Rabbits are known around the world for their big ears, buck teeth, and their ability to run very fast. You might see wild rabbits dash across your lawn, or you see pictures of them running with their hind legs all the way up by their face. Rabbit bodies were designed to give them speed so they can dash away from their many, many natural predators.
On average, rabbits have a maximum running speed of 30mph. Some hares can even reach speeds of 45mph. However, most rabbits do not reach these top speeds because they run in zig-zag motions to better evade predators.
The domestic rabbits that we keep as pets will most likely never reach these top speeds. Staying safe and sound in our houses keeps our rabbit companions from having to practice high speed running. But even pet rabbits need space to exercise and run around as nature built them.
Speed of a rabbit
A rabbit’s anatomy is built to allow them to run very fast. Their powerful hind legs give them the ability to accelerate quickly from a standstill position. This means they can bolt away at a moment’s notice. Their hind legs also allow them to quickly change direction, as they zig-zag to evade predators.
A rabbit’s body was not made for long distance running, but instead they are excellent sprinters. When we look at their top speeds, these are not sustainable numbers. Instead they are the bursts of speed rabbits can achieve while they run away and try to find a place to hide from their pursuers.
There are many different species of rabbit. Most of these species have not had their speed directly studied and can only be assumed based on other similar species. Cottontail rabbits and hares have received the most attention.
A group of rabbits that inhabit areas around the the world are cottontail rabbits. They make up the genus Sylvilagus and total 20 different species of rabbits. Of these the Eastern Cottontail, native to North America, has been studied most. These rabbits are small, usually weighing only around 2-4 pounds. Cottontail rabbits run at a maximum speed of about 30mph. However because of their zig-zag running motion, they usually only reach about 18mph.
A Jackrabbit is often referenced as the fastest known species of rabbit. However, Jackrabbit’s are actually a species of hare. Hares are in the same family as rabbits, but they are larger with proportionally bigger and stronger hind legs. For this reason, most species of hare are able to run quite a bit faster than rabbits.
Jackrabbits can reach top speeds of 45mph. They can also leap a whole 10 feet in a single jump! However, like rabbits, hares have little endurance and can only have these bursts of speed for short periods of time. If they cannot find a place to hide they are likely to be overrun by predators who have more endurance.
European Rabbits (domestic)
Domestic rabbits are descended from a species that is native to Europe. They are typically bigger than cottontail rabbits (though some are bred to be smaller). European rabbits are known to reach top speeds of about 35mph, however most domestic rabbits do not reach these high speeds.
Most animals have a more difficult time running uphill than down. Rabbit anatomy gives them a unique advantage in these uphill races. With back legs that are significantly longer than their front legs, rabbits and hares are easily able to leap up hills and inclines. It’s possible that they can even run faster uphill than they do downhill. This means if rabbits can find an incline to run up, they may be able to outpace their fast pursuers and have a better chance of making it to safety.
Rabbits vs. the fastest
Rabbits are very fast animals, but so are other creatures that share their environment. Running away fast gives them a chance at evading predators, but in order to avoid being captured, their best defense is to hide or keep from being noticed in the first place.
How do rabbits measure up to other fast animals?
Domestic rabbits are fast. They’re certainly good at evading our hands when we’re trying to pick them up. But in most cases they are not fit enough to reach their top speeds. Rabbits that feel safe at home have no need to run so fast.
Even if they’re not running at top speeds, rabbits do need space to run. Regular exercise helps to keep them happy and healthy. It’s important for you to give your pet rabbit time and space to exercise daily so that they can continue to be your happy companion.
Have you ever noticed your rabbit race around the room in circles? Maybe they even throw in a weird twisting jump occasionally as they are zooming around the room. This kind of running is what pet rabbits do when they are very happy. That weird jump that they do is called a binky, and it is literally a bunny-jump-for-joy.
It’s most common to see this behavior in rabbits when they are excited about something. For example, they may know that it’s the time of day that they usually get their daily leafy greens. The rabbit is zooming around because they are so excited about mealtime.
Young rabbits will zoom more often than older rabbits, much the same way that children will get more visibly excited than adults. As rabbits age they’ll calm down a little, and the high speed zooming will become less frequent. You’ll still see your rabbit zoom occasionally though. Sometimes they’re just too happy to stand still.
How much exercise do pet rabbits need?
Rabbits need about 2-4 hours of time out to exercise every day. The amount will vary depending on the activity levels and health of your rabbit, and it doesn’t need to be all in one chunk of time. Your rabbit will likely be active and explore for 10-15 minutes and then rest for a bit, and then go back to exploring. It’s best to give them as much time out of their enclosure as you can to give them more exercise. For my rabbits, as long as I’m home I will keep the enclosure open for them to hop around.
Indoors vs outside
I recommend keeping your pet rabbit’s living area indoors, but it’s okay to allow them some time outside to exercise. Letting your rabbit have some time to exercise in a room in your house or apartment will also be enough space for a rabbit. Or you can even use a harness and leash to bring your rabbit out for walks.
The minimum amount of space you should give your rabbit for their daily exercise is 24 square feet, but you can always give them much more space if it’s available. Letting them hang out with you in the living room or your bedroom, for example, will give them space to run and be a happy bunny.
You can also set up an outdoor run for your rabbit. It should have the same minimum size as the indoor space. You also want to make sure you give your rabbit some shaded areas to retreat to and remove any potentially poisonous plants.
- Cohen, Robert. “Speed of Rabbit or Hare.” The Physics Factbook. 2001. https://hypertextbook.com/facts/2001/RobertCohen.shtml.
- “Eastern Cottontail Rabbit.” National Geographic. https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/mammals/e/eastern-cottontail-rabbit.
- Guy Stanton Ford. “Compton’s Pictured Encyclopedia: To Inspire Ambition, to Stimulate the Imagination, to Provide the Inquiring Mind with Accurate Information Told in an Interesting Style, and Thus Lead Into Broader Fields of Knowledge, Such is the Purpose of this Work.” F.E. Compton, pgs. 1583-1585. 1922. Accessed: https://books.google.com/books?id=BFJHAQAAMAAJ&dq.
- “Speed of Animals.” Infoplease. https://www.infoplease.com/math-science/biology/plants-animals/speed-of-animals.
Can rabbits defend themselves against predators?
When rabbits are cornered, they are able to use their claws, teeth, and strong hind legs to attempt to fight off predators and defend themselves. However, a rabbit’s best defense is their ability to sense predators early and run away before they are spotted.
Why do rabbits have long ears?
The main reason rabbits have long ears is to help them regulate their body temperature in hot climates. The long, cupped ears, also help rabbits to identify where predators are coming from and give them the chance to escape quickly.