As with any baby mammal, a baby rabbit's best chance of survival is if it is left to its mother. Whether domestic rabbit or a wild cottontail, baby rabbits nurse only once or twice daily. The rest of the time the mother is away from the babies--a ploy to distract predators from the nest. Hand-raising baby rabbits should only be attempted if it is certain that the mother is dead or is not feeding the babies. Even the most experienced wildlife rehabilitators, veterinarians and breeders have difficulty keeping hand-raised baby rabbits alive. Please note that trying to keep a baby rabbit alive on human infant formula will surely result in a slow death for the rabbit. Rabbit milk is extremely rich, and human infant formula comes nowhere near to meeting bunny's nutritional needs.
Things You'll Need
- Baby rabbit formula
- Feeding syringe
What to Feed a Baby Rabbit
A company called Zoologic makes a milk replacement for baby mammals called Milk Matrix. Their formula for baby wild rabbits is probably the best milk replacement for rabbits available. Esbilac also makes a goat's milk formula for small animals that works well for rabbits.
If Milk Matrix or Esbilac Goat's Milk is unavailable, there are countless formulas created by wildlife rehabilitators, veterinarians, domestic rabbit rescuers and breeders. Most of them involve mixing two parts KMR (kitten milk replacer) or Esbilac (puppy milk replacer) with one part of something richer such as heavy whipping cream, goat's milk or MultiMilk.
Many experts recommend adding Lactobacillus acidophilus to aid in the growth of healthy gut flora. Normally, baby rabbits would get healthy bacteria from their mother's milk, which boosts their developing immune systems.
How to Feed a Baby Rabbit
Warm formula, so it is warm to the touch, but not hot.
Hold baby upright. Using a small syringe, such a 1ml insulin syringe (needle removed) or eyedropper, slowly release formula into the side of the mouth. Newborn, hairless bunnies will need about a half milliliter of warm formula every two to three hours. Bunnies with their eyes tightly closed and ears flat to their head, but fully furred, will eat approximately approximately 2 ml per feeding. The amount increases as their size and weight increase. Generally, you want to feed until the stomach feels full and round, but not tight or hard.
Immediately after feeding, stimulate the bunny to eliminate waste. This can be accomplished by gently rubbing its genitals with a moist Q-tip. This imitates the way the mother would lick the baby to stimulate elimination.
If you have access to a healthy, adult rabbit, borrow some cecotropes (night droppings.) These nutrient-rich, soft stools are eaten by rabbits directly from their anus, and babies gain much nutrition from eating the cecotropes of their mothers. You can offer cecotropes to bunnies after their eyes are opened, which occurs at approximately 10 days old.
At 3 to 4 weeks of age, begin introducing solid food, such as alfalfa hay, romaine lettuce, parsley and cilantro. Gradually reduce bottle feeding once the rabbit is on solid foods.