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The difference between domestic and wild rabbits

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Domestic rabbit’s come in a variety of breeds, shapes and sizes and each bunny has their own unique personality.

Unlike their wild ancestors, domestic rabbits rely on us to take care of them. But are domestic rabbits that different from their wild cousins?

Petplan takes a look at the difference between wild rabbits and our fluffy family members…

A brief history of rabbits

Rabbits are some of the most adored and benevolent creatures to grace our back yards and meadows.

Fifth-century monks living in the Champagne region of France are credited as the first people to domesticate rabbits, keeping them caged to use as a convenient food source.

These monks were the first to breed rabbits selectively, choosing their preferred size, shape and fur colour.

Used as a source of food for many centuries, rabbits took a lot longer than cats and dogs to become a popular choice of domestic pets.

Middle Ages

During this time rabbits were farmed for meat and fur across Europe. Some noblewomen from the time also started to keep rabbits as pets.

16th – 18th Century

Variations in breeding lead to distinct types such as the Flemish Giant (first known as the Ghent Giant) in the 16th Century and the 18th Century French dwarf breed, the Lapin de Nicard, weighing just 1.5kg

Today

Hopping forward in time, rabbits have transitioned from resources to pets, with an estimated 1.5 million rabbits kept as pets in the UK.

Are domestic rabbits that much different to wild rabbits?

Both domestic and wild rabbits come from the family of Leporidae, however, this is where many of their similarities end.

Domestic rabbits are descendants from the European hare, which vastly differ in social behaviours from the wild Cottontail rabbit.

In spite of coming from the same animal family, domestic and wild rabbits have evolved over time and cannot produce offspring together.

Appearance

Wild rabbits are light brown in colour, whereas a domestic bunny usually has a spotted coat or albino fur, with droopy lop ears. Some domestic rabbits, however, do wear the colour of their ancestors.

Wild bunnies are smaller than domestic rabbits, with adult Cottontails weighing up to 1.81 kg and domestic rabbits reaching more than 4.54 kg (depending on the breed).

With rounded heads and chubby cheeks, domesticated bunnies are very different in head shape from their wild counterparts who sport a smaller, narrower head.

Social behaviour

Social behaviour characteristics vastly differ between wild and domestic rabbits.

When coming into contact with humans, wild rabbits will become alarmed and quickly hop away. Domestic rabbits however, unless mistreated by humans in the past, will approach people with minimal caution.

Wild rabbits engage in complex social hierarchy, and domestic rabbits likewise have a strong sense of community.

Can domestic rabbits live alongside their ancestors?

Despite many people believing that setting a domestic rabbit in the wild is the right thing to do, it was never actually meant to live that way and won’t survive for long.

Domestic rabbits will instinctually dig a burrow just like their ancestors, but that’s about as far as their survival skills would go.

Important instincts and physical characteristics have been lost due to humans taking care of them for so long. Their wild abilities that are necessary for survival have lessened by many generations of domestication.

Their “man-made” coat colours do not necessarily blend in with wild surroundings, attracting predators such as foxes and hawks.

Wild rabbits generally have a lifespan of about one year — maybe three if they’re really smart.

The reality is that domestic rabbits continue to be safest, happiest, and healthiest when they are in our care.

Although domestic rabbits don’t belong in the wild, they still need plenty of space and exercise where they can run, hop and dig – none of which they can do in a hutch.

Domestic bunnies have bounded into our affections in a very real way and make wonderful pets thanks to their adorable personality.

What are your top tips for looking after a rabbit? What are your experiences? Let us know below…

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