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History of domesticated rabbits

11 September 2015

According to the RSPCA, there are estimated to be approximately 1.7 million rabbits kept as pets in the UK. But have you ever wondered how rabbits ended up as domestic pets?

Recordings of fossils indicate that Lagomorpha, which is the order that rabbits are placed in, evolved in Asia in the Elcine period around 40 million years ago. As landmasses broke up, the distribution of hares and rabbits spread across the world, apart from Australasia.

Over 60 recognised breeds of domestic rabbit exist today and there are many more that are not officially recognised. These breeds all descended from one species - Oryctolagus Cuniculus - the European rabbit. This species of rabbit was the only rabbit to have been domesticated.

The European Rabbit is different to other species of rabbits and is believed to have evolved approximately 4000 years ago on the Iberian Peninsula in Spain and Portugal. The name ‘Hispania’ (Spain) is translated from the name given to that area by Phoenician merchants, meaning ‘land of the rabbits’.

It is thought that monks first domesticated wild rabbits in the 5th century in the Champagne region of France where they were bred as a food source. They were also thought to be the first to try selective breeding for fur coats and weight.

Up until the 19th century, rabbits were mainly bred for their meat and fur but after the turn of the century, the selective breeding of domestic rabbits became more popular, resulting in many different breeds and breeding for shows became more of a hobby.

As industry increased and the populations of towns and cities grew, families who moved into urban areas often brought rabbits with them as they were the only farm animal small and practical enough to be brought with them.

By the 20th century rabbit breeding had become a popular hobby with many different new varieties and colours appearing. During World Wars I and II, both the UK and US governments encouraged rabbit breeding as they were a good food source.

 

Rabbits are an extremely popular pet

 

Today they are extremely popular pets – currently ranked third in the UK, behind dogs and cats.

 

Rabbits are ranked third in the most popular pets in the UK

 

If you would like information on Looking after your rabbit just click on the link. The care guide covers such aspects as feeding, dental care, grooming, vaccination, diseases, insurance, scratching and responsible pet ownership. We hope you will enjoy using this resource.