Domestic rabbit facts for kids

Kids Encyclopedia Facts
Domestic rabbit
A pet rabbit eating in a bowl
Conservation status
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Lagomorpha
Family: Leporidae
Genus: Oryctolagus
Species: O. cuniculus
Subspecies: O. c. domesticus
Trinomial name
Oryctolagus cuniculus domesticus
(Linnaeus, 1758)

The domestic rabbit is the domesticated form of the European Rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus).

Domestic rabbits are kept as livestock, for meat or their fur; or they are kept as pets. Like other domesticated animals, there are many different breeds. The most popular rabbit breed is the Netherland Dwarf rabbit. Another popular breed is the Mini Lop. The largest rabbit breed is the Flemish Giant rabbit. The Flemish Giant rabbit can weigh up to 19.8 lbs (9 kg). Most domestic rabbits live for 7 to 9 years, but they can become up to 15 years old if you take good care of them and if they have good genes.


Rabbits at Polyface Farm
Rabbits being raised on pasture at Polyface Farm
A Domestic rabbit

Phoenician sailors visiting the coast of Spain c. 12th century BC, mistaking the European rabbit for a species from their homeland (the rock hyrax Procavia capensis), gave it the name i-shepan-ham (land or island of hyraxes). A theory exists that a corruption of this name, used by the Romans, became the Latin name for the peninsula, Hispania – although this theory is somewhat controversial. In Rome, rabbits were raised in large walled colonies.

Selective breeding of rabbits began in the Middle Ages, when they were first domesticated as farm animals. By the 16th century, several new breeds of different colors and sizes were being recorded.

In the 19th century, as animal fancy in general began to emerge, rabbit fanciers began to sponsor rabbit exhibitions and fairs in Western Europe and the United States. Breeds of various domesticated animals were created and modified for the added purpose of exhibition, a departure from the breeds that had been created solely for food, fur, wool, or labor. The rabbit's emergence as a household pet began during the Victorian era.

Domestic rabbits have been popular in the United States since the late 19th century. What became known as the "Belgian Hare Boom", began with the importation of the first Belgian Hares from England in 1888 and soon after the founding of the first rabbit club in America, the American Belgian Hare Association. From 1898 to 1901, many thousands of Belgian Hares were imported to America. Today, the Belgian Hare is considered one of the rarest breeds with less than 200 in the United States as reported in a recent survey.

The American Rabbit Breeders Association (ARBA) was founded in 1910 and is the national authority on rabbit raising and rabbit breeds having a uniform Standard of Perfection, registration and judging system. The domestic rabbit continues to be popular as a show animal and pet. Many thousand rabbit shows occur each year and are sanctioned in Canada and the United States by the ARBA. Today, the domesticated rabbit is the third most popular mammalian pet in Britain after dogs and cats.

Rabbits have been, and continue to be, used in laboratory work such as production of antibodies for vaccines and research of human male reproductive system toxicology. According to the Humane Society of the United States, rabbits are also used extensively in the study of bronchial asthma, stroke prevention treatments, cystic fibrosis, diabetes, and cancer. Animal rights activists have opposed animal experimentation for non-medical purposes, such as the testing of cosmetic and cleaning products, which has resulted in decreased use of rabbits in these areas.


Male rabbits are called bucks; females are called does. An older term for an adult rabbit is coney, while rabbit once referred only to the young animals. Another term for a young rabbit is bunny, though this term is often applied informally (especially by children) to rabbits generally, especially domestic ones. 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. A group of rabbits is known as a "colony" or a "nest".


Standard Chinchilla domestic rabbit


The domestic rabbit's diet depends upon whether it is a pet, a meat, or a fur rabbit. Meat and fur rabbits are fed diets which will improve meat or fur production and allow for the safe delivery of large litters of healthy kits while minimising costs and producing feces which meet waste regulations where appropriate.

Commercial food pellets are available in most countries in a variety of formulations, and are typically fed to adult rabbits in limited quantities to prevent obesity. Most pellets are based on alfalfa as a protein and fiber source, with other grains being used to complete the carbohydrate requirements. Minerals and vitamins geared toward specific requirements of rabbits are added during production. Many commercial rabbit raisers also feed grass hay, although this can represent a hygiene issue in rabbitries. Alfalfa hay in particular is recommended for immature rabbits.


Rabbits are hindgut fermenters and therefore have an enlarged cecum. This allows rabbits to digest, via fermentation, what they otherwise would not be able to metabolically process.

After a rabbit ingests food, the food travels down the esophagus and through a small valve called the cardia. In rabbits, this valve is very well pronounced and makes the rabbit incapable of vomiting. The food enters the stomach after passing through the cardia. Food then moves to the stomach and small intestine where a majority of nutrient extraction and absorption takes place. Food then passes into the colon and eventually into the cecum. Peristaltic muscle contractions (waves of motion) help to separate fibrous and non-fibrous particles. The non-fibrous particles are then moved backwards up the colon, through the illeo-cecal valve, and into the cecum. Symbiotic bacteria in the cecum help to further digest the non-fibrous particles into a more metabolically manageable substance. After as little as three hours, a soft, fecal "pellet", called a cecotrope, is expelled from the rabbit's anus. The rabbit instinctively eats these grape-like pellets, without chewing, in exchange keeping the mucous coating intact. This coating protects the vitamin- and nutrient-rich bacteria from stomach acid, until it reaches the small intestine, where the nutrients from the cecotrope can be absorbed.

The soft pellets contain a sufficiently large portion of nutrients that are critical to the rabbit's health. This soft fecal matter is rich in vitamin B and other nutrients. The process of coprophagy is important to the stability of a rabbit's digestive health because it is one important way that which a rabbit receives vitamin B in a form that is useful to its digestive wellness. Occasionally, the rabbit may leave these pellets lying about its cage; this behavior is harmless and usually related to an ample food supply.

When caecal pellets are wet and runny (semi-liquid) and stick to the rabbit and surrounding objects they are called ontermittent soft cecotropes (ISCs). This is different from ordinary diarrhea and is usually caused by a diet too high in carbohydrates or too low in fiber. Soft fruit or salad items such as lettuce, cucumbers and tomatoes are possible causes.


Indian Rabbit1
Indian rabbit

Sexual maturity age for small breeds (Mini Rex, Polish) is 4 to 5 months. For medium breeds such as New Zealand, or Rex, onset is 5 to 6 months, and 6–7 months in large breeds (Flemish Giant, Checkered Giant). Males usually require more time to fully mature, and normally reach adult sperm counts between 6–7 months.

Rabbits are often spayed (if female) or neutered (male) at the onset of adolescence to prevent unwanted offspring, and for health and behavior benefits (see § Spaying and neutering, below).


The study of rabbit genetics is mainly due to medical researchers, fanciers, and the fur and meat industries. Each of these groups have differing interests and needs for genetic information. In biomedical research community and pharmaceutical industry, rabbits are used to produce antibodies, test toxicity of consumer products, and as a model organism. Among rabbit fanciers, the fiber/fur industry, the genetics of coat color and hair properties are paramount. The meat industry selects for disease resistance, feed conversion ratio, and reproduction potential.

Linkage maps

Early genetic research focused on linkage distance between various gross phenotypes using linkage analysis. Between 1924 and 1941, the relationship between the c, y, b, du, En, l, r1, r2, A, dw, w, f, and br had been established (phenotype is listed below).

  • c -- albino
  • y -- yellow fat
  • du -- Dutch coloring
  • En -- English coloring
  • l -- angora
  • r1, r2 -- rex genes
  • A -- Agouti
  • dw -- dwarf gene
  • w -- wide intermediate-color band
  • f -- furless
  • br -- brachydactyly

Color genes

There are 10 color gene groups (or loci) in rabbits. They are A, B, C, D, E, En, Du, Si, V, and W. Each locus has dominant and recessive genes. In addition to the loci there are also modifiers, which modify a certain gene. These include the rufus modifiers, color intensifiers, and plus/minus (blanket/spot) modifiers. A rabbit's coat only has two pigments, pheomelanin (yellow) and eumelanin (dark brown). There can also be no pigment, causing an albino or white rabbit.

Within each group, the genes are listed in order of dominance, with the most dominant gene first. In parenthesis after the description is at least one example of a color that displays this gene.

Note: lower case are recessive and capital letters are dominant
  • "A" represents the agouti locus (multiple bands of color on the hair shaft). The genes are:
    • A=agouti ("wild color" or chestnut agouti, opal, chinchilla, etc.)
    • a(t)=tan pattern (otter, tan, silver marten)
    • a=self or non-agouti (black, chocolate)
  • "B" represents the brown locus. The genes are:
    • B=black (chestnut agouti, black otter, black)
    • b=brown (chocolate agouti, chocolate otter, chocolate)
Hauskaninchen im Stall
  • "C" represents the color locus. The genes are:
    • C=full color (black)
    • c(ch3)=dark chinchilla, removes yellow pigmentation (chinchilla, silver marten)
    • c(ch2)=medium (light) chinchilla, Slight reduction in eumelanin creating a more sepia tone in the fur rather than black.
    • c(ch1)=light (pale) chinchilla (sable, sable point, smoke pearl, seal)
    • c(h)=color sensitive expression of color. Warmer parts of body do not express color. Known as himalayan, the body is white with extremities ("points") colored in black, blue, chocolate or lilac, pink eyes
    • c=albino (ruby-eyed white or REW)
  • "D" represents the dilution locus. This gene dilutes black to blue and chocolate to lilac.
    • D=dense color (chestnut agouti, black, chocolate)
    • d=diluted color (opal, blue or lilac)
  • "E" represents the extension locus. It works with the 'A' and 'C' loci, and rufus modifiers. When it is recessive, it removes most black pigment. The genes are:
    • E(d)=dominant black
    • E(s)=steel (black removed from tips of fur, which then appear golden or silver)
    • E=normal
    • e(j)=Japanese brindling (harlequin), black and yellow pigment broken into patches over the body. In a broken color pattern this results in Tricolor.
    • e=most black pigment removed (agouti becomes red or orange, self becomes tortoise)
American Grand Champion Dutch Rabbit
  • "En" represents the plus/minus (blanket/spot) color locus. It is incompletely dominant and results in three possible color patterns:
    • EnEn="Charlie" or a lightly marked broken with color on ears, on nose and sparsely on body
    • Enen=Broken rabbit with roughly even distribution of color and white
    • enen=Solid color with no white areas
  • "Du" represents the Dutch color pattern, (the front of the face, front part of the body, and rear paws are white, the rest of the rabbit has colored fur). The genes are:
    • Du=absence of Dutch pattern
    • du(d)=Dutch (dark)
    • du(w)=Dutch (white)
Český červený samec
Czech Red
  • "V" represents the vienna white locus. The genes are:
    • V=normal color
    • Vv=Vienna carrier, carries blue-eyed white gene. May appear as a solid color, with snips of white on nose and/or front paws, or Dutch marked.
    • v=vienna white (blue-eyed white or BEW)
  • "Si" represents the silver locus. The genes are:
    • Si=normal color
    • si=silver color (silver, silver fox)
  • "W" represents the middle yellow-white band locus and works with the agouti gene. The genes are:
    • W=normal width of yellow band
    • w=doubles yellow band width (Otter becomes Tan, intensified red factors in Thrianta and Belgian Hare)
  • "P" represents the OCA type II form of albinism, P is because it is an integral P protein mutation. The genes are:
    • P=normal color
    • p=albinism mutation, removes eumelanin and causes pink eyes. (Will change, for example, a Chestnut Agouti into a Shadow)


Bunny Blu Blu
Holland Lop with black patches on white (a pattern called "broken")

Numerous different, standardized breeds of domestic rabbit have been developed, with various sizes, temperaments, and care requirements. Mostly of them have historically been bred to be much larger than wild rabbits, though selective breeding has produced a range sizes from "dwarf" to "giant", many of which are kept as food and fur animals as well as pets across the world. The modern, long-haired Angora breed is raised for its long, soft fur, which is often spun, like wool, into yarn. Other breeds are raised for the fur industry, particularly the Rex, which has a smooth, velvet-like coat and comes in a wide variety of colors and sizes. There are 49 rabbit breeds recognized by the American Rabbit Breeders Association in the United States, and over 50 rabbit breeds recognized by the British Rabbit Council. There are many more breeds of rabbits worldwide.

As with breeds of dogs, rabbit breeds were selectively bred by humans at different times to achieve certain desired characteristics. They have as much color variation between them as do other household pets, and vary in other traits from breed to breed, such as coat length and texture, body shape, ear length and position (many are lop-eared), tail size, etc. Temperaments can vary slightly with breed and gender, as with any animal, and this may include contentment and relaxation versus timidity and fearfulness, alertness, playfulness, and submissiveness versus aggression.

Most genetic defects in the domestic rabbit (such as the Holland Lop breed's tendency to develop dental problems) are due to recessive genes. These genes are carefully tracked by fanciers of the breeds who show these animals; just as dog fanciers carefully check for hip, eye and heart problems, rabbit fanciers extensively follow their own lines to breed out unwanted defects.

As pets

Rabbits have been kept as pets in Western nations since the 19th century. Rabbits bond (albeit slowly) with owners, can learn to follow simple voice commands and come when called by name, and are curious and playful. They do not make good pets for small children, as rabbits are fragile and easily injured by rough handling, as well as frequently frightened by loud noises and sudden motions.

The keeping of pet rabbits is banned in the Australian state of Queensland. Rabbits are especially popular as pets in the United States during the Easter season, 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 in unwanted and neglected rabbits that were bought as Easter "gifts", especially for children. Similar problems arise in rural areas after county fairs and the like, in jurisdictions in which rabbits are legal prizes in fairground games.

There are many humane societies, animal shelters, and rescue groups that have rabbits available for pet adoption. Fancy rabbit breeds are often purchased from pet stores, private breeders, and fanciers.

House rabbits

Rabbit sharing apple
A house rabbit sharing an apple with its owner

Rabbits are increasingly kept as house pets in family homes, in "rabbit-proofed" spaces that do not provide dangerous or valuable things upon which to gnaw. Living indoors shelters a rabbit from outdoor dangers such as predators, weather, vehicles, and pesticides, and thus lengthens their lifespan.

Rabbits are usually compatible with other small animals, including other rabbits, birds, and rodents such as chinchillas and guinea pigs (cavies),

Keeping a rabbit as a house companion was popularised by Sandy Crook in her 1981 book Your French Lop. In 1983, Crook was a featured lecturer to the 35,000 attendees at the American Family Pet Show in Anaheim, California where she presented her personal experiences of living with her indoor rabbit as evidence of a human–rabbit bond. Throughout the 1980s it became more common to litter-box train a rabbit and keep it indoors, after the publication of Marinell Harriman's House Rabbit Handbook: How to Live with an Urban Rabbit in 1985. The US-based House Rabbit Society was founded in 1988.

A house rabbit eating parsley

Behavioral concerns

These two house rabbits share a litter box originally intended for cats.

As the domestic descendants of wild prey animals, rabbits are alert, timid creatures that startle fairly easily, and many of their behaviors are triggered by the fight-or-flight response to perceived threats. According to the House Rabbit Society, the owner of a pet rabbit can use various behavioral approaches to win the animal's trust, which can be a long and difficult process.

Commercial rabbitry

Meat rabbits

Meat-type rabbits being raised in an outdoor hutch, as a supplementary food source, during the Great Depression

Breeds such as the New Zealand and Californian are frequently utilized for meat in commercial rabbitries. These breeds have efficient metabolisms and grow quickly; they are ready for slaughter by approximately 14 to 16 weeks of age.

Rabbit fryers are rabbits that are between 70 and 90 days of age, and weighing between 3 and 5 lb (1 to 2 kg) live weight. Rabbit roasters are rabbits from 90 days to 6 months of age weighing between 5 and 8 lb (2 to 3.5 kg) live weight. Rabbit stewers are rabbits from 6 months on weighing over 8 lb.

Any type of rabbit can be slaughtered for meat, but those exhibiting the "commercial" body type are most commonly raised for meat purposes. Dark fryers (any other color but albino whites) are sometimes lower in price than albino fryers because of the slightly darker tinge of the fryer (purely pink carcasses are preferred by consumers) and because the hide is harder to remove manually than the white albino fryers.

Wool rabbits

Rabbits such as the Angora, American Fuzzy Lop, and Jersey Wooly produce wool. However, since the American Fuzzy Lop and Jersey Wooly are both dwarf breeds, only the much larger Angora breeds such as the English Angora, Satin Angora, Giant Angora, and French Angoras are used for commercial wool production. Their long fur is sheared, combed, or plucked (gently pulling loose hairs from the body during molting) and then spun into yarn used to make a variety of products. Angora sweaters can be purchased in many clothing stores and is generally mixed with other types of wool. Rabbit wool, called Angora, is 2.5 times warmer than sheep's wool.

Laboratory rabbits

Rabbits kept in cages for scientific experimentation

Rabbits have been and continue to be used in laboratory work such as production of antibodies for vaccines and research of human male reproductive system toxicology. In 1972, around 450,000 rabbits were used for experiments in the United States, decreasing to around 240 000 in 2006.

The Environmental Health Perspective, published by the National Institute of Health, states, "The rabbit [is] an extremely valuable model for studying the effects of chemicals or other stimuli on the male reproductive system." According to the Humane Society of the United States, rabbits are also used extensively in the study of bronchial asthma, stroke prevention treatments, cystic fibrosis, diabetes, and cancer.

The New Zealand White is one of the most commonly used breeds for research and testing.

Animal rights activists generally oppose animal experimentation for all purposes, and rabbits are no exception.


Rabbit condo
A multi-level "pet condo" offers a house rabbit a degree of hopping space and variety even when not free in rabbit-proofed areas at home.

Rabbits can live outdoors in properly constructed, sheltered hutches, which provide protection from the elements in winter and keep rabbits cool in summer heat. To protect from predators, rabbit hutches are usually situated in a fenced yard, shed, barn, or other enclosed structure, which may also contain a larger pen for exercise. Rabbits in such an environment can alternatively be allowed to roam the secured area freely, and simply be provided with an adapted doghouse for shelter. A more elaborate setup is an artificial warren.

Domestic rabbit Facts for Kids. Kiddle Encyclopedia.