Even if you’re a lifelong bunny lover, there are a few things you may not know about your hay-chomping chums. Start off 2021 with browsing our fascinating selection of pet rabbit facts…
When it comes to getting to grips with understanding rabbit behaviour – from digging and thumping to foraging and bonding – it’s well worth finding out a bit more about their wild rabbit cousins…
- Pet rabbits are related to the wild European rabbit, whose scientific name is Oryctolagus cuniculus, which means ‘hare-like digger of underground passages’. Not surprising, then, that digging up your garden remains a popular activity for even the most pampered of bunny pets.
- A hutch is not enough is a mantra adopted by all bunny lovers – when thinking about creating the perfect rabbit house, pet bunnies need as much space as possible, with plenty of opportunities to exercise, tunnels to run through, look-out spots to keep watch from and cosy sleeping spaces. Providing all these facilities will help pet buns exhibit all the natural behaviours they share with their undomesticated cousins. Wild rabbits live underground in extensive, complex, engineered burrows, called warrens and, when out foraging for food, can cover up to five miles a day.
Check out the ideal outdoor bunny home >>
Find accommodation ideas for your indoor bunnies >>
- Are you and your bunnies firm friends? Rabbits enjoy the company of both their human and bunny chums as being social comes naturally. Communities of wild bunnies live in large colonies containing a number of social groups. Each group consists of up to three bucks (males) and five does (females).
- Are your buns very particular about their favourite places to forage, snooze and play? Can disputes cause a scuffle even between close bunny pals? In the wild, each group of rabbits has its own territory, which it defends against other bunny intruders – and territoriality remains very important to pet bunnies too.
- Ever had bunnies who just can’t seem to get along? In wild groups of rabbits there’s a dominance hierarchy among males and females, and both sexes can be quite feisty towards lower-ranking members. Even pet rabbits need to know where they stand in order of rank – that’s why introducing a new bunny chum needs careful planning. Find out more about Bonding new bunny buddies >>
- If you’ve ever experienced baby buns being born you may be surprised that mummy bunny can seem rather aloof, often leaving her new charges alone. In fact, this is all about protecting the kittens (the name for baby rabbits – so cute!). Bunny mummies instinctively leave their young for long periods of time so her presence doesn’t attract predators to the nest. The kittens will instinctively burrow into the nest to keep warm and remain out of sight.
- How long do rabbits live? While wild rabbits have to contend with predators, disease and accidents only managing to live around one to two years, a well looked after pet rabbit can live up to 12 years.
All pet rabbits deserve to live their best bunny life – with plenty of attention, affection, exercise, playtime and, of course, top quality nutrition.
- The most important part of a rabbit’s diet is fresh grass or hay. In fact, 85-90% of a bunny’s diet should be high-quality feeding hay and grass – that’s equal to their own body size in hay every day! High-quality feeding hay is an excellent source of fibre and helps to maintain a healthy gut, reduces the risk of your rabbits getting tubby and serves to grind down their continuously growing teeth, helping prevent dental disease. In addition, 15% of your rabbit’ diet should be a variety of bunny-safe leafy greens, vegetables and herbs such as carrot tops, cauliflower leaves, kale, mint, romaine lettuce, dandelion leaves, plantain, hawthorn, bramble and leaves from hazel, willow or apple trees You can find a list of recommended vegetables and herbs at rabbitwelfare.co.uk. Plus, your bunnies require and egg-cup size portion of rabbit food each a day to ensure they get all the vitamins and minerals they need.
- Chomping on hay also does wonders for your bunnies’ emotional wellbeing. In the wild, rabbits spend around 70% of their time foraging and eating grass and other plants. You can make eating hay even more fun for your buns by mixing in tasty treats such as Mountain Meadow Herbs, Winter Berry Bakes and Country Garden Herbs. Find more great tips on making hay time, playtime here >>
- Muesli-style food is not good for rabbits. This type of food may look like a nutritious mix of tasty nibbles but feeding it can result in all sorts of health problems. Muesli-based diets encourage selective feeding, where rabbits eat some (high starch/sugar) components of the muesli diet, while rejecting the more fibrous pellets. Instead of a muesli mix, nugget are a much better choice. Burgess rabbit nuggets, feeding hay and treats are made using only the finest ingredients, with a wide range of tasty rabbit food for all ages, from junior to mature, with something for indoor rabbits too.
- Did you know that rabbits like to poo and chew? Rabbits generally prefer to munch on hay while they’re resting and, while it may seem a little odd to us humans, they also like to ‘poo and chew’, so put a pile of hay in their favourite resting places and hang a hay rack above their litter tray.
Communication is really important for rabbits and, while they might not be as vocal as a cat or a dog (although grunting, growling, snorting and hissing generally means they’re not happy), they have plenty to say, you just have to learn how to speak bunny…
- Thumping When a rabbit thumps on the ground with a hind leg, it can be surprisingly loud. This is the way rabbits – both wild and domestic – communicate danger to other rabbits. As well as saying: ‘I’m nervous’, your rabbit could also be communicating: ‘Please stop, I’m annoyed at you’.
- Nose-nudging This behaviour has multi-usage and can mean: ‘Pet me now’, ‘Pay me some attention’ or ‘Move out of the way!’.
- Teeth clicking and grinding Gentle, soft grinding of the teeth, almost like a cat purring, communicates contentment. However, loud grinding is a sign of pain or discomfort – your pet may also be hunched up as they do this. This is your rabbit saying: ‘I’m in pain’ and you should take them to the vet as soon as possible.
- Licking Two bonded rabbits will groom each other and licking is your rabbit’s way of telling you: ‘I do like you’, showing that you have been fully accepted as a great bunny owner.
- Ears on alert Ears are like a rabbit’s radar, used for tuning in to what’s going on around them. Both ears forward mean: ‘Something has caught my attention’, one ear forward and one back can be interpreted as: ‘I’ve noticed something, but it doesn’t yet require my full attention’, both ears back suggest your rabbit is saying: ‘It’s all good and I can give my radar a rest’.
- Circling your feet If your rabbit starts to follow you around, circling your feet, they may be just trying to get your attention – ‘I’m here, let’s play!’ – but they could also be courting you, particularly if this behaviour is accompanied by honking or oinking noises. If your rabbit hasn’t yet been neutered, now is the time.
- Nipping Like a little pinch, nipping can mean several different things in rabbit language, from: ‘I want your attention right now’ to ‘I’m giving you a warning’.
- Chucking stuff about Most rabbits love to do this, either as part of play or perhaps because they don’t like the way you’ve rearranged items in their accommodation. When rabbits push or toss objects around – from toys to bowls – it’s likely they could be saying: ‘Keep your hands off my stuff!’.
- Flopped out A rabbit that is sitting still or grooming may suddenly flop onto its side and lay still. This can look rather worrying, but it actually means: ‘I’m just so relaxed’. This is not to be confused with lying flat. A belly-down rabbit with drooped head and ears held very flat is trying to blend in with their surroundings, revealing: ‘I’m really scared!’.
- The binky Binkying is the amazing acrobatic bunny jump accompanied by twisting the body or kicking the legs. Rabbits use the binky to communicate that they are feeling very happy and playful and that: ‘Life is great!’. Find out more about Bunny talk >>
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You can also sign up to the Excel Bunny Base – a safe Facebook community for rabbit guardians that are looking for advice and friendly discussions from likeminded owners – and there are lots of cute bunny photos and videos!
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Sources: discoverwildlife.com, rabbitresource.org, thespruce.com, rspca.org, rabbitwelfare.co.uk, bunnyhugga.com, pdsa.org.uk, bluecross.org.uk