Should I feed a wild rabbit?
December 16, 2016 9:05 AM   Subscribe

A wild rabbit made my summer garden (perennials) into its home. Now the garden is covered in snow and negative degree temps. The rabbit is still living there, I guess just hanging out on the snow. I want to feed it, give it warmth, etc. is this a good idea or not? What would I feed it? How could I give it warmth?
posted by Jason and Laszlo to Pets & Animals (16 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Rabbits have been living through winters for a while now. It's a wild animal, so by definition there is no good reason at all that you need to assist it, if it isn't in evident distress (and even then, the calculation is complicated).

You mean well, but consider that semi-domestication is not helpful for the survival of a wild prey animal.
posted by spitbull at 9:24 AM on December 16, 2016 [26 favorites]

In IL, during a cold winter, I watched a bunny stand stock still in my garden for days, as the snow collected around it. She melted a small area around her with body heat, and stoically waited it out. She turned out fine.

I would suggest against feeding. Probably wouldn't even work well, and in fact if you encourage her at all, you are also potentially encouraging the destruction of you perennials as she may well nibble the new shoots next spring.

Unlike most rabbits, eastern cotton tails do NOT dig burrows (a glaring exception to the general rule that rabbits dig burrows but hares do not). Their whole way of life depends on surviving above ground, even in harsh conditions.

Offer of a small shelter may be appreciated/used, but I wouldn't count on it. I'd start with a large shoebox, open on one end, with a small blanket inside, maybe plastic on top. A shard of large terracotta or plastic pot might also work to give a little roof.

Another thing, longer term, would be to make sure you have plenty of dense shrubby stuff in your winter garden, at least some of it evergreen - that is their natural preference for winter bedding.

Your intuition is likely wrong, cute bunny will probably be fine :)
posted by SaltySalticid at 9:41 AM on December 16, 2016 [7 favorites]

You can go to Tractor Supply or a feed store and buy a sack of Timothy alfalfa cubes. You can also leave your vegetable trimmings out for her.

My brain knows that critters have been doing fine without human interference, but my heart would want to give any help I could. I understand where you are coming from. Enjoy your visits from your wild friend.
posted by ATX Peanut at 9:53 AM on December 16, 2016 [5 favorites]

You really don't need to help the bunny, but if you really wanted to, a bale of hay could provide both food and shelter. You can usually get them at feed stores if you have any nearby.

I also think some garden centers and stuff sell them for ornamental purposes.
posted by ernielundquist at 9:54 AM on December 16, 2016 [1 favorite]

I also came in to suggest the hay.

Our wild rabbits live in our woodpile. Its possible that I might accidentally drop some nice slightly spoiled veggies outside the fenced in compost area, but otherwise leave it alone. Don't domesticate it, it won't work out well for either of you.
posted by anastasiav at 10:06 AM on December 16, 2016 [2 favorites]

Most garden centers sell straw, not hay, which would be good for shelter but definitely not food.
posted by lydhre at 10:10 AM on December 16, 2016 [2 favorites]

The thing I've been noticing the wildlife struggle with around here is water, because everything is so frozen. I've been tempted to set a dish of warm water out, as I know my folks have done it for the birds and they flocked to it. I agree with others that, generally, encouraging a wild rabbit (especially near your perennials) might not be the wisest move, but I definitely understand your impulse!
posted by ldthomps at 10:26 AM on December 16, 2016 [1 favorite]

They will dig down to the grass buried under the snow, they will also eat bark & twigs. A water supply may be more appreciated than food. I'd suggest hay to eat due to the roughage. If you decide to go the veggie scrap route please check what veggies are safe for them to eat. I know a lot of lettuces & spinach can be bad for them.
posted by wwax at 10:30 AM on December 16, 2016

Unless your nearest neighbor is like a quarter-mile away, I would not, because you can't feed the rabbit without also feeding local rats and mice and other outright vermin.

If you have close neighbors, some of them also might not appreciate having resident rabbits around. I would not, because I worry that a rabbit might injure one of our vallhunds when they're killing it (so far the score is Vallhunds 4, Bunnies 0 in suburban metro-Buffalo), or that they might injure themselves chasing it.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:58 AM on December 16, 2016

If the rabbit is a cottontail, I would leave it alone unless it seems to be struggling. If you do feed it, make sure it's actually edible hay, not just straw. It might be best just to give it water. Definitely not veggie scraps, it's probably not used to eating the kinds of vegetables that humans typically eat. You don't want to upset a wild rabbit's gut, especially at a time of year so crucial to its survival.

If this rabbit is not a cottontail and looks like it could have been a pet that was abandoned, absolutely feed it and give it water. In that scenario, I'd call a rabbit rescue group in your area or try to get the rabbit inside so you can take it to a shelter. Abandoned pet rabbits are not equipped to deal with living in the wild. Some get lucky, but most die from exposure, lack of food and water, or predators.
posted by i feel possessed at 11:14 AM on December 16, 2016 [3 favorites]

Adding to what i feel possessed said, if it appears to be a domestic pet rabbit, please contact your local chapter of the House Rabbit Society for more information on what to do. House (pet) rabbits are very fragile. If it's wild, just like most other wild animals, let it be. Good on you for looking to do something to help.
posted by FergieBelle at 11:22 AM on December 16, 2016 [1 favorite]

With regards to water, you can purchase heated pet dishes at farm supply stores. They will keep the water source liquid.
posted by Nyx at 2:36 PM on December 16, 2016

Very unlikely a wild rabbit would drink from a bowl of water.

Very unlikely a domesticated rabbit would survive from summer to winter.

The heart/brain conflict thing leads to a lot of sad outcomes. Go with the brain. Let wild animals be wild. It's virtually a first principle of wildlife management. Suburban rabbits are already symbiotic with humans (or parasitic, depending on where and who you ask). It's better for rabbits *in general* not to encourage that.
posted by spitbull at 3:44 PM on December 16, 2016 [1 favorite]

We have a rabbit who lives (somewhere) in our yard. Why it stays, I have no idea, because there's nothing to eat that I'm aware of, and our dogs are constantly on the lookout for it. As it happens, just this evening, the rat terrier flushed it out from the left-hand hedge, and it tore across the yard to the right-hand hedge, with our avid hunter in hot pursuit. Despite our dog's dedication to making the kill, the rabbit eluded him.

Which is only to suggest, wild rabbits may be sweet and cuddly-looking, but they have mad skillz.
posted by Short Attention Sp at 4:58 PM on December 16, 2016 [3 favorites]

If it's a wild bun then it will be just fine without your help. Teaching it to trust humans will actually hurt the rabbit's chances if it encounters someone who is mean.

I know exactly how you feel because I love rabbits, too, but it's better to let the rabbit make her own way.
posted by winna at 5:32 PM on December 16, 2016 [2 favorites]

Echoing that rabbits have quite specific dietary needs, and definitely should not eat certain veggies/types of hay. If you do decide to go ahead and feed it, I would suggest finding out exactly what type of rabbit it is then doing an internet search for that breed's diet.

Rabbits eat their own poop for nutritional reasons so it is important that their digestion not be messed with.
posted by BeeJiddy at 12:35 AM on December 17, 2016

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