Welcome to February! Our #AnimalOfTheMonth this month is the rabbit, well known for its long ears, twitchy nose and love of carrots (though its a myth that rabbits can survive on carrots alone – they can’t. Carrots are high in sugars and so are only suitable in small amounts as part of a balanced diet).
While a popular choice for companion animals, rabbits have complex needs and are difficult to keep happy in a home environment – find out more. Some of this comes from the fact they are prey animals who rely on their senses to keep them safe from animals looking for a tasty lunch. That means they are sensitive to the world around them and spook easily.
Read on to learn more about rabbit senses and how they can help us be kinder to our animals.
Rabbits can see almost 360 degrees – but not right in front of them!
To keep away from predators, rabbits need to be able to see threats coming from a distance and from different directions. And that is precisely why their eyes are on the side of their heads. It allows them to see a large area – almost 360 degrees around them. The only spot they can’t see is a blindspot right in front of their nose. They are not very good at focusing, though, and their close up vision is poor. But that’s not too important for a rabbit trying to escape predators. What saves their life is the ability to detect movement in the distance. It alerts them to danger and gives them time to escape.
Rabbits can move their ears independently.
Rabbit ears are one of their most famous features, but they are not just cute to look at; they are very sensitive to sound (and they help to keep them cool!). They can turn their ears in different directions, which means they can focus on two sounds at once and pinpoint precisely where sounds (or threats) are coming from, which is very useful if you’re out in the open.
Rabbits smell predators before they see them.
Have you ever seen a rabbit moving its nose up and down? Nose blinking is how rabbits detect smells within their environment. They have very good noses and use them for various reasons, including to smell oncoming threats, smell food underground, and identify other animals and rabbits. In fact, smell is one of the first senses baby rabbits use. It is active straight away, unlike eyes which are shut at birth, and guides them to their mummy’s milk.
Whiskers help rabbits navigate their surroundings.
Like the other senses, touch is essential to rabbits. Whiskers on their mouth, nose, cheeks and eyes are extremely sensitive to touch. They are as long as the body is wide. That means, like cats, rabbits use their whiskers to determine if they will fit in a space or through a tunnel into a burrow. It’s not just their whiskers, though; their whole body is sensitive to touch, which is why they can be so skittish if you touch them when they aren’t expecting it.
Rabbits can distinguish between sweet, salty, bitter, and sour.
Taste is perhaps one of the least essential senses for rabbits, but they do still have a good sense of taste and can distinguish between sweet, salty, bitter, and sour foods. Living in the wild, this can come in handy as not all plants are safe to eat; some are poisonous. Using taste and smell, rabbits can determine what is good and what’s bad. This is particularly useful given that they cannot be sick, so are unable to bring up food from their stomachs if they eat something they shouldn’t.
Why is understanding rabbit senses important?
If you share your home with rabbits or spend a lot of time around them, understanding how sensitive they are to the world around them is essential to keeping them happy and healthy. They are on high alert to predators, so will be sensitive to things like loud noises and sudden movements. Therefore, it’s always best to approach rabbits calmly and never from the back, as they may mistake you for a predator. Better yet, sit quietly and let your rabbit approach you in their own time. And, on that note, if you’re spending time with rabbits, avoid strong scents like perfumes, as they can irritate their sensitive noses and cause health problems.