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We had a cottontail rabbit that made a nest near our garden. She had a litter of babies about 2 weeks ago but the other day she was hit by a car. I checked on her babies this morning and only one is still alive. We are going to try and raise it and were thinking about making it a pet.

Can wild rabbits raised as a baby be good pets?

We have other rabbits will the wild rabbit present any risks to them?

Do I need to feed the wild rabbit any differently than a domestic rabbit?

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Just a comment, I had a rabbit farm with more than 50 rabbits, rabbit s are so sensitive and need a lot of care an high level of hygiene. One wrong meal can kill it. – Sameh Jan 30 at 7:41

There are several legal issues with making wildlife into a pet, these laws vary by location and any response on that topic would be out of scope for this site.

It happens that Saturday; I met a woman who's children found a baby cotton tail rabbit and kept it in captivity for several years (I believe she said 13). It was particularly interesting to note, that the rabbit did not appear to become the friendly creature we expect with domesticated bunnies. But this is not in itself conclusive, as any animal who is not suitable handled and trained, will not become a "suitable pet".

I spend a lot of time doing domestic bunny eduction, and interacting with the public who have used varied methods of interaction with a "pet bunny". In this case I got the impression that the care provided to the wild bunny was neither significantly better or worse then average domestic care, in the end I left the conversation feeling that the experience was not as rewarding for the family or the bunny as one would expect with a domestic bunny.

Again depending on local laws your local shelter may or may not be able to intake wildlife. You may wish to consider searching for local "wild animal rescue" organizations, and discussing the situation with them.

You should keep the wild bunny separated from your pet bunnies, as most if not all of the illnesses and parasites that infect wild rabbits can cross to your domestic bunny.

In the end if you want a bunny to be a good pet, obviously the best results will be with one of the domestic breeds.


Last evening I attended a presentation by Jill Argall who is the Director of the Wildlife Center for the Pittsburgh Animal Rescue League (ARL) they intake both domestic and wild cotton tail rabbits (the public often does not know the difference). She said that the difference in response to humans was significant between the wild and domestic species of rabbits. They have good results with releasing young weened cotton tails rabbits as well adults who are brought injured.

The ARL has both wildlife and domestic animal programs. Domestic rabbits would transfer to the shelter system, to be placed for adoption. Wild rabbits would stay in the wildlife system to prepared for release.

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+1 for keeping them separate – starsplusplus Jan 28 '14 at 14:29

Can wild rabbits raised as a baby be good pets?

The answer is probably not. You can generally raise an animal from a baby to not fear humans. But domesticated animals, including rabbits, have been specially bred to reduce the factors that make wild animals dangerous.

Domestication is when humans take a plant or animal species and, through selective breeding, transform the species into something beneficial for humans.

A single wild animal can be tamed if it is captured at a young age and raised with a lot of careful human nurturing. But this is strictly an acquired trait, and a single taming does not suddenly make the entire species domesticated. SOURCE

Tamed just means that it does not fear a few specific humans not that its natural instincts and needs have been suppressed. You can may even be able to teach it some tricks, but it will still have the natural needs and instinctual fears. One of those is that humans should be feared.

Rabbits are very scent oriented. Their sight is highly attuned to movement and basic shapes rather than visual recognition. A new persons scent is found the rabbit will not have been trained to trust that scent and will likely be very afraid.

Rabbits have 100 million scent cells, making for a very keen sense of smell, which they use to identify other rabbits and animals. The nasal membrane is very sensitive to perfumes, chemicals and dust, and these agents can cause upper respiratory problems for the rabbit.

The rabbit's sense of smell is far more developed than that of the human. Moveable folds inside the rabbit's nose assist in the detection of scent. The sense of smell in a rabbit is present at birth, allowing a newborn to find his mother's teat. Rabbits shift their noses up and down when trying to identify a scent; this is called "nose blinking. SOURCE

We have other rabbits will the wild rabbit present any risks to them?

As James and Xiaohouzi pointed out in their excellent answers wild rabbits are exposed to parasites and diseases that domestic rabbits are not. A baby rabbits immune system has been boosted by drinking its mothers milk so it has transferred resistance to some of them that a domestic rabbit does not have. And once the it stops drinking mothers milk it will not have it either.

The most likely potential disease to cause infant/weanling mortality is mucoid enteritis. Although it does occur occasionally in weanlings who have been fed by their mothers, it is seen much more often in hand-fed babies and those who are removed from their mothers before eight weeks of age. It manifests as severe diarrhea, anorectic behavior (refusal to eat) and may contain blood or mucous. It also causes bloating and gas.

Mucoid enteritis is caused by a pathogenic bacterial overgrowth, usually of Clostridium spiroforme, in the hindgut (cecum) of the baby, as the normal microflora are attempting to establish. These normal microflora help the baby achieve adult digestive capabilities.

Adult rabbit stomach pH is 1-2, but a neonates' stomach pH is much higher; the stomach and gastro-intestinal tract of neonates is also sterile (containing no living microorganisms.) As babies wean off of milk onto adult solid foods, the gut pH gradually changes by getting a lot of help from the mother's changing milk constituents.

By ten days of age, the babies eyes will have opened, and they will begin eating their mother's cecotropes, (also called "night feces" or "cecal droppings"). Cecotropes help provide the babies with essential nutrients and later, inoculate the hindgut with the essential flora that is needed to metabolize a diet that is changing from milk to solid foods. SOURCE

Do I need to feed the wild rabbit any differently than a domestic rabbit?

Yes. Domestic rabbits have been bred to thrive on a diet of pelletized food and hay. Wild rabbits need more diversity and different food stuffs than its domesticated counterparts. Be aware that even domestic bunnies that have to be hand fed(with in the first 3 weeks) have a 90% mortality rate. If you insist on trying to save a wild baby bunny, this paper from Univerity of Miami is an excellent guide. But as the paper notes you and the baby will most likely be better off if it is turned over to a animal service for treatment.

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Just want to add that certain breeds of rabbit you find in the wild could be either pest species, endangered (example) or be a limited link in a food chain.

Wild animals are best left in the wild, but in situations where wild animals cannot look after themselves and are not a pest species there are organisations with people who have experience in rehabilitating and releasing animals back into the wild (see WIRES in Australia).

Another thing that just came to mind, as per your question, if you take a wild animal in and have it in close proximity to other animals including domestic breeds and then you release the wild animal (or it escapes) you run the risk of introducing a disease into a wild population.

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It's not a good idea to take a wild animal into your house accept in very rare situations. Baby cottontail rabbits are very hard to kept alive without their mother for a number of reasons. First, they have poor immune systems and the little immunity they do have comes from the mother's milk. Without that they often die. Also-you can not buy rabbit formula at a local pet store. Rabbits formula is very different from human, dog or cat formula. Rabbits are vegetarians and don't digest those formulas well. Also, a mother rabbit usually only nurses her babies for about 5 minutes per day. Therefore each baby probably only gets about a minute to nurse in a 24 hour period. Therefore the mother rabbit's milk is extremely high in calories and fat. That is not the case with dog and cat formulas you will find at local pet stores.

Rehabilitation of baby cottontail is very hard but it is not impossible. I actually found a baby cottontail when it's eyes were still closed. It was likely only 2-3 days old. It was laying alone on a hot sidewalk. It was probably dropped by a cat that removed it from it's nest. The nest could not be found and the rabbit looked close to death so I brought it inside. I knew nothing about baby rabbits at the time but I read all I could. I first hydrated the bunny with drops of pedialyte and an eye dropper. I then switched to puppy formula mixed with probiotics for rabbits. I kept the bunny in a covered aquarium with a heat lamp on one side. It's a very long story from there but that was two years ago and the cottontail is now a house pet. He eats rabbit food, hay and veggies like a domestic rabbit would. He lives inside my house in a huge 3 floor cage and is liter box trained! He's skittish and doesn't like to be picked up. However, he lets me pet him and he will eat out of my hands. I made the decision not to release him to the wild because I felt he probably would not survive. I live in the woods with Bobcats, fishers, fox and coyotes. The rabbit had learned to ring a bell when his food dish is empty. Obviously, that is not going to work well in the woods. He seems very happy. I'm sure he doesn't miss the wild since he has never experienced it.

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My husband destroyed a lone infant cottontail nest. I have been feeding her kitten formula and she is now 138 grams and about one month of age. I have been supplementing her formula with parsley, carrot top greens, grass, and spinach. She will sometimes eat carrots and apples. I had to give her probiotics I bought with a kitten rescue kit when she developed enteritis after three days in captivity. She has gained weight and is maturing. I purchased the powder formula KMR by PetAg. I started feeding her slowly with a 1 mL oral syringe and graduated to a 3 mL oral syringe when she started eating more at one feed. Feed the baby very slowly because they will aspirate, and if probiotics are needed a probiotic gel works well. Just a ball-point pen tip worth of the probiotic gel once a day until diarrhea resolves.

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I find it fascinating that in other countries it is illegal to take a rabbit from the wild (not fully educated in this, so excuse me if I'm wrong). In New Zealand if you take a wild animal that is considered a pest from the wild you are not allowed to return it to the wild.

Anyway, I have a young wild rabbit, here NZ. The cats brought him home and he must have escaped. When i got him he had just left the nest. He was tiny, maybe 3 or 4 weeks old. Anyway I've had him for 3 weeks now. Never feed him milk as he was happy with grass. And he is just so unbelievably tame. He free ranges inside the house, and has a large cage outside. He is toilet trained, not that i made much effort to teach him. He eats everything a tame rabbit would, loves cuddles. The only thing I would say that is different about him is he can get destructive when he wants attention. By far he is the nicest rabbit i have ever had, and I've had a few.

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Rabbits are not native to New Zealand, Domestic rabbits were commonly carried on sailing ships and sometimes released on islands It is very possible you actually have a domestic house rabbit. Our question here has great info about the difference between 'wild' & 'domestic' rabbits – James Jenkins Jan 30 at 0:35

I have a 8 week old cottontail rabbit named peanut. We got her sexed to find out if she was a boy or a girl. She is a GIRL!!! I had her since she was a week old. My cat caught her. We couldn't find her nest so I kept her. She is a GREAT pet. She loves to be cuddled,held, and loves to run around in her giant exercise ball. I feed her grass and other plants because that is what she would eat in the wild. She loves my dogs. So yes cottontail rabbits CAN make good pets.

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Thanks for sharing your experience - we tend to prefer answers that have some references to back up personal experiences. Could you edit your answer to add in some more reference information? Things like your vet's comments, something you've found online that says you can keep wild rabbits as pets and maybe some of the possible issues that can arise. This would make your answer a good one instead of just a story of your experience. – Kate Paulk May 16 at 12:18

I have had a 9 week old cottontail from 2 weeks old. I have an indoor hutch and an outdoor hutch I bought online. I always bring him in at night and have given him evaporated goats milk since I've had him. I also give him Timothy hay, alfalfa pellets, fresh grass, and a hibiscus flower every morning. He plays with my cat, who sits for hours by his cage. I handle him often, letting him run free on my screened porch a few hours a day. He's a great pet, and I will have him neutered around 5 months old.

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@KittyConsultant cottontails by defination are wild,they are very different from domestic rabbits. They don't even have the same number of chromosomes. – James Jenkins Jun 26 at 11:02

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