In the wild, rabbits have plenty to keep them occupied, from foraging to reproduction to territorial defence. Captive rabbits, on the other hand, often lack stimulation, which can lead to behavioural problems and poor health.
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Facts about rabbits
- Rabbits have an excellent sense of smell, hearing and vision. They have nearly 360° panoramic vision, allowing them to detect predators from all directions. They can see everything behind them and only have a small blind-spot in front of their nose.
- Rabbits have extremely strong hind limbs which allow them to leap great distances. They can jump up to one metre high and three metres long.
- Rabbits are territorial animals which live in loosely organised social groups. They live in warrens comprising of an intricate series of underground tunnels with different entrances and exits.
- When rabbits ‘binky’, this is an expression of joy. They will run, jump into the air, twist their body and flick their feet.
- Rabbits are affectionate social animals that enjoy the company of other rabbits. They will perform allogrooming where two individuals will simultaneously groom each other.
- Although typically very quiet, rabbits do communicate vocally, with varying types of vocalisations communicating different messages, e.g. low humming when running around an individual is a signal of affection.
- Rabbits stand upright on their hind legs to give themselves a better vantage point to look for predators. They alert other rabbits to the presence of danger by thumping their hind legs.
- For the last 60 years rabbits have been increasingly commonly kept as pets in the UK and other countries. In the last ten years there has been an especially big increase in the UK making them the nation's third most popular furry pet. In 2010 about 1 million rabbits were kept as pets. However, before taking on the commitment of caring for a rabbit as a pet consideration should be given to whether its physical and emotional needs can be met. Properly caring for an animal as a pet can have significant time and cost implications. For example caring for a rabbit is likely to cost more than £3,000 over the course of its lifetime.
- People often think rabbits are very easy to look after and that all they need to do is pop them in a hutch in the garden and feed and clean them when needed. However, this is actually very far from the truth. Nowadays, we have a far greater understanding of rabbits and there are a few things we need to recognise in order to keep them happy. Rabbits expressing aggressive behaviour toward people and other pets often indicates they are in distress and suffering emotionally. There are many ways to improve the lives of rabbits kept as pets:
- Rabbits should be kept in pairs. Companionship is key to the welfare of rabbits – without the company of another neutered rabbit they get lonely and bored. In the wild, rabbits are social creatures, a fact that doesn’t change just because they are kept as pets.
- Rabbits need an appropriate diet. Fibre, in the form of hay and grass, is the most vital food for rabbits – it’s essential for their digestive health, and they can die without it. Whilst a small daily amount of green veg is good, a diet based solely on vegetables, fruit and carrots does not provide all the nutrients that rabbits need, leaving them malnourished.
- Rabbits kept as pets should be offered shelter and hiding places - rabbits confined to open spaces with no protection will feel threatened. Predators such as dogs may also scare prey species such as rabbits.
- In the wild, rabbits have plenty to keep them occupied, from foraging to reproduction to territorial defence. Captive rabbits, on the other hand, often lack stimulation, which can lead to behavioural problems and poor health. Much like humans, they need to be kept physically and mentally active. A rabbit’s natural environment can be imitated by providing enrichment such as tunnels and platforms for climbing, tree stumps, twigs, suitable toys, and places to hide such as cardboard boxes.
- Digging is an innate and favourite pastime of rabbits, both wild and domesticated. By providing digging substitutes, such as a sand or earth pit, rabbits kept as pets will be able to dig away without damaging your garden or escaping.
- Just like humans, rabbits become bored if their environments remain the same, so can benefit from variety and occasional change of scenery. However, too much change can have adverse effects. A wild rabbit’s survival depends on an intimate knowledge of its surroundings in order to escape from predators, so structural changes to the “warren” of a rabbit kept as a pet should be kept subtle, such as changing their toys and regularly providing new ones.
- It’s incredibly beneficial for rabbits kept as pets to start interacting with people, other rabbits and also other pets such as cats and dogs from an early age. Familiarity with other species will help rabbits develop into friendly and confident adults. Exposing them to normal everyday sights and sounds is also important, so they’re relaxed and happy in their environments.
- Not many people know that rabbits can be trained. Those kept as pets can really benefit from reward-based training. For example, they can be trained to exercise and go over small jumps, which in turn is great for their health. Being active reduces the risk of rabbits becoming overweight and even obese, as well as providing physical and mental stimulation.
- The gentle timid nature of rabbits saw them used by many Renaissance artists representing purity and the unquestioning faith in religion, for example Titian’s Madonna with Rabbit (1530).
- Rabbits have long been recognised as symbols of fertility and rebirth, hence their association with spring and Easter.
- The rabbit is one of the 12 animals in the Chinese Zodiac. It represents graciousness, kindness, sensitivity, compassion, tenderness and elegance.
- Rabbits are viewed as pests by some farmers. They are often shot and caught in snares. Find out about OneKind's campaign to create a Snare-Free Country to protect rabbits.
- Rabbits are used in experiments to test cosmetics in Europe. Find out about OneKind's Animal-Friendly Cosmetics campaign to end cosmetics testing on animals in Europe.
- Rabbits are used in experiments in the UK. Find out more about OneKind's Let's not turn back the clock on cruelty campaign to ensure welfare standards in the UK are not lowered.
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