Domestic rabbit

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Domestic rabbit
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Lagomorpha
Family: Leporidae
Genus: Oryctolagus
Lilljeborg, 1873
Species: O. cuniculus
Binomial name
Oryctolagus cuniculus
(Linnaeus, 1758)

O. c. domesticus

Hotot Rabbit

A domestic rabbit or domesticated rabbit (Oryctolagus), more commonly known as simply a rabbit, is any of the domesticated varieties of the European rabbit species. Rabbits were first domesticated in the Middle Ages and are used as sources of food, fur, and wool, as research subjects, and as pets. The male is called a buck, the female a doe, and a young rabbit is a kit or bunny.


Rabbits kept in cages for scientific experimentation

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.[1] 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, or wool, 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.[2] 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.[3]

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 the production of antibodies for vaccines and research of human male reproductive system toxicology. 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. 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.[citation needed]


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.[4] 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".[5]



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.[6]

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.[7] Alfalfa hay in particular is recommended for immature rabbits.[8]


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.[9][10]

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.[11] 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.


Ovulation is induced by sexual stimulation. 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).


Rabbits, like all mammals, produce milk for their young. Females have six to eight nipples, they produce milk for four to five weeks. [12][full citation needed] Rabbit milk is fairly high in fat, as a percentage by mass. While most species produce approximately 5% milk fat, rabbits produce 12%. See excerpted table below for comparison of species with the highest and lowest milk fat content.[13]

Species Fat Protein Lactose Ash Total Solids
Seal, gray 53.2 11.2 2.6 0.7 68
Whale 34.8 13.6 1.8 1.6 51
Bear, polar 31 10.2 0.5 1.2 43
Rabbit 12.2 10.4 1.8 2 26
Bison 1.7 4.8 5.7 1.0 13
Horse 1.6 2.7 6.1 0.5 11
Donkey 1.2 1.7 6.9 0.5 10


The study of rabbit genetics is mainly due to medical researchers, fanciers, and the fur and meat industries, each of these groups has different 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[edit]

The 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

The distance between these genes is as follows, enumerated by chromosome, the format is gene1—distance—gene2 -- ... [14]

  1. c -- 14.4 -- y -- 28.4 -- b
  2. du -- 1.2 -- EN -- 13.1 -- l
  3. r1 -- 17.2 -- r2
  4. A -- 14.7 -- dw -- 15.4 -- w
  5. f -- 28.3 -- br

The rabbit genome has been sequenced and is publicly available,[15] the mitochondrial DNA has also been sequenced.[16]

In 2011, parts of the rabbit genome were re-sequenced in greater depth in order to expose variation within the genome.[17]

Color genes[edit]

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.[18]

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)
  • "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 the 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.[19]
    • 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)
  • "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, the 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)
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 bandwidth (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)
Indian rabbit


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. Most of them have historically been bred to be much larger than wild rabbits, though selective breeding has produced a range of 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,[20] and over 50 rabbit breeds recognized by the British Rabbit Council. There are much 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[edit]

Standard Chinchilla domestic rabbit

Rabbits have been kept as pets in Western nations since the 19th century. Rabbits bond (albeit slowly) with owners,[21] can learn to follow simple voice commands and come when called by name,[22]:166 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.[23]

The keeping of pet rabbits is banned in the Australian state of Queensland.[24] 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.[25] 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[edit]

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.[26][27] Living indoors shelters a rabbit from outdoor dangers such as predators, weather, vehicles, and pesticides, and thus lengthens their lifespan.[26]

Rabbits are usually compatible with other small animals, including other rabbits, birds, and rodents such as chinchillas[citation needed] and guinea pigs (cavies),[28]

Keeping a rabbit as a house companion was popularised by[citation needed] 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.[29] Throughout the 1980s it became more common to litter-box train a rabbit and keep it indoors, after[citation needed] 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.[30]

A house rabbit eating parsley

Behavioral concerns[edit]

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,[31] which can be a long and difficult process.[21]

In addition, there is evidence to suggest that rabbits that occupy the periphery of the litter huddle early in life obtain less milk from the mother and, as a result, have lower body mass, it is suggested that this may contribute to behavioural differences in litter mates during adolescence. [32]

Commercial rabbitry[edit]

Meat rabbits[edit]

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 dark hairs are easier to see than if there are residual white hairs on the carcass. There is no difference in skinability.

Wool rabbits[edit]

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.[33]

Fur rabbits[edit]

Dried rabbit pelts

All rabbits produce fur. Rabbits such as the Palomino, Satin, Chinchilla rabbit and Rex rabbit are commonly raised for fur. Each breed has unique coloring and fur characteristics, the rabbit is fed a diet especially balanced for fur production and is harvested when the pelts have reached prime condition, at an older age than would be optimal for meat production. Rabbit fur is widely used throughout the world. China imports much of its fur from Scandinavia (80%) and North America (5%) according to the USDA Foreign Agricultural Service GAIN Report CH7607.

Laboratory rabbits[edit]

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,[34] 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."[35] 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.[improper synthesis?] The use of rabbits for the Draize test,[36] which is used for, amongst other things, testing cosmetics on animals, has been cited as an example of cruelty in animal research. Albino rabbits are typically used in the Draize tests because they have less tear flow than other animals, and the lack of eye pigment makes the effects easier to visualize.[37]


Rabbits being raised on pasture at Polyface Farm
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.[38] 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.


Checkered Giant at an exhibition

Conformation shows[edit]

Show rabbits are an increasingly popular activity. Showing rabbits helps to improve the vigor and physical behavior of each breed through competitive selection. County fairs are common venues through which rabbits are shown in the United States and many other countries. Rabbit clubs at local to national levels hold many shows each year, on any given weekend one may be able to find a show in most regions of the United States and the United Kingdom. Although only purebred animals are shown, a pedigree is not required to enter a rabbit in show sanctioned by the American Rabbit Breeders Association show but is required to register a rabbit with the ARBA.; a rabbit must be registered in order to receive a Grand Champion certificate.[39] Children's clubs such as 4-H also include rabbit shows, usually in conjunction with county fairs, the ARBA holds an annual national convention which has as many as 25,000 animals competing for form all over the world. The national show moves to a different city each year, the ARBA also sponsors youth programs for families as well as underprivileged rural and inner-city children to learn responsible care and breeding of domestic rabbits.

Show jumping[edit]

Rabbit show jumping, a form of animal sport between rabbits, began in the 1970s and has since become popular in Europe, particularly Sweden and the United Kingdom. Any rabbit regardless of breed may participate in this kind of competition, as it is based on athletic skill.


A disease is rare when rabbits are raised in sanitary conditions and provided with adequate care. Rabbits have fragile bones, especially in their spines, and need support on the belly or bottom when they are picked up.

Spayed or neutered rabbits kept indoors with proper care may have a lifespan of 8 to 12 years, with mixed-breed rabbits typically living longer than purebred specimens, and dwarf breeds having longer average lifespans than larger breeds,[40] the world record for longest-lived rabbit is 18 years.[40]

Rabbits will gnaw on almost anything, including electrical cords (possibly leading to electrocution), potentially poisonous plants, and material like carpet and fabric that may cause life-threatening intestinal blockages, so areas to which they have access need to be rabbit-proofed.[26][27][41]


In most jurisdictions, including the United States (except where required by local animal control ordinances), rabbits do not require vaccination. Vaccinations exist for both rabbit hemorrhagic disease and myxomatosis,[42] these vaccinations are usually given annually, two weeks apart. If there is an outbreak of myxomatosis locally, this vaccine can be administered every six months for extra protection.[43] Myxomatosis immunizations are not available in all countries, including Australia, due to fears that immunity will pass on to feral rabbits. However, they are recommended by some veterinarians as prophylactics, where they are legally available.[22]:182

Spaying and neutering[edit]

Rabbit fancier organizations and veterinarians recommend that pet rabbits be neutered or spayed by a rabbit-experienced veterinarian.[22]:123[44] Health advantages of neutering and spaying include increased longevity, and for females, a reduced risk of ovarian and uterine cancer and endometritis.[22]:195–9[45][40] Neutering and spaying also reduces territorial marking in males, and aggression toward other rabbits.[46][45][31] Risks associated with spaying a rabbit include infection of the surgical site, and death from anesthesia.[47] Additionally, spaying and neutering is required before rabbits can begin the bonding process.

Parasitic fungus[edit]

Some vets now recommend treating rabbits against the Encephalitozoon cuniculi, a parasitic, microscopic fungus, some studies have indicated that in the UK over 50% of rabbits may be infected with E. cuniculi. The usual drugs for treatment and prevention of this infection are the benzimidazole anthelmintics, particularly fenbendazole, also used as a deworming agent in other species of animal, and shown to be effective in treating this condition in rabbits. In the UK, it is sold over-the-counter in oral paste form as a nine-day treatment for rabbits under the brand name Panacur Rabbit. Fenbendazole is particularly recommended for rabbits kept in colonies and before mixing new rabbits with each other.[48] E. cuniculi is the primary cause of "wry neck".

Fly strike[edit]

Fly strike is a rare condition which mostly affects rabbits kept in extremely unsanitary conditions and is more likely to occur during summer months. Fly strike happens when flies (particularly the botfly) lay their eggs in the damp or soiled fur or in an open wound of a rabbit. Within 12 hours, the eggs hatch into the larval stage of the fly, known as maggots, the maggots, initially small and almost invisible to the naked eye, can burrow into the skin of the rabbit and feed on the animal's tissue. Within 3–4 days, the larvae can be large as 15 mm long. In rare cases, if not treated, the rabbit can pass into shock and die, the most susceptible animals are those living in unsanitary housing, older rabbits that do not move much, and those that are unable to clean their bottom areas carefully. Rabbits raised on solid floors are more susceptible than rabbits raised on wire floors. Rabbits exhibiting one or more episodes of diarrhea are often inspected, especially during the summer months;[49] in 2002, the medicine Rearguard was approved in the United Kingdom for 10-week-per-application prevention of fly strike.

Viral diseases[edit]

Rabbits are subject to infection by a variety of viruses.

Myxomatosis is a threat to the health of pet and livestock rabbits. Rabbits caged outdoors in Australia are vulnerable in areas with high numbers of mosquitoes; in Europe, fleas are the carriers of myxomatosis. In some countries, annual vaccinations against myxomatosis are available; in Australia, myxomatosis was intentionally introduced into the feral population of European rabbits (which have become an invasive species) as a means of population control. The Australian government will not allow veterinarians to purchase and use the vaccine that would protect domestic rabbits, for fear that this immunity would be spread into the wild by escaped livestock and pets.[50][unreliable source] This is also the motivation for the pet-rabbit ban in Queensland.[24]

Rabbit hemorrhagic disease (RHD), also known as viral hemorrhagic disease (VHD) or rabbit calicivirus disease (RCD),[51] is caused by a rabbit-specific calicivirus known as RHDV or RCV, discovered in 1983. It is highly infectious and usually fatal. Outward signs are not obvious and usually include little but a fever and lethargy, until after significant internal organ damage results in labored breathing, squealing, bloody mucus, and eventual coma and death. Internally, the infection causes necrosis of the liver and damages other organs, especially the spleen, kidneys, and small intestine. Vaccines are available (and mandatory) in the UK, but often not available elsewhere as of October 2015.

Like myxomatosis, RHD has been introduced into feral populations intentionally, especially in Australia and (illegally) in New Zealand, to thin their numbers, and it has escaped quarantine in some areas, the disease has killed tens of millions of rabbits in China (unintentionally) and Australia, with other epidemics reported in Bolivia, Mexico, South Korea, and continental Europe. Outbreaks have been successfully controlled in the United States (where it was still occasionally reported as of 2007[51]) and the UK. Populations in New Zealand have bounced back after developing a genetic immunity, and the disease has no effect on native wild rabbit and hare species in the Americas, which are not closely related to the Old World rabbits.

West Nile virus is another threat to rabbits.[52] This is a fatal disease, and while vaccines are available, they are not specifically indicated for rabbits.

Sore hocks[edit]

The formation of open sores on the rabbit's hocks, commonly called "sore hocks", is a problem that commonly afflicts mostly heavy-weight rabbits kept in cages with wire flooring[53] or soiled solid flooring. The problem is most prevalent in rex-furred rabbits and heavy-weight rabbits (9+ pounds in weight), as well as those with thin foot bristles.

The condition results when, over the course of time, the protective bristle-like fur on the rabbit's hocks thins down. Standing urine or other unsanitary cage conditions can exacerbate the problem by irritating the sensitive skin, the exposed skin in turn can result in tender areas or, in severe cases, open sores, which may then become infected and abscessed if not properly cared for.

Respiratory and conjunctival problems[edit]

An over-diagnosed ailment amongst rabbits is respiratory infection, known colloquially as "snuffles". Pasteurella, a bacterium, is usually misdiagnosed and this is known to be a factor in the overuse of antibiotics among rabbits.[54][full citation needed] A runny nose, for instance, can have several causes, among those being high temperature or humidity, extreme stress, environmental pollution (like perfume or incense), or a sinus infection. Options for treating this is removing the pollutant, lowering or raising the temperature accordingly, and medical treatment for sinus infections.[54] Pasteurella does live naturally in a rabbit's respiratory tract, and it can flourish out of control in some cases. In the rare event that happens, antibiotic treatment is necessary.

Sneezing can be a sign of environmental pollution (such as too much dust) or a food allergy.

Runny eyes and other conjunctival problems can be caused by dental disease or a blockage of the tear duct. Environmental pollution, corneal disease, entropion, distichiasis, or inflammation of the eyes are also causes. This is easy to diagnose as well as treat.[54]

Wry neck[edit]

Inner ear infections, certain parasites, strokes, or other diseases or injuries affecting the brain or inner ear can lead to a condition known as "wry neck" or "head tilt." Although a heavy infestation of ear mites, an ear infection, or a head or neck injury can result in these symptoms, the most common cause of these symptoms is E. cuniculi, a parasite (see § Parasitic fungus, above). This condition can be fatal, due to a disorientation that causes the animal to stop eating and drinking.

Dental problems[edit]


Dental disease has several causes, namely genetics, inappropriate diet, injury to the jaw, infection, or cancer.

  • Malocclusion: Rabbit teeth are open-rooted and continue to grow throughout their lives. In some rabbits, the teeth are not properly aligned, a condition called malocclusion, because of the misaligned nature of the rabbit's teeth, there is no normal wear to control the length to which the teeth grow. There are three main causes of malocclusion, most commonly genetic predisposition, injury, or bacterial infection; in the case of congenital malocclusion, treatment usually involves veterinary visits in which the teeth are treated with a dental burr (a procedure called crown reduction or, more commonly, teeth clipping) or, in some cases, permanently removed. In cases of simple malocclusion, a block of wood for the rabbit to chew on can rectify this problem.[citation needed]
  • Molar spurs: These are spurs that can dig into the rabbit's tongue and/or cheek causing pain. These should be filed down by an experienced exotic veterinarian specialised in rabbit care, using a dental burr, for example.
  • Osteoporosis: Rabbits, especially neutered females and those that are kept indoors without adequate natural sunlight, can suffer from osteoporosis, in which holes appear in the skull by X-Ray imaging. This reflects the general thinning of the bone, and teeth will start to become looser in the sockets, making it uncomfortable and painful for the animal to chew hay, the inability to properly chew hay can result in molar spurs, as described above, and weight loss, leading into a downward spiral if not treated promptly. This can be reversible and treatable. A veterinary formulated liquid calcium supplement[55] with vitamin D3 and magnesium can be given mixed with the rabbit's drinking water, once or twice per week, according to the veterinarian's instructions. The molar spurs should also be trimmed down by an experienced exotic veterinarian specialised in rabbit care, once per 1-2 months depending on the case.

Signs of dental difficulty include difficulty eating, weight loss and small stools and visibly overgrown teeth. However, there are many other causes of ptyalism, including pain due to other causes.[56]

Gastrointestinal stasis[edit]

Gastrointestinal stasis (GI stasis) is a serious and potentially fatal condition that occurs in some rabbits in which gut motility is severely reduced and possibly completely stopped. When untreated or improperly treated, GI stasis can be fatal in as little as 24 hours.

GI stasis is the condition of food not moving through the gut as quickly as normal, the gut contents may dehydrate and compact into a hard, immobile mass (impacted gut), blocking the digestive tract of the rabbit. Food in an immobile gut may also ferment, causing significant gas buildup and resultant gas pain for the rabbit.

The first noticeable symptom of GI stasis may be that the rabbit suddenly stops eating. Treatment frequently includes intravenous or subcutaneous fluid therapy (rehydration through injection of a balanced electrolyte solution), pain control, possible careful massage to promote gas expulsion and comfort, drugs to promote gut motility, and careful monitoring of all inputs and outputs. The rabbit's diet may also be changed as part of treatment, to include force-feeding to ensure adequate nutrition. Surgery to remove the blockage is not generally recommended and comes with a poor prognosis.[57]

Some rabbits are more prone to GI stasis than others, the causes of GI stasis are not completely understood, but common contributing factors are thought to include stress, reduced food intake, low fiber in the diet, dehydration, reduction in exercise or blockage caused by excess fur or carpet ingestion. Stress factors can include changes in housing, transportation, or medical procedures under anesthesia, as many of these factors may occur together (poor dental structure leading to decreased food intake, followed by a stressful veterinary dental procedure to correct the dental problem) establishing a root cause may be difficult.[58]

GI stasis is sometimes misdiagnosed as "hair balls" by veterinarians or rabbit keepers not familiar with the condition.[59][60] While fur is commonly found in the stomach following a fatal case of GI stasis, it is also found in healthy rabbits. Molting and chewing fur can be a predisposing factor in the occurrence of GI stasis, however, the primary cause is the change in motility of the gut.

Tonic immobility[edit]

Coping with stress is a key aspect of rabbit behavior, and this can be traced to part of the brain known as ventral tegmental area (VTA). Dopaminergic neurons in this part of the brain release the hormone dopamine, generalized as a "feel-good" hormone; in humans, dopamine is released through a variety of acts, including sexual activity, substance abuse, and even eating chocolate. However, in rabbits, it is released as part of a coping mechanism while in a heightened state of fear or stress, and has a calming effect. Dopamine has also been found in the rabbit's medial prefrontal cortex, the nucleus accumbens, and the amygdala.[61] Physiological and behavioral responses to human-induced tonic immobility (TI, sometimes termed "trancing" or "playing dead") have been found to be indicative of a fear-motivated stress state, confirming that the promotion of TI to try to increase a bond between rabbits and their owners—thinking the rabbits enjoy it—is misplaced.[62] However, some researchers conclude that inducing TI in rabbits is appropriate for certain procedures, as it holds less risk than anesthesia.[62]


A rabbit cannot be declawed. Lacking pads on the bottoms of its feet, a rabbit requires its claws for balance. Removing its claws would render it unable to stand.[63][64]

See also[edit]


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Further reading[edit]

  • Harriman, Marinell (2005) [1985]. House Rabbit Handbook: How to Live with an Urban Rabbit. Alameda, California: Drollery Press. ISBN 978-0-940920-17-0. 

External links[edit]