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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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3 Answers 3

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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