Can a timid wild cottontail be tamed into a snuggly pet bunny? When a fluffy baby rabbit is found lost in the woods, it tugs at the heartstrings to rescue it. But is adopting a wildling wise? What will it take to domesticate this skittish forest creature? Myths abound on befriending wildlife. To reveal fact from fiction, come hop down the rabbit hole into an adventure in rxabbit rehab! You’ll uncover the tricks and dedication needed to bond with a shy bunny. While challenges await, with patience and care, a rewarding interspecies connection just may form. So curl up as we discover if a happy home awaits Bugs and his furry untamed kin!
Can You Tame A Wild Baby Rabbit?
Wild baby rabbits, also known as wild cottontail rabbits, can be tamed if cared for from a very young age. However, taming a wild rabbit is not like domesticating cats or dogs. Wild rabbits maintain many of their natural instincts and behaviors even after being handled by humans as babies. With time, patience, and proper care, a baby cottontail rabbit can become quite comfortable around their human caretakers. However, they are still inclined to be skittish, timid, and prone to biting and scratching when frightened. Ultimately, a wild rabbit's survival instincts make total taming very difficult.
Cottontail rabbits found in the wild have not been bred for domestication like pet rabbits. They are hard-wired for life in the wild evading predators and foraging for food. Their nervous and high-strung temperament reflects generations of natural selection favoring rabbits that are alert and ready to flee danger. Even extensive handling from birth may only partially override those wild instincts.
A key factor is the age when a wild baby rabbit is taken in. In the first weeks of life, the rabbit forms its understanding of the world. Young rabbits handled gently and frequently during this period can become comfortable with their caretakers. But imprinting full domesticity requires early, constant, gentle human interaction. The older the rabbit, the more engrained its wild nature will be.
For any prospect of docility, a wild baby rabbit should be retrieved before 8 weeks old, with 4-6 weeks being ideal. Even then, the rabbit will likely never become as soft-tempered as a properly bred domestic rabbit. Much of the wildness is genetic – an evolutionary adaptation that cannot be entirely socialized away. With age, even tame cottontails often become more destructive, territorial, and aggressive. The strength of their natural instincts eventually overrides early human imprinting.
Ultimately, wild rabbits are challenging to keep as pets. With effort, some individuals may become quite tame and bonds can form. But expecting a friendly lap rabbit is unrealistic. Even the tamest cottontail will be shy, skittish, and independent compared to domesticated breeds. Releasing a well-bonded pet rabbit into the wild is very risky, however. Their survival skills are blunted and predators are a constant threat. Undertake taming a baby cottontail only with full commitment to caring for a timid, semi-wild pet.
When interacting with wild baby rabbits, it is important to be aware of the potential risk of diseases. Wild rabbits can carry a number of contagious illnesses, some of which can spread to humans. The most notorious rabbit diseases are myxomatosis and viral hemorrhagic disease.
Myxomatosis is a viral disease that affects rabbits and was deliberately introduced into some countries like Australia to control wild rabbit populations. It results in swelling of the skin around the nose and genitals and causes progressive blindness. Without treatment, myxomatosis leads to death within 14 days in approximately 90% of cases.
The myxomatosis virus spreads between rabbits via biting insects like mosquitoes and fleas. Wild rabbits are the primary carriers, but domestic rabbits are also at risk. People cannot catch myxomatosis directly from rabbits. However, handling infected rabbits can potentially spread infected fleas or their feces into the home environment. Maintaining good hygiene helps prevent any indirect spread to pets or humans.
There are vaccines available to help protect pet rabbits from myxomatosis. But the viruses have mutated into different strains, making complete immunity difficult. Treatment options are limited once a rabbit contracts myxomatosis. The best prevention is flea control and limiting contact with wild rabbits and their environments.
Viral hemorrhagic disease
Viral hemorrhagic disease (VHD) is another severe infectious viral disease affecting wild and domesticated rabbits. As the name suggests, the virus causes internal bleeding and leads to death in most cases. Mortality rates often exceed 90% in fully susceptible populations.
Like myxomatosis, VHD spreads via direct contact and on the mouthparts of biting insects. The virus also persists in the environment and can be picked up from contaminated feed or bedding. There are vaccines available, but they may not cover all strains of the virus.
The risk of VHD transmission from wild to domestic rabbits makes direct contact inadvisable. If handling wild baby rabbits, rigorous hygiene measures are vital. Isolating them from pet rabbits and thoroughly disinfecting hands and clothing helps protect against disease spread. VHD can also infect related species like hares and pikas. Overall, extreme caution is warranted around disease transmission when interacting with any wild lagomorphs.
Time and Effort
Caring for a wild baby rabbit requires an extensive investment of time and effort. Whether found injured or orphaned, the rabbit will need specialized care to survive. This involves providing the right environment, diet, socialization, and veterinary care. It also means committing the next 8-12 years to properly caring for the rabbit.
Young rabbits are extremely vulnerable. Without a mother, they need round-the-clock feedings and monitoring at first. A rabbit stomach milk formula or kitten milk replacer provides key nutrients. The feeding schedule must match that of a real mother rabbit. This means feeding every 2-3 hours, even throughout the night, for the first weeks.
Weaning onto solid food like hay and vegetables takes place around 4-8 weeks old. But sub-adult rabbits still need careful attention to flourish. This includes a proper diet, shelter, exercise, and companionship. Litter training a wild rabbit presents challenges but is possible. As prey animals, rabbits scare easily so a peaceful environment is essential.
Vet bills add further responsibility. Wild rabbits require vaccinations and can suffer stress-related illnesses. Parasites and injuries from their environment are common. Examinations should take place at least annually. Also, rabbits dislike travel, so travel to and from the vet will be stressful.
Overall, taming and providing for a wild baby rabbit requires stamina and dedication. The challenge is rewarding for some, but more than many people anticipate. Be realistic before taking in an orphaned wild rabbit. If unwilling or unable to provide extensive care, seek an experienced rabbit rescue organization instead.
Housing a wild baby rabbit with domestic pet rabbits is unadvisable. Cross-contamination of parasites and diseases between wild and domesticated stocks is too high a risk.
Viruses like myxomatosis and VHD are endemic in wild rabbit populations. An infected wild rabbit could pass these fatal illnesses to unvaccinated pet rabbits in shared living space. Even vaccinated pet rabbits are still at some risk. Complete isolation for at least 30-60 days is necessary when taking in any new wild rabbit.
Wild rabbits also carry external parasites like fleas, mites, ticks, and mange. These can rapidly spread to other animals in close contact. Dealing with a house-wide flea infestation is difficult and stressful for pets and owners. Keeping newly rescued wild cottontails quarantined helps avoid these issues.
With time and veterinary care, a wild rabbit can become parasite-free. After quarantine, bonding them with another spayed/neutered domestic rabbit may help socialization. But extensive monitoring for recurring health issues is required. The companionship can enrich their life as a domesticated pet. But careful precautions are vital for the health of all animals involved.
Wild baby rabbits tend to be quite nervous and high-strung, even more so than domesticated breeds. Sudden movements, noises, and unfamiliar environments stress them out easily. It takes patience and care to make a wild cottontail feel secure.
Begin by providing a non-threatening environment with hiding places. A proper rabbit hutch or cage with hiding boxes gives them security. Keep handling to a minimum at first. Sit nearby and let the rabbit adjust to your presence, voicing soft reassuring words. Avoid direct eye contact which can seem predatory.
Once the rabbit seems more settled, slowly introduce gentle petting and hand feeding of treats. This helps build positive associations with human touch. But forcing interaction will only drive them to hide. Let the rabbit approach you and dictate the pace of handling.
Continue providing a low-stress environment. Gently sweep/vacuum vs loud vacuuming. Play calming music and keep TV/radio noise down. Maintain a consistent routine for feedings and interactions. Consistency and quiet will help soothe their wild wariness over time.
Some inherent skittishness will always remain compared to domesticated rabbits. But with care not to overwhelm them, wild baby rabbits can become quite comfortable with their devoted caretakers.
Housing is a key consideration when taking in a wild baby rabbit. While indoor "house rabbits" are popular for pets, a wild rabbit is better suited to outdoor secure housing. An enclosed hutch or cage with a hiding box provides the physical and mental security prey animals need.
A minimum size of 6 x 2 feet for the hutch itself is recommended, with 8 x 4 feet being ideal. This allows room for food, water, litter box, toys, and hiding spaces. The enclosure should be raised off the ground and screened to prevent predators and insects getting in. A front door for access is necessary for maintenance and interacting with the rabbit.
Placement is also important. Choose a protected, shaded area but not in full sun or fully exposed to wind and rain. Avoid locations near stray cats, dogs, loud vehicles, or other hazards. Position the front door away from potential threats for the shy rabbit's peace of mind.
Inside, provide clean straw or hay bedding that allows burrowing. A secluded darkened hiding box gives needed security. Platforms encourage natural hopping behaviors. Toys stimulate active minds, but avoid plastic which can be ingested. Secure any latches since smart rabbits can learn to open them!
Daily cleaning is required to keep the hutch fresh and hygienic. Scoop waste, replace soiled bedding, wash all dishes. Thorough weekly disinfection prevents bacterial buildup. With attentive care, an outdoor rabbit hutch provides a safe haven for a rescued wild rabbit.
How To Trap A Wild Baby Rabbit
If you find a wild baby rabbit, trapping it is necessary before attempts to tame. Trying to capture a loose panicking rabbit rarely succeeds. Traps allow the rabbit to be retrieved humanely and with minimum distress. Here are trapping tips:
Use a specialized rabbit trap or repurposed wire cage trap. Ensure openings are smaller than the baby rabbit's head. Bait with food if the rabbit is weaned.
Place traps where rabbits hide or frequent. Near burrows and bushes are ideal sites. Avoid areas with pets or exposure to weather.
Check traps very frequently, at least every 2-4 hours. Remove any captured rabbits immediately. Leaving rabbits too long risks overheating, dehydration, and injury.
Cover traps with cloth or grass to provide security inside. Keep noise and activity around traps minimal. Checking quietly reduces stress.
Wear thick gloves when handling newly caught rabbits. Fear may provoke aggressive biting and scratching. Gently transfer to a secure carrier.
After capture, get medical attention. Veterinary examination checks for illness or parasites before introducing rabbit to other pets.
Never relocate wild rabbits far from their home area. Only release once fully healthy at original site. Their instincts are tuned to their familiar home terrain.
With care and the right equipment, trapping gives the best odds of successfully retrieving a wild baby rabbit for rehabilitation as a pet or for humane release. Monitor traps intently and constantly for the rabbit's well-being.
How To Domesticate A Wild Baby Rabbit
Domesticating a wild baby rabbit takes dedication, care, and affection. Here are some tips for best results:
Get the Baby Rabbit Used to You
Begin handling and cuddling the bunny for short periods multiple times daily. The more positive contact early on, the more it will consider you a caring guardian.
Wear a shirt or towel so the rabbit gets your scent. Let it snuggle in your lap during feedings. Talk, sing, and stroke it gently.
Allow the Rabbit to Run
- After a few weeks, allow short supervised hutch-time and explore sessions. Do not force interactions, let the rabbit approach you. Offer treats by hand to build trust.
Lie Down with It
- Once comfortable being handled, lie down and let the rabbit run around you and explore. Your relaxed posture is less threatening to timid wild animals.
Wear Newly Washed Clothes
- Your unsoiled scent will be strongest on freshly laundered clothing. This can help the rabbit bond with your scent and presence.
Leave A Trail of Food
- Scatter a food trail that leads up to you. The positive association of treats can overcome wariness of close contact.
Don’t Pick It Up
- Being swooped up triggers a prey animal's instinct to flee. Move slowly and allow the rabbit to step onto your hand/lap first before lifting.
With warm, gentle handling from a young age, a wild rabbit can become comfortable with its human caretaker. But also allow space when needed – forcing too much interaction causes more stress and timidity. Let its natural curiosity lead the way while ensuring positive associations with you through food rewards and calm handling.
Do Wild Baby Rabbits Make Good Pets?
Wild baby rabbits can make good pets with the right approach but have some drawbacks as companion animals compared to domesticated rabbits.
On the positive side, wild rabbits bond strongly to their caretakers, especially if raised from a very young age. They become quite interactive and can be litter trained. Their natural curiosity makes them entertaining to watch. And their athleticism and agility is remarkable.
However, some challenges need consideration before adopting a wild bunny. They tend to remain highly strung and prone to panic. Loud noises, new environments, and handling by strangers stresses them. They may bite or scratch if frightened. A peaceful, quiet home is essential for their well-being.
Wild rabbits are also often destructive with chewing habits that are hard to break. They may fail to consistently use a litter box. And monitering their health takes vigilance since they are prone to internal parasites and illnesses.
Overall, wild bunnies require an experienced owner fully committed to their specialized needs. For the right rabbit-savvy person, the experience can be extremely rewarding. But prospective owners should understand the skittishness and care needs inherent to these untamed pets. Where possible, a pre-bonded pair of wild rabbits may help them adjust better to domestic life.
Is It Legal to Keep A Wild Baby Rabbit?
The laws on keeping wild rabbits as pets vary significantly depending on location. In the United States, regulations are set at the state level. Some states like California prohibit owning any wildlife. Others allow captive-bred cottontail rabbits but not direct capture from the wild. And certain states have no restrictions on rabbit ownership from any source.
Some key considerations on the legality of wild rabbit pets:
In most cases, capturing wild rabbits directly is illegal without permits. Even "rescuing" sick or orphaned rabbits may be prohibited. Check regulations carefully.
Translocating wild rabbits away from their original location is not advised and often unlawful. Captured rabbits should stay in their home area when released.
Permits and licenses are required for wildlife rehabilitation in many states. Without proper licensing, caring for injured or orphaned wild rabbits may not be allowed.
Importing, selling, and owning domesticated cottontail breeds is constrained by permits in some states while fully lawful in others.
Municipal statutes may ban owning rabbits within city limits, or limit numbers. Zoning laws may affect housing rabbits outdoors.
To own any wild rabbit legally and ethically, substantial research into local laws is necessary. Licensed wildlife rehabilitators are the best qualified caretakers in most cases. For others, adopting domestic breeds from rabbit rescue organizations is recommended over unpredictable wild pets. When in doubt, contact state wildlife authorities for definitive guidance.
So in summary, wild baby rabbits can potentially be tamed but require extensive specialized care. Various risks and complexities are involved, including strict regulation in many regions. For most owners, choosing humanely bred domestic rabbits from rescues is the simplest and most advisable option. But for licensed rehabilitators, adopting orphaned wild bunnies can be very rewarding. Whichever path is chosen, the rabbit's welfare must be the top priority.