Can You Keep A Stray Rabbit?

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If you find a stray domestic rabbit and you can’t locate its owners, legally you can keep it.

I’m one of those people that finds animals.

You either are one, or you aren’t. Not because you’ve been sprinkled with ‘finds animals’ fairy dust, but because, er, you’re looking for them. Once you’ve found a couple of cats, you not only start subconsciously checking for animals, but people actively seek you out.

That’s how I usually end up with at least one duckling and one hedgehog each summer (at this stage in my life I know exactly who to go to to help them, and when I can just release them into my garden and keep an eye on them).

My boyfriend has brought home one rabbit, one frog (a tropical one, not just a wild one), and a whole nest of baby robins. We fostered the bunny, kept the frog (we already had a terrarium that was perfect for him), and passed the robins onto professional bird raisers.

Most people could care for a stray rabbit, should they find one. If it’s relatively healthy and an adult, they don’t require any particular care that a regular person couldn’t give.

Wild animals like hedgehogs and wild birds should really be given to an experienced rescuer.

Obviously, if you can’t/don’t want to take in a stray, you can usually (in the UK at least) take it into your local vet.

Don’t just drop off animals at rescue centres. Most of them don’t allow this – give them a call and ask what your next steps should be.

Check it’s not being missed by someone

Sometimes rabbits are microchipped. In the UK, Pets at Home microchip their rabbits prior to sale. I only know this because Bruce, the rabbit we found, had a microchip. We called the number. They did NOT want him back (they were very angry we even called – Christ knows what terrible crime he committed).

You can try knocking door to door, or putting up signs. Facebook is probably your best bet. Put posts up on local sites as well as lost pets.

Remember that there isn’t much about a bunny’s temperament that can tell you whether or not they’re well cared for. A lot of very loved rabbits are arseholes, and a lot of neglected ones are sweet.

Is it definitely domestic?

You can’t keep a wild rabbit as a pet.

Ok, maybe ‘can’t’ isn’t the right word. You shouldn’t.

Most of the time they’ll simply die of fright, be it in a day or a month. Domestic rabbit brains have physically changed the fear part of their brain, so they’re no longer that scared of humans.

That explains why some rabbits (not breed shaming here, but freaking REXS) have no apparent fear of anything, including things they should be really scared of, like dogs they don’t know.

Also, don’t go to the trouble to trying to tame a wild rabbit when there are so many domestic rabbits that need homes.

In the US it’s pretty easy to tell domestic and wild rabbits apart. Put a photo up on the rabbits subreddit and someone will be able to tell you. American rabbits and domestic rabbits are totally different species.

This is not the case in Europe, and a lot of wild and domestic rabbits can interbreed.

Rabbits with agouti colouring (like Holly) look quite wild to the untrained eye. Not only that, but you occasionally get wild rabbits that are black or white (or both). We have LOADS of wild black rabbits in our area.

A wild rabbit is extremely unlikely to let you get anywhere near it. If it does, be wary as it may have myxomatosis.

If you have rabbits already, don’t let strays anywhere near your rabbits until they’ve been checked by a vet, and make sure you wash your hands after you’ve handled them.

Worms and fleas are bad enough, but you don’t want them to catch something much worse, like RVHD.

Is the stray rabbit healthy?

Any stray rabbit needs to be checked by a vet. Rabbit diseases often can’t be diagnosed by appearances only, and things like myxomatosis can cause a slow, agonising death.

Whilst there are instances of rabbits recovering from it, they are few and far between. It’s sad, but the disease is common in the UK and it’s often kinder to put them to sleep before they starve to death.

Can you take care of a rabbit?

So many people on rabbit Facebook pages ‘accidentally’ fall into rabbit caregiving because they found a stray.

A lot of people are surprised at what good pets rabbits are, but they’re very different to what a lot of people think. They need a large pen (or to be free roam) ideally indoors, can be easily litter trained (usually), and are a lot of fun. But they’re not always cuddly and can be very messy.

If that’s something you can deal with, great. But if not, maybe surrender your stray to a rescue.

Do you have any other pets?

It’s certainly possible for rabbits to live with other pets. I’ve seen it countless times online.

It isn’t for me. I’m extremely risk-averse and I would prefer not to have, for example, a rabbit and a dog together. I like an easy life.

You can’t guarantee that two pets will get on. If your dog has a high prey drive, you can’t train that out of him, so your rabbit will always be at risk. If your dog has no prey drive, cool. Same with cats.

People often ask about ferrets and rabbits, and I’m inclined to say don’t do it. We had ferrets as kids and we had one called William who was the softest, squishiest boy EVER. He was a stray, just turned up one day and was an absolute love. I would still NEVER trust him with a rabbit. It’s expecting waaay too much of both of them.

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