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?

10 Answers 10

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.

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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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

We have a 4+ year old eastern cotton tail living with us. He came into our home at about 3 weeks old. I found him on the front lawn, looked like a cat had gotten at him. I brought him in weighed him and guessed at age from that. I was going to release him at dusk, but there were 3 cats waiting where I had found him. Next day, neighbours dog was loose running in our yard. I figured a couple days wouldn't hurt. We fed him wild food from outside - dandelions, clover, alfalfa, weeds, sticks, all the stuff found on various Google sites. We also substituted him with soy milk(organic gmo free) which he just loved. We were also picking soy from farm field down the road for him - which made him go blind. I called a vet and they put me in touch with a wildlife rehab. We decided the soy must have been GMO. Once we stopped with the GMO soy his sight came back (I still give him organic I grow myself). Also - very important, the rehabilitator said give him organic rolled oats(He still eats them every day and loves them - make sure there are no additives or preserves in the bag of rolled oats as it can kill bunny). She also gave us a bag of pellets - which he refused to touch. We even purchased a new bag of pellets just in case - he won't touch pellets. In the winter he ate stored sticks from the fall, oats and dandelions from the grocery store. Another thing, he litter trained himself, from the first week in the house he always went back to his cage to do business. He is always free, rarely caged. We do have another house rabbit, he will have nothing to do with her and sleeps under our bed during the day while our domesticated bunny is out and about (domesticated is in hutch at night). We also have a dog - and this was when we realized we couldn't release our wild bunny. I left the bedroom door open one day when I was folding laundry, the dog was sleeping in the hall. The cotton tail walked over the dog as he went to check to see if the domesticated bunny was out. The dog is fine (although I would never leave them unattended). I then realized living with the dog smell in the house must have been enough to make him not scared of it. Anyways, we now have an eastern cotton tail living with us. He isn't tame per say, we can't hold him or pet him like the domesticated one - we didn't raise him that way as we weren't going to have him stay. He is a house rabbit. He prefers to eat his greens out of my hand. He loves to watch TV - loves it! He does binkies all over my furnature every day. He plays with the domesticated rabbits toys in front of her when she is in her hutch - just to bother her (he also plays with dog toys). He drinks water out of the dog bowl and not his own. He has a favorite chair. And over the last few months I have caught him sleeping on the bed with us at night. He is still very skittish, in a natural sort of way, not scared, but just in case sort of reaction. He is a lot like the domesticated when it comes to playing. If I play with a stick, he wants to play too and does binky bunny jumps. The rehabilitator said he would turn cross and wild at 3 years old, but he didn't. When I researched it, it seemed to be when a rabbit was caged. Again he isn't a pet, he is just part of our home and we respect his preferences. What bunny wants bunny gets... lol.

I own a wild cottontail. Saved it from a crow and a vet needed to help it with its wounds. The vet informed me that if I did keep it as a pet, they could not take it on as a client as it is illegal to own a wild rabbit. However, a couple of days later, she called to say she had contacted the authorities on my behalf anonymously to inquire about the situation and based on the circumstances could care for it. I was happy that my rabbit would have a vet. I take my cotton tail every three months for a nail trim and have had her spade. Having your wild rabbit fixed apparently calms them and helps with health issues like cancer as they age.
My experience has been positive. She is just over two years of age. She is toilet trained (all on her own). I feed her a variety of food stuffs, mainly Timothy hay and rabbit pellets (best quality is only a few extra bucks a bag), and supplement with lettuce mixes (I avoid iceberg and spinach at vets recommendation), blueberries as a treat. She also loves the rabbit sticks of bird seed (which I see wild rabbits eating at bird feeders). In summer I pick dandelions and clover ensuring they are from lawns not contaminated with spray). My cottontail lives with a mature Aussie that has always been calm around her. My rabbit even jumped onto the dog's back once when she was so eager to get a treat. She is rarely "locked up" except if we have a large crowd visiting. At this time I put her cage in a spare room or cover it with a blanket. She roams the back of the house evening to morning in a bunny proofed area doing lots of binkies and jumping. I get a kick out of watching her and love when she jumps up on me knocking the wind out of me. She prefers to sleep in a hollow next to her cage formed from a blanket covering half the cage. She enters her cage to eat and drink and use her toilet. Sometimes she may doze there. We keep her cage high, behind a love seat on a table, away from drafts. She is in the family room and part of the family and use to our movements and noise. She gets her alone time and sleep during the week days when we are at work. Is she a good pet? For us she is as we are a couple with no children. We accept that a few pets is all she wants for attention. She likes her nose rubbed. We have a mature dog that has a gentle nature as a herder. Not a pet if you have a noisy house with children. She is not a cuddle bunny. Get a domesticated rabbit if you want a cuddle bunny. She will always been skittish and on guard. We accept her for her wild nature and nocturnal lifestyle. We let her come to us. Cottontails especially females are solitary in nature. She is part of the household and we enjoy her.

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.

No Wild animals should be kept as pets. It is illegal. Plus, the fact that you asked if you need to feed it differently suggests you haven't even researched. The best bet to keeping the little one alive is taking it to a rehabilitation center. You must always keep it warm, as a rabbit's normal temperature is about 101 degrees Fahrenheit. To keep it warm, fill a sock with rice and heat it up, make sure it wont burn the bunny, then put it in a shoe box with holes poked in the lid with a soft cloth on the bottom. Then put the rabbit in. It should keep the rabbit warm while on the ride.

It is so kind and humane that you are caring for this orphan cottontail who had no mother to protect it, feed it, and teach it the ways of the wild. It would certainly have become hawk or coyote bait within hours without your intervention. In this special circumstance, in which the cottontail was all alone, you saved him! Bravo!

It's been several years since you asked the question, so I hope the cottontail is still with you and has free run of your home. They have such gentle spirits. I had a similar situation and had a cottontail sharing my home.

He would come and go as he pleased through a bunny door, but most of the time he chose to stay inside. Such a treat!

Cottontails are naturally quite skittish, but given complete freedom to retreat to one of his favorite hiding places whenever he felt the need, he happily co-existed with me and my domesticated rabbit.

He was sweet, gentle, and fascinating to observe. He didn't eat nearly as much as the domesticated rabbit -- he was so small. And he actually learned to use a litter box -- he wasn't perfect about it, but was very good about only urinating in his box and on one towel I had set up for that purpose.

Since you probably fed your cottontail by syringe he might have become accustomed to you holding him and petting him as he matured. If he didn't, that's quite natural considering his heightened flight instinct. He still might eat small pieces of banana from your hand, investigate you if you sit quietly near him, and feel comfortable enough with you that he'll eat in your presence, groom himself, and even nap.

The cottontail in my home was quite skittish so would run into hiding if I made sudden moves or twitched. And he usually scampered into hiding after any short period of socialization. It seemed he only liked to socialize for a short while, then needed to retreat and snooze.

He groomed himself very well -- he was always very clean.

Cottontails can establish relationships with domesticated rabbits, touch noses as a greeting, rest in their proximity, play and chase them, groom and be groomed, and learn domesticated rabbit behaviors. Not all will do all of these things, but they can socialize with, and trust domesticated rabbits.

The cottontail who had taken up residence in my home ate the same food as a domesticated rabbit: kale, green leaf lettuce, arugula, living wheat grass (nibbling blades from the growing plant), romaine, spinach, carrot tops, sweet bell pepper slivers (no seeds), cherry tomatoes (cut in sixths), dandelion greens and flowers, carrot slivers, baby bok choy, fresh long blades of fine fescue grass, timothy grass rabbit kibble/pellets, Kaytee sesame krunch-arounds, dried papaya bits, fresh banana, pear (no seeds), blueberries cut in quarters, cherries cut in sixths (without the seed), plum. He didn't care for cilantro, italian parsley, raspberries, or apples. He drank water from a small ceramic bowl.

He used a litter box that had a bowl of kibble and a few krunch-around or papaya bits as treats to encourage him to visit the box. He also used a towel that had a bowl of water, and a plate of kibble so he could eat and go at the same time.

Outdoors, he was more nervous and, after a few minutes, would usually bolt back indoors to safety.

Similar to a domesticated rabbit, he snoozed all day and was more active at dawn and dusk.

I hope this helps a little, and I hope your cottontail is happy and healthy!

p.s. As with Saber's Eastern Cottontail above, our cottontail loved to snooze under our beds. He had spots under three of them, each for a different time of the day/night.

  • A good answer, but two things you might want to add. 1. Wild rabbits will likely have fleas and parasites, all of which can transfer to your domestic bunny it is important to treat all the rabbits and visit the vet regularly 2. Legality, it is illegal in some place to keep a wild animal as pet. – James Jenkins Jun 5 '17 at 12:49
  • Thanks for your comment, James. 1) In the wild, alone & brand new, the cottontail kit had a low probability of parasites. User9 would've easily noticed fleas or missing fur & could treat it. 2) Other comments made User9 feel criminal. I commend User9 for saving the helpless orphan. (Mine could come & go freely through a bunny door. Some call exterminators, I just let him stay! He & the domesticated bunny first came to my yard as a pair, both fastidious about grooming their thick, glossy fur, both healthy with no skin problems or ticks, & ants wouldn't even crawl on them. Beautiful bunnies!) – BunnyBaby Jun 10 '17 at 1:43

protected by John Cavan Dec 18 '16 at 21:27

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