What’s a rabbit like?

People always ask us, “Is a rabbit more like a cat or a dog”? The answer is: “neither” and “both.” But why should we expect them to be like an animal they are not? Why don’t we expect them to be like, well… rabbits. As prevalent as rabbits are in our popular culture, it seems reasonable to assume that we would know a lot about them. Unfortunately, that assumption would be very wrong. That’s why we need to turn to a point of reference with the familiar—cats and dogs—to try to figure them out. Almost everyone has a basic idea of what to expect from a cat or a dog and some level of knowledge about how to care for one. Not so for bunnies. In fact, misconceptions about the nature and needs of rabbits are far more plentiful than accurate information.

What we think we know comes from cartoons like Bugs Bunny, storybook bunnies like Beatrix Potter’s Peter Rabbit, the Easter Bunny, the Energizer Bunny, and the Playboy Bunny.

… when humans’ only contact with a species is with its representations, those images become the only source of knowledge about that species, which means that our knowledge base can be very shaky.

(Stories Rabbits Tell by Margo DeMello & Susan Brown)

A house rabbit is not:

  • A dog or a cat. Dont’ expect a pet rabbit to behave like a dog or a cat. Though rabbits are the third most common house pet—following dogs and cats, they differ from these other pets in fundamental ways. Rabbits are prey animals, which sets their whole view of life in opposition to that of cats and dogs, who are by nature predators.
  • An outdoor “hutch” animal. Rabbits are very social and need to interact with their human friends. They are very susceptible to heat stroke. They can literally be “scared to death” by the sight, sound, or scent of a predator. And they tend to hide any illness they might have; they can become fatally ill in a matter of hours.
  • A “low maintenance” pet. Rabbits require several hours of exercise every day. They have special dietary needs, requiring fresh hay and a variety of fresh vegetables. Your home must be prepared to prevent chewing of baseboards and electrical cords. Veterinary care—including spays and neuters—must be provided by a trained “exotics” vet and can be quite expensive.
  • A good “starter pet” for a child. While the merits of using any animal as a tool for “teaching a child— responsibility” can be argued, rabbits make a particularly poor choice for young children. Rabbits generally do not like being held, and have fragile skeletons which can be injured easily. Their often shy nature can be overwhelmed by the energy and noise level characteristic of most young children.

A house rabbit is:

  • A prey animal who can be shy and easily frightened.
  • An herbivore who requires a constant supply of hay and a variety of fresh vegetables to stay healthy.
  • An intelligent & curious creature who needs mental and emotional stimulation every day. She will enjoy playing with toys, exploring her surroundings, and interacting with her human family.
  • A chewing machine who needs a proper diet and appropriate chew toys to keep his teeth from overgrowing, causing pain and possibly leading to dangerous abscesses.
  • A delight to observe: Rabbits love to run and jump with abandon, and delight their humans with acrobatic leaps and twists, known as “binkies.”
  • A long-term commitment. With proper care, a house rabbit will live eight to ten years.

Getting to know your bunny

To really understand what/who a rabbit is, you have to spend time watching, observing, interacting with… experiencing rabbits. Those of us who have been lucky enough to share our hearts and homes with these beautiful creatures have learned to see them—even to see the world—in a whole new way.

… few people have lived with rabbits in a way that facilitates an intimate understanding of the species. It’s only when we live with…… rabbits the way that we live with cats and dogs—when rabbits sleep on our beds or sprawl out beside us on the floor, when they kiss our children or play ball with them—that we can see what they are truly like. That’s because a rabbit who lives her life in a cage does not display much of her true rabbit nature.

(Jeffrey Moussaleff Masson, author, When Elephants Weep—in the forward of Stories Rabbits Tell by Margo DeMello & Susan Brown)