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San Diego Humane Society

Rabbits: Coexisting with Wildlife

Background Information

  • There are 3 species of rabbits in San Diego: Cottontail, Jack, and Brush.
  • 98% of what Project Wildlife receives is the Cottontail.
  • Rabbits are subject to extremely high stress and should never be handled or petted unless absolutely needed.
  • Rabbits are on there own if they are larger than a tennis ball, eyes are open and ears are erect.
  • Do not disturb or handle them as they are capable of survival on their own.
  • The public will want to pick them up and cuddle but this could kill the rabbit.
  • Never feed injured wildlife. 
  • Rabbit nests are usually small fur-lined depressions in the ground.

When does a rabbit need to come to the Project Wildlife Care Center?

1. Eyes closed, ears not erect furless and away from the nest. Search for the nest first but the animal will have to come to PW ASAP if the nest cannot be found. These babies should be handled as little as possible and placed in a covered small box away from children, pets or anything that can disturb them. They may need a little warmth/heat at this age.

2. If they are cat or dog caught or you found a rabbit, adult or baby, that has been caught by a cat or dog, it will have to come to Project Wildlife ASAP to reduce the likelihood of infection, especially from a cat.

3. An adult found sick or injured. If a rabbit is found sick or injured, it was most likely hit by a car or caught by a hawk, coyote or a cat.

Project Wildlife has had a lot of success rehabilitating these animals. This information is for those answering calls from the public about rabbits and is not intended to provide all information on rabbits. If more detailed information is required, please refer to the Project Wildlife Hotline Directory or contact the Project Wildlife Triage Center for more detailed information.

What to do if you find:

Baby Rabbits:

If you come across a nest of bunnies in the wild and the mother is nowhere to be seen, please DO NOT disturb them. This is normal since the mother only returns to the babies to feed them at dawn and dusk, otherwise they are alone. By removing them from the nest you are greatly reducing their chances of survival.

Rabbits are independent animals, not orphans, if they are:

  • More than four inches long.
  • Have full fur, open eyes and erect ears (size of tennis ball when crouching).

Rabbit nests are usually found in a shallow, fur lined depression in the grass. If you come upon furless young who are out of the nest, return them to the nest. Reform the nest if it has been destroyed, cover the young rabbits with loose grass, and then mark the nest with an X using sticks or natural colored twine or sprinkle flour around the nest area.

Female rabbits only feed their babies at dawn and dusk, so you are unlikely to see the mother return. If she returns, she will move the marker when she enters the nest. If the marker remains undisturbed and the baby rabbit’s abdomens appear sunken the next day, then the mother has not returned to feed them, and you should contact a rehabilitator. Young rabbits easily succumb to stress, so handle them only as a last resort.

  • Put the rabbit in a closed escape-proof container with a soft ravel-free cloth.
  • If the eyes are closed, it will require a small amount of heat. You may put the box half on and half off a heating pad set on low. Monitor it so it does not get too hot, the rabbit should feel warm, but not hot to the touch. Older rabbits will not require heat.
  • Cover the box with a towel, and put it in a quiet place away from children and pets.
  • Do not attempt to feed baby bunnies. They have very sensitive digestive systems and need special formula.

Adult Rabbits:

  • We often get calls for injured rabbits. Generally they have been hit by a car, cat caught or hawk caught. Many of these are successfully treated and released back into the wild.
  • If you find an injured rabbit, pick it up using a towel and contain it in a box with a soft cloth in a quiet place away from children or other animals. Rabbits are easily stressed and can die from stress easily.

Food & Water

Do not attempt to feed babies. Rabbits only eat every 12 hours, and it will not hurt the animal to wait until you get it to a licensed rehabber.

Coexisting with rabbits:

  • Rabbits are rarely considered a great nuisance but may get into gardens and eat flowers and vegetables. Cottontails are the most common rabbit is San Diego.
  • Rarely live over 3 years.
  • Breeding occurs between December and June. During this period, a female usually has 2-4 litters of 1-6 young each
  • Desert cottontails are more athletic than other species in their genus; they are able to climb trees and swim.
  • Decorative rabbit-proof fencing is readily available at hardware stores.
  • Bitter-tasting plants, such as marigolds, placed around the perimeter of the garden, may deter rabbits and other small animals from entering.


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