Oryctolagus cuniculus

The American Rabbit Breeders Association recognizes 48 rabbit breeds, ranging from the two pound Netherland Dwarf, to the 12 pound Flemish Giant. Since there is such a variety of breeds there is one that will suit most families needs. Rabbits are intelligent animals that can be trained to use a litter box and do a few simple tricks. Some will come when called by name. However, these animals need more attention that many pet owners realize. Rabbits should be kept indoors and given time to exercise their strong leg muscles. Since they can be startled easily they are not ideal for very young children who will want to hold and carry the rabbit. This type of contact can stress a rabbit, and severe stress can give your rabbit a heart attack! Another important factor for pet rabbits is making sure they have toys to chew and play with. Lack of proper enrichment can lead to behavior problems, such as destruction of walls and furniture. Rabbits have powerful teeth that can chew through many materials.

Did You Know?

Rabbits are intelligent animals that can be trained to use a litter box and do a few simple tricks.


Does the harvest for wildlife trade or captive breeding of this species harm wild populations?

Little Cause for Concern

Several wild rabbit species are at risk in the wild but the domestic rabbits used as pets are not sourced from the wild. All rabbits can be bought through breeders who specialize in one or a few rabbit breeds. The American Rabbit Breeder Association has lists of breeders by state and by breed.

EcoHealthy Recommendation:

Only acquire a pet that is from a reputable breeder or source.

Invasion Threat

Does the release or escape of this species into the wild harm the environment and/or economy?

Some Cause for Concern

Although rabbits breed quickly, domestic rabbits are not currently listed as an invasive species by the Center for Invasive Species and Ecosystem Health. Due to their life cycle it may be possible a population could become established in the U.S.  Historically, rabbits have caused problems in Australia and New Zealand, becoming very widespread invasive. However, their tendency to startle easily and sometimes even be scared to death makes is unlikely a pet rabbit would survive in the wild.

EcoHealthy Recommendation:

Before obtaining any non-traditional pet, check that it is legal to own one in your state of residence and check for permitting requirements. Only acquire a pet that is from a reputable breeder or dealer. Always keep your pet inside a safe and secure enclosure. Never release a pet into the wild.

Ease of Care

Does harvest, captive breeding, transport, or being kept as a pet harm individual animals?

Some Cause for Concern

Ease of care of many non-traditional pets depends on the individual owner’s years of experience and knowledge caring for a particular species. For the purposes of this website, we have geared information toward the benefit of the beginner.

The needs of domestic rabbits vary from breed to breed, some are kept better is pairs or small groups while others do well one their own. However, it can be a process to ensure two rabbits get along and do not fight. Also, the fact that they can be easily stressed or scared makes them a less then ideal pet for small children unless an adult performs primary care. Rabbits may also jump from your arms or a high surface when startled and can easily break their backs. They should be kept indoors because the stress of interaction with a predator could cause direct harm or cardiac arrest and your rabbit is more likely to pick up an illness outside. Rabbits need a fair amount of space to move around and exercise their powerful hind legs, the ASPCA recommends a minimum length of four feet for your rabbits cage.  The ideal cage would have a solid bottom because wire can damage a rabbit’s feet. Rabbits also need ample bedding and plenty of toys to chew. Their diet should consist of plentiful hay, rabbit pellets and fresh vegetables daily. Rabbits must have food and water at all times and can have severe health complications without access to food.

EcoHealthy Recommendation:

Before acquiring a rabbit, be sure to research its specific care requirements (web-based sources of information include the ASPCA http://www.aspca.org/pet-care/small-pet-care/general-rabbit-care). Make sure to buy your pet from a reputable source to increase the chance of receiving a healthy animal.

Health Threat

Does this animal pose a health risk to native wildlife, humans, livestock and agriculture?

Little Cause for Concern

Rabbits rarely pass diseases to their owners but they can carry fleas, ringworm, bacteria and parasites which are zoonotic (infectious to humans). Two of the zoonotic organisms are Pasturella mutocida and Enchephalitozoan cuniculi. Pasturella mutocida can be spread through scratches, and Enchephalitozoan cuniculi can be found in your rabbits urine. Both are fairly rare in humans but the very young and immunocompromised are at a higher risk. If good hygiene is practiced and your pet is brought for regular vet checkups the risk of these diseases is minimal.

EcoHealthy Recommendation:

Be sure to obtain your pet from a reputable source to increase your chance of receiving a healthy animal.

EcoHealth Alliance works at the intersection of ecosystem, animal and human health through local conservation programs and develops global health solutions to emerging diseases.
More about EcoHealth Alliance