Rabbits are a pet alternative to dogs or cats and some may be litter box and leash trained. Rabbits require responsible daily care: warm dry clean hutch, wholesome diet, and fresh water. Among the recognized 40 breeds, the Dutch, Holland Lop, Mini Lop, Netherland Dwarf, and Polish rabbits are smaller popular pet breeds. Living 10-15 years, trained rabbits are fairly calm and undemanding; their social nature draws them to people, but not cuddled.
A domestic rabbit is any of several varieties of European rabbit that have been domesticated by humans. Male rabbits are called bucks; females are called does. An older term for an adult rabbit is coney (derived from the Dutch word konijn), while rabbit refers to the young animals. More recently the term kit or kitten has been used to refer to a young rabbit. A young hare is called a leveret; this term is sometimes informally applied to a young rabbit as well.
In the 1800’s, an animal fancy in general began to emerge, rabbit fanciers began to attend rabbit shows in Western Europe and the United States. Breeds where created and modified for the purpose of exhibition, a departure from the breeds that had been created for food, fur, or wool. The rabbit’s emergence as a household pet began during the Victorian era. The domestic rabbit continues to be popular as a show animal and pet.
There are many different breeds of domestic rabbits, including the English Angora, Dwarf Hotot, Chinchilla, Dutch, Flemish Giant, Himalayan, Netherland Dwarf, Holland Lop, Silver, Silver Fox, English spot, Havana, Florida White, New Zealand, Rex, Polish, Jersey Wooly, Satin, and Mini Lop. As with breeds of dogs, rabbit breeds were generally created by humans at different times for different purposes and vary in physical characteristics, care requirements, and temperaments just as various dog breeds do. There are over 45 rabbit breeds recognized by the American Rabbit Breeders Association in the United States. There are many more rabbit breeds worldwide.
Rabbits have been kept as pets in Western nations since the 1800s. Like all pets, rabbits need a considerable amount of care and attention. Rabbits kept indoors with proper care can expect to live between 9 to 12 years. Rabbits are especially popular as pets during Easter, due to their association with the holiday. However, animal shelters that accept rabbits often complain that during the weeks and months following Easter, there is a rise of unwanted and neglected rabbits that were bought on impulse or as Easter "gifts,” especially for children.
House rabbit organizations warn that a rabbit does not make a good pet for small children because they do not know how to stay quiet, calm, and gentle around the rabbit. As prey animals, rabbits are alert, timid creatures that startle easily. They have fragile bones, especially in their backs, which require support on the belly and bottom when picked up. A scared bunny may bite or scratch a child holding it in a precarious grip and be dropped, seriously injuring the animal, or kick hard enough to fracture or break their own backs. Children 10 years old and older tend to have the maturity and skill required to care for a rabbit. With the help of a parents, project leaders, and teen leaders, members of the 4H as young as 5 years old can learn to handle their pets with ease.
The diet of a domestic rabbit varies depending on the purpose it is kept for. The most important component of a pet rabbit's diet is hay. Hay is the base of pelleted feeds. In addition to pelleted feeds, Timothy hay, orchard grass hay, or an oat hay blend are a necessary and very important part of a rabbit's diet. These kinds of hays provide more fiber than other types of hays. Fresh water in clean bowls or water bottles must be available to rabbits at all times. When a rabbit's sensitive digestive system is stable after weaning, vegetables and some fruits may be introduced safely if they are introduced slowly and cautiously. Avoid seeds, nuts and corn. Overfeeding of treats such as apples, bananas, carrots and other sugary foods can lead to obesity or GI stasis, a condition that can be fatal if not treated. Iceberg lettuce should NEVER be part of a rabbit’s diet.
Rabbits are social animals. The process of introducing two rabbits in a common space is called bonding. Until two rabbits are bonded, they tend to fight with each other. Fighting is often the result of territoriality or sexual mounting, which is engaged in by rabbits of both genders upon other rabbits of either gender; this behavior stresses the rabbit being mounted and can make it aggressive toward its cage mate. Bonding rabbits requires additional care to protect against unwanted pregnancy and the spread of disease or parasites. Rabbits often get along well with declawed house cats, although care should be used when introducing these natural adversaries.
Rabbits can be taught to follow voice commands much like a dog or cat, but they can also be trained to recognize different patterns of the voice. Rabbits can be taught their names, although they recognize the pattern of the noises more than the words. Rabbits can be very playful and enjoy games and toys. Toys keep a rabbit from becoming bored or frustrated. Rabbits have a tendency to chew on items in their space, particularly wires, although some can be encouraged not to chew dangerous or valuable items by offering alternatives such as chew toys. Some pet rabbit owners prevent access to electrical wires by blocking them off or using cord covers, such as corrugated tubing available at hardware stores.
Prior to the trend in keeping rabbits as house pets, most pet rabbits were kept outdoors in hutches. Today, wide selections of indoor and outside housing choices are available designed just for rabbits. Rabbits kept as pets indoors are often referred to as house rabbits; they live in homes with humans much as cats and dogs do. This helps human and pet form a close relationship. As with other pets, rabbits housed indoors are protected from outside predators, temperature extremes, and outdoor parasites. Accommodations can range from a large cage or pen to the free run of the home, depending upon the needs of the family and the personality and physical abilities of the rabbit(s).
When the proper protection from outdoor predators (such as dogs) is provided, rabbits can be safely housed outdoors in well-situated runs, hutches, and rabbitries. A rabbitry is housing specifically made for raising rabbits mainly used by rabbit exhibitors (or fanciers) and other reputable breeders. A rabbitry may be a barn, shed, studio, or other safe enclosure. Many rabbitries have electricity, running water, rodent-safe storage for hay and food, a grooming area, and even dishwashers. Many reputable breeders have various temperature control mechanisms for their rabbitries such as electric air conditioning, heating, swamp coolers, or misting systems for cooling the air. Rabbitries range from the very simple to the very elaborate and may house anywhere from 3 to 300 rabbits depending on size and the goals and purposes of the breeder.