Whether you're facing the loss of a beloved pet or an unfortunate accident with a wild animal, dead animal disposal is an unpleasant and unwelcome chore. Familiarizing yourself with the human and pet health concerns, local laws and various options will at least get you through it more smoothly. There are slightly different concerns for dead wild rabbits versus pet rabbits.
When your pet passes away, the preferred option tends to be home burial. Unfortunately, this is illegal in many localities and impossible for apartment dwellers. If it is legal in your area -- and for a pet the size of your rabbit -- you'll need to choose a location that's inaccessible to dogs and large wildlife. You must dig the hole deep enough that it won't erode open from weather or cause an odor or pest problem. How deep depends on your climate and soil type, but count on a minimum of three feet. Avoid areas near wells or utility pipes.
While it's often distasteful to pet lovers, most U.S. cities offer a dead-animal pick-up service free of charge. You must call your department of sanitation to schedule the removal and place the animal curbside and inside a trash bag. This is the option of choice for road-killed or decomposed animals.
Most city and county departments of animal services accept deceased wild and pet animals for disposal, including ones you know or suspect carry an infectious disease. This method is usually the one your county health department will recommend. Animal services typically require that the dead animal be placed inside a sealed trash bag and delivered to the facility. Call ahead of time to ensure that your facility accepts deceased animals for disposal and to confirm its delivery policy. Some charge a nominal fee for this service.
Almost all AVMA-accredited veterinarians accept deceased pet and wild animals for disposal. Most deliver the bodies of pets to a pet crematorium and give you the option of having the ashes returned. If you drop off a wild animal carcass with a veterinarian, they are required to report the death to the state wildlife management agency. Most vets charge a fee for dead-animal disposal.
Private Burial or Cremation
Some cities have privately operated pet cemeteries and commercial pet crematoria. You'll be required to purchase a plot of land for burial or pay a fee for cremation and return of the ashes. These businesses do not usually accept decomposed animals.
Handle deceased wild rabbits as little as possible and wash your hands thoroughly after any contact. Rabbits and their parasites can carry a variety of diseases that affect other animals and humans, including tularemia and bubonic plague. While rabies is rare in rabbits, it is possible. If the rabbit died in an encounter with a pet or after exhibiting unusual behavior, contact your veterinarian and local department of animal services. If you have questions about the proper and legal disposal of any animal or particular health concerns, contact the USDA or your local state agricultural extension service.