How to Get Rid of Rabbits (and Keep Them Away)

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Updated on October 18, 2022

Rabbits, bunnies, hares, jackalopes… It doesn’t matter what you call them; these cuddly critters are both wonderful pets and garden pests. In fact, of all the critters out there, they’re perhaps the most beloved, yet they can be as destructive as gophers.

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So what do you do when you have a bunch of rabbits invading your yard or garden and wreaking havoc?

Before you decide to play Mr. McGregor, it’s a good idea to take a look at how rabbits behave in the wild, as well as what potential damage they can actually cause.

As usual, we’ll also give you a lot of great no-kill methods, but (in this case) we’ll also touch upon a few kill methods and whether they’re a good idea or not.

Getting to Know Rabbits

rabbit

What you think you know about those cute little bunnies may not be entirely accurate. In fact, while most people can identify a rabbit on sight, their habits in the wild tend to be relatively unknown to most.

A Few Fun Facts

Before we get into the serious stuff, here are a few little facts about rabbits you might not know (but will make you sound smarter):

  1. Baby rabbits are called kits or kittens. Note that we’ll just call them kits in this article to avoid confusion, since cats will be mentioned later.
  2. Rabbits are one of the most popular animals in mythology, folklore, and pop culture, representing speed, luck, and troublemakers.
  3. Despite what you might have heard, cases of rabies are very rare in rodents and lagomorphs – the order containing rabbits (Leporidae family) and pikas (Ochotonidae family).
  4. While rabbits were considered to be rodents up until the early 20th century, they’re actually from a different Order and Clade than rodents such as mice and prairie dogs.
  5. Rabbits (and rodents) belong to the superorder Euarchontoglires, which is where we belong as well. In fact, rabbits (and rats) are so close to humans genetically that they have been used to graft and grow ears or other small replacement parts for humans.
  6. The incisors of rabbits are constantly growing, and they’ll gnaw on wood, stone, or other hard objects to try and file down their teeth. This is one of the biggest reasons for rabbit-related damage to non-plant objects on your property. And also a reason why some have a rabbit phobia.
  7. Rabbits are normally crepuscular, meaning they’re most active at dusk and portions of the night to help them avoid predators.
  8. Rabbits are strictly herbivores, unlike rodents. However, they are known to eat their young if there’s a perceived shortage of resources.
  9. Hares and rabbits are actually two different genera of lagomorph, but the two terms are used interchangeably in common names and most cultures.

What Does a Rabbit Burrow Look Like?

rabbit burrow

Rabbit burrows are known as warrens when multiple rabbits (collectively known as a colony or nest of rabbits) are present, and may be a lot bigger than you think. They can extend as far as ten feet below ground and have a length of up to 150 feet.

The primary entrance is surrounded by a mound of dirt, but secondary entrances often lack this mound.

In addition to a series of tunnels, there are living chambers that may be as large as a foot or two in height, depending on the species. Some rabbits, such as cottontails (Sylvilagus spp.) prefer to take over the abandoned burrows of other critters.

Meanwhile, hares (Lepus spp.) make a shallow depression or flatten grass into an above-ground nest known as a form.

Breeding and Life Cycle

While the phrase “breeding like rabbits” gives off the image of rapidly multiplying numbers, this isn’t quite accurate. Instead, it may have originally referred to the fact that copulation among rabbits only takes 20 to 40 seconds.

The female will gestate between 28 and 36 days, and the longer, the better. This is because rabbit embryos have a high mortality rate, so the longer they take, the more likely only a smaller litter will be born.

A single female will give birth to between four and 12 kits, and may have as many as 60 per year. Many of these don’t survive due to predation or disease, however.

Unlike human females (who are highly fertile right after giving birth but need time to heal) female rabbits often get pregnant again the very next day after giving birth without any need for recovery time.

When you also factor in that a female rabbit can reach sexual maturity in three to eight months, it really does seem like they could out-breed anything. However, fertility in both males and females begins to decline after only three years and a single rabbit can live as long as 12 years.

Between this short period of fertility and the high mortality rate, rabbits aren’t likely to overpopulate the world any time soon.

Damage That Rabbits Can Cause

rabbit in garden

Rabbits can be incredibly destructive, both to ornamental plants and food crops. It’s said that a crop yield of wheat on a single hectare of land will be reduced by 1 percent for each rabbit present.

They’re known to rip off branches from woody plants and eat the more delicate green inner bark, chew through plant stems, dig up bulbs and roots, and destroy flower beds and vegetable gardens.

Even worse, their warrens can extend under homes, roads, and other structures, causing them to sink or become unstable in the same manner as burrows created by gophers and groundhogs.

Let the Rabbits Wear Glasses!
Actually, rabbits rarely eat carrots and other roots in the wild. In fact, the high sugar content of carrots is quite unhealthy for these critters.

Can I Tame a Wild Rabbit?

This is a more complicated question than you might first think. In most states, keeping a wild rabbit (especially a kit) is illegal without a license. The exception to this is if you find a severely sick or injured rabbit, in which case you must report it to wildlife rehabilitation, who’ll come and collect the rabbit.

Wild rabbits are very difficult to tame and can carry two very dangerous diseases: myxomatosis, which is deadly to rabbits and easily spread, and viral hemorrhagic disease, which is also highly contagious and can be spread to cats, dogs, and other pets.

Getting Rid of Rabbits

getting rid of wild rabbits

Rabbit infestations can be quite a problem, especially if they take a liking to your vegetable or flower garden. Thankfully, getting rid of them can be a lot easier than it first seems.

Here are some of the best (and a few of the worst later on) methods for getting rid of rabbits.

How to Get Rid of Rabbits Without Killing Them

While we will be discussing kill methods later on, it’s important to start off with safe, legal, and eco-friendly options.

#1 – Repellents

Rabbits have a delicate sense of smell, so strong smells can easily chase them off. You have quite a selection to choose from, as well. Just be warned that repellents will usually need to be reapplied frequently and especially if it rains.

Commercial Repellents – These include predator urine crystals, chemical sprays, and granules like Liquid Fence. These commercial products can be used around a food source, then reapplied further out each time until they’re forming a perimeter around your property.

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Homemade Rabbit Repellents – Sprays made using garlic, vinegar, or essential oils work quite well against rabbits in most cases. You can also sprinkle or spray cayenne pepper around places you don’t want the bunnies to munch. 

Natural Rabbit Repellents – A lot of plants are able to repel rabbits and other pests. However, we’ll talk more about these at the end, since they’re far more permanent fixtures than they other repellents we’ve discussed here.

#2 – Trap and Release

Rabbit traps are some of the best ways to deal with a rabbit invasion but might take a bit of patience. You can purchase live traps or even rent them from local pest control agencies.

Simply set, bait it with alfalfa or other tasty treats, and collect the occupied trap. Be sure to take the rabbit at least five miles from your home prior to releasing it so it won’t come back.

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Kill Methods

If you know our site, you know we never take kill methods lightly for most critters. Not only can it affect the ecosystem or possibly endanger an animal population, it’s also often illegal.

However, since rabbits are populous (over 40 percent of all rabbit species are believed to be native to North America) and often hunted for food, there are a few options available.

Can You Shoot a Rabbit in Your Yard?

This depends on two factors, both of which will be different depending on where you live. First of all, the place you reside must permit the discharge of firearms on your own property.

Second, the local game commission must identify rabbits as a game animal and permit shooting out of hunting season if the rabbit is on your property and causing damage.

As always, check your local ordinances before attempting to kill any animal to make sure it’s legal.

Hare of the Dog

Cats and dogs are both natural predators of rabbits and your pet will love hunting down these tasty little critters. However, know that there’s a huge risk involved.

If that rabbit Rover caught happened to be a carrier of viral hemorrhagic disease, your pet could potentially catch a life-threatening illness. As a result, we suggest extreme caution when letting your pets near a rabbit infestation.

Poisoning the Bunny

Poison bait are a popular way of killing critters, but we’re not fans. Rat poison and similar killers are simply too dangerous, as innocent critters (including children or pets) may come into contact with them.

Professionals

When nothing else seems to be working or you suspect there are kits in the burrow, your best bet is to call your local animal control experts. They will assess the situation and may use lethal or non lethal methods to remove the adults and kits safely.

While not as cheap as DIY methods in the short term, it’s far cheaper than potentially having to repair structural damage if you aren’t able to solve the problem on your own.

How to Keep Rabbits Away

keep rabbits away

Of course, once you’ve gotten rid of rabbits, you don’t want them coming back, and it also pays to be proactive if you’re at risk of an infestation. Here are some ways to keep bunnies from invading.

#1 – Caffeinated Barriers

A fun (and useful) repellent is actually right in your own kitchen: coffee grounds. We’re mentioning this wonderful by-product of necessity here because it isn’t as temporary as other home repellents.

Simply sprinkle the grounds around places you don’t want the rabbits to go. The strong scent will keep them away for a few days until the grounds are absorbed into the soil.

But the benefits don’t stop there. Used coffee grounds are chock full of nitrates, and this can boost nearby plants as the grounds are absorbed. Not all plants are able to handle the acidity of coffee, however, so do a little research before pouring it into your garden.

#2 – Decoys and Motion-Activated Methods

Decoys are a popular method of repelling critters and can be quite successful – IF you move them around occasionally.  These are usually lifelike ceramic or plastic statues of owls, hawks, or other natural predators.

You can get versions that look like they’re about to leap at their prey or more relaxed ones. Remember, rabbits are known to have a wide range of personalities, so the results will always vary depending on the rabbit.

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Meanwhile, electronic devices are also great options in many cases. Some of these devices are sonic, releasing sound waves that you can’t hear but the rabbit does (and cats and dogs, usually, so keep that in mind). Other devices put on a little light show when motion is detected, which can often startle critters into running away. There are also combination devices.

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However, one of the more popular devices for pushing back enemies (and tending to your lawn) is the motion-activated sprinkler. These will suddenly spray water when movement is detected, causing critters to flee.

Decoys and electronic devices are generally a great option, but they do come with some downsides. For example, sonic devices can irritate pets, and rabbits (and other critters) can get used to these deterrents in time.

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#3 – Companion Planting

Do you remember when we mentioned natural repellents? Well even if you’re not Pepperidge Farm, this is the info we promised.

Companion planting (alternately known as complimentary gardening) is the practice of mixing different types of plants that benefit each other. For example, some companion plants repel pests, attract beneficial insects and pollinators, or even release chemicals that boost the growth of other nearby plants.

There are a number of plants that mess with a rabbit’s sense of smell, causing them to avoid the area. Of these, alliums (both ornamental and edible) give off a garlicy scent that sends bunnies running the other way.

Peppermint, marigolds, rosemary, and many other kitchen herbs also make great repellent plants. And they look good while doing the job, too!

Just be warned, you can’t simply lump a bunch of plants together. Choose plants with similar care needs and different root depths. This latter requirement allows you to plant things much closer together without them competing for water and nutrients.

#4 – Fencing

keep deer out of a garden

Whether you’re fencing off just the garden or your entire property, it’s hard to go wrong with a good fence. However, you can’t just build a chicken wire fence above ground and expect that to stop them.

Remember, rabbits can burrow as far as ten feet underground, so you’ll need to extend that fence underground for it to be completely effective.

The exact depth needed is around eight inches, although you can always go deeper if you believe there may be a warren or burrow nearby. For height, aim for three to four feet tall, with the top angled outwards to make jumping the fence more difficult.

#5 – Exclusionary Devices

Rabbits will try to seek shelter in crawlspaces, hollows, or under the porch, and if they feel safe there, they might start digging a burrow. Prevent this by sealing off any openings they might squeeze through (remember, rodents can fit in very small spaces) with wire mesh or a similar barrier.

And if you suspect rabbits may already be setting up shop in one of these places, you can use exclusionary devices.

Exclusionary devices are basically one-way doors that a critter can get our of but can’t enter back in through. There are several different kinds on the market to choose from, so pick what works best for your situation.

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#6 – Cleaning Up

backyard

Keep your lawn trimmed and avoid having any standing water source, as rabbits need water and shelter.

Also, scour your property for any burrows or warrens and fill each hole with gravel or sand (you can top it off with dirt) so they can’t easily excavate the hole again.

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