We’ve seen plenty of rabbits — both adults and babies — hopping to & fro in our backyard over the past several years.
Sometimes they’re running past our yard. Sometimes they’re running through our yard. And sometimes they’re hiding out in our yard (temporarily).
But this year they decided to make their home in our yard… and stay!
Here’s what I’ve learned about dogs and bunnies, plus tips for helping the baby bunnies survive after your dog has found them in a rabbit hole.
Dogs vs Rabbits
Let me tell you, when a pregnant rabbit digs her den (usually, a very deep rabbit hole) in your backyard, you’re pretty much stuck with having rabbits as guests for a few months — until those bunnies are big enough to venture out on their own. (Which, of course, creates a whole new set of circumstances!)
Cottontail rabbits make their nests in small depressions in the grass. The nests are lined with fur from the mother and loosely covered with grass. They are frequently disturbed by people when they are mowing their grass or raking. In addition, dogs and cats find these nests and often kill or injure the babies. Source
What If Your Dog Catches A Rabbit?
I’ve often wondered what we should do, on those rare occasions when your dog actually catches wildlife — but doesn’t hurt or kill it.
Here’s what I learned you should do when it’s a rabbit:
According to Nancy Campbell, a registered Veterinary Technician: You should just leave it!
We understand the desire to help, it’s really a GOOD THING and we are glad people have such compassion toward the wild animals. However, healthy babies probably have a momma out there hunting or maybe scouting a new area and will be back for them eventually. You’re truly doing a disservice to the wild critter when you take them from their habitat. For instance, wild rabbits do not do well at all when in captivity. When you bring in little baby bunnies you have signed their death warrant. Momma only comes around twice a day to feed them and just imagine her coming back to an empty nest! Source
If you or your dog happens to touch one of the baby bunnies, it’s okay.
If a rabbit nest is disturbed or moved, replace all of the fur inside the nest and cover the nest well with dry grass. The mother may return to care for her young. If a baby is placed back in a nest, touch all the babies so they all smell the same. The mother will not reject the babies if you handle them. There has been good success with placing rabbits back in the nest and the mother returning later and taking care of her young. Source
Other good advice from Messenger Woods, a Wildlife Care & Education Center:
If the bunnies are caught by a cat or dog and have been bitten, put them in the warm, dark box and call a Wildlife Rehabilitator for help. NOTE: Cats have bacteria in their mouths that will cause a rabbit to die, usually within 3 days, if left untreated. Source
Can hurt bunnies be rehabbed?…
Rarely. It’s best to leave rabbits in their natural environment, and let nature play its course.
Very young wild baby bunnies with eyes closed and ears back rarely survive in captivity, even given the most expert human care; and so it is very important to determine whether they really need help. Try to assess whether the infants seem warm and healthy or cold, thin, and dehydrated. Source
In our case, most recently, it was those newborn baby bunnies that began to wreak havoc in the back yard and my dog took a keen interest!…
My Dog’s First Encounter With Baby Bunnies
Remember around Easter time when I wrote about our dogs’ Easter Egg Hunt which actually turned out to be a hunt for rabbit poo?…
Well, all those rabbit pellets left behind must’ve signaled some form of breeding ritual because here we are now 4 months later and we’re dealing with a whole FAMILY of rabbits. There’s the mama, and at least 5 baby rabbits that find themselves the center of attention these days in our backyard — especially in the eyes of our big dog, Destin.
I swear, the very day the bunnies were born, Destin must have smelled it. The moment he was let outside into the backyard that particular warm summer night, he BOLTED directly to the rabbit hole underneath our air conditioner.
Normally, he could care less about that area of the yard. But on this day, he was on a mission to find whatever smelled different back there, and nothing was going to stop him! This is how we discovered the rabbit den…
Unfortunately Destin, felt compelled to remove the newborn bunnies from the den (must be a dog thing).
And in his haste, he was a little too rough with 2 of the fragile newborn bunnies. Since he’d never been face-to-face with helpless 4-legged wildlife before, neither he nor I knew how he would (or should) react. Fortunately, by the third bunny, he had figured it out. He didn’t want to hurt the bunnies, he was just curious. And it seemed more like he wanted to help them.
He ever-so-gently carried the third bunny away from the rabbit hole and into the middle of the yard. When I asked him to “drop it”, he did (reluctantly). Then he sat over it and watched carefully, as I removed the bunny from within his reach.
Boy, did he become protective of that bunny. Not in an aggressive way, but in a motherly (or would that be fatherly?) kind of way. He wanted to see every single thing I was doing with the bunny. He wanted to smell everything that bunny had touched. And each time the bunny would squeak (I have to admit, I’d never heard a bunny make noises before either), he wanted to be there to make sure it was alright.
Baby Bunnies CAN Survive On Their Own
After separating the dog from the bunny rabbit, I went back to the area by myself to see exactly what we had going on back there.
There appeared to be 2 more bunnies still deep in the rabbit hole. I put the one Destin had “rescued” back with the others, and prayed that the mother would move them the next morning. She didn’t. But we didn’t hear them crying. And upon closer inspection, we could see that they were still wriggling inside their den. So we knew they were still continuing to be fed by the mother. Whew!
For a few days, we kept Destin on a leash anytime he was out in the yard (which seemed odd… and looked odd, since we have a fenced in backyard).
It was a little inconvenient too — because whenever Destin went outside to do his thing, we now had be fully dressed and ready to go outside too — all 27 times a day! That just takes the fun out of having a fenced in backyard, wouldn’t you agree? But this was done simply to assure that he wouldn’t disrupt the newborn bunnies’ first days of life any more than he already had.
Today, the mama rabbit still hops around outside our fence a lot and at times unbeknownst to us, she continues to bring the 3 growing bunnies some form of nourishment. Yes, those bunnies have survived and on a few occasions, we’ve seen them venturing out on their own a bit.
A Dog’s Instinct Never Wanes
My dog, Destin, still displays his mothering and protective feelings for those baby rabbits.
For the most part, he simply checks on them every time he goes out into the backyard.
He also regularly monitors the backyard from the window next to his dog crate. He’s watching closely for any new activity out there.
Only once has there been a close call… Destin chased one of the quick little baby rabbits around the yard until it escaped under the fence. I still think it was a playful chase, but you never really know. That’s why we’re still doing our best to keep Destin away from the rabbit hole and focused on other things for awhile.
We are most thankful that our dog doesn’t seem to want to hurt the wildlife that ventures into our backyard. He’s always been like this. A “caretaker” kind of dog — with everything: the grasshoppers… hurt birds… and even the dead crawfish we found in the yard one day. He kept a watchful eye over that dead crawfish (which is the only way I even knew it was there), and he looked very sad when I picked it up and threw it in the trash.
This was our dog’s very first encounter with baby rabbits.
Has your dog had an encounter with a rabbit? Here’s an excellent resource to walk you through what to do next. They’ve covered everything here!
A Word About Bunny Rescue Organizations
For the record, the morning after we discovered the newborn bunnies, I tried to contact the local bunny rescue in my area. (I was actually surprised that there was one!) But no one ever answered, no matter what time I called over the next couple of days.
I have since located an email address for that organization which might have yielded better results. At the time, I was just so frazzled at the time and my Internet search results weren’t yielding anything meaningful… or local.
The thoughts that kept running though my mind when I had the dog and newborn bunnies in front of me were:
- “How am I going to keep my dog away from the bunnies?”
- “I’ve barely got enough time in my day (it was a very busy week, and hubby was out of town), it would probably be difficult to schedule a meeting or “pick-up” with a rescue agency anyway.”
- “What am I going to do with these helpless newborn rabbits?”
- “They’re wildlife!… Surely the bunnies can take care of themselves.”
- “Bunny rescue groups are probably only interested in abused or neglected ‘family pets’, rather than wildlife anyway.”
Fortunately, it all worked out in the end, and the remaining bunnies survived on their own just fine — after we kept the dog away from them.
I just wish that I’d had a better idea of my options at the time… because I certainly wasn’t thinking clearly in the heat of the moment.
Hopefully, this article will help others who find themselves in the same situation.
Where To Find Help
So, if your dog crosses paths with a rabbit in your backyard, my advice to you would be this:
If the rabbit (or bunny) is not injured: just leave them be.
If the rabbit is hurt:
1. Put it in a warm, dark box (like a shoebox).
2. Contact a Wildlife Rehabber, a rabbit veterinarian, or a bunny rescue group in your area. If you can’t find anyone in your area, check the House Rabbit Society‘s links to various rabbit groups. Or contact your state game department which issues permits to wildlife rehabilitators. Many have current listings of state-permitted wildlife rehabbers and wildlife rehabilitation facilities on their websites.
The #1 thing I’ve learned is it’s best to let wild animals remain wild, and don’t try to nurture them or care for them yourself. They are less likely to survive if separated from their natural environment.
UPDATE: It happened again!
Our youngest dog recently discovered a rabbit hole in our backyard.
Here are more photos of dogs and bunnies!