So you found a wild baby rabbit in your yard, and your first instinct is to “rescue” the poor, defenseless creature. Maybe you want to raise it yourself, or perhaps you want to take it to your local rehabilitator. Resist the urge. Leaving the bunny in its nest ensures its best chance for survival.
Wild rabbits do not make good pets. Their flight instinct is so strong that being anywhere near humans or domestic animals and not being able to escape causes a cascade of physiologic events that ultimately results in death in nearly every found rabbit.
Wild rabbits often build their nest in plain sight, sometimes in the middle of a backyard. The mother rabbit, or doe, only visits the nest once or twice a day. She nurses her babies, or kits, for just a few minutes before leaving again. So if you are watching the nest and don’t see the doe visit the kits, don’t worry, because her visits are so rare that you aren’t likely to see her.
If you are concerned, you can visually check the bunnies to ensure they have milk in their bellies and are sleeping contently. Be sure to cover the kits back up after checking on them.
If you find a nest that has been disrupted, you can remake the nest or make a new one a few feet away. The doe will return to the kits, even if you’ve handled them.
If you are concerned about your dog finding the nest and killing the kits, place a milk crate over the nest when your dog is outside. Be sure to uncover it when your dog is in the house so the doe can visit and feed her kits. This routine won’t last long, because wild bunnies wean in just three or four weeks.
If the doe has been killed or there are no signs for several days in a row that she has fed the kits, it is acceptable to call a wildlife rehabilitator. These professionals are licensed and trained to take care of wild animals that are injured or otherwise cannot care for themselves.
Do not attempt to treat or raise a wild animal yourself — it’s illegal. Wildlife species differ widely in terms of their care and handling requirements. If you are not properly trained, you could make an animal’s situation worse. If kept improperly, animals may lose their natural fear of humans and become more vulnerable to predation or injury.
In Grays Harbor and Pacific counties, I am one of three licensed wildlife rehabilitators. Angela Messmer with the Friends of Slim Pickens Wildlife Rescue can be reached at 2616 Sumner Ave. in Aberdeen. I and my colleague, Dr. Corrie Hines, can be found at Grays Harbor Veterinary Services, 16 Old Beacon Road in Montesano.
Stay tuned, as plans are in place to develop a large wildlife facility in Montesano called Twin Harbors Wildlife Center.
Sonnya Crawford, DVM, is a veterinarian at Grays Harbor Veterinary Services in Montesano. Her pets include two cats, numerous parrots, a giant bunny and saltwater fish. Her special interests are in avian medicine, veterinary dermatology and dentistry. Reach her at email@example.com.