Although domestic and wild rabbits share similarities in appearance, the two are very different.
Wild and domesticated rabbits look identical. All rabbits have large ears, prominent teeth, and fluffy tails. You’d be forgiven for thinking they all look identical.
Despite this, there is a range of differences. The rabbits we keep in our homes are specifically bred to be domesticated pets. These rabbits would not survive in the wild. Likewise, you should never attempt to tame a wild rabbit.
Most often, a wild rabbit will be a Cottontail. There are 14 breeds of rabbits found in the U.S. though, none of which are domesticated. All pet rabbits are breeds that originate in Europe.
Observe the size, shape, and most notably, the behavior of the rabbit. These will reveal if the rabbit was born free or escaped captivity. Things to look out for include:
Wild rabbits will never approach you. If you try to catch one, they’ll run, kick, and scream.
A pet rabbit will be more trusting of humans. They will likely hop toward you, expressing curiosity.
If the rabbit moves with confidence, it’s likely wild. The rabbit knows the territory, and where to seek safety.
Domesticated rabbits are easily frightened. They move slowly, exploring new terrain.
Wild rabbits are almost exclusively light brown in color.
Domesticated pets often have spotted fur or even different coloring.
A wild rabbit’s coat will also be coarser than that of a domesticated rabbit.
The head of a wild rabbit will be longer and thinner. Its eyes will also be narrower – almost almond-shaped.
Domestic rabbits have wide, round eyes and chubby cheeks.
No wild rabbit native to the U.S. has floppy ears. If the ears are upright, the rabbit may be wild.
Be aware though; some domesticated rabbits also have upright ears when attentive.
Wild rabbits, especially Cottontails, grow to a particular size.
If the rabbit is a dwarf breed, it will be somebody’s pet. Giant rabbits are also invariably domesticated.
Wild rabbits do not enjoy specialist food, treats, and a safe home. This means they eat less and move more. They’ll weigh less as a result. No wild rabbit would trust a human.
An escaped pet knows that humans can provide safety and food, though. They’ll hesitantly approach you for help.
Wild rabbits are rarely found alone. They travel in groups.
An escaped domestic rabbit is likelier to wander solo. Pets struggle to adapt to the hierarchy of an established colony.
Because they belong to different species, domestic rabbits cannot reproduce with wild rabbits. In addition, a domestic rabbit cannot survive if set free outside.
If left to fend for themselves in the wild, domestic rabbits will face such hazards as exposure to extreme temperatures, human and animal predators, and poisonous plants.
Wild and domestic rabbits have vastly different diets. A wild rabbit will generally eat clover, grass, and wildflowers in addition to grazing on farmers’ and gardeners’ crops.
Their domestic counterparts, however, have specific dietary requirements, including 24-hour access to fresh timothy hay or orchard grass and clean water.
To ensure good health, domestic rabbits also need fresh vegetables and high-quality pellets.
If you encounter a rabbit and wonder if it’s wild or domesticated, just wait. Keep your distance, staying still and quiet. You’ll soon have your answer.
If the rabbit cautiously approaches you, then it’s domesticated. No wild rabbit would trust a human. An escaped pet knows that humans can provide safety and food, though. They’ll hesitantly approach you for help.
Never, under any circumstances, force a rabbit to interact with you. Wild rabbits, especially, are skittish. The shock and fright of unwelcome handling can cause cardiac arrest.
You shouldn’t try to house a wild rabbit with a domestic rabbit. They won’t get along.