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Feeding Wild Rabbits: What You Need to Know

Published: May 6th, 2023
Last Updated: May 7th, 2023
Written By: Bradly Spicer
What to feed a wild rabbit

You might be tempted to feed them if you’re lucky enough to live near a park or in a rural area where wild rabbits roam free.

Feeding wild rabbits can be a fun and educational experience, but it also comes with risks. In this article, we’ll explore the benefits and potential hazards of feeding wild rabbits, what to feed them, and how to do it safely.

Rather than directly feeding wild rabbits, a more sustainable and practical approach is to provide them with plant resources such as shrubs and greenery. This gives them a natural habitat to forage and live in and promotes their physical and mental health. Year-round plants in your garden can be a great way to achieve this and require minimal maintenance. By creating a safe and healthy environment, you can help support the wild rabbit population and enjoy their presence responsibly and ethically.

Key Points

  • Choose a safe location
  • Use the right food in the right amounts
  • Keep your distance
  • Offer food in small amounts
  • Provide a safe container
  • Be mindful of disease
  • Know when to stop
  • Suitable foods: hay, grass, vegetables, and a limited amount of fruit and pellets
  • Avoid processed foods and anything high in sugar.
  • Wild rabbits are unsuitable pets and should be allowed to live in their natural habitat.

The Benefits of Feeding Wild Rabbits

Wild Rabbit watching cameraman
Photo by Gary Bendig on Unsplash

Feeding wild rabbits can be a fun and rewarding experience, but it should be done from a distance. Rabbit watching can be an incredible experience, so here are some of the benefits of feeding these cute creatures:

1. Close Encounters with Wildlife

Feeding wild rabbits can provide a unique opportunity for close encounters with wildlife. Observing these beautiful creatures in their natural habitat can be an unforgettable experience, allowing you to witness their behavior and social interactions up close.

Feeding them can also help to build trust and form a bond between humans and rabbits, leading to even more positive interactions in the future.

If possible, you should not engage with them, as hand-rearing can lead to dependency and potential further harm. Feeding wildlife should never interfere with their natural behavior or put them in danger. Maintaining a safe distance and using appropriate feeding methods can help ensure both your safety and the well-being of the animals

2. Educational Opportunities

Feeding wild rabbits can also provide valuable educational opportunities, particularly for children. Children can develop a deeper appreciation and understanding of wildlife and ecosystems by observing these creatures in their natural habitat and learning about their behavior, diet, and habitat.

Feeding wild rabbits can also be an opportunity to teach children about conservation and environmental responsibility. You can explain the importance of preserving natural habitats and reducing human impact on the environment and the benefits of sustainable and ethical practices.

3. Positive Impact

Wild Cottontail Rabbit under bush
Photo by Julie Marsh on Unsplash

Feeding wild rabbits can positively impact the overall rabbit population, particularly during harsh weather conditions. If wild rabbits have access to a consistent and nutritious food source, they may have a better chance of survival during extreme temperatures or droughts.

By providing food for wild rabbits, you can help to support and maintain the overall health and well-being of the local ecosystem. Wild rabbits play a crucial role in the food chain as prey animals and provide an important food source for predators. By ensuring that rabbits have a healthy population, you can help to maintain the balance of the local ecosystem and support a variety of other wildlife.

Unfortunately, overfeeding and feeding the wrong foods can cause issues in your local area, so you must feed them only healthy foods with no added sugars.

What is a Wild Rabbits Diet?

Wild rabbits are herbivores, which means they primarily feed on plant material. Their diet typically includes grasses, clover, wildflowers, and other leafy green plants. They may also consume bark, twigs, and buds of shrubs and trees when other food sources are scarce.

When fresh greens are scarce in the winter, wild rabbits may eat the bark and twigs of small trees and bushes to supplement their diet. However, their diet mostly consists of fresh plant material.

Wild rabbits may also consume fruits and vegetables from gardens or bushes when they’re accessible. Nevertheless, these items are not as significant a part of their natural diet as commonly believed. Flowers, leafy plants, and grass constitute most of what wild rabbits typically eat daily.

What do wild rabbits eat in the Winter?

During the winter, when food sources are limited, wild rabbits may turn to the bark and twigs of small trees and bushes as an additional food source. This behavior is called “browsing,” It allows rabbits to obtain the nutrients they need to survive during winter.

Excess browsing can damage the bark of small trees and shrubs, ultimately harming the plant’s growth and survival.

What to Feed Wild Rabbits

Providing them with a healthy and balanced diet is important when feeding wild rabbits. Here are some foods that rabbits can eat:

1. Hay and Grass

Hay and grass should comprise the bulk of a wild rabbit’s diet. These foods provide essential fiber and nutrients that rabbits need to maintain their digestive health.

You can offer fresh grass clippings, dried hay, or even set up a small hay bale in a safe and protected location. Make sure to choose hay that is fresh and free of mold or dust, as these can be harmful to rabbits.

One common type of hay that is often recommended for rabbits is Timothy Hay, which is high in fiber and low in protein and calcium. Other types of grasses that are safe for rabbits include brome, orchard grass, and oat hay.

If you choose to feed your wild rabbits fresh grass, make sure to avoid areas that may have been treated with pesticides or other chemicals. You can also offer grass clippings from your lawn, as long as it has not been treated with chemicals or fertilizers.

2. Vegetables

Bundle of Carrots

Wild Rabbits can also eat various vegetables, which provide essential vitamins and minerals. Some safe options include:

Just like domestic rabbits, you should introduce new vegetables gradually, as sudden changes to a rabbit’s diet can cause digestive problems.

3. Fruit

While fruit can be a tasty treat for wild rabbits, it should be given in moderation due to its high sugar content. Excessive consumption of fruit can lead to obesity and other health issues, so it’s important to offer it sparingly.

A variety of green and red apples
Photo by James Yarema on Unsplash

When choosing fruits for wild rabbits, opt for fresh, ripe options free of mold or other signs of spoilage. Some safe options include:

  • Apples (without seeds): Apples are a good source of vitamin C and can be a healthy treat for rabbits. However, you must remove the seeds, as they contain small amounts of cyanide, which can harm rabbits.
  • Berries: Berries are a good source of antioxidants and can provide a sweet treat for wild rabbits. Some safe options include strawberries, raspberries, and blackberries.
  • Melons: Melons are a hydrating and refreshing option for rabbits, and can provide essential vitamins and minerals. Some safe options include watermelon, honeydew, and cantaloupe.

4. Pellets

Pellets can supplement hay and vegetables but should not comprise the bulk of a wild rabbit’s diet. Look for pellets formulated explicitly for rabbits and avoid those containing added sugar or artificial preservatives.

Some pellet brands will include seeds which we highly suggest not giving rabbits. Whilst not all seeds are toxic, they can be a choking hazard. We recommend the Oxbow Essentials Adult Rabbit Pellets. They’re packed full of nutritional value and have both an Adult and Young option.

What to Avoid Feeding a Wild Rabbit

If you want to help feed wild rabbits, it’s best to do so by providing food for them naturally, such as planting native plants that provide natural food sources and cover. This approach prevents the rabbits from becoming dependent on humans for their food and avoids attracting other unwanted animals that may be dangerous or spread disease, such as raccoons.

Wild rabbits can handle high-fiber grasses well but have a sensitive stomach for almost everything else. Avoid feeding them processed foods, foods high in carbohydrates, sugar, fat, or protein, and plants or flowers that are toxic to rabbits.

Foods that should not be fed to wild rabbits:

  1. Birdseed: While birdseed may seem like a healthy option for wild rabbits, it’s not an appropriate food for them. Birdseed is often high in fat and can cause digestive problems in rabbits. It may also contain pesticides or other chemicals that are harmful to rabbits.
  2. High-sugar foods: Foods high in sugar, such as cereal, candy, or bread, should not be fed to wild rabbits. These foods can cause digestive problems and obesity and do not provide the necessary nutrients for rabbits to thrive.
  3. Cooked leftovers: Cooked leftovers, including meat or dairy products, should not be fed to wild rabbits. These foods can cause digestive issues and may contain harmful bacteria.
  4. Cat or dog food: Cat or dog food should not be fed to wild rabbits. These foods are formulated for carnivores and unsuitable for rabbits, which are herbivores. Feeding cat or dog food to wild rabbits can cause digestive problems and malnutrition.
  5. Milk: Milk should not be fed to wild rabbits. Rabbits are lactose intolerant and cannot digest milk properly. Feeding milk to wild rabbits can cause digestive issues, diarrhea, and other health problems.

If you have leftover herbs, strawberry or carrot tops, or the trimmed ends of fruits and vegetables, these are safe for wild rabbits to eat in small quantities.

Instead of throwing them away, you can put them outside for the rabbits. However, it’s best not to make feeding wild rabbits a daily habit and instead focus on creating a habitat that provides natural food sources and cover for them.

How to Safely Feed Wild Rabbits

Feeding wild rabbits can be a fun and rewarding experience, but it’s important to do it safely for you and the animals. Here are some tips to help you feed wild rabbits safely:

1. Choose a Safe Location

Choose a location that is safe for both you and the rabbits. Avoid areas near busy roads, where rabbits may be at risk of getting hit by a car, and areas where predators may be present. Look for a quiet, secluded spot that is easily accessible.

Hedgegrove in garden
Photo by Manuel T on Unsplash

2. Use the Right Food

Ensure you feed the rabbits the right foods in the right amounts. Avoid feeding them processed foods or anything high in sugar. Stick to fresh hay, grass, vegetables, and a limited amount of fruit and pellets.

3. Keep Your Distance

Angry wild rabbits
Photo by Mathias Elle on Unsplash

While it’s tempting to get close to the rabbits, it’s essential to keep your distance. Wild rabbits can be easily frightened and may become aggressive if threatened.

4. Offer Food in Small Amounts

Offer small amounts of food at a time to avoid overfeeding and to encourage natural foraging behavior. This can also help to prevent rabbits from becoming too dependent on humans for food.

5. Provide a Safe Container

To avoid attracting other wildlife or pets, offer food in a safe container, such as a small dish or feeding station. This can also help prevent the spread of diseases and ensure that rabbits only eat the food you provide.

6. Clean Up After Feeding

After feeding, clean up any food or waste left behind. This can help prevent the spread of disease and ensure that other wildlife are not attracted to the area.

7. Be Mindful of Disease

Wild Rabbit in gass
Photo by Bonnie Kittle on Unsplash

Feeding wild rabbits can increase the risk of disease transmission, so offering fresh and clean food in a safe container is essential. Additionally, avoid feeding rabbits if they appear sick or have signs of disease in the area.

Wild rabbits can carry a variety of diseases that can be transmitted to domestic rabbits. For example, rabbits can contract myxomatosis, rabbit hemorrhagic disease (RHD), and tularemia, among others.

One way that domestic rabbits can be exposed to these diseases is through indirect contact with wild rabbits. If you have been in contact with wild rabbits, such as handling them or their droppings, the disease can be transmitted to your clothing and shoes. When you come into contact with your domestic rabbits, you can inadvertently transfer the disease to them.

To prevent the transmission of diseases from wild rabbits to domestic rabbits, it’s crucial to practice good hygiene. Always wash your hands and change your clothing before handling domestic rabbits, mainly if you have been in contact with wild rabbits or their habitat.

8. Know When to Stop

Feeding wild rabbits should always be done in moderation and with care. If rabbits become too reliant on humans for food, it can make it harder for them to survive in the wild. If you notice an increase in the number of rabbits or if they become aggressive or demanding, it may be time to stop feeding them.

Following these tips can help ensure you and the rabbits are safe and happy during feeding time. Remember, wild rabbits are delicate creatures that require special care and attention.

By approaching feeding with care and respect, you can enjoy these creatures’ beauty and wonder while promoting their health and well-being.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is it legal to feed wild rabbits?

Feeding wild rabbits is legal in most areas, but you should always check with your local wildlife authorities to make sure.

Can feeding wild rabbits make them sick?

Yes, feeding wild rabbits can increase the risk of disease transmission, so offering fresh and clean food in a safe container is important.

Can wild rabbits become dependent on humans for food?

Yes, wild rabbits can become too reliant on humans for food, it can make it harder for them to survive in the wild. It’s important to offer food in moderation and encourage natural foraging.

What should I do if I find an injured wild rabbit?

If you find an injured wild rabbit, contact your local wildlife rescue center or veterinarian for assistance.

Can I keep a wild rabbit as a pet?

Even if you could provide a wild rabbit with the right diet and habitat, their chances of survival in a domestic setting are still very low.