Damage to Structures
Rabbits rarely damage structures. If damage occurs, it usually is from gnawing on the edges of wood siding and trim.
Damage to Livestock and Pets
Rabbits generally are not a threat to other animals. However, they may carry diseases and parasites that can infect pets if they come into proximity with one another.
Damage to Landscapes
Most damage to gardens, landscapes, or agricultural crops occurs in areas adjacent to swamps or rangeland normally used by hares. Damage may be temporary and usually occurs when natural vegetation is dry. Green vegetation may be severely damaged during these dry periods.
Orchards and ornamental trees and shrubs are usually damaged by overbrowsing, girdling, and stripping of bark, especially by snowshoe hares. This type of damage is most common during winter in northern areas.
Rangeland overbrowsing and over- grazing can occur any time jackrabbit numbers are high. Eight jackrabbits are estimated to eat as much as one sheep, and 41 jackrabbits as much as one cow.
Estimates of jackrabbit populations run as high as 400 jackrabbits per square mile (154/km2) extending over several hundred square miles. Range damage can be severe in such situations, especially where vegetation productivity is low.
Health and Safety Concerns
Tularemia, or “rabbit fever,” is the most notable disease associated with cottontails. Tularemia is caused by bacteria that can be contracted by humans through the bite of a rabbit, tick, or flea, or by handling the carcass of an infected animal. To reduce the risk of contracting tularemia, avoid direct contact with rabbits that are dead, emaciated, or exhibit abnormal behavior such as lethargy, incoordination, and lameness. Take precautions against ectoparasites (ticks and fleas) and wear latex or vinyl gloves when handling and butchering rabbits. Immediately discard rabbits with livers speckled with small, white spots. In case of illness, inform medical personnel of contact with rabbits. The symptoms of tularemia are confused easily with the flu. Symptoms in humans include fever, swollen lymph nodes, and swelling near the bite, typically appearing within 3 to 14 days of exposure. The infection rarely is fatal to humans if antibiotics are administered quickly. Rabbits can carry ticks infected with Lyme disease. Lyme disease typically manifests with flu-like symptoms, so consider a tick-borne illness if anyone has symptoms within 3 weeks of handling rabbits. Rabbits infected with fibroma virus have fleshy, finger-like growths protruding from various parts of the body. The growths occasionally make rabbits look like they have antlers. The antler-like growths may have given rise to the mythical “jackalope.” Afflicted rabbits will raise concern among onlookers, but it is not contagious to humans.