If I was to ask you, “What is the benefit of owning a pet rabbit?”, You’d probably say something like, “My rabbit keeps me company.” Indeed, one of the best things about pet rabbits is that they prevent loneliness. Yet companionship is not the only way rabbits can benefit humans.
Although rabbits are good for the planet, some parts of the world have become overpopulated. For example, parts of Australia have become over-run with rabbits, and this has caused severe damage to crops. But, in spite of this issue, rabbits are still a species worth celebrating.
How Do Rabbits Help the World?
Rabbits benefit the world in at least three different ways. To be specific, they:
- Support the Environment – Herbivores, such as rabbits, play a crucial role in sustaining our eco-systems. In fact, in countries where rabbit populations have shrunk (I.e. parts of the Mediterranean), the local environment has suffered.
- Enhanced Physical Health – Research suggests that owning a rabbit can make us healthier.
- Improved Mental Health – Because they are calm and gentle creatures, rabbits can help to relieve feelings of stress. Pet rabbits boost our emotional well-being in many ways.
If rabbits were to become extinct, the planet would be worse off. In fact, parts of the planet would suffer “catastrophic effects” according to one report on NCBI.
Ways Rabbits Help the Eco-System
Rabbits are common throughout North America, South East Asia, Australia, and Western Europe. In some of these territories, wild rabbits contribute to the environment in a very positive way. For example, research suggests that rabbits help the environment in the following 7 ways.
Keep Vegetation Under Control
If you have a pet rabbit, you’ll know how much food they consume in a day. Wild rabbits are no different. They consume as much vegetation as a sheep during their lifetime. In many cases, this is a good thing because it helps to keep invasive plants under control.
According to YTPE, wild rabbits in the UK help to keep bramble, hawthorn, and gorse under control. If rabbits didn’t eat these invasive plants, they’d spread like wildfire across the countryside. Amongst other things, this would make it harder for humans to walk in the countryside.
Also, because rabbits keep weeds under control, this means other low-growing plants get the opportunity to grow.
Also, when rabbits move from one plant to the next, plant seeds are dispersed on the ground. This helps the smaller plants to gain new ground.
This is what scientists mean when they say rabbits promote “plant diversity”.
Good for Insects and Birds
As mentioned, because rabbits suppress the growth of weeds and shrubs, this means low-growing plants can grow. It is these low-growing plants that attract butterflies, ants, and other insects. In turn, these insects attract a variety of different birds.
So, by keeping the vegetation under control, rabbits encourage plants, insects, and other animals to thrive.
Rabbits benefit not only birds and insects but also larger mammals. In parts of Europe, rabbits are an important prey species. They help to sustain endangered species, such as the Iberian Lynx and the Spanish Imperial Eagle.
If you own a rabbit as a pet, you’ll know they produce a large amount of pee. According to recent research, rabbit pee is vital for the environment because it enriches the soil. This helps plant species and insects to thrive.
It is hard to put a price on the economic benefits of this enriched soil. Some scientists believe rabbit pee is invaluable for sustaining certain eco-systems, such as the Mediterranean Basin.
Eco-Friendly Pet Choice
Rabbits have a relatively small carbon footprint compared to other pets. Why are rabbits an eco-friendly choice? Well, because they are herbivores (they only eat plants), none of their food comes from animal agriculture. You can even grow your rabbit’s food if you have space in your yard.
Also, if you are clued-up on rabbit care, the risk of disease is generally lower than for other pets. This means there should be fewer trips to the vet. There’s also no need to drive to the park for a run-around because rabbits are happy to hop around the yard.
Rabbits are quite happy to play with things you’d have otherwise disposed of, such as cardboard toilet rolls, etc.
Ways Rabbits Can Harm the Environment
In some contexts, wild rabbits are considered to be ‘pests.’ This is particularly true in countries like Australia, where rabbits are a non-native species. Some common problems include:
During their lifetime, a rabbit will consume the same amount as 1 sheep. Given the number of rabbits in certain parts of Australia, this can lead to overgrazing and crop damage. Unfortunately, this can result in substantial financial losses to farmers.
Also, if young trees are not planted in a rabbit-proof area, rabbits will often kill them through a process called ringbarking. Essentially, this means that the rabbit nibbles away at the bark at the base of the tree. According to RHS, this disrupts water flow and ultimately kills the tree.
In this way, large groups of rabbits can destroy hundreds of small trees in a short period of time.
Rabbits are beneficial for the environment because they are a food source for other animals. However, the upshot of this is that large populations of rabbits can encourage too many predators (such as feral cats, coyotes, and foxes) to move into an area.
This means that these predators target smaller (often native) mammals and birds. As a result, smaller species begin to die out. This has happened in Australia, for example.
Also, when rabbits first spread across Australia, they took over burrows that had already been created by native species. For example, they kicked the Rufous Hare-Wallabies and Bilbies out of their homes. Both of these animals are now endangered.
Although rabbit urine makes the soil more fertile, rabbits have been blamed for soil erosion in other parts of the world. According to some scientists, when rabbits eat native plants, this exposes the topsoil to damage. Topsoil is delicate and can take centuries to regenerate.
However, this is a point for debate. Some scientists believe soil erosion caused by rabbits is minimal, and their tendency to enrich the soil (through urination) far outweighs the damage caused to topsoil.
Rabbits cause the greatest damage in countries where they are not a native species. Also, damage can be caused if too many rabbits live together in one place.
However, in some parts of the world, such as the Mediterranean basin and parts of the US, rabbits are severely endangered. If they were to go extinct in these areas, this could have a severely detrimental impact on the local environment.
As a planet, our biggest challenge is to ensure rabbits thrive in the areas that need them but do not overpopulate the areas that don’t need them.
How Rabbits Support Human Health
Rabbits have a very positive impact on humans. The most obvious benefit is companionship. However, it is too simple to say that rabbits are merely companions for humans. In fact, research suggests that rabbits can improve our cognitive, emotional, and physical health.
Rabbits Support our Mental Health
Owning a pet is one of the simplest ways to improve our mental health. Rabbits are particularly good for boosting our mental health because they are calm and gentle creatures. Many people agree that rabbits help them to feel calmer and more balanced.
Indeed, a recent report from Wiley suggests that pets can benefit us in the following ways:
- Pets help us connect socially with other humans – For example, pet owners tend to join forums or groups to discuss pet care (online and in-person).
- Pets can function as part of the family – This is helpful if our own family isn’t around.
- Develop life skills and feel more confident in our own abilities – This is especially true in people who are recovering from a long-term mental illness.
Spending time with animals is relaxing because we get the sense we are not being judged. Most human-to-human interactions inevitably involve some kind of judgment. But we don’t feel judged when we look into the eyes of an animal. So, engaging with an animal is often very therapeutic.
This is the reason why some universities, such as Staffs, and encouraging stressed-out students to spend time with their resident rabbits.
Pet Rabbits Help our Physical Health
Rabbits aren’t just good for our mental health; they’re beneficial for our physical health, too. According to a recent study, children who grow up with furry pets (dogs, cats, rabbits, etc.) are less likely to develop eczema and allergies.
Also, other research suggests that owning a pet helps to lower blood pressure. Although dog owners are likely to benefit the most in this regard, owning a cat or a rabbit also appears to improve our heart health. This may be because, as mentioned, rabbits help to lower our stress levels.
Although rabbits don’t require walks or other strenuous activities, they do encourage us to stay active. For example, a rabbit’s cage needs deep cleaning about once a week. Rabbits also appreciate regular play/cuddle sessions. Added to which, this gentle exercise is pleasurable, so we don’t even realize we are doing it.
Rabbits Can Support Child Development
Most children are enchanted by rabbits. Perhaps this is because rabbits feature in many children’s fables and storybooks. In any case, introducing rabbits to children at a young age can be very helpful for their development. According to Good Start, rabbits can:
- Build higher-self-esteem in children
- Encourage a more positive outlook on life
- Teach children about grief, stress, sadness, and vulnerability
- Teach children how to be responsible
It should be said that some rabbits aren’t suitable pets for young children. For example, Lionhead rabbits are shy and easily stressed, so they are best suited to older children or adults.
Dutch rabbits are tame and not easily stressed, so they’d be OK with younger children. Kids should be monitored when handling a rabbit. This is for the safety of the child and the rabbit.
Most children would love the opportunity to feed, groom, and stroke a rabbit. Pet therapy can be used in situations where children are struggling to engage. For example, if a child feels too nervous to attend pre-school, knowing there is a rabbit in the classroom could make all the difference.
Living in Harmony with Rabbits
Their biggest contribution is helping to keep invasive plants (weeds) under control. In turn, this encourages plant diversity and helps insects and birds to thrive. However, in some parts of the world, such as Australia, rabbits overgraze on crops and threaten native species.
According to PETA, our challenge is to develop a humane (non-kill) way of controlling wild rabbit numbers, especially in places where they are not a native species. If we can do this, our planet will reap the benefits of these wonderful creatures without suffering the damage caused by rabbits.
As far as pet rabbits are concerned, they are an eco-friendly choice. Not to mention, they have a positive impact on the mental and physical health of humans.