Will A Wild Baby Rabbit Survive in Captivity?

Can a wild baby rabbit become a happy, healthy pet? It’s a tantalizing idea to rescue an adorable abandoned bunny and care for it as your own. But is keeping a wild rabbit actually feasible or ethical? From disease risks to extreme skittishness, numerous hurdles stand in the way of domestic bliss. Embark on an in-depth exploration of the challenges, specialized care needs, and training required to potentially tame a wild baby rabbit. You’ll learn the best practices for gently gaining their trust, transitioning to captivity, and understanding their behaviors. Discover what it truly takes to win over a wild rabbit’s heart, and if this delicate process is right for you. Let’s dive into the wildlife welfare controversy of adopting wild baby rabbits!

Can You Tame A Wild Baby Rabbit?

Taking a baby rabbit from the wild and raising it as a pet is very challenging and often unsuccessful. While it may seem appealing to rescue and care for an adorable baby bunny, wild rabbits have very specific needs and instincts that make them unsuitable pets in most cases. Raising a domesticated rabbit is a big commitment on its own, let alone a wild one.

The best chance a wild baby rabbit has for survival is to be with its mother and litter-mates. Rabbits form close family bonds and rely on each other for warmth, comfort, and protection in their natural environment. Removing a baby rabbit disrupts the family unit and leaves the baby vulnerable. Its chances of survival decrease significantly without that crucial early nurturing and socialization period with its mother and siblings.

Even if you bring the baby inside, feed it properly, and get it the right veterinary care, overcoming its natural wild instincts presents huge challenges. Wild rabbits are timid by nature and can be easily frightened by humans and unfamiliar environments like a home. They are evolved to evade predators and threats by running and hiding, not trusting or bonding with humans. It takes immense time, patience, and skill to overcome those instincts and socialize a baby wild rabbit.

The stress of handling and confinement in an unnatural setting is extremely distressing and often fatal for wild rabbits. Many babies die of shock shortly after being removed from the wild, despite best rescue efforts. Those that do survive the initial transition require extremely gentle, gradual acclimation to reduce stress and prevent further health complications. Even minimal stressors like sudden noises, movements, or handling attempts can cause potentially fatal issues like gastrointestinal stasis.

It takes extensive experience with rabbit behavior and care to provide what an orphaned wild baby rabbit needs for any chance of survival, let alone becoming tame. Patience and gentle persistence are key to socializing a baby wild rabbit and gaining its trust over time. But its success at adapting to captivity depends entirely on the individual rabbit's natural temperament. Some may gradually accept human handling while others remain untamed. Their survival ultimately comes down to their resilience and ability to cope in an unnatural environment.


Wild rabbits can carry a number of contagious and potentially fatal diseases that pose risks to both the rabbit and its human caretakers. Two of the most common and serious diseases to impact wild rabbit populations are myxomatosis and viral hemorrhagic disease. A wild baby rabbit may initially appear healthy but already be infected with something that will soon sicken or kill it.

These dangerous diseases, along with parasites like fleas and ticks, underscore the importance of keeping wild and domesticated rabbits separate. Bringing a wild rabbit into a home or facility with pet rabbits risks exposing them to deadly illnesses they have no immunity against. Even diseases like myxomatosis that barely affect wild rabbits are often fatal to domestic breeds.

Quarantining and vet testing a rescued wild baby rabbit may help reduce disease risks but cannot guarantee the rabbit or other pets' safety. Some illnesses may not produce detectable symptoms until days or weeks after infection. The significant challenges and risks of disease make caring for wild baby rabbits in captivity very problematic, especially alongside existing pets. Their best chance for health is to remain in their natural habitat whenever possible.


Myxomatosis is a highly contagious and lethal viral disease that affects rabbits. It is rare in domestic rabbits due to vaccinations but still prevalent among wild populations. For European rabbits, myxomatosis often causes death within two weeks of infection. But mortality rates vary among rabbit species and some may survive infection and become carriers.

The myxoma virus that causes the disease is spread by biting insects like fleas and mosquitoes. Direct contact with an infected rabbit's mucus or skin lesions can also transmit the virus. In the wild, myxomatosis helps control rabbit populations by its rapid spread. But it can devastate contained populations of domesticated rabbits.

Symptoms usually appear within 7-10 days after infection and include swelling around the head and genitals, lethargy, fever, skin lesions, and eye swelling or discharge. There is no specific treatment beyond supportive care. But prevention through prompt vaccination of pet rabbits in areas with endemic myxomatosis is highly effective. Keeping wild and domestic rabbits housed separately also helps prevent potential transmission.

Myxomatosis poses a serious concern for any wild baby rabbits brought into captivity. Their infection status should always be determined by testing to avoid introducing a deadly disease to existing pets. But test results cannot guarantee the rabbit's ongoing health or eliminate all disease risks. The possibility of latent illness underscores why wild rabbits are best left in their natural environment.

Viral hemorrhagic disease

Viral hemorrhagic disease (VHD) is another extremely contagious and often fatal viral infection affecting wild and domesticated rabbits. Two variants of the calicivirus cause VHD – VHD-1 affects only rabbits, while the more recently emerged VHD-2 also infects hares and cottontails.

Like myxomatosis, the VHD viruses spread primarily through direct contact or exposure to contaminated food, bedding, or water. Fleas and flies may also transmit VHD. The viruses can persist for months in the environment or rabbit carcasses and contaminate areas through rabbit urine and droppings.

Symptoms appear 1-3 days after infection and include fever, lethargy, appetite loss, respiratory distress, and bleeding from the eyes and nose. Blood clotting disruption leads to hemorrhaging in major organs like the lungs, liver, and kidneys. Peracute VHD cases result in sudden death just 12-36 hours after initial symptoms. The mortality rate is 70-90% in adult rabbits.

There are vaccines available for VHD-1 but none yet for VHD-2. Strict biosecurity measures are essential to protect domestic rabbits in areas with endemic VHD. Any wild rabbit introductions pose significant transmission risks, even if the rabbits appear healthy. Quarantines and testing may help but cannot guarantee a rabbit is VHD-free. Avoiding contact between wild and domestic rabbits is the safest approach.

Time and Effort

Caring for a baby wild rabbit is an extremely demanding, labor-intensive process requiring extensive time and effort. Their survival depends on having a dedicated caregiver willing to attend to their specialized needs around the clock. Expect to spend several hours each day feeding, socializing, cleaning, and monitoring the rabbit's health and wellbeing.

Young wild rabbits need to eat frequently, starting with bottle-feeding milk replacer every 2-3 hours at first. As they transition to solid foods like hay and greens, they still require multiple daily feedings to ensure adequate nutrition. Feeding must be done carefully and patiently to avoid aspiration pneumonia.

Daily handling sessions are also crucial for socializing baby rabbits to human contact. But this must be done gradually and gently to avoid stress. With persistence and care, some young wild rabbits can be conditioned to enjoy petting and cuddling over time. However, their skittish nature makes taming a long and unpredictable process.

The rabbit's environment must be kept scrupulously clean to prevent intestinal issues. Their enclosure needs thorough daily cleaning to remove soiled bedding and uneaten food that could harbor bacteria. Litter training is possible but challenging and often unsuccessful with wild baby rabbits.

Monitoring the rabbit's health and behavior is also essential for identifying potential problems early. Diarrhea, lack of appetite, lethargy, or other abnormalities require immediate veterinary care for vulnerable babies. Even slight disruptions in their routines or care can be life threatening.

The considerable investment needed gives baby domesticated rabbits the best chance of thriving. But the challenges are amplified greatly with wild rabbits who lack that genetic tameness. Be prepared to commit extensive time and effort for an uncertain outcome before attempting to raise a baby wild rabbit.

Other Rabbits

Housing a rescued wild baby rabbit with domesticated rabbits is not recommended. The significant differences between wild and domesticated rabbits make them incompatible companions in captivity. Several factors like territoriality, bonding behaviors, activity levels, and diets prevent peaceful cohabitation in most cases.

Wild rabbits are typically very territorial and may act aggressively towards other rabbits perceived as intruders. They lack the complex social bonding instincts that allow domesticated rabbits to live amiably together. A wild rabbit is unlikely to integrate into an existing rabbit group and will likely be excluded, bullied, injured, or even killed.

Rabbits also have distinct hierarchy and courtship behaviors. Wild rabbits communicate differently than domesticated rabbits in areas like establishing dominance and showing interest in mating. These varied social cues can lead to fighting or failed breeding attempts between the two groups.

The higher activity levels and skittishness of wild rabbits may cause stressful chasing by calmer domesticated rabbits. And dietary differences make it difficult to meet the specialized needs of both wild and domesticated rabbits in one space. While close interaction with other rabbits could help socialize a wild baby, the risks generally outweigh any potential benefits.

Attempting to bond the wild baby with a specific domesticated companion may have slightly better chances. But great care and constant supervision are required to prevent aggressive or stressful encounters. Overall, the safest option is to house the wild baby separately to meet its needs and avoid potentially dangerous interactions with other rabbits.


Extreme nervousness and timidity are intrinsic traits making wild rabbits unsuitable pets for most owners. Their sensitive, high-stress nature requires caretakers with specialized experience and environments tailored to their needs. Sudden noises, movements, unfamiliar places or objects, or handling attempts will often frighten them.

Stress factors that domesticated rabbits tolerate with moderate anxiety can be terrifying or even life-threatening for wild rabbits. Their natural reaction to perceived danger is to dart away and hide or freeze in place. They may scratch or bite out of fear when contained or pursued. Prolonged or extreme stress can lead to capture myopathy – a fatal shock-like reaction.

A wild rabbit's skittishness and novelty-aversion mean introducing anything new must be done with exceptional care. Simple routine changes like re-arranging their enclosure or offering different foods can distress them. Free-roaming a rabbit-proofed room sounds appealing but will likely terrify an untamed rabbit. Lifelong management of stressors is essential for their wellbeing.

Some orphaned wild babies may become more socialized and less nervous with extensive bonding time with their caretakers. But their baseline temperament will remain fearful compared to domesticated rabbits. Successfully keeping a wild rabbit as a pet requires environments, routines, and handling that account for their sensitive natures. Be prepared for a long, gradual process adapting the rabbit if it survives captivity at all.


Providing an appropriate housing setup is key for a baby wild rabbit's comfort and security. An outdoor hutch or enclosure works better than keeping the rabbit confined indoors. But certain design factors are important for their specialized needs as prey animals.

Hutches for wild rabbits should be placed in quiet, low-traffic areas not prone to sudden noises or movements that may scare them. They should also include areas for the rabbit to hide in sheltered darkness to feel safe. Provide boxes, tunnels, or enclosed sleeping areas as retreat spaces.

The enclosure dimensions should allow enough room for exercise but not be so large that the rabbit feels exposed. Include platforms and ramps for enrichment but avoid high perches that could injure a jumping rabbit. Simple materials like untreated wood and grass are ideal for furnishing their environment.

Wire flooring can damage wild rabbits' sensitive feet. Provide solid flooring over much of the enclosure covered with soft bedding for traction. Wire-free areas also prevent injury from panic running or jumping into the walls. Monitor any wire mesh for signs of injury from rubbing or chewing.

A hutch designed for a medium-sized domesticated rabbit can safely house a wild baby with some modifications. Ensure it is sturdy enough that the rabbit cannot dig out or squeeze through any openings. Elevate it off the ground and use wire mesh to prevent entry by predators. Bring the rabbit indoors if temperatures drop dangerously low at night.

While an outdoor hutch works best, a small indoor pen in a quiet room may be necessary at first for vulnerable babies. Gradually transition them to the outdoor enclosure for fresh air, more space, and natural light while still providing a den-like retreat space. Be prepared to modify traditional housing to meet a wild rabbit's specialized needs.

How To Trap A Wild Baby Rabbit

If you find a wild baby rabbit that appears injured, ill, or abandoned, trapping it is the first step towards seeking help. Trapping the rabbit requires care and caution to avoid further stressing or harming the animal. Follow these tips for the best approach:

  • Assess the situation before intervening. Leave healthy-appearing babies be, as the mother will return to nurse only briefly each day. Never remove active, uninjured wild rabbits from their environment.

  • Prepare a suitable carrier by lining a box or pet carrier with soft bedding. Bring latex gloves and a light sheet or towel.

  • Approach the rabbit quietly and slowly to avoid startling it. Cover it with the towel and gently scoop it up.

  • Transfer it quickly but smoothly to the prepared carrier, keeping it covered. Avoid excessive handling or restraint.

  • Note exactly where you found the rabbit. This helps wildlife rehabilitators determine if re-release is possible.

  • Get the rabbit to a wildlife rehabilitator or rabbit-experienced veterinarian immediately. Time is critical for an ill or injured baby.

  • Never attempt to hand-raise a wild baby rabbit yourself unless under guidance of an expert. Their needs are highly specialized.

  • Be aware that removing rabbits from the wild, even with good intentions, is often illegal without permits and will reduce their survival chances. Always contact experts first.

With quick, careful action, trapping gives a suffering wild baby its best chance of recovery. But avoiding unnecessary interference is key – if in doubt, contact rehabilitators before intervening in most cases.

How To Domesticate A Wild Baby Rabbit

Domesticating a wild baby rabbit to become a pet is a long, complex process requiring substantial expertise. While their young age makes imprinting possible, overcoming innate wild behaviors presents immense challenges compared to raising domesticated rabbits. Success requires taking the following specialized approaches:

  • Get the rabbit veterinary care immediately. Check for injuries and illness and treat any found. De-worm, de-flea, and vaccinate as appropriate under vet guidance.

  • Bottle-feed an appropriate rabbit milk replacer every 2-3 hours initially. Transition slowly to suitable solid foods like hay and greens over time.

  • House the rabbit in a very small, darkened enclosure at first to reduce stress. Gradually allow supervised exploration as they become acclimated.

  • Handle the rabbit gently but regularly, gradually increasing contact over time. Wear gloves until they become comfortable with direct handling.

  • Introduce new environments, routines, foods, and stimuli very slowly over weeks/months to avoid startling them.

  • Be alert for signs of stress like lack of appetite, lethargy, or diarrhea. Reduce handling if they become overly nervous.

  • Talk softly and use food rewards during handling to build positive associations. Engage in short, structured play sessions.

  • Spay or neuter the rabbit at 5-6 months old to improve behavior and litter trainability.

  • Expect the process to take many months, if not years, for the rabbit to become comfortable as a pet. Some individuals may never fully tame.

Domestication takes immense dedication, specific housing and care, and veterinary guidance. Still, a wild rabbit's innate nature may limit how tame it becomes. Always make their health and wellbeing the top priority if attempting to domesticate.

Get the Baby Rabbit Used to You

Gaining the trust of a baby wild rabbit and getting them comfortable with human contact is key to socialization. This requires slow, careful effort over many weeks to months:

  • Set up a small enclosure in a quiet room and sit nearby often so they become accustomed to your presence.

  • Hand-feed them frequently, continuing bottle feedings longer than with domesticated rabbits. The feeding ritual builds positive associations.

  • Be patient – do not reach for or handle the rabbits until they reliably take food from your hand without fear or retreating. This may take days or weeks.

  • When they allow handling, hold and pet them for very short periods at first, such as 30 seconds. Slowly extend handling duration over time.

  • Get them comfortable with your scent by wearing freshly washed clothes and rubbing your hands in their bedding when changing it.

  • Use tidbits and soothing voice cues during handling. Stop immediately if they show signs of nervousness like urinating, teeth grinding, or attempting to flee.

  • Limit handling to 1-2 primary caretakers. Additional people should interact at quiet distances until the rabbit becomes very comfortable with you.

  • Be attentive to their body language. If they increasingly avoid you or show aggression like biting or scratching, scale back contact to rebuild trust.

With time, consistency, and positive reinforcement, an orphaned wild baby can potentially view their human caretaker as a source of comfort and security. But patience and caution are vital – forcing interactions will only make them more fearful.

Allow the Rabbit to Run

Providing regular exercise opportunities in a safe space helps stimulate and socialize orphaned wild baby rabbits. Outdoor runs are ideal once the rabbit grows older and stronger. You can also rabbit-proof a room indoors for free running:

  • Carefully inspect areas and remove hazards like electric cords, poisonous plants, and small objects. Block access to any unsafe spaces.

  • Set up hideaways and tunnels so they can dart under cover when startled. Piles of shredded paper or fabric strips work well.

  • Sit calmly in the area and let them freely approach and run around you. Have treats handy to offer if they come near.

  • Begin with very short sessions of 15-30 minutes at first to avoid overstimulation. Gradually increase roaming time.

  • Provide at least one litter box as they will likely not be fully litter trained. Never punish accidents – stay calm and quietly clean up.

  • Monitor them closely and allow running only when you are home. Be prepared to gently guide or catch them if needed.

  • Watch for signs of stress like panting or hiding.



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