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The Differences Between Domestic & Wild Rabbits

| Updated September 26, 2017

Although domestic and wild rabbits share similarities in appearance, the two are very different. America is home to 14 species of wild rabbits, including cottontails, which are classified in either the Lepus or the Sylvilagus genus. Domestic rabbits, however, belong to the Oryctolagus cuniculus genus and hail from Europe. But, the differences don't stop there.

Survival Abilities

Because they belong to different species, domestic rabbits cannot reproduce with wild rabbits. In addition, a domestic rabbit cannot survive if set free outside. If left to fend for themselves in the wild, domestic rabbits will face such hazards as exposure to extreme temperatures, human and animal predators and poisonous plants.

Typical Life Span

A wild rabbit can have a life span of two years, although due to predators and harsh weather conditions, many survive little more than a year. A domestic rabbit can live as long as 8 to 12 years if properly cared for and housed indoors while a domestic rabbit housed outdoors generally will live half as many years as an indoor rabbit.

A Rabbit's Diet

Wild and domestic rabbits have vastly different diets. A wild rabbit will generally eat clover, grass and wild flowers in addition to grazing on farmers' and gardeners' crops. Their domestic counterparts, however, have specific dietary requirements, including 24-hour access to fresh timothy hay or orchard grass and clean water. To ensure good health, domestic rabbits also need fresh vegetables and high quality pellets.


  • You cannot legally keep a wild rabbit as a pet. If you find an abandoned wild baby rabbit or an injured wild rabbit, contact your local wildlife rehabilitation facility as soon as possible to increase the animal's chances of survival.

Behavioral Similarities and Differences

Wild rabbits dig deep into the ground to create burrows, where they can sleep and care for their babies, with multiple entrances to keep them safe from predators and the weather. Domestic rabbits often like to dig and find comfort and safety in dark places, such as a cardboard box with at least two ways to get in and out.

As prey animals, both wild and domestic rabbits tend to become frightened and run at loud sounds and at the scent of predatory animals such as dogs and large birds. However, with time and patience, a domestic rabbit can bond with humans whereas wild rabbits typically fear humans and will run away.


  • A wild rabbit who does not fear humans will not develop necessary survival skills.