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Cottontail Rabbit: Lifespan, Behavior & Care Guide (With Pictures)

New England cottontail sitting in grass

How many times have you been out and about and then suddenly you see a rabbit dart out from seemingly nowhere? You cry out, “Bunny!” and you just want to pick it up and kiss it on its little bunny nose. But you might not imagine that people actually try to domesticate this wild grassland beauty.

It’s true. In some states, depending on state law or permit factors, specific individuals can care for cottontail rabbits. But the question is, can you—or better yet, should you? A lot of laws and regulations don’t allow it, and possibly for a good reason. Read on for all the details.


Quick Facts about Cottontail Rabbits

Species Name: Sylvilagus
Family: Leporidae
Care Level: Moderate
Temperature: Warm to temperate climates
Temperament: Instinct driven, nervous, flighty
Color Form: Red, brown, gray
Lifespan: 8 years
Size: 13-17 inches
Diet: Herbivore
Minimum Tank Size: 30” x 36”
Tank Set-Up: Single level
Compatibility: Low

Cottontail Rabbits Overview

Cottontail rabbits have been running around the forests, meadows, woodlands, and lawns of North America forever. You might have seen these bunnies hop into your yard to eat a few clovers or seen one dash across the road as you drive.

They are one of the sweet creatures we see in nature and admire from afar—most of the time. However, there has been a slow and recent transition of domestication for educational purposes.

mountain cottontail rabbit
Image Credit: TheOtherKev, Pixabay

Unless you are extremely skilled and educated about wild rabbits, they will not make a good pet. These creatures are entirely feral animals, and they need to be in their natural habitat to thrive best.

Prey animals have major stimuli responses to their surroundings because they’re used to hiding from predators. Wild-caught cottontails will always be afraid of you based on instinct. They don’t have the mild traits of domesticated rabbits.

How Much Do Cottontail Rabbits Cost?

This is a simple question because you won’t find a cottontail like other pets. Cottontails are wild animals, so you can’t buy or sell these creatures for profit.

However, breeders have worked diligently to provide a wild-rabbit look in a domesticated bunny. Some rabbits, like San Juans, look identical to their cottontail cousins. They are generally raised for meat and hunting training, but they are submissive enough to keep as pets.


Typical Behavior & Temperament

Cottontail rabbits have decently docile temperaments with one another—but the same sentiment doesn’t extend to people. They have heightened prey instincts, making them much more sensitive to loud noises, commotion, and fast movements.

Because of their prey roots, they are highly skittish, kicking if you move wrong while picking them up. You have to be very careful how you handle them, ensuring you protect yourself while safely securing them, too.

mexican cottontail rabbit
Image Credit: Heliopixel, Shutterstock

Not only can a rabbit cause you real damage with their powerful feet, but you can also seriously injure their spine if they frantically kick to get away from you.

You will likely never find a cottontail with its guard down. They are always on defense, with their flight senses prepared to go. Their nervousness might vary, depending on the individual rabbit, but overall—they aren’t highly social—and they’re definitely fearful.

Even if you raise a cottontail from infancy, they will still possess their parents’ genetic primal instincts.

Appearance & Varieties

All cottontails are part of North America. They dwell in different areas, and they look incredibly similar except for slight color and size differences.

  • Eastern Cottontailthis is the most common cottontail, existing all over North America. They are grayish-brown and weigh up to three pounds.
  • Mountain Cottontailthis rabbit is slightly smaller than its eastern cousin weighing only 2 pounds as adults.
  • Mexican Cottontail—these rabbits are the biggest of all cottontails, weighing as much as 5 pounds. They have a reddish hue to their fur.


How to Take Care of Cottontail Rabbits

If you do stumble upon a cottontail, there will be a few ways it could happen.

  • You caught one in a live trap. You might have set up your live trap to catch the pesky raccoon that keeps sifting through your trash, but you caught a curious bunny instead—it happens.
  • You found a litter of bunnies in your yard. Because rabbits nest in the ground and cover their young with grass and fur, you might find the litter when they start getting a little active. Always make sure that mom is truly gone before you intervene.
  • You found an injured cottontail. If you ever find a cottontail rabbit that’s wounded, make sure you take them to a wildlife reservation close to you so they can get proper medical care.
  • You found a live cottontail that was hit by a car. If a cottontail has been hit by a car, you will want to get them to professional rehabilitators as soon as possible.
desert cottontail rabbit
Image Credit: Pixabay

Unless you’re incredibly experienced, all wild animals do best in their natural habitat. If you aren’t sure what to do, check locally for options on where to take them, especially if they require veterinary attention and release.


Do Cottontail Rabbits Get Along with Other Pets?

Cottontail rabbits are quiet, peaceful creatures in their natural environment. However, they are extremely reactive to other animals. Unless you have a pair of cottontails together, they do not mesh with any other species.

What to Feed Your Cottontail Rabbit

If you are keeping a cottontail rabbit for a short time, nutrition is of utmost importance. Since these rabbits are wild, they need a diet that mimics their natural habitat. Otherwise, they can suffer from malnutrition.

Cottontails usually eat diets that consist of:

  • Grasses
  • Weeds
  • Garden veggies
  • Succulents
  • Legumes

If you have any concerns that this rabbit isn’t getting the right nutrients, consult a professional.

Keeping Your Cottontail Rabbit Healthy

Unfortunately, domesticating wild rabbits can seem fun—but it might do more harm than good. Imagine going from being free to suddenly being caged with these giant creatures that come to feed you and hold you. Pretty scary, right?

The reality is, the cottontail rabbit will be the happiest in the wild with its bunny family. But if you have to foster, nurture, or otherwise keep a cottontail for any reason, you need to give them hands-off care (if you can).

an eastern cottontail rabbit
Image Credit: 6ixmanningphotography, Shutterstock

First of all, never startle the bunny. Because of their fight or flight response, they can negatively react to something that’s harmless. So, to be their absolute happiest and healthiest, they need to be free from domestication entirely.


In their natural habitat, cottontails begin to breed early in the year, starting in February. Females usually have 3-4 litters per year, but they can have up to 7 litters.

If you found a litter of bunnies in your yard, try not to interfere, as their mom is probably close by.


Are Cottontail Rabbits Suitable For You?

Unfortunately, cottontail rabbits are not the right candidates for a lavish pet lifestyle. These beautiful animals have lived in the wild for eons, and that is where they should continue to stay. Keeping a cottontail might sound appealing, but they won’t do well in captivity.

Again, if you have found a wild cottontail, do your best to release them back to the wild or get a professional to help you with the situation.

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Featurd Image: Julie rubacha, Shutterstock

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