Rabbit Facts

Rabbit Facts: Interesting facts about rabbit brains, their instincts, how they think, fear vs pain. Here are facts about rabbits that shed light on contentment in rabbits.

Rabbits in the Wild

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Take a peak into the first few months in the life of a wild rabbit.

  • A rabbit doe gives birth to 3-5 kits in the wild. They are born in a fur- and grass-lined burrow that she dug a few days before birth.

  • A day or two later, her mate-for-life and the sire of her bunnies meets her around dusk. They are foraging at the edge of a clearing. They mate again. 

  • For the next three-and-a-half weeks, she eats, sleeps, and feeds her babies. At around 2 or 2.5 weeks old, the kits stumble out of the nest into the waning sunshine for the first time.

  • Over the next week and a half, their dam will give them a crash course in watching for hawks and cats, how to thump if they sense danger, and how to press themselves frozen into the grass when the shadow of an eagle passes overhead. They might have time to bolt for the burrow. 

  • They receive about 1.5 weeks of survival skills, because her belly is swelling. When her current kits are 27-28 days old, they’re on their own, abandoned by the doe. She has just three days to locate and dig a new burrow for the new, soon-to-be-born litter. 

  • Before the 5 kits are three months old, 1 kit has died before weaning. 3 kits have fallen prey to hawks, ferrets or foxes, and 1 kit still survives. Every day that passes increases the likelihood he’ll survive to adulthood.

  • All is well. The fallen rabbit kits have served the purpose for which the species was intended: to be prey for nearly every predator species. One or two will survive to produce more kits so the species will continue and predators will eat another day.

How Rabbits think:
Rabbit Facts about Pain vs Anxiety

Speaking of predation, what are rabbit facts regarding the relationship between predator and prey? 

  • Does predation result in the domination of rabbits by bobcats, hawks and coyotes? 

  • Is it cruel that rabbits are naturally destined, as a primary prey animal, to untold pain and horror, and to untimely and excruciating death?

No, and no, which requires rethinking this 'pain' thing.

According to animal behavioral expert, Dr. Temple Grandin*, in her book, Animals in Translation, prey animals (such as rabbits) have very underdeveloped or even nonexistent pain-sensing regions in their brains (ch.5). At the same time, rabbits instinctively know that everything out there wants to eat them. This awareness is part of their genetic code, resulting in their timidity and high alert (anxiety) levels. Rabbits are highly attuned to the possibility of threats in their environment.

Every rustle of the grass, uncertain sound or whisper of raptor wings shoots a rabbit’s anxiety level sky high. In fact, animals, especially prey animals, are far more terrified of anxiety and stress than they are of pain, according to Dr. Grandin.

If this doesn’t seem logical, we understand. We humans easily put up with high stress levels, aggravation and anxiety, at least for short stretches. But the thought of bodily pain wilts the best of us. Talk about cancer, and we go pale around the gills - terrified of the excruciating agony that often occurs in end-stage cancer.


*Dr. Temple Grandin is a brilliant scientist who has peered into animal minds to help the rest of us understand them better. 

Below: This rabbit is in a very large, open-to-the-air 
rabbit run. It is anxious enough to remain very much on alert.

Rabbit Facts: This rabbit is very much on alert, though it is managing its anxiety level

Rabbits are very different from humans.

Even as a predator rends a rabbit limb from limb, the rabbit may not feel much pain at all, at least, not in the manner that we humans sense it. The idea that rabbits experience 'untold pain and agony' during predation, or even during butchering by humans, is not supported by science.

While prey animals are no doubt capable of feeling pain, it is the anxiety and fear that keeps the rabbit alive in dangerous situations. Problem is, beyond a certain threshold of fear, terror can literally paralyze a rabbit, completely incapacitating it. A rabbit’s high-pitched scream is a response to terror (whether logical or not), not pain.

Young 2.5-week-old rabbits have occasionally screamed in terror in our hands, as a response to getting painlessly picked up for petting and socialization. Their fear got the best of them. They learned quickly, however, that getting picked up was a good and gentle and welcome occurrence.

Happy Rabbits:
Rabbit Facts about Rabbit Emotions

Chinchilla Rex Doe without a worry chilling in her cageChinchilla Rex Rabbit Doe

When you see caged domestic rabbits all stretched out comfy-like and relaxed in their cages, it is because their anxiety levels are hovering somewhere near zero. They’re content, relaxed. Many domestic rabbits, from a thousand generations until now, have known nothing but cages, runs and larger runs (sometimes called colonies).

Rabbits don’t think like people and don’t feel like people.

It is wise therefore to not anthropomorphize and assume a caged rabbit is miserable because you would be miserable in a cage.  In their cages, there are no eagles screeching overhead, no coyotes chasing their back trails or ripping hungrily at their heels. In their cages, they get food and water delivered directly to their doors by a keeper that speaks softly, scratches their ears and rubs their fur.

If caring for pet rabbits means they’re stress-free and have all their physical needs met, the rabbit facts studied by animal experts indicate that your pet rabbits will be truly content.

Go from Rabbit Facts to Facts About Rabbits as Pets

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