Are Rabbits Rodents? (An Animal Identity Crisis)

Posted by Rita on 5 April 2021

Are rabbits rodents? You may have been asking yourself that exact question as a pet rabbit owner. Many would argue that rabbits belong 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! 

Rabbits are not rodents. Bunnies belong to the order Lagomorpha and are often called Lagomorphs. Rabbits and rodents were once thought to belong to the same group, but the differences in their anatomy have since made it quite obvious that they are not that closely related.

Keep reading to learn more about the differences between your pet rabbits and rodents.

are rabbits rodents

Are Rabbits Rodents Or Not?

Rabbits used to be rodents, but in the 20th century, scientists reclassified them. Rabbits now share the Lagomorpha order with other Lagomorphs called hares and pikas. If you want to take it further, you can say they 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 mammal species. This includes rats, squirrels, chinchillas, gerbils, and more. 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? Let's look at the difference between the easter bunny and a rat.


What's The Difference Between Rabbits And Rodents?

With what we know about rodents, our first instinct is to classify a bunny as a kind of rat because of how their incisors grow. Unfortunately for us, this is wrong. Here are a few differences between bunnies and rodents you might not have considered.

Incisor Teeth

Rabbits are gnawing animals, but unlike rodents, they have two pairs of incisors (front teeth), no canine teeth, and very different skeletal features from a rodent. These small mammals eat mostly fibrous plant matter and are thus known as obligate herbivores. Another adaption bunnies have is two peg-like teeth behind their top incisors, which is believed to help them bite through vegetation.

All rodent species, on the other hand, are also gnawing mammals, but unlike rabbits, they only have a single pair of constantly growing front teeth. They often eat both meat and plant material, classifying them as omnivores. There are a few rodents, like guinea pigs and prairie dogs, however, that are obligate herbivores (plant eaters), so being an omnivore isn't a good differentiator.

Digestive System Differences

Besides the single pair of teeth of rodents that never stop growing, there are also other internal differences. Rabbits have a bigger large intestine with a larger cecum. The cecum attaches to the head of the large intestine and houses beneficial bacteria that help to break down undigested plant matter and give them a second chance to absorb those nutrients.

However, rabbits solve this issue by producing special nutrient-rich poop called cecotropes to access these nutrients. This soft black pellet is often eaten directly from the anus and contains a large amount of nutrients the rabbit needs to stay healthy. The process is called coprophagy and is completely normal and healthy for rabbits.

Rabbits do this because 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, but there are a few exceptions. Animals like skinny pigs and chinchillas are known to eat their own feces. It's important to note that none of these rodents have a cecum as specialized as the one in a rabbit's digestive system.

Video credit goes to Fufunchis

Other Differences

Most rodents have long tails, short ears, and one pair of upper and lower incisor teeth. They also have hand-like feet and chew on everything they can find.

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 also come in varying numbers, ranging from only one to more than 11 babies at a time.  

All pet rabbits, on the other hand, no matter the breed, are set on giving birth between days 28 and 36. But, like with all animals, there are a few odd outliers when it comes to some wild rabbits. Another odd thing a female rabbit does is feed her young once or twice a day, whereas a rodent female normally feeds hers several times a day.  

Rabbits also have short tails, are generally larger, and have two 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, the enamel won't be ground down correctly. 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 pets healthy so better check those teeth.

Quick fact: The incisors of rabbits and rodents have thick enamel layers in the front but not at the back. The difference in the enamel thickness causes the teeth to wear down unevenly, ensuring the incisors keep their sharp, chiseled edge.

Small mammals classified as rodents include mice, guinea pigs, hamsters, rats, porcupines, and kangaroo rats. Rabbits include all breeds of domestic rabbits, European rabbits, and wild rabbits. 

Why Are Rabbits Not Rodents? The short version:

rabbits nails
Four incisors Eight incisors
Mostly Omnivores Herbivores
Order: Rodentia Order: Lagomorphs
Robust body Stout body
Short limbs Long hind legs
Long skinny tails Short, fluffy tails
Short ears Long ears
Oval-shaped droppings Hard round droppings with
soft intermittent cecotropes

Are Rabbits Related To Rodents – Reasons For The Confusion

It is very easy to mistake our cotton-tailed friends for rodents. In fact, both rabbits and some rodents look so similar that even scientists got confused and first classified rabbits 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

  • Love to chew everything

  • Burrowing 

  • Short breeding cycles

  • Give birth to multiple young

  • Occurs just about everywhere except Antarctica 

  • Have similar predators

  • Both are great pets for the right humans

So, are rabbits related to rodents? The answer is no. These two families might look and act alike on the surface, but they aren't the same. If you get challenged, you can say bunnies have longer ears, extra teeth, different paw pads, and a massive cecum for the digestion of plant material they consume as part of their diet.

Pika closely resemble a chinchilla

Pika Family By Renu Pant - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0.

What Do Rodents Eat?

Rodents are omnivores. They will eat almost anything from insects to leafy plants to grains in your pantry. The exact diet will depend on the type of rodent, of course. There are a few rodents that are herbivores and eat only plant matter, such as leafy greens or grains. 

Some common rodents include rats, guinea pigs, hamsters, and mice. These generally have a varied diet that mostly includes grains, hay, fresh fruits, veggies, and pellets specifically made for the mammals in question. Some people also commonly allow their rodents to eat some cooked mince without seasoning or other human foods like dry crackers. They also need things to chew on, like wooden sticks, toys, and other hard foods.

Rodents in the wild will eat seeds, fresh grass, leaves, insects, and any scraps they can find lying around. You'll often find that they break into trash bags and consume your leftovers. This isn't a great diet for rodents, but it does the trick.

What Do Rabbits Eat?

Rabbits have a diet consisting mostly of fresh grass hay, vegetables, fruits, and rabbit pellets. They should be allowed to eat as much grass hay as they like, but the rest should be limited. 

Safe food you can feed your rabbit includes:

  • Broccoli

  • Brussel sprouts

  • Cucumber

  • Mangoes

  • Berries

  • Apple

  • Spinach

  • Mustard greens

Make sure to feed the right amounts to avoid problems with digestion and tooth decay. Also, limit the amount of legumes (Alfalfa hay) you feed unless you feed growing youngsters under six months.

A rabbit's natural habitat will be limited to grass, leaves, fruits, and other plant matter like roots and bark. Their diets will often vary according to the season as different foods become available, unlike pets that always get the same thing.  

In A Nutshell

Rabbits are most definitely not part of the Rodentia group, but it is easy to see where we get confused. Even I made that mistake. Don't feel bad if you also made this mistake. Scientists also still debate the change in classification. So if they aren't sure, then there's no reason to beat yourself up.

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 we call rodents. 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 blog ‘Are Rabbits Nocturnal.'

Frequently Asked Questions

a wild rabbit

Are Rabbits Related To Rodents Or Marsupials?

Neither. A rabbit is a lagomorph and belongs to the Lagomorpha family, along with hares and pikas. These cute, fluffy critters might resemble rodents and even marsupials, but they don't quite fit in either group. Scientists believe them to be closer related to primates. 

Can Rabbits Mate With Rats?

No, rabbits and rats are different species and cannot mate. Their anatomy is completely different, which makes it impossible for them to have babies. 

Do Rabbits Attract Rats?

They might. Rats have an impressive sense of smell that will lead them directly to your rabbit's food bowl. Any food spilled or not eaten by your rabbit 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 ensure not to overfeed your bunnies to reduce waste. 

Do Bunnies And Rodents Have the Same Predators?

Yes, they have very similar predators. Life in the wild always comes with the risk of being food for someone else. All animals have to eat to live after all.

Visit our FacebookVisit our Instagram
Copyright © Rabbit Advisor 2023
linkedin facebook pinterest youtube rss twitter instagram facebook-blank rss-blank linkedin-blank pinterest youtube twitter instagram