A Little History
All breeds of pet rabbit are the same species: the European Rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus). European Rabbits originated in Spain, and in Spain they stayed for thousands and thousands of years until deforestation allowed them to spread throughout the western Mediterranean region, and into northern Europe. By AD 1 they were a common meat product. In the 6th century, French monasteries started breeding rabbits in “large leporaria,” and by the 16th century artificial selection was well established. Since then, the European Rabbit has been domesticated throughout the world, and in some areas has also become a feral pest animal. In today’s global economy, the European Rabbit has many uses: as meat, fur, symbol, and laboratory subject, for exhibition, and in the pet industry.
A Little Biology
European Rabbits are grazing animals, which means they naturally spend a lot of time hopping around, nibbling on grass and vegetation (a high-fibre, low-carb diet!). Rabbits are also prey animals, which means they spend a lot of time watching out for danger, and sprinting away from danger when they think it’s coming. They spend a fair amount of time digging and then lounging in underground tunnels. They’re crepuscular, which means they’re most active at twilight. And they’re social, living in large communities of other rabbits. All of these things need to be taken into consideration when you’re caring for a pet rabbit.
About Caring for Pet Rabbits
Every day, the world learns something new, and every once in a while that new thing is about rabbits. That’s why, as a rabbit companion, it’s so important to keep current about what you know. Some people still keep rabbits the way they learned as children, the way their parents learned, and so on. Some vets still practice the way they learned in school, never mind how long ago that was (if it ever was: many vets really only study cats and dogs). But we took these animals out of their natural habitat more than two thousand years ago: they are utterly dependent on us now, and we owe them the best we have to offer.
Navigating the world of information on pet rabbit care and behaviour can be tricky. There is a lot of disagreement and contradiction. There is a lot of questionable advice online and in print, even from experts. It’s a good idea to learn how to evaluate websites for credibility so that you aren’t misled. (Check your local library for information about how to evaluate online resources; also, here’s some good info from Cornell: Evaluating Web Sites: Criteria and Tools.)
If you want to learn about pet rabbits, the Toronto Rabbit Cooperative is a good place to start because of all the information I’ve gathered there.
22 Jan 2013; last updated 16 May 2013
Note: The following resources are all online; all were last accessed on 26 Jan 2013.
Clauss, Marcus. “Clinical Technique: Feeding Hay to Rabbits and Rodents.” Journal of Exotic Pet Medicine 21:1 (2012): 80-86. <link>
“Domestic Rabbit.” Wikipedia. <link>
“European Rabbit.” Wikipedia. <link>
Lowe, J.A. “Pet Rabbit Feeding and Nutrition.” Nutrition of the Rabbit. Ed. Carlos de Blas, Julian Wiseman. 2nd ed. Wallingford: CABI, 2010. 294-313. ebrary. <docID=10402786>
Meikle, James. “Rabbits Named Britain’s Most Costly Invasive Species.” The Guardian 15 Dec 2010. <link>