There are many situations in which it is completely safe to eat rabbits from your backyard.
There are other situations in which eating rabbits from your backyard is not a good idea.
It all depends on how you raised the rabbit or whether you raised the rabbit at all.
Is It Safe to Eat Backyard Rabbits?
Yes, you can eat rabbits from your backyard, but there are some important factors to consider before doing so.
In this section, we’ll discuss the potential diseases in wild rabbits and the risks of pesticide and poison exposure.
Potential Diseases in Wild Rabbits
Wild rabbits can carry certain diseases that may be harmful to humans if not treated properly.
One such disease is tularemia, also known as rabbit fever.
This is a bacterial infection that can be transmitted to humans through the handling of infected animals or the consumption of undercooked meat.
To minimize the risk of contracting tularemia, make sure to:
- Cook rabbit meat thoroughly (at least 160-degree Fahrenheit internal temperature)
- Handle wild rabbits with care and wear gloves if possible
- Avoid contact with visibly sick or dead animals
In addition to tularemia, rabbits can also be carriers of parasites, which may pose a risk to humans. To reduce this risk, ensure that you:
- Thoroughly inspect the meat for any signs of parasites
- Freeze the meat for at least 48 hours before cooking to kill off any remaining parasites
Pesticide and Poison Risks
Another concern when consuming backyard rabbits is the potential exposure to pesticides and other chemicals.
Wild rabbits may consume plants or grasses that have been treated with pesticides, which can then accumulate in their bodies. To minimize any possible pesticide risks, be sure to:
- Raise your own rabbits in a controlled environment, free from pesticides and other harmful chemicals
- If hunting wild rabbits, avoid areas near agricultural fields or other locations where pesticides are commonly used.
By taking these precautions, you can make an informed decision about whether eating backyard rabbits is safe for you and your family.
Remember, always handle and cook rabbit meat properly to minimize any potential risks.
Also read: Are Rex Rabbits Good for Meat?
Meat Rabbits Raised in 4-H Rabbits Projects (Safe to Eat)
There are several kinds of 4-H rabbit projects.
Students in 4-H can show rabbits they raise for breeding, as pets, or for market.
Breeding projects involve raising rabbits that demonstrate the American Rabbit Breeders Association’s Standard of Perfection for their breed.
These projects usually involve raising dozens of rabbits to look for the very best show animals.
Rabbits that do not meet the Standard of Perfection are culled, often to be eaten.
Pet Rabbit Projects
Pet rabbit projects involve raising a healthy, happy pet rabbit.
Club members entering pet rabbit shows aren’t trying to raise a best-in-breed rabbit.
They are judged on how well they provided food, water, housing, exercise, and veterinary care for their rabbit and how well they spent their budget for taking care of the rabbit.
Participants in the program will also document the progress of the rabbit in their care, usually with their smartphone.
These rabbits are almost never eaten.
Market Rabbit Projects
Market rabbit projects involve raising a rabbit for meat.
4-H Club members raise:
- Meat pen, three rabbits of the same breed and the same variety are raised in the same pen for 8 to 10 weeks until they weigh 3.5 to 5.5 pounds (1600 to 2500 grams)
- Fryers, a single-rabbit project, started 8 to 10 weeks before the show, raising the rabbit to weigh 3.5 to 5.5 pounds (1600 to 2500 grams).
- Roasters. a single rabbit raised to weigh 5.5 to 9 pounds (2500 to 4500 grams). The rabbit must not be more than five months old.
- Stewers, a single rabbit raised for more than five months that weighs more than 8 pounds (3650 grams).
Children in 4-H need to understand that, after the fair, their animals entered as market rabbits will be taken to auction.
They can receive large amounts of money for rabbits that win or place in the show, but their rabbits will be slaughtered and eaten.
It is not unusual for children to refuse to betray their animals, but some clubs go to extraordinary lengths to enforce this rule.
Is it safe to eat a 4-H rabbit?
Almost without exception, market rabbits from 4-H shows are safe to eat.
They are never exposed to wild animals that carry parasites, nor would they have occasion to acquire roundworms from raccoon scat or leptospirosis from animal urine.
They could get tularemia if they are bitten by an infected fly, but this is unlikely if they are raised in clean, preferably indoor conditions.
Practicing normal cleanup while preparing the meat and cooking the rabbit to an internal temperature of 160° F (70° C).
Also read: Can You Eat Lionhead Rabbit’s Meat?
Meat Rabbits That You Raise in Your Backyard
Rabbits you raise in your backyard with the intention of using them as food are generally safe to eat.
There are some situations in which you could get a bacterial infection or a parasite from killing and butchering the rabbit, however.
All animals that have an intestinal tract can harbor E. coli. Most of the time this bacterium is harmless.
The strain of E. coli known as E. coli O157:H7. However, it can be deadly, especially to infants, children, the elderly, and people with compromised immune systems.
A study of rabbit meat available for sale in stores in the European Union found no samples of E. coli O157:H7. Animal-borne disease expert Dr. Kevin Kazacos says that rabbit meat in the United States also is free of the O157:H7 strain.
However, common varieties of E. coli can cause diarrhea, so take the precaution of washing your hands and all preparation surfaces when you handle raw rabbit meat.
Infectious disease expert Dr. Kevin Kazacos also says that Salmonella is very rare in backyard rabbits.
Pasteurella is a bacteria infection you can get from a rabbit bite or from scratch by a rabbit. About 20 percent of rabbit bites will transmit this germ.
Infection with Pasteurella causes the skin around the bite to turn bright red. The wound may ooze yellow pus.
The bacterium can travel to connective tissue under the skin, and even travel to joints, the lungs, the heart, and the brain.
There is no single antibiotic that “knocks out” the infection. Sometimes, it is necessary to surgically remove infected tissue.
You can avoid Pasteurella infections if you wear gloves and long sleeves when you dispatch your rabbit for meat. Avoid allowing a struggling rabbit to break or bite your skin.
This fungal infection is transmitted by contact with rabbit urine during the process of butchering the rabbit.
It almost never infects healthy people, but it can infect people who have weakened immune systems due to chemotherapy or HIV.
Wear gloves when butchering the bladder of the rabbit.
Tularemia is one of the most infectious diseases known to medical science.
It takes just 10 tularemia bacteria from a bite, a scratch, or handling infected meat entering your skin to give you a serious infection.
As a point of comparison, you carry about 3,800,000,000,000 probiotic bacteria in your digestive tract. In a few hours, those 10 bacteria can multiply to billions, forcing your immune system to fight them with potentially fatal inflammation.
Inhaling tularemia bacteria is far worse than contracting them through the skin.
The most frequently repeated advice about avoiding tularemia is just not to kill and eat rabbits during the summer months.
Cooking kills bacteria. The person at risk for getting tularemia is the butcher who guts the animal.
The bottom line?
There are real but rare risks of infection from butchering backyard rabbits and handling the meat. Careful attention to sanitation can prevent well over 99% of potential infections. Always cook rabbit thoroughly, checking the temperature of the meat with a meat thermometer before serving it.
Eating a Wild Rabbit That Strays Into Your Backyard
Growing up on a remote ranch, I once shot, skinned, and started to butcher a wild rabbit with the intention of preparing it for his parents.
But the poor rabbit was so filled with worms that he gave it a respectful burial and never shot another rabbit again.
The raccoons excrete roundworm eggs in their feces. Rabbits either hop into the raccoon scat or lick their coats clean when they come in contact with it. The roundworms hatch inside the rabbit.
Human infections with roundworms from wild animals are rare. but they can be devastating, especially when they occur in children.
Wild rabbits can also carry tularemia. This infection, mentioned earlier, affects about 200 people a year in the central states of the US, from Central Texas to the Dakotas.
It is much more common in Mexico and Central America. There have been cases of tularemia in every state in the United States except Hawaii.
Roundworms are hard to miss when you are butchering a rabbit. If you find roundworms, bury the rabbit where other animals will not find it. Do not eat it!
Tularemia infection is also easy to recognize:
- Shooting or snaring a rabbit with tularemia can be “too easy.” An infected animal may be too sick to run away from you. It may be uncoordinated or lethargic.
- The internal organs of a rabbit infected with tularemia will be enlarged. They may be filled with pockets of white dying tissue.
- The rabbit may have redness and pus around its eyes and nose.
Don’t eat a rabbit with signs of tularemia. Put on gloves and bury it where your pets will not dig it up.
- Don’t eat meat that smells bad.
- Don’t eat rabbit meat that has had prolonged contact with fecal material.
- Don’t eat a rabbit that was “too easy” to catch.
Frequently Asked Questions About Eating Backyard Rabbits
Here are some commonly asked questions people have about eating backyard rabbits.
Q. Is it unsafe to eat rabbits that you kill in the summer months?
A. Rabbits can have infections and parasites at any time of year.
Careful butchering and attention to kitchen cleanliness eliminate risk. Problems arise from unsanitary preparation.
Q. Can you eat rabbits that have warbles?
A. Warbles are pockets of inflamed tissue where bot flies have laid their eggs, the eggs have hatched, and the larvae have been feeding on rabbit tissue.
You can simply cut the warbles out of the rabbit meat.
Actually, the warbles are also edible if thoroughly cooked, although most people would find the idea of eating them unappetizing.
Q. Can I feed rabbit entrails to my other pets?
A. Don’t feed any kind of raw rabbit meat to your pets.
They can pick up infections and parasites from raw meat. Bury or burn the “guts” or place them in a plastic bag for disposal with your trash.
Q. What months are safe for consuming rabbits?
A. Rabbit meat can be consumed year-round, but it is especially abundant and recommended during the months of October to February.
These cooler months are when rabbits have typically fed on healthy vegetation, which contributes to their improved taste and nutritional content.
Q. What precautions should be taken before consuming wild rabbits?
Before consuming any wild rabbit meat, inspect the animal to ensure it appears healthy.
Look for signs of disease and avoid consuming any rabbit that seems sickly or abnormal.
Additionally, make sure to cook the meat thoroughly, reaching an internal temperature of 165°F (74°C) to minimize the risk of illness.
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