Behavior Essentials: The European Rabbit

Key Points

  • Rabbits are prey species.
  • Wild rabbits live in underground burrows or warrens.
  • Rabbits use latrines.
  • Rabbits are crepuscular.
  • Rabbits are voracious eaters.
  • Rabbits practice coprophagy and cecotrophy.
  • Rabbits are highly social.
  • Rabbits are territorial.
  • Rabbits employ a host of non-verbal communication cues.
  • Although considered relatively silent animals, rabbits can emit a range of sounds.
  • Negative sexual behaviors peak during adolescence.
  • Neutering improves the pet quality of the domestic rabbit.
  • Adult rabbits are calmer and more predictable.
  • This article is part of a RACE-approved Rabbit Basics Teaching Module.

Domesticated since the early 16th century, the companion rabbit retains many of the behavioral characteristics of its wild ancestor. A video recording summary of key points, or the more detailed article, explores some of these shared characteristics as well as rabbit behavior that influences clinical practice and animal welfare. This content is part of a RACE-approved teaching module on rabbit basics . . .

To continue you need to be a member. (Français), (Español)

Pour continuer, vous devez être un membre

Para continuar, debe ser miembro de

Already a LafeberVet Member?

Please Login


American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA). U.S. Pet Ownership Statistics. AVMA website. Available at 2012 Sourcebook. Accessed on April 25, 2014.

Bays TB. Behavior of small mammals. In: Quesenberry KE, Carpenter JW (eds). Ferrets, Rabbits, and Rodents: Clinical Medicine and Surgery (3rd ed). St. Louis: Elsevier Saunders; 2012: 545-549.

Bays TB. Rabbit behavior. In: Bays TB, Lightfoot TL, Mayer J (eds). Exotic Pet Behavior: Birds, Reptiles, and Small Mammals. St. Louis: WB Saunders; 2006.

Bradley T. Rabbits: Understanding Normal Behavior. Exotic DVM 2(1): 19-24, 2000.

Brown C. Organic wheatgrass as environmental enrichment. Lab Anim (NY) 39(3):74-75, 2010.

Brown C. Novel food items as environmental enrichment for rodents and rabbits. Lab Anim (NY) 38(4):119-120, 2009.

Cowan DP. Group living in the European rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus): mutual benefit or resource localization? J Animal Ecology 56:779-795, 1987.

Davis S. Aggression. House Rabbit Society website. Available at April 2, 2013. Accessed April 24, 2014.

Davis SE, Demello M. Stories Rabbits Tell: A Natural and Cultural History of a Misunderstood Creature. New YorK: Lantern Books; 2003.

Department of the Environment (DOE). Rabbits Wild 004. Department of the Environment website. 2005. Available at Accessed on April 28, 2014.

Edgar JL, Mullan SM. Knowledge and attitudes of 52 UK pet rabbit owners at the point of sale. Vet Rec 168(13):353, 2011.

Giannico AT, Lima L, Lange RR, et al. Proven cardiac changes during death-feigning (tonic immobility) in rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus). J Comp Physiol A Neuroethol Sens Neural Behav Phsyiol 200(4):305-310, 2014.

Hansen LT, Berthelsen H. The effect of environmental enrichment on the behaviour of caged rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus). Appl Anim Behav Sci 68(2):163-178, 2000.

Harriman M. House Rabbit Handbook: How to Live with an Urban Rabbit, 4th edition. Alameda: Drollery Press; 2005.

Harris LD, Custer LB, Soranaka ET, et al. Evaluation of objects and food for environmental enrichment of NZW rabbits. Contemp Top Lab Anim Sci 40(1):27-30, 2001.

Hayes RA, Richardson BJ, Wyllie SG. To fix or not to fix: the role of 2-phenoxyethanol in rabbit, Oryctolagus cuninculus, chin gland secretion. J Chem Ecol 29(5):1051-1064, 2003.

Hoffman KL, Hernández Decasa DM, Beyer Ruiz ME, González-Mariscal G. Scent marking by the male domestic rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus) is stimulated by an object’s novelty and its specific visual or tactile characteristics. Behav Brain Res 207(2):360-367, 2010.

Hornicke H, Bjornhag G. Coprophagy and related strategies for digesta utilization. In: Ruckebusch Y, Thivend P (eds). Digestive Physiology and Metabolism in Ruminants. Westport, CT: Avi Publ Co; 1980: 707-730.

Hulbert IAR, Iason GR, Racey PA. Habitat utilization in a stratified landscape by two lagomorphs with different feeding strategies. J Applied Ecology 33(2):315-324, 1996.

Huls WL, Brooks DL, Bean-Knudsen D. Response of adult New Zealand white rabbits to enrichment objects and paired housing. Lab Anim Sci 41(6):609-612, 1991.

Jilge B. The rabbit: a diurnal or nocturnal animal? J Exp Anim Sci 34(5-6):170-183, 1991.

Krempels DM. What do rabbits see? University of Miami Department of Biology website. Available at 1998. Accessed on April 24, 2014.

Kolb HH. Use of burrows and movements of wild rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus) in an area of hill grazing and forestry. J Applied Ecology 28:892-905, 1991.

Lockley R. The Private Life of the Rabbit. Avon; 1975.

Mayer J. Natural history of the rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus). Exotic Mammal Medicine and Surgery 1(1):6, 2003.

Monclús R, Palmares F, Tablado Z, et al. Testing the threat-sensitive predator avoidance hypothesis: physiological responses and predator pressure in wild rabbits. Oecologia 158(4):615-623, 2009.

Mulder A, Nieuwenkamp AE, van der Palen JG, et al. Supplementary hay reduces fur chewing in rabbits. Tijdschr Diergeneeskd 117(22):655-658, 1992.

Mullan SM, Main DC. Survey of the husbandry, health and welfare of 102 pet rabbits. Vet Rec 159(4):103-109, 2006.

Mykytowycz R. Social behaviour of an experimental colony of wild rabbits, Oryctolagus cuniculus (L.): I. Establishment of the colony. CSIRO Wildl. Res 3:7-25, 1958.

Mykytowycz R, Gambale S. A study of the inter-warren activities and dispersal of wild rabbits, Oryctolagus cuniculus (L.) living in a 45-AC paddock. CSIRO Wildl. Res 10: 111-123, 1965.

O’Malley B. Clinical Anatomy and Physiology of Exotic Species. St. Louis: Elsevier Saunders; 2005.

O’Meara H. An uplifting experience. House Rabbit Society website. Available at Feb 10, 2013. Accessed April 24, 2014.

Palomares F, Delibes M. Predation upon European rabbits and their use of open and closed patches in Mediterranean habitats. Oikos 80(2):407-410, 1997.

Parer I. The population ecology of the wild rabbit Oryctolagus cuniculus (L), in a Mediterranean-type climate in New South Wales. Aust Wildl Res 4(2):171-205, 1977.

Smith LE (2003). Warren use in open and covered habitats: the importance of predation for the European rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus) (Doctoral dissertation). Available at Accessed on April 25, 2014.

Thompson, Henry. The European Rabbit: The History and Biology of a Successful Colonizer. New York: Oxford University Press; 1994.

Vella D, Donnelly TM. Basic anatomy, physiology, and husbandry. In: Quesenberry KE, Carpenter JW (eds). Ferrets, Rabbits, and Rodents: Clinical Medicine and Surgery (3rd ed). St. Louis: Elsevier Saunders; 2012: 169-171.

Whary M, Peper R, Borkowski G, et al. The effects of group housing on the research use of the laboratory rabbit. Lab Anim 27(4):330-341, 1993.

Wheeler SH, King DR, Robinson MH. Habitat and warren utilization by the European rabbit, Oryctolagus cuniculus (L.) as determined by radio-tracking. Aust Wildl Res 8(3):581-588, 1981.

Further reading

Baumans V. Environmental enrichment for laboratory rodents and rabbits: requirements of rodents, rabbits, and research. ILAR J 46(2):162-170, 2005.

Buijs S, Keeling LJ, Rettenbacher S, et al. Glucocorticoid metabolites in rabbit faeces—influence of environmental enrichment and cage size. Physiol Behav 104(3):469-473, 2011.

Fuentes GC, Newgren J. Physiology and clinical pathology of laboratory New Zealand white rabbits housed individually and in groups. J Am Associ Lab Anim Sci 47(2):35-38, 2008.

Hayes RA, Richardson BJ, Wylie SG. Semiochemicals and social signaling in the wild European rabbit in Australia: I. Scent profiles of chin gland secretion from the field. J Chem Ecol 28(2):363-384, 2002.

Mullan SM, Main DC. Behaviour and personality of pet rabbits and their interactions with their owners. Vet Rec 160(15):516-520, 2007.

Rödel HG, von Holst d, Kraus C. Family legacies: short- and long-term fitness consequences of early-life conditions in female European rabbits. J Anim Ecol 78(4):789-797, 2009.

Verga M, Luzi F, Carenzi C. Effects of husbandry and management systems on physiology and behaviour of farmed and laboratory rabbits. Horm Behav 52(1):122-129, 2007.


To cite this page:

Pollock C. Behavior basics: The European rabbit. May 3, 2014. LafeberVet Web site. Available at