Domesticated rabbits are amazing pets with adorable personalities. But every rabbit you see eating grass in the garden or wandering and hiding between the bushes isn’t a domesticated one.
Wild rabbits look a little different from those that make perfect indoor pets. For example, they don’t have floppy ears and are more cautious around humans.
So, can a wild rabbit be domesticated? Should you keep a wild rabbit?
Keep on reading because we’ll answer these questions and more. So, let’s dive in.
Can a Wild Rabbit Be Domesticated?
You shouldn’t try to domesticate a wild rabbit if you find it in your garden or in the park. As a matter of fact, it’s illegal to keep a wild rabbit in most states unless you can get permission from the authorities.
If you find a wild rabbit in your garden or backyard, you should leave it where it is and not try to touch it or feed it, as this can actually harm the animal.
You’re only allowed to touch a wild rabbit if it’s injured. Wild rabbits are prone to injuries by house pets like cats and dogs and other predators in the wild.
They’re born to survive in the wild, unlike the domesticated ones that should never be left outside the house or their cage. These animals won’t try to approach you, and if you try to catch one, it will try to get away, kick, and scream.
On the other hand, domesticated rabbits are usually more tolerant of people and might try to approach you out of curiosity.
Wild rabbits, even babies, aren’t fond of living in captivity, unlike pet rabbits. If you keep a wild rabbit in an enclosure, it won’t be happy, and it will try to escape.
Because of stress, the wild rabbit will be subject to a lot of health issues, which will get sick, and might eventually shorten its life.
Moreover, if you decide to keep a wild rabbit without having the necessary papers, you’ll be required to pay a fine. In addition, the animal will be confiscated, which will subject it to more distress.
Since bunnies are fragile animals, it’s best to avoid this situation in the first place.
Even if it’s legal to keep wild rabbits in your state, they usually take a lot of time and effort to tame.
These animals are born to live freely in the wild, so they’ll be resistant to all types of human intervention. Unless the animals are only a few weeks old, taming and domesticating them will be quite challenging.
How Can You Tell the Difference Between a Wild Rabbit and a Domesticated One?
As long as you pay attention to the telltale signs, you’ll be able to tell a domesticated rabbit from a wild one.
- Most of the rabbits native to the US are wild rabbits. Domesticated rabbits come from breeds that are native to Europe.
- Wild rabbits are usually light brown with upright ears and big almond-shaped eyes. The fur of domesticated rabbits is usually spotted and comes in different colors, and their eyes are usually wide and round.
- The fur of wild rabbits is coarse compared to the fur of the domesticated ones.
- The faces of wild bunnies are narrower and longer than the faces of domesticated rabbits, which have chubbier cheeks and fuller faces.
- Most wild rabbits in the US belong to the cottontail breed, and they grow to a particular size because they don’t eat much and move a lot. Domesticated rabbits eat special food and treats, so they tend to be chubbier.
- Dwarf and giant rabbits are usually domesticated and kept as pets.
- Wild rabbits tend to travel in groups to protect themselves. If you see a bunny wandering on its own, it’s probably somebody’s pet, and it’s lost.
- Wild rabbits move fast and with confidence because they know the area and where they can hide safely from predators. On the other hand, domesticated rabbits are often timid and scared when they’re exploring new territory, so they will move slowly.
- Domesticated bunnies are friendly because they’re used to humans. A domesticated rabbit will approach you because it knows that you can provide food and safety.
- Wild rabbits seem more nervous and cautious than domesticated rabbits. Even if you try to keep one, it will rarely bond with you in the same way a pet rabbit does.
What Should I Do if I Find a Rabbit in My Garden?
If you’re not sure whether this rabbit is wild or domesticated, you should wait. Giving the animal time to interact with you will help decide whether it’s a wild or pet rabbit that got lost.
You should never force an animal to interact with you in both cases. If you run towards a wild or a domesticated rabbit, you’ll probably scare the animal off.
Moreover, rabbits, wild and domesticated, are nervous and easily scared. Holding the animal by force can cause cardiac arrest and kill it on the spot.
Instead, you should wait until the rabbit approaches you. If it does, then it’s probably a lost domesticated rabbit that needs your help.
Should I Rescue an Abandoned Baby Rabbit?
A lot of people feel alarmed when they find a litter of wild baby rabbits hidden somewhere. The little animals always look helpless, and this might push you to rescue them because you think that their mother has abandoned them.
However, you shouldn’t do that. Mothers usually hide their babies when they go look for food.
Since baby bunnies are scentless, predators are unable to find them, so they’re perfectly safe.
If the babies still have their eyes closed, they’re probably still less than ten days old. And if they look well-fed and are sleeping next to each other, their mother is probably nearby and hasn’t abandoned them.
When you touch a baby bunny, your scent sticks. Although the mother won’t reject the baby, the scent can attract predators like cats or dogs.
But if you take the baby rabbit away, you’re actually subjecting it to great danger. Baby bunnies need to feed on their mother’s milk for at least eight weeks, and depriving them of this milk affects their growth because they won’t have access to necessary nutrients.
This is why babies that are removed from the nests rarely survive. Moreover, the mother feels extremely sad and stressed if she can’t find her babies.
By removing a baby bunny from its nest, you’re actually harming both the mother and the baby.
It’s always best to leave baby rabbits where they’re found because their mother is probably nearby and coming soon with food. As a matter of fact, the baby rabbits’ survival rate decreases significantly if you remove the animals from the nest or remove the nest itself.
You can check whether the babies have been abandoned or not by stretching two strands of string in a crisscross fashion across the nest’s opening.
Take a look at the strings after 24 hours. If they have moved, then the mother comes home with food for her litter.
If the strings are still intact, then you need to take these wild baby rabbits to the vet because they won’t be able to survive on their own.
Some kids and adults are still curious and might accidentally touch a baby rabbit in the wild.
If it’s absolutely necessary and you need to examine the little animals for injury, wash your hands carefully and rub them in the grass and soil around the nest to conceal your smell.
If the nest has been accidentally destroyed by a curious dog or your lawnmower, build another one in a nearby location. The mother will still be able to find her babies, and they will be safe.
Why Shouldn’t I Feed Wild Baby Rabbits?
Baby rabbits have delicate bodies and specific feeding needs that you won’t probably be able to fulfill. If you try to feed a baby rabbit, you might accidentally kill it.
Wild rabbits, both mature and babies, don’t tolerate handling by humans. A rabbit might seem calm because it’s actually too scared that you might be trying to kill it.
These animals get extremely scared of loud noises, so the excitement of your children or the noises of house appliances are enough to scare a bunny to death.
You can’t use water or milk to rehydrate a baby rabbit, and if you try to feed it before it’s rehydrated, it will die.
Feeding the rabbit in the wrong way will push fluids into its lungs and kill it.
What Should I Do if I Find an Injured Wild Rabbit?
If you find an injured wild rabbit that seems badly injured or shows signs of bleeding, you can do the following until help arrives.
- Sit or lie down so the rabbit doesn’t feel that you’re a big creature that is trying to kill it. By sleeping on the ground, you’ll look less intimidating to this small and fragile animal.
- Offer a trail of food that leads to you, and watch if the rabbit is able to move. It might come and eat and then move away.
In this case, repeat the process until the animal understands that you won’t cause any harm.
- If the animal is unable to move, cover its head and body with a warm blanket or towel to soothe it.
- Wear newly washed clothes, especially if you have a pet in the house. If you smell like another animal, the rabbit might think of you as a predator that is trying to kill it, and this can actually scare it to death.
- Put on a pair of gloves and put the animal in a crate or box.
- Cover the box with a blanket and keep it in a quiet and dark place.
- Contact a vet or a wildlife rehabilitator to come and rescue the animal. But, you should never try to rescue it yourself because you might hurt it furthermore.
What Should I Do if My Cat or Dog Brought a Wild Rabbit?
Cats and dogs are considered natural predators of wild rabbits and might catch them. If your pet brings a wild rabbit, you need to seek professional help.
Puncture marks might be invisible and still cause internal damage to the bunny’s organs. The saliva from your cat or dog also carries a lot of bacteria that might harm and even kill the rabbit.
This is why you need to take the rabbit to the vet as soon as possible to make sure that it receives the necessary treatment. The animal should be given a suitable antibiotic within hours, or it will die.
To avoid these incidents, you should check your garden and backyard periodically for bunny nests to make sure that there are no animals that your pet cat or dog might hurt.
If you find a nest, keep your pet inside until the mother has nursed her litter and they are able to leave your property.
What Will Wildlife Rehabilitators Do when You Tell Them About the Presence of an Injured Wild Rabbit?
Wildlife rehabilitators are trained employees who know how to approach and handle wild rabbits and other wild animals.
They will come to pick up the animal, and they have a team of trained staff and vets who will be able to take care of the animal until it’s healthy enough to be released back into the wild.
What Should You Do if a Pet Rabbit Approaches You?
Pet rabbits can be found in the wild for several reasons.
Unfortunately, some pet owners release their rabbits intentionally because they’re unable to take care of them or unintentionally by leaving the enclosure’s door open.
These pet owners are actually sending the pet rabbit to its death because this animal isn’t trained to survive in the wild, find food, seek shelter, or protect itself from predators.
Some pet rabbits also dig tunnels from their enclosure to end up somewhere else. If the pet’s owner is keeping it in the garden, the rabbit might dig a tunnel that takes it to your garden or to a public park.
Pet rabbits get disoriented easily, so they won’t be able to get back home, even if their enclosure is located nearby.
After you’ve ensured that the rabbit you’ve found is actually a domesticated rabbit, you need to check its health and try to reunite it back with its owner.
Check the Rabbit’s Health
A domesticated rabbit, unlike a wild one, will most probably try to approach you. This animal is scared and knows that you, as a human, can protect it and feed it.
Here’s what to do to check its health.
- Wear a pair of gloves before touching a rabbit. Rabbits, whether domesticated or wild, can carry a lot of diseases that can make you extremely sick.
- Avoid making any sudden movements, as these can scare the animal even if it’s trying to approach you.
- Make sure that you’re talking in a low and calm voice. Ask your children, if they’re around, to remain calm.
- Talk in a rhythmic tone to soothe the animal and calm it down because it’s probably terrified.
- Instead of touching or carrying the animal, try to put it in a cat or dog carrier. Rabbits can easily get scared if you try to touch them, so use food as bait to encourage the animal to get into the carrier on its own.
- Offer fresh fruits, vegetables, and water. A lost rabbit is probably hungry and thirsty.
- Measure the rabbit’s temperature using a remote thermometer. It should be between 100 and 103 degrees Fahrenheit. If it’s not, then the animal is probably dehydrated or suffering from exposure, and it needs professional help.
- Examine the rabbit for any visible injury or signs of bleeding. Don’t try to treat it if it seems sick or hurt.
Instead, head to the nearest vet to have it examined and treated.
Find the Rabbit’s Owner
Once you’ve secured the rabbit and made sure that it’s ok, it’s time to reunite it with its owners.
- If you head to the vet, ask about any missing rabbits. Some people will notify the vet’s office if they lose a pet in case someone shows up with it.
- The vet can tell if the rabbit is microchipped, which will facilitate finding its owners.
- Ask your neighbors if any of them has lost a bunny.
- Check the trees, lampposts, and windows of shops and cafés for missing pet posters. People usually hang posters with a picture of their pet when they can’t find it.
- Check your neighborhood’s page on Facebook and other social media platforms.
Domesticating a wild rabbit is illegal in most states, and even if it’s legal, it’s not recommended. These animals are born to survive in the wild and won’t enjoy life in captivity.
There are many differences between wild and pet rabbits, and one of the most important ones is that pet rabbits are more tolerant of humans.
If you find an injured or abandoned rabbit, you shouldn’t try to move it unless it’s badly hurt. If it tries to approach you, then it’s probably a lost baby rabbit.
In both cases, you should seek professional help because both domesticated and wild rabbits are extremely fragile and need special care.
I have a bachelor’s degree in Film/Video/Media Studies, as well as an associates degree in Communications. I began producing videos and musical recordings nearly 15 years ago. I am a guitarist and bassist in Southwest MI and have been in a few different bands since 2009, and in 2012 I began building custom guitars and basses in my home workshop as well. When I’m home, I love spending time with my three pets (a dog, cat, and snake) and gardening in my backyard. I also like photographing wild birds, especially birds of prey.