Wild rabbits, even with their narrower faces and brown fur, are just as adorable as pet rabbits.
If you find a baby wild rabbit abandoned in the wild or one who somehow ends up in your yard, you might wonder: Can I make a baby wild rabbit a pet?
No, you cannot domesticate a baby wild rabbit. For starters, it is not even legal in most states and many countries. However, if you live in a place where there are no such laws, it is not a good idea to remove the baby from its home in the wild.
As a matter of fact, your attempt to catch it may be so scary and stressful for the poor thing that it might cause a fatal heart attack. That is how delicate baby bunnies are, wild or not.
Yet, if you find a baby bunny wandering in your yard, try to determine if it’s wild or domesticated. Here are the key differences to look for.
Related: Can a bath really kill a rabbit?
Wild Rabbits Are a Different Species
One important thing to understand about wild rabbits is that they are not even related to your domesticated bunnies. They are species so different that cannot even breed together. Experts believe that the species may have split around 17,700 years ago. And the domestication of rabbits might have involved multiple genetic changes.
There some differences in their appearance and some in their behavior:
As for the appearance, most wild rabbit breeds found in the US have coarse brown coat, while pet rabbits have fluffier coat that is often spotted or white. Unlike popular pet rabbit breeds, wild rabbits have upright ears instead of floppy ears. Here it’s worth noting that some pet breeds might also have upright ears.
A prominent difference is in the shape of their head. Pet rabbits tend to have round and chubby faces while wild rabbits have long and narrow face. Even the eyes of wild rabbits aren’t as round as the eyes of pet rabbits.
Now, appearance may not always be the best way to tell the difference. There are some domesticated breeds, Netherlands dwarf domestic rabbit for instance, that look similar to the common cottontail wild rabbit. It is harder to tell the difference in young ones.
That is why it is a good idea to observe the wanderer for a while and notice how it behaves. See how confidently it roams around when it hasn’t spotted you and how scared it is after it senses you. When unaware of any hostile presence i.e. yours in this case, a wild rabbit will roam more confidently than a pet one. Pet rabbits are usually timid in a new environment.
On the flipside, a wild one will get more scared once it senses your presence. That brings us to the next big reason why you shouldn’t try to pet a baby wild rabbit.
Wild Rabbits are Too Scared of You
One of the biggest reasons to not attempt to domesticate or even catch a wild rabbit is that they are too scared of humans. Scared to death, literally!
Keep in mind that they are prey animals, and we are the predator. And you cannot make them believe otherwise. Even a baby rabbit will instinctively run away from a human.
They will not approach you as a pet rabbit might. They will be scared of you and might run away and hide at your sight. If you attempt to run after it, the stress of that chase might prove fatal for the little baby.
That is one thing common in both wild and domesticated bunnies. They have delicate hearts and can die of shock and stress. Just to give you an idea of how delicate bunnies are – even a bath can kill a rabbit.
What to Do With an Abandoned Nest of Wild Rabbits
People are usually tempted to keep a baby wild rabbit when they assume it is abandoned by the mother. In summer, it is not unusual to find an entire nest of baby rabbits that seems abandoned. However, it is not always abandoned.
No one actually ran over the mother bunny. She is not there because she doesn’t need to be there all the time. She will return when she needs to nurse the babies and leave the nest as soon as it’s done. That may just be her their trick to keep predators away from the nest.
As tempted as you may be, know that the babies have a better chance of survival in the wild than in captivity. However, if you are sure of the mother’s demise somehow, the best thing to do is to call wildlife rehabilitation center in your area and let them take care of it the right way.
Baby Wild Rabbits Can Be Dangerous for Other Pets
A baby pet rabbit may not be strong enough to put up a fight with your pets, but it can hurt them in other ways.
First of all, you need to realize that wild bunnies may be carrier of various diseases and parasites that pets may never even get exposed to – unless you bring in the wildling.
Now while the wild ones may have developed immunities and they do transfer it to their younglings through milk, those immunities may not last if they do not get enough of mother’s milk. That makes them vulnerable to all those diseases and parasites that lurk in the wild. When you bring them home, you bring in those diseases and expose your pets to those risks as well.
Wild ones may also carry Tularemia or rabbit fever, which can infect other animals as well as humans in the house.
If not parasites and diseases, baby wild rabbits will definitely have fleas. While you can take care of your pet rabbit’s fleas with a flea spray or powder, these treatments may not work on the fleas living in a wild rabbit’s coat.
Do wild baby rabbits survive without mother?
Baby wild rabbits who aren’t 4 weeks of age have little chance of survival without mother. Yet, they have a better chance to survive in the wild then in captivity. If you find an orphaned nest, call wildlife rehabilitators and let them move the nest to somewhere safer.
Are wild rabbits dangerous for my kids?
Baby wild rabbits may not attack or bite your kids but they can be dangerous in other ways. There are reports of wild rabbits infecting humans with Tularemia, also known as the ‘Rabbit Fever’.
Is it Illegal to catch a wild rabbit?
Many states in the US prohibit catching wild animals to keep them as pets. In some states, hunting is allowed while in others, catching a wild rabbit is allowed only if it is causing a nuisance. However, there are more humane ways to deal with the problem like installing a rabbit fence.
Now you know the definite answer. You cannot and should not pet a baby wild rabbit. If you feel it is abandoned or orphaned, let authorities take care of it the right way. Even with your best intentions, you can do more harm than good. If you really love rabbits, there are numerous domesticated breeds to choose from.