Long movable ears and large eyes placed high on the head, providing near-360° vision, help rabbits detect predators from afar. Powerful hind-limbs help them make a quick getaway. The 80 or so breeds of domestic rabbits come in all colours and sizes. Well-loved for their gentle temperament, they make popular pets. They are social creatures that typically enjoy the company of other rabbits and even other pet animals like cats. Rabbits communicate using scent cues and touch. Though generally quiet, they may emit loud screams when alarmed or injured. They drum their hind limbs on the ground as a warning when they feel threatened.
Lagomorphs, not rodents
Though often thought to be related to mice, hamsters and other rodents,rabbits belong to a separate group of animals known as lagomorphs. Their apparent likeness to rodents arises from adaptation to a common lifestyle and diet. Like rodents, rabbits are gnawing animals. Similarly, their teeth continue to grow throughout life and are worn down by chewing. But while rodents have only two incisors, rabbits have double that number. Besides these four sharp incisors (two upper and two lower), rabbits also have an extra set of ‘peg teeth’, which are tiny incisors located immediately behind the main incisors.
Droppings for dinner
Designed to thrive on grass and leaves in the wild, which are relatively slow to break down, rabbits rely on a double digestion process to get the most nutrients out of their ‘poor quality’ diet. Caecal pellets – a special type of soft droppings – are produced in the caecum of the rabbits’ digestive tractand usually re-ingested even as they are excreted. Resembling tightly-bunched grapes, these pungent, mucus-coated pellets contain beneficial caecal bacteria. The second time round, pea-sized faecal pellets of undigested fibre are passed out. Rabbits use these dry, easily-crumbled droppings to scent-mark their territory.
Pet bunnies are for life
Rabbits make wonderful pets. They can be trained to respond to commands and to use a litter box. However, being prey animals, they are easily startled and should be handled gently. Rabbits are known for their ability to breed. A female can have around six litters every year, averaging five to six young per litter. Rabbits should never be obtained on impulse nor should they be given as gifts. Adopting a rabbit is always a wiser and kinder choice over buying or breeding. But, think hard before you take that cute bunny home. Rabbits can live up to 12 years and having one as a pet means having to care for it over that length of time.
Groom for health
Rabbits can clean themselves and do not need baths. You need to brush your rabbit twice a week and trim its nails when they grow too long. Rabbits may swallow hair when they groom themselves, especially during the moulting stage. The swallowed hair forms hair balls, blocking the digestive system as rabbits are unable to cough them out. Regular brushing is important to prevent the problem. Longhaired breeds need to be groomed daily and shorthaired breeds, once every few days.