While it's uncommon for a mother rabbit to abandon her young, it sometimes happens. More often, an adult rabbit will pass away from complications after birthing her young. What do you do when you find yourself with orphaned newborn or baby rabbits? Hand feeding combined with proper care could save the baby rabbits.
Things You'll Need
- Kitten milk replacer, powdered
- Acidophilus powder
- Blanket or towel
- 3ml oral syringe or eye dropper
- Cotton balls
- Alfalfa pellets
- Alfalfa or timothy hay
Determine that you truly need to hand feed the rabbits. Hand-fed baby rabbits don't often survive. So be absolutely sure the mother rabbit is not feeding them before you intervene. Rabbits feed their young once per day, usually at night when you are asleep. Mother rabbits do not stay at their nests after they give birth, but they come by occasionally to feed and care for their young. Only in rare circumstances does a mother rabbit abandon her young.
If the baby rabbits are cold or dehydrated, then they should be hand fed. Pinch the skin on the back of a baby rabbit. If it "tents" instead of going back to normal, the rabbit is dehydrated. If the mother has passed away during childbirth, the baby rabbits obviously need your help. If you find wild baby rabbits that you know have been orphaned, do not try to hand feed them or keep them as pets. Call the humane society or animal control.
Mix the powdered kitten milk formula. Rabbit milk is very high in calories and full of nutrients. It has no substitute on the market, but a good-quality powdered kitten milk formula can be used. The kitten milk formula should be prepared by the directions on its canister and mixed with an dash of acidophilus powder per serving.
Figure out how much food to give your baby rabbits. The House Rabbit Society's FAQ on Orphaned Baby Bunnies, which is linked in the References section, lists the proper amount to feed rabbits based on age. Baby rabbits open their eyes at about 10 days of age; your baby rabbits are newborns if their eyes are still closed. If you are not sure how old the rabbits are, take them to an experienced exotics veterinarian for guidance. Though mother rabbits feed their young once per day, the kitten formula is not as calorific as rabbit milk. Feeding the baby rabbits twice per day is necessary. Try a morning and evening schedule and do not overfeed.
Feed your bunnies. Prepare a baby rabbit for feeding by wrapping it snugly in a blanket or towel. Hold the bunny in an upright position to prevent choking. Using an oral syringe or eye dropper, slowly squeeze the food into the baby rabbit's mouth, pointing the syringe toward the side of the mouth. Don't "shoot" the formula into the baby rabbit's mouth or aim directly into its throat.
Stimulate the baby rabbits to defecate and urinate if necessary. You will need to do this if the rabbits still have their eyes closed. The mother does this by licking the bottoms of her young. You can use a cotton ball moistened with warm water to wipe the genital area of each baby rabbit gently until it produces stool and urine. Keep wiping until it is done "going." Do this before or after you feed them, every time you feed them, until the baby rabbits' eyes open and they can go by themselves.
Include alfalfa pellets and alfalfa or timothy hay in the diet if the baby rabbits' eyes are open. Feed them this in addition to the formula. Your baby rabbits should be weaned by 6 weeks of age.
Tips & Warnings
- You can take a few cecotropes from a healthy adult rabbit and feed them to the baby rabbits. Cecotropes are the soft, berry-shaped stools that rabbits eat for nutrition. They contain essential vitamins, healthy bacteria and immune boosters. Providing cecotropes to your hand-fed baby bunnies will help their chances of survival.
- Acidophilus is a probiotic available in grocery stores' health section and at natural food stores. According to the website of House Rabbit Society, a leading national rabbit rescue group, no proof exists that adding a probiotic works, but no evidence exists that it hurts, either. Because it has not been scientifically tested, no official guideline is available on how much to use per serving. So use it sparingly. It might help with digestion, which is a major concern for baby rabbits.
- If your baby rabbits have grainy urine, continue to be dehydrated or look sick, contact an experienced exotics veterinarian immediately.
- Baby rabbits do not often survive when taken from their mother. They may pass away even when cared for properly.
- If you plan to find a loving home for your rabbits after they are weaned, contact a no-kill animal shelter or post a notice at veterinary offices. Do not list the rabbits as "free to a good home" in a newspaper because they may be used as snake food or dog-training bait.
- If you plan to keep your rabbits after they are weaned, you can find information on housing, feeding and socialization of house rabbits on websites linked in the Resources section. Pet rabbits are a huge responsibility and can live into their teens with proper care.