Can You Keep a Wild Rabbit as a Pet?

Find out if you can keep a wild rabbit as a pet in this Howcast video featuring bunny lover Amy Sedaris and rabbit expert Mary E. Cotter.

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Rabbits make wonderful pets. If you're thinking of getting one, check out these videos: Actress Amy Sedaris, who is a loving mom to her own pet bunny, helps rabbit expert Mary E. Cotter, Ed.D., LVT answer all your questions about how to take care of a pet rabbit. It's not always easy, but it's worth the work.

 
 

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Speaker 1: A lot of people call during the Spring and Summer because they've come across a nest of wild baby rabbits. They assume that the mother has abandoned the babies. Usually that's not the case and it's usually not the case that the mother has been hit by a car or anything like that. In fact, rabbits don't nurse their animals steadily the way dogs or cats do. They don't stay with the babies. They will nurse their babies once, sometimes twice a day, just for a few minutes, and in five minutes a baby rabbit can actually consume 20% of its body weight in mother's milk. Speaker 2: Whoa. Speaker 1: Typically the mother will come to the nest, quickly nurse the babies, and leave the nest. And this is a way of keeping predators away from the nest. So people will assume, when they find a nest of baby rabbits, that that nest has been abandoned by the mother and they'll think this is a great opportunity to get to know wild rabbits first hand. They'll bring them in the house and then they'll call us and they'll say, 'How do you take care of a wild rabbit?' And what people don't understand, believe it or not, wild rabbits and domestic rabbits are not related. They can't interbreed. Speaker 2: Right. Speaker 1: They're different creatures and the care involved is completely different. So I always tell them to get in touch with the nearest licensed wildlife rehabilitator. It's not even legal in most states to have a wild rabbit in your possession, so if in fact you have a baby rabbit, take it to a wildlife rehabilitator. Better yet, if you see a nest that you think has been abandoned, call a licensed wildlife rehabilitator and ask for advice about what you should do, rather than picking up the rabbits. A wild rabbit in possession in a household doesn't live very long. People are not informed on how to take care of them. They don't do well in captivity at all and you may be responsible for the rabbit's death instead of for helping the rabbit, which is probably what you wanted to do. And the related issue to this is many people who buy rabbits for their children at Easter, or as birthday gifts or whatever, soon enough the child stops taking care of rabbit, which shouldn't have been the child's job to begin with, of course. But the child stops taking care of the rabbit and the parents, without thinking twice about it, let the rabbit go in the backyard. Speaker 2: All the time. Speaker 1: Yeah. I mean we hear about this all the time Speaker 2: They just let it go. Speaker 1: Yup. And they say that . . . Speaker 2: It'll be snatched like that. Speaker 1: . . . I want him to join a wild family and have a chance to have his own family. And as I said, they don't interbreed. Speaker 2: They're domesticated. Speaker 1: They don't join wild families. They're domesticated. This particular rabbit I chose for this video, because he's about the same color as a wild rabbit. Similar, that tweedy, outdoor look. Speaker 2: Mm-hmm. Speaker 1: So people, when they see this kind of rabbit outdoors, they may think it's a wild rabbit. In fact, this is a Netherlands dwarf domestic rabbit. And they're are differences. If you study the coloration carefully in pictures on the web you will see the differences but you'll see that this rabbit has tiny ears. Wild rabbits don't have tiny ears. This is a dwarf breed and this is a way that you can tell the difference between him and a wild rabbit. In any case, don't let your rabbit go outdoors, and don't attempt to keep a wild rabbit as a pet. You will insure the well being of both the domestic rabbit and the wild rabbit that way.

Expert

  • Mary E. Cotter

    Mary E. Cotter, M.A., Ed.D., LVT is the founder of the NY-based Rabbit Rescue & Rehab. She serves as chapter manager of the NYC House Rabbit Society and is vice president of the International House Rabbit Society. Involved with rabbit rescue since 1982, she speaks and writes frequently on rabbit-related topics, addressing owners, veterinary professionals and shelter workers. Mary is an adjunct assistant professor in the veterinary technology department of LaGuardia Community College (City University of New York) and co-manages a 7,000-member Internet mailing list focused on rabbit health, care and behavior.