Rabbits and Kits

The cuddly little rabbit is often times one of the coolest pets to have in the home. We can help with a variety of issues that they are prone to having.

Rabbits are small mammals in the family Leporidae of the order Lagomorpha, found in several parts of the world. There are eight different genera in the family classified as rabbits, including the European rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus), cottontail rabbits (genus Sylvilagus; 13 species), and the Amami rabbit (Pentalagus furnessi, an endangered species on Amami Ōshima, Japan). There are many other species of rabbit, and these, along with pikas and hares, make up the order Lagomorpha. The male is called a buck and the female is a doe; a young rabbit is a kitten or kit.

Rabbit habitats include meadows, woods, forests, grasslands, deserts and wetlands. Rabbits live in groups, and the best known species, the European rabbit, lives in underground burrows, or rabbit holes. A group of burrows is called a warren. More than half the world’s rabbit population resides in North America. They are also native to southwestern Europe, Southeast Asia, Sumatra, some islands of Japan, and in parts of Africa and South America. They are not naturally found in most of Eurasia, where a number of species of hares are present. Rabbits first entered South America relatively recently, as part of the Great American Interchange. Much of the continent has just one species of rabbit, the tapeti, while most of South America’s southern cone is without rabbits. The European rabbit has been introduced to many places around the world.

A domestic rabbit or more commonly known as simply the rabbit is any of the several varieties of European rabbit that have been domesticated. Male rabbits are called bucks; females are called does. An older term for an adult rabbit is coney, while rabbit referred only 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.

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 Spain, 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 treated as domesticated 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 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. 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. 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.