There’s just something about bunnies that makes people want to hug them, pet them like a dog or take care of them like a baby. Maybe it’s because they’re such lovable critters they’ve been around for more than 40 million years, after all. Or maybe it’s just their round faces, big brown eyes and soft white fur.
Whatever it is, there’s no denying that rabbits have become some of our most beloved pets. In fact, in 2012 alone, Americans kept nearly 1.5 million rabbit kits as household pets up from 965,000 in 2010. And although rabbits aren’t technically domesticated as dogs or cats are, many of us consider them members of our families.
But how much do we actually know about these furry little furballs? Do they live longer lives than other animals? What makes bunny’s skin different from ours? How do they even sleep at night without getting crushed by all those floppy ears?
In this article, we’ll explore everything there is to know about these curious critters. We’ll find out if rabbits are truly healthier than humans, what causes their elongated ear appendages (which look uncannily similar to antennae) and why they need to be confined indoors.
We’ll also learn what happens when one of these mischievous furballs escapes its cage. By the time you finish reading this article, you may not only feel an affinity toward rabbits, but also possess newfound knowledge about your favorite pet.
So sit back, relax and read on to discover the truth behind those cute-as-a-button bunnies.
Did you know that wild rabbits are native to Europe, Asia, Africa and North America? They tend to be solitary creatures who live off plants, insects and worms. Unlike their domestic counterparts, which usually come in two varieties dwarf and giant wild rabbits don’t grow any larger than 4 inches (.1 meter) tall. Although they’re small, wild rabbits have a number of unique qualities, including good vision and hearing thanks to large bulging eyes, as well as strong teeth and claws to tear into branches and shrubs.
Domestic rabbits, however, can get quite large. Dwarf breeds are typically smaller than 3.5 pounds (.15 kilograms), while giants can weigh anywhere between 5 pounds and 30 pounds (2.3 kilograms and 16 kilograms).
Most folks keep rabbits either inside or outside, depending upon breed and space available. Some owners choose to put them inside because they’re easier to feed and tend to require less water. This means less work and money spent maintaining the animal. Others prefer keeping them outdoors where they can graze on grasses, weeds, clovers and other vegetation.
Although they may seem docile enough, rabbits can be very skittish and nervous. Their fur is relatively short, making it difficult for them to stay warm during cold weather months. To compensate for this, bunnies spend much of their time burrowing underground or nestling together in groups to generate body heat. During colder seasons, they migrate to warmer climates closer to forests and fields.
Because they eat vegetables and grains, rabbits generally enjoy eating nutritious food.
However, like other herbivores, they’re susceptible to certain diseases caused by parasites and fungi. One disease commonly found among rabbits is ringworm, which is spread through direct contact with infected animal waste. Another common parasite is called “hare-lip,” which affects young rabbits and causes growths near the mouth area.
A fungal infection known as “mange” mainly occurs in older rabbits that haven’t developed immunity to it. If left untreated, mange can cause hair loss, scabs, crusty sores and sometimes death. Sadly, rabbits are also vulnerable to predators, particularly foxes, hawks and owls.
What’s the Matter With Rabbits?
The first thing that comes to mind when someone mentions rabbits is probably Bugs Bunny. The character has been entertaining children worldwide since he made his debut in 1940’s “A Wild Hare.” Today, we often use the word “rabbit” interchangeably with “hamburger,” referring to anything fast food restaurant customers order with cheese.
Indeed, one of the biggest threats facing rabbits today involves fast foods, namely restaurants and grocery stores. As mentioned above, rabbits have poor sight and hearing compared to humans. Therefore, it takes them awhile to figure out where they should go to escape danger. Unfortunately, many rabbits end up being hit by cars while attempting to cross busy streets.
Another major problem affecting rabbits is habitat destruction. Humans need places to live, shop, travel and raise their livestock. Since rabbits are considered pests, farmers and ranchers tend to hunt them down to protect crops and property. Habitat destruction has led to severe population declines in several countries, including Australia, New Zealand and South Korea.
One solution that has been proposed to alleviate the problem is raising rabbits indoors. These domesticated animals would then be released into protected areas whenever necessary. However, indoor rabbits might not be a great idea for everyone. For example, if you suffer from allergies, it’s recommended that you avoid having rabbits as pets due to their dander, droppings and saliva. Also, rabbits are naturally crafty, smart critters. Keeping them cooped up indoors could lead to boredom and frustration.
Finally, some experts say that allowing rabbits to run free will reduce their chance of becoming preyed upon by predators. With all this information fresh in your head, you may start feeling guilty about owning a rabbit. On the next page, we’ll discuss whether or not rabbits are better off than humans.
Healthy or Not Healthy?
For centuries, people believed that rabbits were the epitome of happiness and longevity unlike other animals, they didn’t sweat, sneeze or urinate. While this view still persists, modern science has shown otherwise. According to researchers, rabbits’ longevity depends largely on diet and environment rather than genetics.
When it comes to nutrition, rabbits are omnivorous, meaning they consume both plant and meat based nutrients. Like humans, they obtain protein and carbohydrates from plant sources, primarily greens and cereals. Because they’re herbivores, rabbits are unable to digest cellulose, such as wood fibers, and must rely on bacteria to break down these materials.
However, unlike humans, rabbits cannot produce vitamin C and therefore must supplement their diets with it. Vitamin C helps prevent scurvy, a condition characterized by bleeding gums that can ultimately result in death if left untreated. Scurvy is rare in captivity but does occur among wild rabbits.
As far as housing goes, rabbits are best suited to cages. Like other animals, they prefer to burrow into holes and hide away from predators and inclement weather. Unlike other animals, rabbits don’t shed fur like dogs and cats, but instead excrete loose hairs throughout their day.
Because rabbits make burrows using their front paws, they often dig themselves tunnels that resemble rodent nests. It’s important to provide rabbits with sufficient shelter and warmth to stave off hypothermia and frostbite, respectively.
Finally, it’s important to note that rabbits shouldn’t be confused with hares. Hares are mammals related to rabbits, but they differ in size, appearance and behavior. Specifically, hares are smaller than 2 feet (.6 meters) tall and weigh less than 12 ounces (.38 kilograms). Rabbit fur isn’t always black, either. Many rabbit colors exist, ranging from red, orange and gray to blue, green and white.
It’s easy to see that rabbits are pretty cool critters. Next time you walk past one, remember that despite their diminutive stature, rabbits are actually pretty tough. Now that you know more about them, you won’t hesitate to add one to your family.
While rabbits are carnivores, they often resort to scavenging for food. When they catch wind of rodents or birds nearby, they’ll creep up on them until they’re close enough to pounce. Then they devour the flesh of their victims. Afterward, the rabbits lick the blood stains on their mouths to clean them before continuing on with their meal.