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Rabbits

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Grey Rabbit

All over the Continent of Europe, the Middle East and Africa, the traveller will find domestic rabbits being kept as pets, or as a source of food. Country cottages often have as many as six to twelve hutches arranged along the outside wall. It was, and is, the job of the younger members of the family to go out and cut grass to feed these rabbits which, in due course, ended up on the family's dinner table. Such families are continuing a tradition popularised by the Romans 2000 years ago.

Wild rabbits originally occupied Spain and South-Western France. The Romans are believed to have transported them all over their Empire, including Britain, as a much appreciated source of gourmet food. Marcus Terrentius Varro (116-27 B.C.) wrote that they brought rabbits from Spain to Britain where they were reared in Ceporaria. Rabbit embryos, known as laurices were a highly esteemed delicacy by Roman gourmets, especially during times of fasting!

In Britain, there is today little, or no tradition of eating rabbits, a food associated in the mind of older generations with war-time rationing. Rabbits suffering horribly from myxomatosis during the 1960s and 1970s further depressing the perception of wild rabbits in the public eye. Continental supermarkets display rabbits, whole and jointed, as a matter of course, and it provides a cheap, tasty meal.

We tend now to see rabbits as attractive pets such as the examples on display here.

Lion Rabbits

Across Europe, pet shops are full of a very distinctive and charming no little animal called a lion rabbit. They are small, have sleek coats, a lion-like ruff round the neck and tufts on their long ears. I am very taken by them, especially as they're not too expensive, at around 20 each. I have seen photos in many continental animal magazines and I wondered why we didn't have them in this country. So l seized my opportunity to ask one of the top European experts on domestic rabbits, our very own Meg Brown, who lives at Cardross, near Helensburgh. She said: "Funnily enough, two ladies in England imported some not long ago. "These little lion rabbits have never been accepted as a breed in the show world in Europe, even though they are widely available. "However, I've seen one and it looked really cute - no wonder it's so popular. I'm interested in all breeds because I'm just putting the finishing touches to my latest book Rabbitopedia, produced by Ring Press Ltd, London, which follows on the heels of Dogopedia and Catopedia. "It will be published in Britain and America in the autumn of 1999."

Rampant Wild-Rabbit Breeding

Anyone who has travelled through the quieter parts of the Borders in the spring/summer of 1999 and 2000 cannot fail to have been impressed by the numbers of wild rabbits. " Plague proportions " are often over-used words, but it is fairly accurate in this context, especially as another mild winter has resulted in wild rabbits breeding as early as February. Farmers reckon that six rabbits eat as much as one sheep and in rural Scotland the damage costs an individual farmer as much as 10,000 a year and Scottish agriculture some 3 million a year.

Rabbits are an Adult's Pet

During the year, many youngsters will have acquired a rabbit. Let us sincerely hope the novelty is not wearing thin already. Rabbits are interesting, much maligned creatures. All parents reading this must realise they are not really a child's pet, but an adult's.
A rabbit left on its own in a cage all day soon becomes bored and irritable yet, given freedom, it's amazing how their personalities flourish and develop.
By body language and behaviour, rabbits will tell you what they want and how they are enjoying life.
They can easily be house trained and many people do keep them as an adult's pet indoors as the British House Rabbit Association will testify. Contact them at:

PO Box 346, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, or call Scottish Coordinator, Alison Semeonoff on 0141-357-3819.

Even if the pet does belong to your children, you must ensure it is:

  • taken to the vet regularly and is preferably neutered,
  • has its claws kept short and blunted,
  • is properly fed and
  • cleaned out, and
  • is not otherwise neglected.

What a baby rabbit is called

This is a linguistic question rather than a biological one, and there seems to be no easy answer, I'm afraid. Some people use the term 'kitten', at least one dictionery applies the term 'rack'. Part of the problem is that, historically, the noun rabbit was actually the term for the baby, the adult being called a cony.
We tend to call them 'baby rabbits'!

Neutering Pet Rabbits Reap Benefits

Given the right treatment and conditions, rabbits can be just as much fun as any other pets. Rabbits are extremely alert and interesting creatures with definite personalities when kept properly in an enriched environment.

Languishing in a hutch, over-fed and with little exercise, would make most creatures lethargic.

Rabbits must be handled regularly and sympathetically and their claws must be kept short. If you buy a rabbit, ask your vet to neuter it when it is six months old. In the male, this reduces most of the aggression that some show on maturing. It also stops adult males from spraying their cage and owners with urine. Owners, especially young children, find this quite distressing, yet it is a normal part of male rabbit behaviour to mark his territory.

Females should also be neutered. If you don't breed from a female rabbit they become cantankerous, sometimes viciously resenting any interference with their hutch.

The relatively high cost of this neutering, especially when compared with the low purchase price of the rabbit, may put some people off. However, the benefits more than outweigh the disadvantages.

The happy, docile pet you are left with will provide years of trouble-free fun, compared with the misery inflicted by an aggressive male or female.

Some of the rabbits handed in at Animal Welfare Centres are so aggressive that they can hardly be handled by an adult, never mind a fairly young child, which somehow defeats the whole purpose of owning a rabbit in the first place.

Suffering Rabbits

It has become more obvious to me how much suffering can be caused to two creatures - rabbits and pet snakes - because they are both virtually mute.
Unlike Cavies ( Guinea Pigs ), the most a pet rabbit can utter is a grunt of annoyance or a scream when seriously frightened.
A Cavy, on the other hand, is positively talkative by comparison, with a whole range of squeaks.
If a pet rabbit is distressed - bored, no water, wanting to be let out of its hutch - what can it do?
These intelligent animals seek attention by rattling their water bottles, others scratch vigorously at the door or wire front.

Others just sit there with a strange look in their eyes - their eyes appear to bulge!
Contact the British House Rabbit Association, PO Box 346, Newcastle-upon-Tyne NE99 1SA. The Scottish co-ordinator is Alison Semeonoff, Tel: 0141-357 3819.

External Resources

THE UK PET RABBIT MAILING LIST

UK Pet Rabbit is where the "rabbited" (or would-be rabbited) can chat,ask for advice on bunny matters or share their rabbit knowledge,experience and stories. There is a slight bias to UK and European matters, issues and methods, to balance the US emphasis on lists such as Housebun and PetBunny, but, as for those other lists, this is not a hard and fast rule and most posts are of general, "international" interest.

Compared to those other lists, traffic on UKPR is considerably lighter so many people already subscribing to one or more of the busy lists find they can subscribe to UKPR without noticing much difference in terms additional incoming mails.

To subscribe rabbit@marmot.demon.co.uk with the subject SUBSCRIBE

Its that simple!

Start chatting to people who keep rabbits, seek or give help and advice!

West of Scotland Rabbit Club

Further details on the West of Scotland Rabbit Club and its shows can be obtained from :

Mrs Susan Anderson, 10 Lomond Drive, Bishopbriggs, Glasgow G64 3BZ. Tel: 0141-772-3879.