Are Rabbits Rodents? How are Rabbits Classified?

The Rodentia group to which rodents belong is the largest one among mammals, with over 1500 members out of the 4000 classified mammals.

Most people erroneously assume that rabbits also belong to the Rodentia group. Rodents and rabbits are both placental mammals with short breeding cycles. They both also give birth to multiple live young ones.

However, rabbits are not classified as rodents, rabbits were removed from this group in 1912 and classified as lagomorphs.

The change in classification followed a study by paleontologists in the early 20th century at the Smithsonian Institute. In this study, the experts set out to pick the differences between rabbits and rodents. Following their findings, James W. Gidley, in 1912, proposed a change of the classification of rabbits as rodents to lagomorphs.

Below are tidbits on what informed the change of classification for rabbits and all you should know when considering a lagomorph or rodent as a pet.

What is a Rodent?

Rodents are small gnawing mammals with a pair of constantly growing incisors. The most common rodents include squirrels, rats, pocket mice, porcupines, springhares, beavers, gerbils, and dormice.

They are present in most terrestrial habitats apart from in New Zealand, Antarctica and some oceanic islands. The following are some characteristics of rodents.

Teeth: Rodents are so named because they gnaw or chew. Their teeth are thus unique to support these habits. Here are the aspects that set apart the dentition of rodents:

  • A single set of lower and upper incisors lined with orange to orange-yellow enamel. This color might be because of the minerals and iron that strengthen the teeth.
  • Varying numbers of molars and premolars with gaps between them. Rodents snip off plant matter then pass it to the back teeth through these gaps.
  • No canines.
  • The incisors continue growing and erupting since they are rootless.
  • The incisors only have enamel on their front edges. This enamel allows the continuous honing of the teeth against each other and results in their sharp chisel shapes.

Digestion: Rodents are omnivores that thrive on grains, seeds, insects, tubers and roots. They are opportunistic feeders that will eat anything from carcasses to fallen fruits. The cecum in some rodents absorbs fluids and salts that have been left behind after intestinal digestion. The combination of mucus with digested food also happens in the cecum.

Reproduction: Rodents have a baculum or penis bone to help stiffen the penis and allow mating for a prolonged period. The bone also helps rodents to achieve quick erections. This enables them to spend minimal time in vulnerable mating positions and protects them from predators. Female rats attain sexual maturity at five months and have gestation periods of 21 days.

Tails: Most rodents have long tails.

What is a Lagomorph?

Lagomorphs belong to the taxonomic order known as Lagormopha with two families, which includes Ochotonidae {pikas} and Leoparidae {rabbits and hares}. They, like other mammals, have hair and mammary glands. They are also warm-blooded. The following are some unique characteristic that set lagomorphs apart from other mammals:

Teeth: Dentition is among the primary aspects that set lagomorphs apart from other mammals. Here are some unique dental characteristics of animals in this order:

  • Two top incisor sets. The second pair of incisors are neatly tucked behind the first larger teeth pair and might be invisible from the front.
  • The incisors, unlike those in rodents, are encased with enamel on their fronts and backs. As such, the teeth of lagomorphs never achieve an edge as sharp as those of rodents.
  • The incisors are not orange since they lack iron salts.

Digestion: Lagomorphs are obligate herbivores meaning they only consume plant matter. Their digestive systems resemble those of hooved animals like cows. The cecum in their digestive systems has an abundant supply of beneficial bacteria that break down then ferment cellulose that is otherwise challenging to digest.

Reproduction: Lagomorphs, similar to humans, dolphins, horses, whales and marsupials, have no penis bone. This means they might not get an erection as fast and sustain it for as long as rodents.

Tails: lagomorphs mostly have short tails.

Lagomorphs that Can be Kept as Pets

The order of lagomorphs comprises pikas, rabbits, cottontails and hares. Pikas are sometimes called whistling hares owing to their high-pitched calls similar to those of rock hare’s.

The ones usually kept as pets are rabbits, and only the European species can be domesticated. This is because, with some training, these rabbits can become the easiest house pets to manage.

Their life expectancy is approximately 12 years, so you can expect to live with your bunny for quite some time. Feed the rabbit on fresh hay, vegetables, clean water and fiber-rich pellets to keep it healthy.

Are Rabbits Related to Chinchillas?

No, they are not. Chinchillas are rodents, while rabbits are lagomorphs.

There exist three rabbit breeds called chinchilla rabbits that have been specially bred to have a coat that looks like the chinchilla’s. Despite the similar name, these rabbits and chinchillas are not related.

Can You Keep Rabbits and Rodents Together?

No, rabbits and rodents cannot be safely kept together. Pet rats might be less aggressive than wild ones, but they still pose some danger to rabbits.

The rats can attack your gentle rabbit during playtime thinking it is part of the game. Moreover, when left loose, rats can roam into a rabbit’s space and scurry around, disturbing the rabbit’s peace.

Rats are challenging to tame and train like dogs and cats. As such, they might give in to their behavioral instincts and attack a rabbit’s babies. Rabbits, more so large ones, can also intimidate rats or crush them under their weights.

Wrapping Up

With the above information, you know better than to classify rabbits as rodents. You also know what to expect when you opt for a rabbit or a rodent as a pet.

Irrespective of the animal you choose, get it from a reputable breeder to guarantee you have a healthy animal. The pen you select for the rodent or rabbit should also be clean and appropriately-sized.

Rat cages, for instance, should have a floor space of not less than 50 x 80 cm and a height of 50 cm. On the other hand, rabbit hutches should ideally be 90 cm tall with a floor space of 183 x 90 cm.

avatar Jane
Jane is an experienced animal care specialist with a focus on rodents and small mammals, with over 10 years of experience in the pet industry. Her articles provide practical guidance on choosing the right pet and managing common health issues. Jane is an advocate for animal welfare and supports organizations dedicated to protecting wildlife. read more...

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