Wild vs domestic rabbits: Differences explained

Written by Lex Basu
Updated: September 30, 2022
Image Credit Nadezhda V. Kulagina/Shutterstock.com
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Key Points

  • Both wild and domestic rabbits belong to the same species.
  • Although they belong to the same species, there are lot of differences that put them apart.
  • They differ in size, color, ears, face, habitat, social behavior, diet, lifespan and more.

You’re probably familiar with both wild and domestic rabbits. Wild rabbits are a common sight in parks, fields, and backyards in many areas. You may be lucky enough to have a domestic bunny as a pet.

Since wild and domestic bunnies both belong to the same species, you may figure they share a lot of traits. Well, while they do have a lot of things in common, there are some fundamental differences.

Look at a comparison of interesting facts regarding their size, color, diet, lifespan, and more. Also, find out whether wild rabbit babies could ever be kept as pets.

Size

Wild rabbits can measure from eight to twenty inches long. They can weigh from one to five pounds. This is the size range for a rabbit you’re likely to see in a park, a backyard, or a wooded area.

The size of a domestic rabbit varies depending on the breed. There are small, medium, and large types of domestic bunnies.

One of the smallest types of domestic bunnies is the Netherland Dwarf at two and a half pounds. A medium-size domestic bunny is the Himalayan at four and a half pounds. One of the largest types of domestic bunnies is known as the Flemish giant. This rabbit weighs 20 pounds!

It makes sense that domestic bunnies can grow larger than wild ones. Wild rabbits have a limited diet and must stick to whatever plant life they can find in their habitat. There are some seasons when food is scarce and they can’t find as much to eat or when they are competing for food. Domestic bunnies can be fed a variety of foods and are always provided with plenty of it! If the bunny needs a particular vitamin or supplement to maintain better health, then a pet owner can get it.

Wild rabbit in meadow
Adorable wild rabbit in a meadow. The fur of a wild rabbit is mostly light brown.

Miroslav Hlavko/Shutterstock.com

Color

Looking at the color of a rabbit is an easy way to tell whether it’s wild or domestic. This can be especially helpful if someone finds rabbit babies wandering around in a field or yard.

In most cases, the fur of a wild rabbit is light brown with a whitetail. But, what about the Arctic hare? It has a coat of thick white fur. Well, hares and rabbits are different species. Though the Arctic hare is sometimes called the Polar rabbit, it isn’t included in the rabbit species.

The fur of a domestic rabbit varies depending on its breed. Domestic rabbits can be tri-colored, solid gray, blue, reddish-brown, black, or cream just to name a few.

So, if you see a rabbit with tri-colored fur nibbling on grass in a field, then it probably got out of its cage or enclosure. Chances are, if you approached it, the bunny would not try to get away because it is tame.

Ears

One of the main differences between these types of rabbits is the appearance of their ears. A domestic rabbit can have floppy ears, or ears that flop over onto its head. Alternatively, wild rabbits don’t have floppy ears, their ears stand up.

Why don’t any wild rabbits have floppy ears? A wild rabbit has to be alert to its surroundings at all times. Take a few minutes to watch one. Their upright ears quickly shift direction as they move their head around in an effort to detect any sign of danger.

Keep in mind that studying the ears of a rabbit isn’t a surefire way to determine whether it’s domestic or wild. After all, many domestic rabbits have ears that stand up.

Face

Observing the facial structure of a wild rabbit and a domestic one can help you determine the difference between them. A wild rabbit has a narrow, long face whereas a domestic bunny has a shorter, thicker face.

One reason wild rabbits have thinner faces is they live on a limited diet of plant life. Plus, they can’t afford to put on any extra weight because they have to be very fast to escape predators.

Though face shape and thickness are subtle features in this animal, they can factor into an accurate determination between the different types of bunnies.

Habitat

Wild rabbits live in wooded areas, in fields, or in a grassland habitat. While some of these animals live above ground, many dig holes that lead to a warren. A warren is an underground home with a series of tunnels and chambers. There are a few entrances and exits so the rabbits can easily find their way in or out in case of danger. A female rabbit may make a nest in one of the chambers to have her babies.

A domestic bunny can live in many types of places. Some owners keep their bunnies in wire cages while others set them up in an outdoor hutch. These pets can be kept outdoors as long as they have shelter from extreme heat and cold. Plus, it’s important to ensure their outdoor habitat keeps them safe from dogs, cats, and other predators.

Scientific Information

When it comes to the scientific information of the wild rabbit and domestic rabbit, the facts are almost the same.

Both the domestic and the wild rabbit belong to the order Lagomorpha and the Leporidae family.

But the scientific name of the wild rabbit is Oryctolagus cuniculus. The scientific name of the domestic rabbit is Oryctolagus cuniculus domesticus.

Diet

Rabbits are herbivores. This is one of those basic facts that most people know. But there are differences in the diet of wild and domestic bunnies.

Wild ones eat grass, clover, shrubs, and other green plants. They may also nibble on flowers. In the winter season when green plants are scarce, this animal eats dead plants and leaves.

The diet of a domestic bunny depends on what its owner feeds it. Most owners feed them a combination of timothy hay, carrot tops, lettuce, radish tops, and cucumbers. Rabbit pellets are also fed to these pets but should be given to them in small amounts. Pellets can be difficult for bunnies to digest.

Lifespan

There is a distinct difference between the lifespan of wild and domestic bunnies. Domestic bunnies have a lifespan of six to ten years. Some of them live even longer. On the other hand, wild rabbits live just one or two years.

Wild rabbits have a lot of predators. In short, they are a source of food for many types of animals. Some of those predators include hawks, owls, snakes, coyotes, dogs, and foxes, among others. So, it’s not a surprise they have such a short lifespan.

Pet rabbit
A girl holding a cute domestic rabbit. Domestic rabbits are a lot more social than wild rabbits.

iStock.com/KatarinaGondova

Social Activity

Wild rabbits tend to be solitary though they may be found living near one another. It’s not uncommon to see a single rabbit living in a backyard or garden habitat. Wild rabbits are found together more often during the breeding season.

Domestic bunnies are more social than wild ones. Some pet owners keep them together in hutches or enclosures. Some domestic bunnies are kept in groups from birth.

Personality

Domestic bunnies are popular pets because of their sweet, affectionate personality. Domestic bunnies can be playful, too. They move toys around on the floor and may even eat food out of their owner’s hand.

In contrast, wild rabbits are wary of people and keep their distance if at all possible. These animals are constantly on guard for predators and other threats.

Life as a Pet

Say a person found an abandoned baby rabbit in the wild. The person raised the wild bunny just like one from a pet shop. Maybe the person keeps some domestic bunnies as pets too. This prompts the question: Is a wild rabbit as good a pet as a domestic one?

If a very young wild rabbit is raised by a person, it’s likely to make a good pet. But that doesn’t mean it won’t still have the natural instincts of a wild one. This type of pet may want to wander a little more than the domestic bunnies and may be less affectionate. But there have been people who have successfully raised a newborn wild bunny into a healthy adult.

A person who tries to raise a wild bunny as a pet must get guidance from a small animal veterinarian on how to feed and care for this animal. This is even more important if the wild bunny is a newborn.

Wild rabbit babies raised in captivity can’t be released back into the wild. This is because they don’t have the skills to survive in a wild habitat.

Next Up…

Wild vs domestic rabbits
Wild vs domestic rabbits
Nadezhda V. Kulagina/Shutterstock.com
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About the Author

Lex is a green-living, tree-hugging, animal-lover, who at one time was the mother to twenty one felines and one doggo. Now she helps pet owners around the globe be the best caretakers for their most trusting companions by sharing her experience and spreading love.

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