Cottontail Bunnies – Identifying Emergencies

All visible injuries are an immediate emergency. Gardening accidents, a nest that has been stepped on, and pet attacks often result in injuries. If a single bunny has been injured, perhaps the remaining rabbits can be left in the nest. If the injury to one bunny has left blood in or near the nest, the entire nest is in danger of failing.

A mower accident will often wound or kill one or two babies, while the others are untouched. The blood from the injured bunnies will attract flies, and these will lay eggs which will hatch into maggots. This endangers the remaining babies.

Maggots and fly eggs may or may not accompany an open wound. This is a sure sign that the animal is in serious trouble. If left untreated, maggots will eat into wet tissue or openings in the skin, causing infection and literally “eat the animal alive.” Most people don’t realize that maggots DO NOT need an open wound to an animal’s body; they need only constant moisture to develop. Maggots will enter the ears, eyes, mouth, and other orifices.

Any bunny that was in a dog’s or cat’s mouth should be treated with antibiotics. Dogs, and especially cats, carry bacteria in their mouths, including pasterellia. This bacterium is highly infectious to wild animals, especially young rabbits. Untreated, the animal can develop a systemic infection that attacks major organs. Once this happens, the animal will die within a few days, and it is very painful.

These are quick and easy decisions. As soon as I hear “my dog or cat had this animal” my immediate response is “get it to a wildlife rehabilitator right away!”

There are times when nest disruption requires evacuation of all the bunnies. Flooding any time of year, and heavy snowfalls in the spring can be considered a natural disaster for a bunny nest. Construction of an area that removes all of the dirt and ground cover may mean that there is no place to rebuild the nest. These are emergencies. Each year, we also receive bunnies found in soil delivered by truck to a home for landscaping. These are cases where rehabbing the entire nest is a must.
If no emergency exists, every effort must be made to re-nest the bunnies so the mother can care for them. Cottontails are difficult to rehab, yet in nature, this is a hardy, prolific animal. A successfully re-nested litter of bunnies often flourishes.