While the rabbits on display in a pet shop or show may look different from one another, they are all domestic rabbits descended from the European or Old World rabbit. Over a couple of hundred years, through careful, and sometimes not so careful husbandry, domestic rabbits now come in over three dozen different breeds and a hundred varieties.
Some, like the angora, are well known; others, such as the Flemish giant, the Havana, or the American blue are less common. All are of the order Lagomorpha, which makes them relatives of generally larger hares and the tiny Asian pikas. Hares and rabbits may be difficult to distinguish – both have long ears and short tails – but they are separate species. If the newborns are furry and hopping around, then you’ve got hares. Baby rabbits are blind, hairless and helpless at birth.
Rabbits are herbivores, but anyone who has ever been nipped by one knows how just how well-developed their incisor teeth are. They are shaped for cutting plant stems and gnawing on bark, and they continue to grow throughout the rabbit’s life. Because of their appetites (plants and leaves contain so much water the rabbits have to eat a lot to fill up) rabbits in the wild can become pests, destroying acres of vegetation.
If you’re thinking of keeping one at home, nearly all of its nutrition can come from commercial rabbit pellets designed especially for house rabbits. Feed 1/4 cup of pellets per 5 pounds of body weight every day. Greens, vegetables, grains, hay and fruits can then be given as supplements. Free choice hay, such as timothy, should always be available, but alfalfa hay should not be offered free choice to rabbits over eight months of age. It is too rich.
Your rabbit’s teeth will still need something to gnaw on and if you let your rabbit roam about the house it will most likely be the legs of your tables and chairs or electrical wires.
Most likely you will keep your rabbit in a cage either indoors or out. Make sure it has plenty of room and air. Rabbits are natural burrowers and like to know they can have some shelter. If the cage has a wire bottom make certain you give the rabbit a plank to stand on so his feet don’t get damaged from being on the wire all the time. If you plan to let your rabbit out to roam either one or a couple of rooms, do some rabbit proofing – get rid of wires and make sure it’s not furniture you’re too fond of.
Rabbits are most active in the morning and late in the evening. They prefer to be left alone to rest and sleep through the day. If disturbed during these times, they may become grumpy or even nip. Rabbits also prefer to remain on the ground and do not enjoy being carried.
If you understand your rabbit’s normal behaviors and adjust, you can have a wonderful, loving relationship with your soft, but not so cuddly, rabbit.