Public Health Concerns
Research has proven that there are many zoonotic rabbit borne diseases, meaning the disease can be transmitted from animals to humans.
Tularemia – also known as rabbit fever, is a bacterial disease that can spread from an infected animal to a human in a variety of ways. Common methods of contracting this rabbit borne disease include handling or getting bit by an animal, contact with an animal’s fluids and inhaling dust from contaminated soil. Although encountered in other wild and domestic animals, the disease is most likely found in a rabbit. In humans, symptoms typically appear 3-5 days after exposure and vary depending on the method of introduction. When infected from handling, a slow-growing ulcer may appear at the site, followed by swollen lymph nodes. Pneumonia-like symptoms can occur if inhaled. If ingested, you may experience abdominal pain, sore throat, diarrhea, and vomiting. Antibiotics are used to treat tularemia.
Rabies – Rabbits and hares rarely get rabies and have not been known to cause rabies among humans in the United States.
Other Rabbit Borne Diseases
There are many other rabbit borne diseases associated with wild rabbits, although the risk of transmitting to humans is negligible. These diseases include Q-Fever or Rickettsia, Pasteruella, West Nile Virus, Toxoplasmosis, Salmonellosis, Bordetella, Brucellosis. Protozoal diseases include Toxoplasmosis, Encephalitozoonosis, and Giardiasis.
How To Help Baby Rabbits
It is very common to uncover a nest of cottontail rabbits that may appear to be abandoned. Mother rabbits do not abandon their babies under normal circumstances. She only feeds her babies once or twice during a 24-hour period, usually between dusk and dawn.
You may never see her return to the nest. If the babies’ eyes are still closed, they are under 10 days old. If they look plump, are nestled snuggly next to each other and do not appear to be in any immediate danger, leave them alone!
Check to see if the mother is coming back to the nest by looking at the babies’ bellies, first thing in the morning. They should be round, full, and fat.
Keep your dogs and cats away from the nesting area. Cottontails are ready to leave the nest at 3-4 weeks of age.
If the nest has been disturbed, even by a lawnmower, put all the babies and bedding back in place. The mother won’t mind at all.
If you find a small rabbit hopping around that appears to be too young to be on its own, remember: if it is as big as a tennis ball and can run away from you it does not need your help.
If you determine that the babies are injured or in need of assistance:
Place them in a small box with the bedding from their nest, if possible, or soft rags. Baby cottontails are incredibly fragile and do not take handling by humans well. THEY WILL DIE OF STRESS IF HANDLED IMPROPERLY.
Keep baby rabbits in a box in a warm, quiet place away from children, household noise, domestic pets and bright lights.
If you have a heating pad, turn it on LOW and place it under HALF of the box.
DO NOT ATTEMPT TO FEED ANY TYPE OF FORMULA TO A BABY RABBIT. You may kill the animal.
If you have to keep it overnight, you should only attempt to rehydrate it. You must wait until the baby rabbit warms up, as a cold animal cannot digest properly. PLEASE USE WARM DISTILLED WATER ONLY. There are things in rehydrating solutions (like Pedialyte or Gatorade) and water filtration systems that destroy the fatty acids that bunnies need to properly digest their food. Once the rabbit has warmed up, you may gently attempt to give it drops of the warm distilled water with a syringe.
If it will not swallow, do not force it as this could lead to aspiration.
If the bunny doesn’t have its eyes opened, stimulate it to urinate and/or defecate by slightly dampening a cotton ball with warm water and gently stroking the genital area.
These instructions are good for the 24 hour period that it might take for you to get the baby rabbit to a licensed wildlife rehabilitator.