Your First Rabbit
article is intended as an informative "guide" for
the person looking to purchase her first rabbit, whether
it be for pet, show, meat, or fur purposes, in the
hopes of avoiding the all too common mistakes one inevitably
makes from a lack of knowledge of rabbits.
The "domestic rabbit" that people raise
and/or keep for the above reasons are not native to
the North American Continent; these rabbits mostly
hail originally from European species. The domestic
rabbit, unlike the American Jack Rabbit and Cottontail,
is born naked, blind, and deaf and is also a "burrowing" animal.
It was once believed that rabbits were "rodents," but
rabbits have since been classified as "lagomorphs." Rabbits
are not rodents!
the United States, rabbits are not considered to
be livestock or a "commodity," resulting
in very few, if any, government regulations and price
controls for the rabbit meat market other than USDA
meat inspections in certain cases. Each state has its
own requirements regarding the processing of rabbit
meat intended for resale for human consumption. Due
to the popular "Easter Bunny Syndrome" (i.e., "too
cute to eat") that is wide-spread in the USA,
the rabbit meat market is not as a large industry as
it is in European countries. However, the rabbit meat
industry is currently on the rise.
are gaining popularity as "house pets," and
can be trained to use a litter box. They are often
referred to as the "Pet of the 90s," or the "Condominium
Pet" because they are quiet, clean, and reasonably
easy to care for, particularly in small apartments.
Rabbits come in all sizes and colors, ranging from
adult weights of 2 pounds up to 18 pounds or more.
In the United States, there are currently 45 "recognized" specific
breeds of rabbits, with more being developed all the
time. Each breed, with only a few exceptions, come
in a wide range of colors or "varieties."
shows have gained considerable popularity in America,
sanctioned by the American
Association (ARBA). This organization is responsible
for the licensing of Rabbit Registrars and Rabbit Judges
and the evaluation and introduction of new breeds and
varieties. ARBA also sponsors ongoing research and
boasts a membership of over 35,000 members world-wide.
ARBA-chartered local rabbit clubs can be found throughout
the nation and Canada. The annual ARBA National Rabbit
Convention and Show will often have as many as 21,000
or more rabbits entered in competition. Show rabbits
(or "Fancy" rabbits as they are termed) are
bred specifically for quality in accordance with the "Standard
of Perfection" for that breed as determined by
the ARBA, and prices for these rabbits can be quite
all breeds of rabbits are "meat-type" rabbits,
although any rabbit can be used for food. There are
18 "commercial-type" breeds that are bred
or judged for their meat qualities: French, Giant and
Satin Angoras; Champagne d'Argent; Californian; Cinnamon;
American Chinchilla; Creme d'Argent; French Lop; Harlequin;
Hotot; New Zealand; Palomino; Rex; American Sable;
Satin; Silver Fox, and Silver Marten. Of these, the
New Zealand White and the Californians are the most
commonly raised for the commercial meat market due
to fast growth rates, good feed conversion, high dress-out
weights, and meat-to-bone ratios. The majority of processors
and live-fryer brokers prefer white-furred rabbits.
Lower prices are generally paid for colored rabbits.
There is very little market for rabbit furs and pelts
in the United States today, due to the influx of inexpensive
imports. American breeders cannot compete with the
low prices of the imported pelts, with the exception
of the velvety Rex fur, a fairly new and upcoming industry.
breed "pet-quality" rabbits are often
found in pet stores. A "pet-quality" rabbit
does not conform to the "Standard of Perfection" for
show purposes, and is quite often a "mixed breed." These
rabbits cannot be shown in a rabbit show. Purposely
breeding mixed-bred rabbits (i.e., two different breeds
bred together) is highly discouraged as they are often
difficult to find homes for them, even as pets. Organizations,
such as the House Rabbit Society, actively "rescue" such
rabbits, as they often wind up in Humane Societies
where they risk euthanization, or are "set free" to
be at the mercy of predators. More and more "responsible" rabbit
breeders are trying to do their share to help by instituting
their own "Adopt-A-Bunny" programs to place
these unwanted rabbits. A "responsible" and/or "reputable" rabbit
breeder that sells a rabbit that is later unwanted
will most often take the rabbit back.
make ideal 4-H and FFA projects and is one of very
few animals recommended or approved
younger child. However, small breed rabbits do not
make good pets for very young children due to the frailty
of the smaller breeds. Rabbits also have sharp nails
and may "nip" in an effort to communicate.
A rabbit is not recommended as a pet for a toddler.
The larger, or medium to giant breeds are actually
easier for a young child, enabling him or her to "wrap
their arms around" the rabbit without the danger
of crushing delicate bones.
Proper information on rabbits is often difficult to
find in stores, and many available books in pet stores
carry either out-dated or incorrect information. Rabbits
are unique from all other animals, and there is much
the new owner will need to learn. For this reason,
I encourage new rabbit owners to join rabbit organizations
that provide guide books with a membership and to subscribe
to the varied rabbit publications.
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