Rabbit Damage Prevention and Control Methods

Identification | Biology | Damage ID | Management | Resources

Overview of Damage Prevention and Control Methods 

Habitat Modification 

  • Remove brush piles, debris, dumps, and other cover  
  • Plant daffodils in place of tulips 

Exclusion 

  • 24-inch high fences with bases secured to the ground to protect gardens and shrubs  
  • Cylinders made from hardware cloth to protect fruit trees and ornamental plants 

Frightening Devices 

  • None are reliable 

Repellents 

  • Thiram 
  • Ammonium soaps 
  • Capsaicin 
  • Putrescent eggs 
  • Coyote urine 
  • Garlic oil 

Toxicants 

  • None registered 

Shooting 

  • Sport hunting and shooting of problem individuals with .22-caliber rifles and shotguns 

Trapping 

  • Cage and box traps  
  • Some species are listed in states as threatened. Always check with state and local authorities before initiating control. 

Damage Prevention and Control Methods 

Exclusion is effective any time it is installed properly. Trapping is most effective when rabbits are food-stressed, especially in late winter months. Damage by rabbits rarely reaches economic significance in commercial fields or plantations, but there are exceptions. For example, marsh rabbits have been implicated in damage to sugarcane in Florida.  

Habitat Modification 

Remove piles of brush or stones, patches of weeds, dumps, and other debris where rabbits live and hide. Habitat modification is effective especially in suburban areas where fewer suitable habitats are available. Control vegetation along banks of ditches and fences to eliminate habitat for rabbits in agricultural settings. Unfortunately, this likely will have a detrimental effect on other species, such as pheasants.  

Daffodils and other spring bulbs are resistant to rabbit damage. Plant them in place of tulips to ensure spring flowering. 

Exclusion 

One of the best ways to protect a backyard flowerbed, garden, or crop of fruit is to install a fence. It does not have to be tall or especially sturdy. A fence of 2-foot-high chicken wire with the bottom tight to the ground or buried a few inches is sufficient. The mesh should be 1 inch or smaller so that young rabbits will not be able to go through it.  

A substantial fence of welded wire, chain link, or hog wire will keep rabbits, pets, and children out of a garden and can be used to trellis vines. The lower 1½ to 2 feet should be covered with 1-inch mesh wire. A fence may seem costly, but with proper care it will last many years and provide relief from the aggravation of damage by rabbits.  

Commercial tree guards or tree wrap are alternatives to hardware cloth (Figure 10).  

Figure 10. Commercial tree guards.  
Photo by Stephen M. Vantassel. 

Several types of paper wrap are available but rabbits can chew through them. When rabbits are abundant and food is in short supply, only hardware cloth will guarantee protection.

Figure 11. Hardware cloth cylinders protect trees from damage by rabbits. Image by PCWD. 

Small mesh (¼-inch) hardware cloth also protects against damage by voles. Secure a dome or cage of chicken wire over a small bed for flowers to protect vulnerable plants while they are getting established. Cylinders of ¼-inch wire hardware cloth will protect valuable young trees in orchards or other plants in landscapes (Fig. 11). 

The cylinders should extend 20 inches higher than the expected depth of snow, and stand 1 to 2 inches from the trunk of the tree. Larger mesh sizes, ½- to 3/4– inches, can be used to reduce cost, but ensure that the cylinder stands far enough away from the trunk of the tree so that rabbits cannot access the bark through the holes. Secure the top of the cylinder to prevent bird entrapment. 

Frightening Devices 

Several home remedies have been used, such as pin-wheels, suspended pie pans, and glass jars filled with water, but frightening devices are not effective for the control of rabbits.  

Repellents 

Most repellents for rabbits are not registered for use on plants destined for consumption by humans. Repellents may work through either taste or odor.  

Taste-based repellents make the plant less palatable for rabbits and typically are applied directly to the plant. Examples include those containing capsaicin or extract from hot peppers, such as Deer Off™, Get Away™, and Scoot™. Their effectiveness tends to be short-lived and requires reapplication after rain, irrigation by sprinklers, or when new growth occurs. The duration and effectiveness of some repellents can be extended by mixing them with an anti-transpirant, such as Vapor Gard™ or Wilt-Pruf™. 

Odor-based repellents keep rabbits from an area using fear or a foul smell. A wide variety of active ingredients are used, including: ammonium or potassium salts of soaps (Hinder™), putrescent eggs (DeFence® and Liquid Fence®), thiram (Spotrete™), predator urine (Shake-Away™), or garlic (Sweeny’s® Deer & Rabbit Repellent). They typically are applied to soil in the perimeter and on foliage to repel rabbits.  

Some repellents contain multiple active ingredients. Check each label for proper rate of application, method, and site before applying any repellent. The value of repellents can be reduced by rain, growth of the plant, and pressure of animals. Repellents must be reapplied according to directions on the label.  

Toxicants 

No toxicants are registered for the control of rabbits.  

Shooting 

Individual rabbits that are causing damage can be removed by shooting with a .22-caliber rifle or shotgun. This approach typically is a short-term solution to damage. Other rabbits likely will move into the area after individual rabbits are removed. In rural areas, populations of rabbits can be reduced by hunting with dogs during approved seasons. Check with your state wildlife agency for legal seasons, required permits, and to determine if it is legal to shoot rabbits on your property when they are causing damage outside of a hunting season. Local laws and ordinances may prohibit the discharge of firearms in your area. 

Trapping 

Cage Traps 

Cage or box trapping is the best way to remove rabbits in cities, parks, and suburban areas. Traps should be 9 x 10 x 24 inches (Figure 12). Some biologists believe that wooden box traps are more effective than cage traps. Place traps where you know rabbits feed or rest. Set traps near cover so that rabbits will not have to cross large open areas to access them. In winter, face traps away from prevailing winds to keep snow and dry leaves from plugging the entrance or interfering with the door. 

Figure 12. Box trap for catching rabbits. Photo by Stephen M. Vantassel. 

Check traps daily to remove caught rabbits and replenish bait. Move traps if they fail to make a catch within a week. Effective baits include dry ears of corn, fresh and dried apples, carrots, cabbage, alfalfa, clover, and other fresh, green vegetables. Impale the bait on a nail or position it at the rear of the trap. When baiting with corn ears, use half a cob and push the nail into the pith of the cob to keep it off of the floor, and visible from the open door. Fresh, leafy, and soft baits become mushy and ineffective when frozen. Rabbit urine also has been touted as an effective lure. 

Cover cage traps with canvas or other dark material. Be sure the cover does not interfere with the mechanism of the trap. Two-door traps (7 x 7 x 30 inches) can be placed at openings  

under fences and along trails. Both 1-door and 2-door traps can be made more effective by installing 24-inch tall wings made with chicken wire or boards to help funnel rabbits into the traps.  

Handling 

Relocation 

Relocation of rabbits is suitable only in rescue situations.  

Translocation 

Release rabbits in suitable habitat in rural areas several miles from where they have been trapped if local regulations allow translocation. Do not release rabbits where they may create a problem somewhere else.  

Euthanasia 

Carbon dioxide is the best method for euthanizing rabbits.  

Disposal 

Check state regulations regarding disposal of carcasses.