All domesticated rabbits originated from wild European
rabbits. The scientific name for the European and domestic
rabbit is Oryctolagus cuniculus, which translates to "hare-
like underground passage digger."
European and domesticated rabbits are the only living
species in their genus. The wild rabbits common to North
America, commonly called Cottontails, are in the genus
Sylvilagus, and found only in the Americas.
European rabbits were domesticated many generations ago,
but, while their appearance, especially the colors
available, has change much over those years, their behaviors
and instincts are still basically the same.
Wild rabbits are prey creatures. Nearly every carnivore or
omnivore that is even slightly larger than them will include
them in the diet whenever possible. Eagles, owls, buzzards
and possibly other birds are a danger from above and behind.
Snakes and large lizards lie in wait for them. Foxes,
wolves, wild cats and members of the weasel family will
chase them down when possible. Badgers and other animals dig
up their nests and eat the young. Even humans hunt them for
Consequently, rabbits have a nervous temperament, always
watching and poised to flee from danger. This is one of the
most important things you should keep in mind if you keep
domesticated rabbits. Because of their instincts, rabbits
and other prey animals don't show illness or injury until
they are in grave danger - in the wild weakness draws the
attention of predators.
For the same reason, your pet rabbit may not show you the
outward affection that you might receive from a dog or a
cat, but that doesn't mean that your rabbit doesn't love
you. It will show you its affection by lying willingly in
your lap despite its instinctive dislike of being held or by
coming to you when you call it.
When meeting a strange rabbit, don't grab its body or let it
sniff your hand like you might a dog. Rabbits can't see
directly in front of their noses and the strange smell may
frighten the rabbit and cause it to either run away or
attack you. (Rabbits attack by jumping toward you with a
growl/grunt and possibly scratching you with their claws.)
If you must pick up a rabbit, don't do it by the scruff of
the neck or by the ears, and don't grab it tightly around
the middle. If you do it may struggle and many rabbits are
paralyzed by spinal injury when mishandled. When lifting a
rabbit, place one hand under the upper body to support it
and rest its hind legs on the other hand. Then secure the
rabbit against your chest with both arms. If the rabbit
struggles and begins to panic, crouch down and let the
rabbit jump to the floor or put it back into its cage quickly.