Feral and stray rabbits
Feral rabbits are domesticated rabbits that have been abandoned or escaped outdoors and in the rare case have thrived and created a colony. Feral rabbits are different than wild rabbits that belong in nature. Typically, an abandoned rabbit does not have a high chance of survival due to the lack of survival skills and camouflaging coat. When feral rabbit colonies occur in populated areas, they become a public pest and nuisance and are usually controlled by killing them all. If there is funding, then local rabbit rescues may come into the picture and try to catch and adopt out as many as they can.
It is very cruel to abandon rabbits in the streets rather than taking them to a local shelter even with a chance of being put to sleep. Abandoning a rabbit to the wild is sentencing him a certain early death, while there is still a chance to be adopted in a shelter.
- Domestic rabbits are not native to the Americas. They are descended from the wild European rabbit. Domesticated rabbits will be unable to breed with the local species of rabbits in the Americas and may end up fighting over territory with fatal results.
- White and other brightly colored coats on a domestic rabbit give them no way to hide. Wild rabbits have an agouti coat that camouflage into the environment. Letting a white rabbit free is a death sentence.
- A house rabbit does not know how to forage and does not have a warren (family group) that wild rabbits depend on. Warrens live together and have burrows (holes in the ground) that they share and use for warmth and protection. A single rabbit will not be able to build an appropriate shelter; building a burrow takes several rabbits and cannot be completed in an hour. Abandoned rabbits typically stay near where they have been left and are easy prey for cats, dogs, raccoons, and a multitude of other predators. Domestic rabbits will also not know what plants are safe to eat and where to obtain water to drink.
- Domestic rabbits do not know how to dodge cars and trucks and can easily be run over as unsuspecting road kill.
- A domestic rabbit let loose in an established feral colony can be killed in a fight for territory. An unspayed female rabbit can produce a litter of babies every 30 days and add to the problem. A park full of rabbits is not an idyllic place for a former pet.
- A house rabbit can live 8+ years in a protected environment. The average wild cottontail lives only 6 months.
- Putting an unwanted rabbit to sleep is kinder than abandoning him in the streets or outdoors. The rabbit will be terrified at being left alone outside in the wild with no caretakers and no friends. It is similar having a city person purposely abandoned on a deserted island with no prepared food, water, or survival skills and animals willing to hunt and kill you for food. A painless death is kinder than a prolonged death from starvation, disease, or attack. The rabbit will never find a friend in the wild and cannot mate with local cottontails because they are a completely different species.
- Lastly, abandoning pets in the streets is most likely an animal cruelty offense ranging from a misdemeanor to a felony. It not kind at all to abandon any sort of pet to the streets or the wild.
Some more relevant scientific studies:
- Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Science. (2018). Researchers Observe Striking Differences Between Brains of Wild, Domesticated Rabbits
Catching a stray rabbit
Do not hesitate to contact your local rabbit rescue for volunteers to help you catch a stray domestic rabbit.
A few tips when trying to catch a stray rabbit:
- Do not chase them unless you are trying to herd them into a specific area.
- Set up walls with fencing, bed sheets, exercise pens, and baby gates. Use alleys and narrow spaces in between houses strategically.
- Only set up a Havahart trap if you or a neighbor will constantly be watching it. A trapped rabbit is easy prey to the theft, fatal stress and panic, harsh elements, or predators.
- If using a live trap, transfer the rabbit to a secure covered cage or carrier to reduce stress as soon as possible or cover the trap itself with a sheet or blanket to calm the rabbit down.
- Banana, fennel, parsley, apple, and cilantro make good bait for rabbits.
- Nets should only be used under experienced supervision. Bird nets with a wide soft rim and a very long handle work best. Make sure the mesh is fine enough that their limbs will not be caught in the holes. Once the rabbit is caught in the net, immediately secure the rabbit to prevent them from kicking and injuring themselves and transfer to a secure carrier.
The links below have more information on how to catch roaming stray and feral rabbits safely.
- Amy Espie. (2011). How to Rescue a Rabbit Running Loose
- Mary Ann Maier. (2004). How to Catch a Stray Bunny
- Columbus House Rabbit Society. Tips For Catching A Stray Rabbit
- Carol Youngclaus. (2008). Rescuing Rascally Rabbits
- Ohio Rabbit Rescue. Tips for Catching a Stray
Here are some stories of how others have caught stray rabbits.
- Rabbit Advocates. (2019). Facebook post about catching Roxy with a live trap
- Indiana House Rabbit Society. (2018). Facebook video on catching a group of stray rabbits
- LiveJournal. (2010). How to catch a stray rabbit?
- Laura Simpson. (2003). Bunny Trapped in Blizzard Gets Incredible Rescue by Hero
What do I do when I find a rabbit?
First, make sure that it is a domestic breed. See Wild rabbits for more details on how to distinguish a wild cottontail or hare from the domestic breed of rabbit.
If you have never had a rabbit before, please take a look at our Getting started with a rabbit guide for the supplies you will need in the long term if you wish to keep it. Otherwise, please contact your nearest rabbit rescue or shelter for help and guidance.
In the meantime, to keep the rabbit safe in your house if you are unprepared, you can use your bathroom, bathtub, a large or extra-large dog crate, or a very large box. If there is slippery tile, put down some bed sheets or towels for traction as rabbits do not have paw pads and will slip and slide on tile and hardwood. Leave a bowl of water, and give some fresh green veggies to the rabbit. If possible, make a trip to the local pet store to buy some hay. Do not feed copious amounts of carrots -- these are actually treats and not a regular part of their diet.
- Best Friends Animal Sanctuary. (n.d.). How to Find Homes for Homeless Pets
Feral rabbit overpopulation incidents
- Southern Nevada Adult Health Mental Services Campus, Las Vegas, Nevada, United States: Feral Bunnies Are Taking Over Las Vegas; V Animal's Sanctuary (2015-now).
- Culver, Oregon, United States: Oregon homeowner faces rascally rabbits (2015).
- Mendenhall Valley, Juneau, Alaska, United States: ‘Bunny Task Force’ to combat feral-rabbit problem in Juneau (2015).
- Whidbey Island, Washington, United States: Hundreds of Bunnies Plague Langley, Washington (2015).
- Long Beach City College, California, United States: Readin', 'Ritin', and Rabbits (2011).
- Carson City, Nevada, United States: Woman worried about feral rabbits (2007).
- Helmcken Overpass, Victoria, British Columbia, Canada: Helmcken Overpass bunnies’ days are numbered (2016).
- Vancouver Island University, Nanaimo, British Columbia, Canada: Feral bunnies take over Vancouver Island (2015).
- Sudbury, Ontario, Canada: Rabbit colony takes over Garson neighbourhood (2014).
- University of Victoria, Victoria, British Columbia, Canada: Rabbits @ UVic; The Great UVic Rabbit Rescue; UVic Feral Rabbit Rescue Project (2010).
- Kelowna, British Columbia, Canada: Rabbits (2008).
- Victoria General Hospital, Victoria, British Columbia, Canada: Rabbit saviour takes on hare hitman (2000).
- Canmore and Banff, Alberta, Canada: Canmore Rabbits in Sanctuary; Bunnies are still swarming Canmore despite a cull; Feral Rabbit Management Program; The Canmore bunnies (1980-now).
- Australia: Feral European Rabbit (Oryctolagus Cuniculus) (1859-now).
- Holly O'Meara. Stray Rabbits
- Holly O'Meara. Making of a House Rabbit
- Kristi Cole. Search and Rescue
- Don't Dump Rabbits. Nutrition for outdoor colonies of domestic rabbits.
- Don't Dump Rabbits. (2016). Yurts for Rabbits?
Below are some experiences of saving stray rabbits.
- kinenchen. (2014). Hershey