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I know from the question Can an adult feral cat be socialized/domesticated? and the somewhat related question Why are cats released as part of “spay and release” programs? that socializing a cat that has gone feral can be challenging.

If a domestic rabbit is released and later recaptured, can it be re-socialized?

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Yes; they can.

I am a volunteer with Rabbit Wranglers which is a local rabbit rescue. We are often presented with domestic rabbits who have been released as well as rabbits that have been kept in small cages without socialization for years.

Domestic rabbits released into the wild do not do well in fact most do not survive. Everybunny has a different personality so you can expect everybunny to have different social interactions regardless of their care (or lack of).

In my experience, the rabbits with the most difficult social issues tend to be the ones kept in small cages. They are also the most common rescues, so caged vs released may not be indicative of anything.

It is not uncommon for a released rabbit to be very cuddly and social immediately (or very shortly) after recapture. This is possibly due to a short time between release and re-homing. In any case the re-socialization is solely dependent on the rabbit's current social presentation.

Domestic rabbits are social animals that enjoy receiving grooming, and petting. In rabbit to rabbit interactions, the dominate rabbit will present it's head for the submissive rabbit to groom. In a rabbit to human interaction, the same applies, the rabbit will be dominate, and the person the submissive giver of pets.

Rabbits are prey animals, so they will run away if they feel threatened. Rabbits are also very territorial and will protect "their space" from creatures who they believe are trying enter "their space", and are not recognized as part of the pecking order (dominate/submissive).

The challenges in re-socialization are two fold.

  1. Keep the bunny from running away, so you can convince them you are not a threat.
  2. Convince the bunny, that you are the submissive giver of pets (many) and treats (few).

The least helpful thing you can do during re-socialization is reach into "their space" (i.e. cage) and try to pet them. They may even get upset if you try to clean their litter box. Both of these are privileges that you have not earned yet! If you give them a large place as their space (i.e. a whole bedroom) they may run from you when you try to approach them.

There are many variables but the following is probably the most practical approach for most families (rabbit/human).

  • Give your rabbit a private place that is "their space" it should be about 2 feet by 4 feet, but not less than described here. Optimally it should be at floor level, with a door at floor level so the can get in and out themselves when allowed.
  • A larger exercise area that is next to the smaller "their space". Generally this an exercise pen (sold by pet stores), in some cases the pen is made small to provide "their space" and opened during exercise and personal interactions.
  • If possible when it is time to clean the rabbit's "their space" allow them to freely make their way to the exercise area, then close off their space so you can clean without them being in it. If this is not possible, pick them up and place them in the exercise area, then clean. Your goal is to clean while they are not trying defend "their space".
  • Give the rabbit sufficient time alone in the exercise area to get the exercise they need. Hopefully a couple of hours per day.
  • Spend time in the exercise area with them. If you sit quietly they will come up to you. Offering pets and treats will encourage more visits, a steady progression to full socialization should be expected.
  • In some cases making the exercise area just big enough so you both fit can be helpful.

The above is the path to socializing the majority of rabbits, once completed you can expect the rabbit to be indistinguishable from one that did not have previous social issues, allowing for differences in personality. Your rabbit may or may not be a natural cuddle bunny, when you have completed socialization process, your rabbit will freely come to you and Demand to be petted/groomed, they will come when you call to offer them a treat, they will lay next to you on the floor and watch TV. Everything else is dependent on personality.

Cases of extreme difficult socialization process do occur. Even rabbits displaying Rabbit of Caerbannog tendencies have been successfully re-socialized in our rescue. In fact I am not aware of any rabbit that has not been or is not on it's way to a full social recovery.

For difficulties beyond this answer, reach out to your local rabbit rescue or post a new question here.

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