Are rabbits rodents? As a rabbit owner, you may have been asking yourself that exact question. Many would argue that a pet rabbit belongs to the rodent family due to their ever-growing teeth and their love of gnawing, but is this really the case?
Let’s find out!
Are Rabbits Rodents or not?
Pet rabbits are not rodents. Bunnies belong to the order Lagomorpha and are often called Lagomorphs. Rabbits share the Lagomorpha order with other Lagomorphs called hares and pikas. If you want to take it a step further you can say they all belong to the Leporidae family.
To make it even more confusing, the scientific name Oryctolagus cuniculus refers to around 305 breeds of domestic rabbits as well as the European rabbit from which domesticated rabbits descended.
Rodents on the other hand belong to the order called Rodentia. Rodentia is the largest order containing the most diverse group of mammal species. Rabbits were originally classified as part of this group until recently when scientists decided they don’t quite fit.
So are they rodents or not? Until recently, scientists believed bunnies to be very closely related to these gnawing critters. Recent studies, however, have proven that they are actually closer related to primates (monkeys and apes) than rodents.
Still a bit confused? No worries, let’s look at the difference between a rabbit and a rodent.
What’s The Difference Between Rabbits And Rodents?
Rabbit and rodent incisors
All rodent species are gnawing mammals with a single pair of constantly growing front teeth (incisors) and no canine teeth. They will often eat meat and plant material which classifies them as omnivores. There are a few rodents like guinea pigs and prairie dogs, however, that are obligated herbivores (plant eaters).
Rabbits are also gnawing mammals, but they have two pairs of incisor teeth and very different skeletal features from a rodent. This small mammal eats mostly fibrous plant matter and is thus known as strictly herbivore. Bunnies belong to the group called Lagomorphs along with hares and pikas.
Besides the single pair of teeth of rodents that never stop growing, there are also other internal differences. Rabbits for instance have a bigger large intestine with a larger cecum. This is because they rely on eating their own poop to get important vitamins and minerals, unlike rodents. This is called coprophagy.
The cecum in rabbits contains beneficial bacteria that help them to break down undigested plant matter and give them a second chance to absorb those nutrients. The poop that contains the nutrients is called cecotropes. Rabbits need this since they aren’t ruminants (an animal with four stomach compartments) like cows and sheep.
A rabbit’s digestive tract more closely resembles a horse’s digestive system. Rodents don’t typically consume their own feces.
Most rodents also have long tails, short ears, and one pair of upper and lower incisors. The gestation period of these critters also varies greatly. A hamster for instance has a gestation period of only 16 days while a capybara can be pregnant for as long as 150 days. Litters come in varying numbers ranging from only one to more than 11 babies at a time.
Rabbits on the other hand have shorter gestation periods than capybara but longer than hamsters. All rabbits, no matter the breed, are pretty set on giving birth between days 28 and 36 of gestation. There are a few odd outliers when it comes to wild rabbits, however. A female rabbit will also only feed her young once or twice a day whereas a rodent female normally feeds hers several times a day.
They also have short tails, are generally larger, and have two pairs of lower and upper incisors. Rabbit incisors also grow continually which can be problematic if the rabbit has problems with its upper or lower jaw alignment. When the top incisors and lower incisors don’t line up, they won’t be ground down. This causes the rabbits’ teeth to grow too long and stops them from eating properly.
Rodent teeth have the same problems if the lower and upper jaw don’t line up. This is called malocclusion. Dental anatomy plays a big role in keeping a rodent and rabbit healthy.
Small mammals that are classified as rodents include mice, guinea pigs, hamsters, rats, porcupines, and kangaroo rats. Rabbits include all breeds of domestic rabbits, the European rabbit, and several wild rabbits.
Why are rabbits not rodents? Here’s a quick summary:
|Four incisors||Eight incisors|
|Order: Rodentia||Order: Lagomorphs|
|Robust body||Stout body|
|Short limbs||Long hind legs|
|Long skinny tails||Short, fluffy tails|
|Short ears||Long ears|
Are rabbits related to rodents – Reasons For The Confusion
It is very easy to mistake our cotton-tailed friends for rodents, I also made this mistake. Fortunately, someone corrected me early on. In fact, rabbits resemble these gnawing critters so closely that even scientists classified them as rodents until the early 20th century. Let’s take a closer look at a few reasons why you might get confused:
Similarities Between Rabbits And Rodents:
- Continually growing teeth
- Gnawing behavior
- Short breeding cycles
- Give birth to multiple young
- Occur just about everywhere except Antarctica
So are rabbits related to rodents? The answer is no. These two families might look and act a lot alike, but they aren’t the same. If you get challenged, you can say bunnies have longer ears, extra teeth, and different paw pads. They also have a very different diets.
What do rodents eat?
Rodents are omnivores. They will eat just about anything from insects to leafy plants. The exact diet will depend on the rodent species of course. There are a few rodents that are herbivores and eat only plant matter.
Some common rodents include pet rats, guinea pigs, hamsters, and mice. These generally have a diet that mostly includes seeds, hay, fresh fruits, veggies, and pellets specifically made for the species. Some people also allow their rodents to eat some cooked mince without any seasoning of course.
Rodents in the wild will eat seeds, grass, leaves, insects, and any scraps they can find laying around.
What do rabbits eat?
Rabbits have a diet that consists mostly of grass hay, some fresh vegetables, fruits, and rabbit pellets. They should be allowed to eat as much grass hay as they like, but the rest should be limited.
Make sure to also limit the legumes unless you’re feeding growing youngsters. Other rabbits from the wild will be limited to grass, leaves and any other plant matter like roots they dig up.
In A Nutshell
Rabbits are most definitely not part of the Rodentia group, but it is easy to see where you can get confused. Even I made that mistake. Scientists also still debate the change in classification.
For now, if someone asks you ‘are rabbits related to rodents’ you can safely tell them no. Our cotton-tailed friends are Lagomorphs of the family Leporidae and have nothing to do with those tiny gnawing critters. Bunnies and animals of the Rodentia group may have a lot of similarities, but at the same time, they are very different.
For more information on bunnies, check out our article ‘Are Rabbits Nocturnal’.
Frequently Asked Questions
Are rabbits related to rodents or marsupials?
Neither. Rabbits are lagomorphs. They belong to the Lagomorpha family along with hares and pikas. These cute fluffy critters might resemble rodents ad even marsupials, but they don’t quite fit in either group if inspected closely. Scientists believe them to be closer related to primates.
Can rabbits mate with rats?
No, rabbits and rats are different species and cannot interbreed. Their anatomy is completely different which makes it impossible for them to mate.
Do pet rabbits attract rats?
They might. Rats have an impressive sense of smell that will lead them directly to your rabbit food stores and enclosures. Any food spilled or not eaten by your rabbits is a great snack for rats in the area. The best way to avoid this problem is to clean frequently, close up unused food in sealed bins and make sure to not overfeed your bunnies to reduce waste.