Rabbits are small furry mammals.  Some people call them bunnies. They are cute, playful animals.  There are many breeds (kinds) of rabbit today, but the first ones were tamed from the wild many thousands of years ago, when they were farmed for food.  

In the wild,  groups of rabbits live in a warren, which consists of a number of tunnels and many entrances.  Because they move about in dark tunnels, their whiskers are as wide as their body so that they don't get stuck: if the whiskers can fit in the tunnel, they know the rest of their body will too.  They are social animals, and the groups can become very large. Rabbits groom each other.

Baby rabbits are called kittens ©Getty Images

Baby rabbits are called kittens ©Getty Images

Male rabbits are called bucks, females are does and the young are called kittens. A group of rabbits is called a herd. Rabbits are most active in the morning and evening. This behaviour is called 'crepuscular'. 


Rabbits have excellent senses of smell, eyesight and hearing.  Their noses twitch constantly as they sniff.  They can see almost all around themselves without turning their head. They have strong back legs,  so they can make big jumps. They can jump about a metre high and about 3 metres distance.  They can also run very fast, up to about 60 km per hour. Rabbits run and jump when they are happy. When they are happy, they 'binky' which is a leap into the air, twisting feet and head and flicking feet.

Rabbits have long ears that can twitch so they can hear sounds from different directions. They stand upright on their hind legs when they need to see some distance to look out for danger. When they see danger, they thump a back leg on the ground to let others know. A rabbit's teeth never stop growing, and chewing their food helps keep their teeth short. When rabbits are stressed, they shed fur. This is for defence: it is a way of getting free if a predator grabs it.

©Getty Images

©Getty Images


Rabbits are herbivores, eating only plants. Because plants are so hard to digest, rabbits produce two kinds of poo. The first is chewed and swallowed again so they can get enough nutrition from the food. A pet rabbit can be fed dry pellets that is specially made for rabbits, with the right amount of fibre, and with the right ingredients that won't upset your pet's digestion. They need lots of hay and fresh greens, such as spinach, carrot tops, parsley,  some kinds of lettuce but not iceberg lettuce .

Housing your pet rabbit

Pet rabbits can be kept either indoors or outdoors. However, if they live indoors it is best to use pens or gates to keep them in places where they can't chew electrical cords. Rabbits can be trained to use a litter tray. They need a sheltered place where they can go to rest.

Rabbits kept outdoors need a hutch that is big enough for the animal to run, play and stretch, approximately 3m square. There should be a sheltered area filled with straw where the rabbit can go to rest. The hutch should not be in full sun in hot weather because rabbits can get heat stressed. The hutch needs to be strong and safe: foxes and cats are predators. The hutch should also be rabbit proof against escape - remember that rabbits by nature dig tunnels. 

Doe with young ©Getty Images

Doe with young ©Getty Images

Life Cycle

About 30 days after mating with a buck,  a doe gives birth to between 4 and 12 babies called kittens in a nest that she has lined with fur. They are born blind and without fur. They drink milk from their mother 's body. After a few weeks, the young rabbits have grown fur and can find food for themselves.  Rabbits become adults and able to breed after about four months, seven months for bucks.

Wild rabbits at a burrow entrance ©Getty Images

Wild rabbits at a burrow entrance ©Getty Images

Conservation and Environment

Wild rabbits are a serious pest in Australia. They are not native animals but were brought to the continent by the first British settlers. Just 24 were released into the wild in Victoria about 150 years ago, for the purposes of recreational hunting, because the early settlers wanted to make Australia as similar to England as possible.

The rabbits adapted so successfully that they soon posed a serious threat to many native animals, and still do. They have the same diet as small marsupials such as bandicoots, numbats and others, and live in burrows like they do. Rabbits breed faster and have larger litters of young, and in no time the population of rabbits over-ran the populations of native marsupials, and have eaten a great deal of the native bushland.

They also affect farm pastures by eating the best plants, leaving less nutritious plants for the cattle and sheep. There have in the last hundred years or so been many attempts to get rid of wild rabbits in Australia, including introducing viruses that affect only rabbits and not other animals, including birds that may feed on dead animals.

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Responsible pet ownership

Pet rabbits depend on their owners for food, protection and shelter. Before becoming a pet owner think carefully about all the things you will have to do to care for your pet responsibly.