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Common Myths About Rabbits

Not everything you hear or read about rabbits is true. In fact, a number of "myths" about rabbits and rabbit care that are widely held to be true can actually be detrimental to a rabbit's health and well-being. Rabbit Web Discussion Board members, many of whom have several years of experience raising and caring for rabbits, recently discussed many common rabbit myths.

Myth #1
You can let an unwanted rabbit go in a field and it will be fine, fending for itself. Lots of people ask me if that is what we do with our culls. The thought horrifies me, to think what that poor bunny goes through in its last day(s).
--AnnG

The Truth: Domesticated rabbits, once released into the wild will, in most cases, quickly become food for the local predators, whether they be dogs or cats or, if you live in the country, hawks, eagles, coyotes, etc. If they survive the predators, released rabbits still have to face a gauntlet of disease, poisoning, and starvation. Contrary to another popular myth, rabbits do not instinctively know which plants are safe to eat and which ones can be dangerous to them. Although they do retain many of the "prey" instincts, domesticated rabbits have never had to rely on those instincts to survive, and they honestly have no clue as to what to do.

Myth #2
Rabbits can live on just carrots, lettuce, and cabbage. A million non-rabbit people I know think this is true.
--Leah

The Truth: Just like people, rabbits require a balanced diet of vitamins and minerals as well as proteins and fiber. And just like people, they simply cannot survive on a diet limited to just two or three items, especially if one of those items is basically nothing but water (iceberg lettuce). The easiest way to provide for a rabbit's nutritional needs is to find a feed dealer who sells a good quality rabbit pellet. Then you can add the carrots as a treat.

Myth #3
A rabbit can be picked up by its ears. Ouch!
--Stealth Dog

The Truth: A rabbit's ears are not a handle. Try having someone pick you up by your ears if you want to see how it feels! The proper way to pick up a rabbit is to scoop it up, supporting its body with both hands.
--D. Wanda Twellman

This myth was popularized by the outdated image of magicians pulling a rabbit out of a hat, and many still believe that is the way to handle rabbits. Magician societies of today strongly discourage picking up a rabbit by the ears. A big no-no!
--Pat Lamar

Myth #4
Rabbits don't need water.
--Lynelle

The Truth: No one is quite sure how this myth got started. One possibility is the rarity of actually seeing wild rabbits drinking. Another explanation is that wild rabbits' diet of fresh greens is filled with moisture, so rabbits don't appear to need water. But domestic rabbits on a dry, pelletized feed absolutely requires fresh drinking water. Without it, they won't eat.
--D. Wanda Twellman

I think this "no water" myth came about as a result of misunderstanding. European countries with severe winters commonly give ice to their rabbits, rather than water, and which then led to the saying "rabbits don't need water."
--Pat Lamar

Myth #5
It's a myth that all pet store bunny treats are good for your rabbit...most are just junk food.
--Stealth Dog

The Truth: Most of the fancy pet store treats sold for rabbits are actually meant to be visually appealing to the person buying them. The dried, sweetened fruits and nuts included in these feeds can make a rabbit obese as well as cause digestive problems.

Myth #6
Perhaps the worst myth out there is that baby bunnies are weaned and ready to be sold at three to four weeks of age. So many people think that because rabbits are eating solid food at that age that the rabbits are ready to be away from mom.
--Lynelle

The Truth: This is probably one of the myths that upsets the reputable breeders the most. A baby rabbit of only three or four weeks still requires its mother's rich milk even though it may be nibbling solid food. Forcibly weaning it this young can cause serious problems later. Weaning at four weeks of age is strictly for the commercial rabbit meat grower and only under controlled conditions!

Myth #7
Rabbits are rodents.
--Roxanna (Hopland Hill)

The Truth: While originally classified as rodents, rabbits were found to be so unique as to have their own separate order, Lagomorpha, primarily because they have two more incisor teeth than rodents. Lagomorphs are divided into two families: pikas and rabbits/hares.

Myth #8
A rabbit and a hare are the same thing.
--Lynelle

The Truth: Hares differ from rabbits in that they don't dig burrows and their young are born more mature. Rabbit young, or kits, have a gestation of approximately 28-31 days. They are born naked and blind and require a period of time to grow in a safe nest before they can run. The hare, on the other hand, is born after a gestation of approximately 42 days. The young, called leverings, are born fully furred, eyes open, and they are ready to run immediately after birth. You can't necessarily tell a hare from a rabbit just by its common name. The jackrabbit is actually a hare and the Belgian Hare is actually a rabbit. Talk about confusion!

Myth #9
Rabbits and cats can be bred together and have offspring.
--Dennis, C.V.R.

The Truth: Since each species belongs to two entirely different orders, it's hard to believe that there are people who actually believe this one. One explanation might be the urban legend of the "cabbit," a breed of cat that supposedly "hops" instead of walks. While cabbits don't exist outside of Japanese animation, some cat breeders think that some breeds of cat, such as the manx and the munchkin, can move in a way resembling a hop, which might have led to the cabbit urban legend. At any rate, just suffice it to say that cats and rabbits cannot interbreed.

Myth #10
Domestic rabbits can interbreed with hares and cottontails
--Fluff 'N Stuff Rabbitry (est 1987)

The Truth: Hares (Lepus) have 24 pairs of chromosomes while the domestic rabbit (Oryctolagus) has 22 and the cottontail (Sylvilagus) has 21 pair. While mating is possible between the different species, the resulting embryos will die after a few cell divisions because of the differences in the number of chromosome pairs.

Myth #11
Rabbits are soundless animals.

The Truth: So many non-rabbit people are amazed when they come into our rabbitry and hear some of our bunnies make that excited, happy-to-see-you sound. It goes from sort of a buzzing noise to real chatter. Rabbits make a wide variety of sounds from the contented "purr" of a happy rabbit to the shrill scream of a rabbit in fear for its life.
--Carol

Myth #12
The size a rabbit will become as an adult depends upon the size of the cage. If that were true, many people with house bunnies would have mammoth rabbits!
--Roxanna (Hopland Hill)

The Truth: The size of a rabbit entirely depends on the breed(s) of its parents and its genetics.

Myth #13
Rabbits are "dirty" creatures.

The Truth: No, it is the people who do not clean the cages often enough. Rabbits will normally go in one corner of their cage and can be litter-box trained.
--Maya

Due to the fact that the rabbit is a "prey" animal, it instinctively keeps its home clean to prevent a build-up of odor that would reveal its location. When confined to a cage, rabbits usually will pick one spot in the cage and will continuously use it as their "potty" spot. Observant owners can watch this potty spot to help keep track of their animals' health.

This myth might have its origins in the Bible, where rabbits are considered to be "unclean," like pigs. Deuteronomy, chapter 14, verses 7-8 says, "However, of those that chew the cud or that have a split hoof completely divided, you may not eat the camel, the rabbit or the coney. Although they chew the cud, they do not have a split hoof; they are ceromemonially unclean for you." (Different versions of the Bible will have it worded slightly differently.) Of course, we all know now that a rabbit doesn't chew cud but, back in Biblical times, they didn't have the extensive knowledge of animal biology that we do now.
--D. Wanda Twellman

Myth #14
Rabbits cannot survive outside in the cold of winter.

The Truth: It was only last year that I found out that rabbits can usually survive fine outside in the winter (unless they get wet or if the temperatures are far below freezing, in which case they will require additional protection). Most rabbits have nice thick coats that keep them warm, except for the hairless oddballs that pop up from time to time.
--Pasada

Myth #15
Netherland Dwarfs are nasty-tempered and unsuitable for children.

The Truth: There are a few evil-tempered ones, but then again that is true for any breed!
--Maya

Just like any other pet, a rabbit lives as it is treated. A rabbit that is handled gently and carefully will be a happy rabbit and a joy to handle. A rabbit that is treated roughly will be a frightened rabbit and will respond in kind. The breed of the rabbit bears little influence on how it develops.
--D. Wanda Twellman

Myth #16
Every rabbit with long hair is an Angora.
--Fluff 'N Stuff Rabbitry (est 1987)

The Truth: There are other long-haired breeds, such as the Jersey Wooly and the American Lop.

Myth #17
Breeders don't care for their rabbits.
--Kathryn Mauer

The Truth: With the exception of the commercial grower, there is little profit, little prestige, little tangible reward in raising rabbits. So why do people do raise them? Simply put, they love the little guys. Most breeders put the welfare of their rabbits above anything else. I even know breeders, myself included, who put the welfare of their rabbits ahead of their friends and families. They have special pets in their herds who are spoiled rotten.

Myth #18
" Cull" means kill.

The Truth: There are many ways to cull, including making the rabbit a pet or finding it another home. Since I wasn't able to actually keep all the does that reached five or more years, I "culled" them by putting them into my "Adopt-A-Bunny" program and adopted them out as pets. Many are still living! And even the meat breeders tend to make "pets" out of their breeding does, heheheh.
--Pat Lamar

Myth #19
They breed like rabbits.

The Truth: This is a common line that people use, which seems to make them think that rabbits are easy to breed and raise to adulthood. I know I was very disappointed when first starting into raising rabbits. Nothing was really easy. I had many things to learn to be successful.
--Bob Hockenbery

Myth #20
All rabbits are easy to breed regardless of breed.

The Truth: There are several difficulties with breeding most of the smaller breeds. I've met young people who purchase a pair of dwarfs, expecting them to produce "like rabbits." Many factors are involved in producing a live litter, which most people don't realize.
--Mary

Myth #21
A doe will kill her babies if you touch them.
--Fluff 'N Stuff Rabbitry (est 1987)

The Truth: A doe rabbit that is used to being handled won't object to her owner handling her kits in most cases. But on occasion, you do find the over-protective mother who doesn't want anyone touching her kits. Each rabbit has to be considered individually.

Myth #22
The mother will curl up with her babies in the nestbox and keep them warm all night.
--Lynn Wheat

The Truth: As part of a prey species, a doe rabbit actually spends very little time with her young. This is to help prevent detection of the kits by various predators. She builds a nest of grass, hay, or straw, pulls fur off her chest and belly to line it, then leaves her kits in the warm, cozy nest, except for feeding them once or twice in a 24-hour period. A doe's milk is among the richest in the animal kingdom, which allows the infrequent feedings.

Myth #23
A doe can be successfully bred only during the first two years of her life.

The Truth: A lot of does are still capable of having litters up until they are six years old. When I first started breeding dwarfs, I rarely kept a doe past age two. I now have several does that I breed who are between five and seven years old.
--Mary

Myth #24
All albino rabbits are deaf.
--Fluff 'N Stuff Rabbitry (est 1987)

The Truth: There is nothing to substantiate the belief that white rabbits are deaf. A rabbit's color is set by a specific set of genes that has nothing to do with its hearing.

Myth #25
Bigger rabbits are the better pet for children.

The Truth: I have both, large and small breeds. I think the dwarfs and Hollands are considerably better pets for kids! A large rabbit can be intimidating to a child. If a child is intimidated, he or she won't want to pay attention to the rabbit or take care of it. However, the smaller breeds can be held easier and are much less difficult to take care of (for a child). This is what I have noticed over the years with my own children and many others.
--Maya

There are treasures of good temperament in all breeds; sometimes it just takes a lot of looking to find them. Small rabbits are easier to hold; large ones are great to curl up with on the floor and read. I remember a two-year-old girl at one of my first shows who had a huge English Lop...she just hauled it around like a stuffed toy, and it let her. It's temperament that counts!
--Pamela Alley, RVT

Myth #26
Flemish giants only come in one color (sandy).
--Fluff 'N Stuff Rabbitry (est 1987)

The Truth: While sandy is a common color for Flemish giants, some of this breed have coats in other colors, such as black or gray.

Myth #27
You can tell everything you need to know about a rabbit from a pedigree.

The Truth: A pedigree is only as good as the person writing it. Anyone who wants can falsify a pedigree to make a rabbit appear better than it is. I say, know who you are dealing with, and if you feel uneasy, go elsewhere to make your purchase.
--Dennis, C.V.R.

Myth #28
All people who buy rabbits know what they're getting themselves into!

The Truth: I can't say how many phone calls I have gotten lately from people who have bought rabbits from me and who now have questions about bunnies and the weather - too many to count! I even sent these buyers home with a pamphlet on rabbit care and a membership form to the A.R.B.A., and at the time they acted like it was going to be so easy to take care of their new rabbit(s) and that I knew nothing!
--Stacey

Myth #29
Rumor has it that the A.R.B.A. prohibits tattooing in the show room.

The Truth: No such ruling. Individual clubs can prohibit it as a matter of choice but it is not an A.R.B.A. rule.
--Barbi Brown

Myth #30
All rabbit breeders are evil, nasty people who are mass-producing rabbits in an already over-saturated market to make money, money, money!
--Stealth Dog

The Truth: Raising rabbits is an expensive hobby. Buying stock, feed, cages, equipment is a constant outlay of funds. And there isn't a whole lot of money coming in. Cash prizes at shows are small. To sell show stock, you have to show, show show (spend, spend, spend!) and win, win, win to develop the reputation to command decent prices for your youngsters. The market for pets is notoriously cheap as most pet stores want three to five week old kits and want to pay only $5.00 for them. A reputable breeder simply refuses to deal with the pet market that is willing to abuse their babies just for the sake of a quick buck. But like kittens and puppies, there will always be those out there who do run pet mills. Extensive prosecution hasn't stopped the kitten/puppy mills, and it hasn't stopped the bunny mills either. Most reputable breeders, if they learn about a bunny mill, will report it in an effort to get it closed down. But for someone to allege that a rabbit breeder is into raising rabbits for the money would be ludicrous if it wasn't so pathetic! I wish someone would show me where the profit is in raising rabbits 'cause I've been losing money on them for the last nine years! Raising rabbits for me, and I dare say most breeders, is a labor of love.
--D. Wanda Twellman

 

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