Information on Bunnies and Rabbies
Rabbits are small mammals which are found in several parts of the world. There are many species of rabbit, such as pikas and hares. The male is called a buck and the female is a doe; a young rabbit is called a kitten or kit.
Rabbit habitats include meadows, woods, forests, grasslands, deserts and wetlands. Rabbits live in groups, and the best known species, the European rabbit, lives in underground burrows, or rabbit holes. A group of burrows is called a warren. More than half the world’s rabbit population resides in North America. They are also native to south-western Europe, Southeast Asia, Sumatra, some islands of Japan, and in parts of Africa and South America. They are not naturally found in most of Eurasia, where a number of species of hares are present. Rabbits first entered South America relatively recently, as part of the Great American Interchange. Much of the continent has just one species of rabbit, the tapeti, while most of South America’s southern cone is without rabbits. The European rabbit has been introduced to many places around the world.
Rabbits have a very rapid reproductive rate. The breeding season for most rabbits lasts 9 months, from February to October. In Australia and New Zealand breeding season is late July to late January. Normal gestation is about 30 days. The average size of the litter varies but is usually between 4 and 12 babies, with larger breeds having larger litters. A kit (baby rabbit) can be weaned at about 4 to 5 weeks of age. This means in one season a single female rabbit can produce as many as 800 children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. A doe is ready to breed at about 6 months of age, and a buck at about 7 months. Courtship and mating are very brief, lasting only 30 to 40 seconds. Courtship behavior involves licking, sniffing, and following the doe. Spraying urine is also a common sexual behavior. Female rabbits are reflex ovulators. The female rabbit also may or may not lose clumps of hair during the gestation period.
Ovulation begins 10 hours after mating. After mating, the female makes a nest or burrow, and lines the nest with fur from the dewlap, flanks, and belly. This behavior also exposes the nipples enabling her to better nurse the kits. Kits are altricial, which means they are born blind, naked, and helpless. Passive immunity (immunity acquired by transfer of antibodies or sensitized lymphocytes from another animal) is acquired by kits prior to birth via placental transfer.
Due to the nutritious nature of rabbit milk kits only need to be nursed for a few minutes once or twice a day. At 10 to 11 days after birth the baby rabbits’ eyes open and they start eating on their own at around 14 days old. Although born naked, they form a soft baby coat of hair within a few days. At the age of 5 to 6 weeks the soft baby coat is replaced with a pre-adult coat. At about 6 to 8 months of age this intermediate coat is replaced by the final adult coat, which is shed twice a year thereafter.
Having a Rabbit as a Pet
Domestic rabbits can be kept as pets in a back yard hutch or indoors in a cage or house trained to have free roam. Rabbits kept indoors are often referred to as house rabbits. House rabbits typically have an indoor pen or cage and a rabbit-safe place to run and exercise, such as an exercise pen, living room or family room. Rabbits can be trained to use a litter box and some can learn to come when called. Domestic rabbits that do not live indoors can also serve as companions for their owners, typically living in a protected hutch outdoors. Some pet rabbits live in outside hutches during the day for the benefit of fresh air and natural daylight and are brought inside at night.
Whether indoor or outdoor, pet rabbits’ pens are often equipped with enrichment activities such as shelves, tunnels, balls, and other toys. Pet rabbits are often provided additional space in which to get exercise, simulating the open space a rabbit would traverse in the wild. Exercise pens or lawn pens are often used to provide a safe place for rabbits to run.
A pet rabbit’s diet typically consists of unlimited timothy-grass or other hay, a small amount of pellets, and a small portion of fresh vegetables and need unrestricted access to fresh clean water. Rabbits are social animals. Rabbits as pets can find their companionship with a variety of creatures, including humans, other rabbits, guinea pigs, and sometimes even cats and dogs. Rabbits can make good pets for younger children when proper parental supervision is provided. As prey animals, rabbits are alert, timid creatures that startle fairly easily. They have fragile bones, especially in their backs, that require support on the belly and bottom when picked up. Older children and teenagers usually have the maturity required to care for a rabbit.