Rabbits are often referred to as rodents, but in fact they belong to a classification order called lagomorphs, which they share with hares. They have open rooted teeth (which do not stop growing for their entire life) and do not have pads on their feet. Their large back legs make rabbits capable of running at great speeds and jumping to impressive heights. They are complex animals that are gregarious and therefore need to be housed with appropriate members of the same species. For many years, people misunderstood their complex social and behavioural needs and they were housed inappropriately in small cages with no room to run, graze, or perform other natural behaviours.
They are intelligent animals which makes them good at escaping, but also capable of being good house pets - provided they cannot access wires and have plenty of enrichment. Rabbits are susceptible to being trained to perform simple tricks for patient and knowledgeable owners. Some rabbits will even perform by jumping over obstacles like tiny show jumpers.
Rabbits have a unique digestive system style called' hind-gut fermentation', and in addition, perform coprophagy. Like guinea pigs, they will eat the first round of digested food known as caecotrophs and digest them again to ensure they get a full nutritional benefit from their food.
They are naturally crepuscular, meaning they are most active at dawn and dusk. This is an evolutionary solution to avoiding daytime predators and also nocturnal predators such as owls and foxes.
Many breeds of domestic rabbits have emerged through selective breeding and their sizes, colours, patterns, and coat types show vast variation between breeds. Some popular breeds include the Dutch, Netherland Dwarf, Rex, English Spot, Flemish Giant, Himalayan and French lop.
At The ASU we have a variety of breeds of rabbits to demonstrate to students. We also occasionally breed our own rabbit kits, as this helps us support some of the modules we teach such as; behaviour, breeding and genetics, health and nutrition.