and hocks.

Gastrointestinal system

  • The rabbit is a true herbivore with a simple stomach.
  • Indigestible fiber (cellulose, lignin) drives gastrointestinal motility.
  • Bacterial fermentation occurs in the large cecum.
  • Rabbits produce cecotropes (“night feces”), which are regularly ingested. Cecotrophy provides vitamins B and K, amino acids, and fiber.

Urinary system


  • Calcium metabolism is unique in rabbits. All ingested calcium is excreted by the kidneys. Therefore urine varies with diet, and may appear thick and creamy white in rabbits on a high-calcium diet.



  • Female rabbits are induced ovulators. The uterus consists of two uterine horns with no uterine body that communicates with two cervices. The oviducts are very long and coiled.
  • Does nurse their young once or twice daily for 3-5 minutes at a time (the milk is extremely rich).

Musculoskeletal system

  • The rabbit skeleton is relatively thin and lightweight, making up 6-8% of body weight.


  • Rabbit neutrophils are called heterophils.
  • The thymus lies ventral to the heart, and extends up into the thoracic inlet. The large thymus persists, even into adulthood.


Rabbits possess a relatively lightweight, delicate skeleton paired with extremely strong, well-developed back and leg muscles. With improper restraint, rabbits that struggle or kick run the risk of a broken back or leg. Always restrain rabbits on a non-slip surface such as a large, heavy towel or pad.

Preventive medicine

  • Castration is recommended to reduce the risk of urine spraying and improve pet quality.
  • Ovariohysterectomy is recommended to prevent uterine adenocarcinoma and improve pet quality. Spaying before 6 months of age is recommended to avoid excess fat.

Collect larger volumes of blood from the jugular vein or lateral saphenous vein.
Smaller samples may be taken from the cephalic vein.

Important medical conditions

Antibiotics to Avoid

Avoid antimicrobials that attack only gram-positive bacteria such as beta-lactams.

  • Penicillin
  • Lincosamide, lincomycin
  • Amoxicillin, ampicillin
  • Cephalosporins, clindamycin
  • Erythromycin

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References and further reading