Biology of the Rabbit
In my last article on Rodents, some of my readers indicated that they had a rabbit as a pet when they were young,
and thought maybe a rabbit was in the same family as the rodents. The answer to that question is no, they are not the same family, but they are both mammals.
A quick definition of a mammal is that they are warm blooded, they have hair or fur and feed their young with milk. That makes both Rodents and Rabbits mammals, but Rabbits are of the family Leporids. Rabbits require a lot of care as pets.
They differ from Rodents in that Rabbits have two pairs of incisor teeth while Rodents only have one pair. These teeth continue to grow as long as the animal lives. The long ears of Rabbits help regulate heat. The average body weight of a female rabbit is 4 to 13 pounds. Average weight of a male rabbit is 4 to 11 pounds.
Rabbits are descended from the European Wild Rabbit. They also have a third eyelid which may be to keep out dirt and debris since Rabbits are burrowers. There are over 100 different breeds of rabbit descendants, all stemming from the European wild Rabbit.
There are The many small, varied in color farm rabbits, Pampas rabbits, Jack rabbits, Alaska White rabbits, the Hare, dwarf rabbits, just to name a few. The New Zealand White rabbit is used most in biomedical research.
Female rabbits are called Does, male rabbits are called Bucks and baby rabbits are called Kits Normal litters are four to ten kits. Kits are weaned at 4 to 6 weeks.
Rabbits were brought to England from France over 900 years ago. In England, farm fields were separated by hedgerows. Rabbits burrowed under the hedgerows and quickly multiplied.
Their fur was coveted for clothing, and they were convenient for eating. One average rabbit would feed one family for one meal with no waste or need for refrigeration.
Wild rabbits are nocturnal and their main food is grass. Domesticated rabbits eat quite differently. Their average life span is 7 to 12 years.
Rabbits make good pets
Domesticated Rabbits are good candidates for indoor pets. They require as much attention as a cat or a dog. They also return love and affection to their special human. Rabbits are highly social animals. They can be litter-boxed trained and can have the free rein of the house. There is one caveat.
Rabbits chew EVERYTHING: baseboards, rugs, furniture, beds, electric cords. It’s those ever growing incisors. It’s best if the rabbit has a controlled living space such as a large crate or cage, or a bunny condo.
Rabbit housing must be large enough to house a bunny bed, a litter box, water and food containers, and plenty of space to hop around. Experts suggest at least a crate four feet long, two feet wide and four feet high with a solid bottom. Inside, cover the bottom with a blanket, mat, blanket, or towels.
The litter box can be made to attract the rabbit to use it for the prescribed habit. The litter box can be a regular one that would be used for a cat. Most are plastic and should be shallow–so the bunny can step over and in. Line the pan with newspapers and fill with hay. Makes a miniature yard where bunny will “go.”
Make sure water bowls are heavy and hard to tip over–ideally made of ceramic or metal. Rabbits may be no larger than the average house cat, but they need space to stretch out or move around.
Rabbits need a lot of care
Rabbits need regular visits to the Vet. Young rabbits need to be spayed(female) or neutered(male) if they are going to be house pets. Sometimes rabbits get sick even though they have been carefully cared for. Vet bills can be high.
Rabbits are amazing, affectionate and social. They can be great house pets, but they require more care than most people think. Rabbits are unique pets. They can live free rein in a rabbit proof room or they can be contained in a rabbit condo.
Rabbits that are caged should be let out for a few hours a day for exercise, play and some cuddling. Do not isolate them from the whole family. They thrive on social contact with humans.
Rabbit diet and Grooming
Some people refer to a salad as “rabbit food.” Well that is not so far off from the truth. Rabbits are true vegetarians. Their diet consists of hay – fresh hay every day and Timothy hay and grass every day. Alfalfa for baby rabbits and some alfalfa for adult rabbits, as well as the timothy hay, grass or oat hay. They also need commercially made fiber pellets and fresh greens every day. Fresh leafy green veggies such as collard greens, beet greens, broccoli, romaine lettuce and carrots are favored.
Rabbits need to be brushed every day when shedding. Their fur is short and dense and needs regular maintenance. Nails need to be clipped several times a year. Learn how to do it from your vet before attempting to do it yourself. Change the litter box every day.
Rabbits make good pets. They are social creatures, they will want a lot of attention from their special human. They do need a lot of special care and a varied veggie diet. Plan to spend a quantity of time with them. Watch out for a kick from the hind legs. Rabbits have no defense except to run, and the hind legs can propel them at a distance for a head start.
I’m Barbara Nelson and I hope you liked this article. Would love to hear from you. My thanks to PetMD Editorial,Feb. 2016 and Biology of the Rabbit- Derian Picazo.