Wild rabbits live in a groups usually in a rabbit warren (Cowan 1987). They are social and gregarious animals. Because they originate in Spain, their digestive system is designed to process dry sparse vegetation with lots of fibre rather than rich lush cornfields. Their teeth are adapted to do a lot of chewing and gnawing. If they don’t get enough to chew, their teeth overgrow, sometimes slowly growing back into the head (McBride 1988). Rabbits run. Rabbits sit up on their hind legs to eat branches. They jump like the wild rabbit photographed above.
We keep them in solitary confinement in hutches sometimes so small there is only enough space to hop once or twice and no room to sit up properly (Rooney et al., 2004). We overfeed them with rich mix without enough fibre, which destroys their health. Pet rabbits often suffer tortures from arthritis (no exercise), overgrowing teeth (not much to chew), and are eaten alive by fly strike maggots (wrong diet and filthy hutches). More than six out of ten rabbits in the UK live without the company of another rabbit (PDSA 2013). They die early because of solitary living (Scheper et al., 2009). No wonder many rabbits develop behaviour problems (McBride, 1997).
We are only just beginning to pay proper attention to the welfare of pet rabbits, although plenty is known about laboratory rabbits (Manning et al., 1994) and about wild rabbits (Thompson & King 1994). The house rabbit movement has helped spread the idea that rabbits deserve much more space and human attention. Pet rabbits have a lifespan of about 10 years (McBride 2014)
The better you house your rabbits, the happier they and you will be (Normando & Gelli 2011)
Because there is a shortage of properly scientific information, I have tried to reference my rabbit pages with the names and dates in brackets which match the list of references at the end. If you are an ordinary reader, don’t let this worry you. Many companion animal courses ignore rabbits so I hope this will inspire would-be behaviour scientists to study them further and persuade rabbit keepers that the traditional way of keeping them in hutches without runs is no longer good enough.
Scroll down for the various topics. Sometimes there is more than one topic on a page, so scroll down if the topic you want isn’t at the top of the page. Several photos show wild rabbits rather than pets to remind us that pet rabbits need to do the same things as wild ones. Download a good starter guide to keeping rabbits here. After the topics, come the references, and then a list of really good rabbit websites
|DO RABBITS MAKE GOOD PETS FOR CHILDREN?||
Cowan, D. P. (1987). Group Living in the European Rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus): Mutual Benefit or Resource Localization? Journal of Animal Ecology, 56(3): 779-795.
Manning, P. J., Ringler, D. H. Newcomer, C. E., (1994), Biology of the Laboratory Rabbit, London, Academic Press.
McBride, A., (1988), Rabbits and Hares, London, UK, Whittet Books.
McBride, A., (1997), ‘The Rabbit – An Exotic Pet with Behaviour Problems’, in eds Mills, D. S, Heath, S., & Harrington, L. J., Proceedings of the First International Conference of Veterinary Behavioural Medicine, South Mimms, UK, UFAW.
McBride, A., (2014), ‘Rabbit Behaviour – welfare and handling in a clinical environment,’ BVBA rabbit in clinic webinar 5 August 2014.
Normando, S. & Gelli, D. (2011), ‘Behavioral complaints and owners’ satisfaction in rabbits, mustelids, and rodents kept as pets,’ Journal of Veterinary Behavior, 6, 337-342 .
Rooney, N. J., Blackwell, E.J., Mullan, S. M., Saunders, R., Baker P. E., Hill, J. M., Sealey, C. e., Turner, M. J. & DE Held, S., (2014), ‘The current state of welfare, housing and husbandry of the English pet rabbit population,’ BMC Research Notes, 1-13. Available at http://www.biomedcentral.com/1756-0500/7/942. Accessed May 3 2015.
Schepers, F., Koene, P. & Beerda, B., (2009),’Welfare assessment in pet rabbits’, Animal Welfare, 18, 477-485.
Thompson, H. V. & King, C. M., (1994), The European Rabbit, Oxford, UK, Oxford University Press.
PDSA (2013), The State of Our Pet Nation. Available at https://www.pdsa.org.uk/get-involved/our-current-campaigns/pdsa-animal-wellbeing-report Accessed May 2 2015
THE RABBIT WELFARE ASSOCIATION – http://www.rabbitwelfare.co.uk – The place to start for all rabbit information. There’s lots on here.
RABBIT ADVOCATES – http://www.adoptarabbit.org
An American website with an archive of useful information – litter tray training, poisonous plants, safe plants and rabbit behaviour.
RABBIT BEHAVIOUR PROBLEMS www.rabbitbehaviour.co.uk – A website set up by three expert rabbit behaviourists, who will answer rabbit behaviour problems for a fee.
A good rabbit rescue with information about introducing rabbits to each other, aggressive rabbits, and starting a rescue.
DISABLED RABBITS. Resources and advice at www.disabledrabbits.com
BRITISH VETERINARY Leaflet Download this from http://www.bva-awf.org.uk/resources/leaflets
RABBIT HUTCH ADVICE on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_vvlb-prX4I
RABBIT WEBINARS can be seen at petwebinars.co.uk/species/small-mammals/
These notes are my copyright. I am also usually happy to have the exact words reproduced on websites, in return for a link, my name, and if permission is asked beforehand. I like to check the websites where it might be used. Email me via this website for permission which will usually be given. Organisations wishing to use them in print should contact me via this website. Copyright © 2007 Celia Haddon. All Rights Reserved.
All normal safety precautions should be taken when dealing with animals. The advice in this section should be taken only at the owner’s own risk. All sick animals should be seen by a vet.
General advice of the kind found in this website is no substitute for an individual consultation with a vet or qualified behaviourist working on a vet’s referral.