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The differences between domestic and wild rabbits

Updated June 19, 2017

Wild and domestic rabbits both come from the family of animals called Leporidae, but that is where many of their similarities end. Not only do wild and domestic rabbits differ physically, their social and behavioural characteristics are vastly different. One might compare the wild and domestic rabbits to the wolf and dog. While sharing obvious characteristics, they are very different creatures.

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Most of the world's wild rabbits live in the Western hemisphere. They are also native to Europe, Southeast Asia and Africa. Domestic rabbits are actually descendant from the European hare, which exhibits extremely different social behaviours from the wild Cottontail rabbit. Despite sharing an animal family, domestic and wild rabbits have evolved to become genetically incompatible and can't produce offspring.


Wild rabbits are a light brown colour, called Agouti. This is the easiest way to differentiate a wild rabbit from a domestic rabbit. A domestic rabbit will be noticeable by its droopy lop ears, spotted coat or albino fur. Wild rabbits are much smaller than domestic rabbits, with adult Cottontails weighing up to 1.81 kg (4 lb) and domestic rabbits reaching more than 4.54 kg (10 lb), according to breed. Wild rabbits have a smaller, narrow head, while domestic rabbits have rounded heads and chubby cheeks.


North American wild rabbits build their nests above ground, usually inside protective bushes or wooded areas, and live relatively solitary lives. European wild rabbits, however, build complicated and massive underground warrens, where they engage in a complex social hierarchy. Because domestic rabbits descend from European rabbits, they too have a strong sense of community and social hierarchies.


Wild and domestic rabbits exhibit wildly different behaviour when encountering humans. Wild rabbits have no interest in humans and will bolt, alarmed, if they see one. Domestic rabbits however, unless they have been abused by a human, will approach them with only minimal caution.

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About the Author

Kelsey Bankert began writing professionally in 1997. She has published fiction, humor and public-interest pieces in a variety of regional magazines and she also draws cartoons. Bankert earned a Master of Arts in history from San Diego State University.

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