How do mother rabbits feed their babies

Baby Bunnies | House Rabbit Society


If you find yourself caring for a domestic rabbit that you suspect is pregnant, or has recently given birth you will probably have a million questions. This article addresses not only rehabilitation care, but is also a guide for answering questions and concerns about the proper care of the domestic mother rabbit and her babies and orphaned Rabbits.

  • First Things First
  • Males or Females?
  • Is There A Problem?
  • Creating A Nest
  • Are They Getting Fed?
  • Are The Babies in Danger?
  • Feeding Orphaned Baby Rabbits
  • More On Feeding Orphaned Baby Rabbits
  • As Baby Rabbits Come Of Age
First Things First

The first thing to do is to remove the father, or any male, if he is with the Mother. This is a great time to have the male neutered, while the mother raises the babies.

Males will probably not hurt the babies, but he can impregnate the female again, even on the day she gives birth. Not only can he impregnate the mother rabbit; he will also impregnate the female offspring as soon as they mature.

Males or Females?

Often times, people suddenly discover babies in their rabbits’ cage and never realized that they had a male and a female. Help is often needed to sex adults. We here at The Sanctuary have made mistakes sexing Rabbits, as have Vets we have known. A behavioral attitude, such as mounting, does not necessarily help identify sex in a rabbit. It is usually easy to identify the male once we know what to look for: large testicles, recognized as pink, hairless “sacks.” This can be difficult in young Rabbits, before the testicles drop. The scent glands in a young female can be mistaken for emerging testicles. Males can also pull their testicles in to their abdomen. If you have any doubt, a trip to the Vet may be warranted.

Is There A Problem?

Often times people are concerned that the mother rabbit “is not feeding the babies,” sometimes because she is never seen with them. This is normal behavior for a domestic (or wild) rabbit and that mother rabbits do not “lay” with their offspring in the same manner as dogs and cats.

Domestic rabbits retain some of the genetic imprints of their wild European ancestors, who are animals preyed upon by others in nature. Mother rabbits instinctually sense that staying with their offspring would call a predator’s attention to the nest. Adult rabbits have a scent, while babies do not yest have a strong scent.

Most mother rabbits will not hop into the nest (or box) to check on their infants during the day, although she is usually watching from a safe distance. This is normal behavior.

Rabbits feed their offspring only once or twice per day and will only do so when they feel safe, usually just before dawn and/or just after dusk. If humans and children are continually gathered around the cage, the mother may become too stressed to nurse the infants.

There is a way to determine that the mother is indeed feeding the offspring. Did the mother rabbit pull fur? Did she shred papers, or gather hay or rip up carpeting (if housed indoors) in an attempt to “make a nest?” Mother rabbits usually make a nest any time between a few days prior to the birth up to the day of birth itself. She may also do so without an actual pregnancy.

A mature female will often pull fur to make a nest, with or without a male present and regardless of whether actual mating has occurred. This hormonal behavior is known as a “false pregnancy.”

If the mother has pulled fur in an attempt to make a nest, she will probably be all right if her nest is appropriate. It is safe to examine the babies and move them, with the mother, to a more proper place, if necessary.

Creating A Nest

If the babies are scattered, cold and do not have plump tummies, the mother needs help making a proper nest box, and the babies need to be warmed up before anything else is attempted. No baby mammals can successful digest foods if their body temperature is below normal. This is extremely important to understand.

In this case, warm the babies as follows: Place a hot water bottle, filled with warm water (not hot,) into a small box of any kind. Line it with clean, terry cloth towels and place the bottle UNDER the towels. A small plastic container or a leak-proof plastic bag can be used if necessary. Make a small space within the nest and put the babies within the temporary warming nest.

Be sure the babies are not in direct contact with the warm water (it may become too hot for them.) Be sure that the towels do not have holes in them and are not frayed, because the fine threads could cut their delicate skin and holes could strangle them should they squirm through one.

In the meantime, prepare a proper box and nest for the mother, so she will feel secure when the babies are returned to her. Get a cardboard box, or make a wooden one, which is just slightly larger than the mother rabbit. It should not be too big, or the babies may scatter again and miss that important feeding.

A doorway should be cut in the center of one side, which is just large enough for the mother to fit through. The doorway should have a lip of about one-inch above the floor to help keep the babies in the box (until they are old enough to venture out on their own.)

Place a large handful of straw, grass or hay in the box and place it in a corner of the rabbit cage. Be sure it is not in the corner that she uses as a bathroom! Make sure that grass clippings do not contain any pesticides or fertilizers. Do not use fabric scraps, burlap, gauze or anything else with fine threads or holes in it. The straw/hay should be removed and replaced every three or four days as it may become soaked in urine. This is done by taking the babies out of the box, removing and later replacing most of the clean fur, and changing the rest of the bedding and lining the box with clean bedding.

The babies can be placed into the new nest as soon as their body temperature feels warm to the touch. (ONLY warm the babies if they have been scattered about on the cage floor. If they were huddled together in a good nest site, leave them alone, except to check whether they have been fed.).

Place the mother and the babies in a small, warm, quiet room. Give the mother a litterbox, in the opposite corner of the nest, if she’s placed indoors. If she is not used to being in the house, this may stress her more than being left in her outdoor cage. The only thing to do in that case is add a proper nest area.

Are They Getting Fed?

A well-fed baby will have a very distended tummy, looking like the “Pillsbury Dough Boy.” If the babies’ tummies are full, the mother is feeding them and the caretaker can rest assured. The babies can be examined every day if that will make the caretaker feel more assured.

If the babies have not been fed, they will have sunken tummies, their skin will be wrinkled from dehydration and they will be weak (their response to being handled will be weak or non-existent, although they will hopefully be breathing. ) Scattered babies are more likely not to have been fed, so make sure that they are warm first.

If the babies are weak or dehydrated, veterinary intervention is advised. Placing a drop of honey or fruit jam into their mouths sometimes helps elevate their blood sugar level until veterinary help and/or mother’s milk is available.

At this point, examine the mother for signs of lactation. By gently holding the mother upright, or gently turning her upside down in a lap, the nipples can be examined. They should feel slightly swollen and it is likely that the mother pulled a great deal of fur from her chest and stomach to not only make her nest, but also to better expose the teats for the babies.

Slight pressure in a milking motion should release either small amount of milk or clear fluid. If the mother is lactating, return her to the babies and allow her to calm down and become familiar with her new nest. Examine the babies the next day to make sure that they are being fed.

If the mother is definitely not lactating or has not attempted to pull fur or make a nest, etc. , take the mother to a qualified rabbit-experienced veterinarian immediately. The veterinarian will probably give the mother a small dose of oxytocin, a drug that will stimulate the milk glands. She should nurse within the next 24 hours.

If you feel it is necessary to examine the babies every day to verify that they have been fed, pet the mother rabbit first, to help cover human scents, and avoid wearing heavy perfumes when handling the babies. It is best to handle the babies as little as possible until they are old enough to leave the nest box on their own.

If your concerns begin on the day of the birth, wait a day before attempting to do anything. Some mother rabbits do not feed their babies until the evening of the first day or early on the second day.

If it has been close to two days and you are positive that the babies have not been fed, a veterinarian must be seen immediately. Oxytocin will not produce results if you wait more than forty-eight hours after the birth.

While waiting for a veterinary appointment, try allowing the babies to nurse, as suckling sometimes stimulates the milk glands. If that happens, monitoring the babies’ growth is the only thing that needs to be done. Mother rabbits stand upright while nursing and the babies lie upside down beneath her. Hold the rabbits in this natural position.

Are The Babies in Danger?

If you think that the mother is injuring the babies while kindling (giving birth,) while feeding, or has “cannibalized” any of the babies (eaten them,) several issues should be explored. Sometimes a mother rabbit will accidentally injure the kits because her nails have never been clipped, the nest box is not proper, or she is stressed and skittish by too much activity around her. It is possible, if she is housed outdoors, that neighborhood predators, such as feral cats, raccoons or fox, are causing her anxiety at night. Some rabbits are highly skittish (“fractious”) by nature.

Very young mothers, especially those under six months of age, may not “understand” what has happened to them and veterinary intervention is imperative. Nervous and young mothers sometimes abandon their nestlings for unknown reasons, which may include having produced unhealthy kits. Sometimes the nutritional status of the mother is highly inadequate.

If the mother seems to be cannibalizing the nestlings, nutritional deficiencies are but one of the possible scenarios. It is normal for these vegetarian animals to eat the afterbirth, as it is for most other mammals. It prevents predators from discovering the nest and provides the mother which some much-needed nutrients. Sometimes people confuse this behavior (if it is witnessed) with cannibalism.

Sadly, if the father of the babies is much larger than the female, she could be inadvertently injuring the kits, which are too large for her birth canal, while attempting to free them. Seek immediate veterinary intervention should this be happening. The mother’s life is in danger, as well as the lives of the babies.

If the mother rabbit has died, cannot or is not feeding the babies, you can attempt to hand feeding them. Bottle-feeding infant rabbits usually culminates in the babies’ death within a few days to weeks. Hand feeding is terribly unsuccessful because there is no milk replacement formula that is 100% adapted for infant rabbits. This is also true for native species, such as cottontails. The physiological reasons are complex, and you should have the following information concerning what you will be facing when trying to hand-raise infant bunnies.

Feeding Orphaned Baby Rabbits

The most likely potential disease to cause infant/weanling mortality is mucoid enteritis. Although it does occur occasionally in weanlings who have been fed by their mothers, it is seen much more often in hand-fed babies and those who are removed from their mothers before eight weeks of age. It manifests as severe diarrhea, anorectic behavior (refusal to eat) and may contain blood or mucous. It also causes bloating and gas.

Mucoid enteritis is caused by a pathogenic bacterial overgrowth, usually of Clostridium spiroforme, in the hindgut (cecum) of the baby, as the normal microflora are attempting to establish. These normal microflora help the baby achieve adult digestive capabilities.

Adult rabbit stomach pH is 1-2, but a neonates’ stomach pH is much higher; the stomach and gastro-intestinal tract of neonates is also sterile (containing no living microorganisms.) As babies wean off of milk onto adult solid foods, the gut pH gradually changes by getting a lot of help from the mother’s changing milk constituents.

By ten days of age, the babies eyes will have opened, and they will begin eating their mother’s cecotropes, (also called “night feces” or “cecal droppings”). Cecotropes help provide the babies with essential nutrients and later, inoculate the hindgut with the essential flora that is needed to metabolize a diet that is changing from milk to solid foods.

Cecotropes are clustered, soft gel-like “bunches” of fecal matter, which are covered with a light mucous film and resemble a mulberry in shape and size. They are manufactured in the adult cecum through “hindgut fermentation,” and contain high concentrations of proteins, B and K vitamins, fiber, ash (nitrogen-free extract) and unidentified “energy” elements, as well as the hindgut microbes. Cecotropes are an important part of a healthy rabbit diet and are usually eaten directly from the anus as they are produced.

Remember that our domestic rabbits were developed from the wild European rabbit, whose native diet was lacking in many nutrients. Cecotropes, a self-manufactured source of proteins and other nutrients, provide rabbits with the necessary nourishment to sustain their lives.

Infant rabbits also have an antimicrobial fatty acid in the stomach that differs from digestive gastric acids. It is produced only from an enzymatic reaction with a substance found only in the mother’s milk. This action controls the gastro-intestinal microbial contents in the babies’ tract.

As the babies begin to wean, at four to six weeks of age, they lose the guardianship of the mother’s milk/stomach enzymatic reaction and gradually develop the adult pH of 1-2. Often babies will seem to do fine until this critical stage is reached. It is at this point that both the mother’s milk and her cecotropes begin introducing the necessary adult flora (to digest solid foods) into the babies’ gastro-intestinal tract.

Note that a diet low in fiber and a high level of grain have been documented to cause enteric disturbances in adult rabbits as well as weanlings. Toxic microbes proliferate in the cecum due to the high-carbohydrate levels, and the lack of dietary fiber slows down the gut motility, providing a perfect environment for the toxins to grow.

In hand-raised babies, it is essential to provide adult cecotropes to the babies after their eyes are open. Usually, the babies will eat the cecotropes immediately, because it the natural thing for them to do. However, if the babies do not eat the cecotropes on their own, add two to three of the individual pellets in the cluster to the formula at one feeding per day for three to four days. As the babies begin to explore adult foods, it is impotant to monitor their fecal output. At the first sign of “mushy” stool, re-introduce cecotropes to them, in formula if necessary.

Depending on the infant’s dietary status and stress factors, that may include the babies’ immune system (which varies greatly from genetic factors,) the infants’ sterile gut may be unable to colonize with normal adult microflora. The gut would then become overloaded with abnormal bacteria, which leads to bloat, electrolyte loss and death from mucoid enteritis. The most common pathogens found in weanling rabbits that died of enteric disturbances are E. coli and Clostridium spp., and protozoa such as Coccidia spp.

Intravenous or intra-osseous fluid therapy supplied by a veterinarian experienced in rabbit medicine may help in some cases, as the ensuing diarrhea severely affects hydration and electrolyte levels. Oral hydration would be of little help in this instance, and the use of antibacterial agents in infants is not advised. Administering antimicrobials in an attempt to control abnormal gut flora may further disturb development of normal gut microflora. Products such as Baytril (enrofloxacins) are extremely detrimental for use in baby mammals.

More On Feeding Orphaned Baby Rabbits

Some practitioners and rehabilitators use “probiotics,” theoretically establishing the correct pH environment in the cecum to allow the “good bacteria” to proliferate, and thereby crowding out the “bad bacteria. ” The addition of Lactobacillus acidophilus cultures to baby formula may be helpful by acidifying the gut, although no scientific documentation has proven the theory. (There have been several studies done, with inconclusive results.)

While acidophilus is not a normal flora in the rabbit gut, it may help produce an environment which helps normal flora establish and grow. Other studies claim that none of the living cultures in acidophilus can survive the high pH in the stomach and therefore it is a wasted effort. However, this may be a clue as to why conflicting evidence is found: as the weanlings’ gut pH is undergoing drastic changes very quickly, the actual age of the baby may have a profound effect on whether or not the addition of acidophilus or other probiotics is effective. The addition of acidophilus has never been shown to be detrimental, at any rate.

Yogurt with live cultures has been used as a source of acidophilus and has been used in baby formulas. Adult rabbits do not produce lactase, the enzyme which digests lactose sugars (milk) and I advise against using yogurt as a source of acidophilus, if one chooses to supply it. Because a weanling rabbit’s gut is changing so drastically, it would be realistically impossible to determine at what exact moment a weanling rabbit develops intolerance for dairy products. Freeze-dried, organic acidophilus cultures are available at better health food stores and would probably be a better, safer choice than yogurt, in my opinion.

The probiotics “Bene-bac” (providing “beneficial bacteria” for avian species) and “Probiocin” (used most often for canine and feline species) have also been used to provide beneficial bacteria in rabbits and rabbit babies. The banana flavor of Bene-bac is popular with rabbits, which makes it easy to administer. No documentation has proven either product to be detrimental, although likewise, none exists supporting its use (except manufacturer’s claims.)

Fox Valley Animal Nutrition, Inc. also has a product called “Formula L A 200,” which is a viable lactobacillus acidophilus that acts in the same way as Bene-bac. The telephone number for Fox Valley is 1-800-679-4666

Unfortunately, because so little actual documentation exists regarding the use of probiotics, there does not exist a formulary regarding appropriate dosages, either. Too much could be as detrimental as the problem itself.

Probiotics also usually come in proportions of millions or even billions per milligram, which makes breaking down an appropriate dosage for a baby bunny difficult. “Bene-bac” in housed in a syringe calculated for the smaller weights of domestic-exotic parrots and other caged birds. This would be reason alone to argue that the use of avian “Bene-bac” is a more reliable dosage indicator for a weanling that weighs less than about half a kilogram.

There is another more recent product for veterinarians and rehabilitators on the market from Pet-Ag, Inc., Zoological Nutritional Components, called Milk Matrix. Manufactured for various wildlife species, there is a specific formula for native Eastern Cottontails (Sylvilagus Floridanus.) This may be the best substitute for a domestic rabbit’s milk available. I have not yet used it, but other rehabilitators have claimed success with it. The telephone number to order is 1-800-323-6878. If you have technical questions about the product, the number is 1-800-323-0877.

No substitute milk formula supplies immunity from disease (although the normal maternal antibodies are scarce) nor are most rich enough to supply the energy needs of the rapidly developing babies and without overfeeding them (leading to bloat.) For these reasons and the others stated, the prognosis is not good for the babies.

Infants lose the suckling instinct quickly, so if hand feeding is to be attempted, it must be started within 48 hours. Kitten nursers are much too large for the mouth of a baby rabbit. Toy doll bottles are sometimes small enough. If the baby has lost the suckling instinct, a tuberculin syringe (with needle removed, of course) can be used to carefully administer formula. Allow the babies to swallow naturally, or it may aspirate (breathe fluids into its lungs.) Be sure that the formula is warm, the babies are warm and that the bottle or syringe is sterile. Serious pathogens may be present in both the nursers and the formula, if not prepared correctly.

As Baby Rabbits Come Of Age

If the babies survive BIG IF, they may suffer from chronic gastro-intestinal problems throughout their lives, including stasis episodes and bloating. Both problems are treatable for quite a long time, but expensive and emotionally draining to do.

If the mother rabbit has died, call reputable commercial breeders to find a foster mother. Rabbits will foster another’s baby if they are the same of the same size and age. The breeder may charge for this service, if they are willing to do it. The breeder may also ask to keep one or more of the babies as “stock.”

As soon as the babies are weaned, at eight weeks, the mother rabbit should be spayed. She can then be placed back into the companionship of the now (hopefully) neutered male.

In any case of domestic rabbit babies, do not remove the babies until they are a full eight weeks of age. Separate the male babies from the females at this time. Males can become sexually mature as early as ten weeks!

Spay and neuter the offspring. Males should be neutered as soon as the testicles descend and females after four months but before a year of age. This is especially important in “open warrens,” wherein rabbits run free; as one pair of mature rabbits, with their unaltered offspring, can produce more than 200 babies within a year. That is a lot of responsibility, which could be curtailed by simply altering the existing bunnies.

Altered babies will make much more adoptable bunnies, be better human companions, will live longer, and will never be a contributor to the pet overpopulation problem. They will be less likely to be dumped at a shelter, most of which would be unable to accept such large numbers and would probably have to euthanize most… if not all of them.

Rabbits that are put up for adoption, especially babies, are often “adopted” to feed predator pets, such as pythons. “Free to a good home” is not a good advertisement for a safe new place for them. People take “free” bunnies not only to feed predators, but less ethical persons take them to train their dogs to kill. Some use them for “religious” practices that use animal sacrifices, such as Santeria rites. Some take a “free” rabbit I order to eat it and others will kill it for their fur (pelt.)

If one raises baby Rabbits, it is ones responsibility to find a “good” home . It is ones ethical and moral duty to adequately interview potential adopters and find the best home for the babies.

The best places to post advertisements are at veterinarians’ offices, organizations that promote Humane Education, “no-kill” shelters and civic organizations that support human services.

Thank you for caring for these special Rabbits. We pray for your success, and hope that your experience is as rewarding as Mary’s was in her care for Millie’s Children.

This article is reprinted by permission of




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Newborn Baby Bunny Facts

House Rabbit Society volunteers get countless calls from well-meaning people who find “orphans” or “abandoned baby rabbits” behind the shed or in a nearby field. Unknowingly they break up families and separate mother rabbits from their babies in an effort to “save” them. Also, we often hear from concerned owners, who don’t know that rabbits only nurse once a day, that their pet rabbit is not feeding her newborn litter. We usually reply with the question, “How do you know? Do you stay up all night and watch?”

Since House Rabbit Society rescuers have taken in many pregnant rabbits, who live inside our homes with us (instead of outdoors in hutches), we are able to observe, get close to, and participate in the activities of raising a litter.

If you are ever confronted with questions on baby bunny care-domestic, not wild rabbits-here are a few guidelines.

  1. Although rabbits build nests, they are not chickens and, after initial preparation, will not sit on their nests. They also do not stay on or by the nests after the babies are born. This would attract the attention of predators. The babies burrow to the bottom of the nest where they remain hidden until Mamma Rabbit wakes them up at mealtime.
  2. Only rarely does a mother rabbit nurse her young right after giving birth. Most often the first nursing will occur the night after the kindling. The rabbit’s rich milk sustains the babies for 24 hours at a time. The preferred mealtime is between mid night and 5:00 a.m.
  3. A mother rabbit does not lie down in the nest, as a cat would do, but stands over the babies to nurse them. She does, however, clean them and lick their bellies and bottoms to stimulate elimination in much the same way as a cat.
  4. If you want definite proof that the babies are being cared for, check them early each morning. They should be warm and round-bellied. The best way to know for sure is to weigh them on a small postage scale or kitchen scale. Write down a description and the weight. If they’re gaining weight (1/4 oz. or so), they’re being fed.
  5. You can handle the babies even if the mother doesn’t know you. Domestic rabbits are not that concerned over human smells.
  6. Rabbits are not prone to cannibalism, as many people think. Cannibalism is an occasional result of a stillborn litter, and this is nature’s way of cleaning up the “mistake.” The activity and noisy squeaking of healthy babies trigger the “maternal instincts.”Only rarely does a mother rabbit truly abandon or ignore her babies. This may occur when a very Immature rabbit gives birth, In which case, she usually does not build a nest or make any preparations. Her milk production Is also delayed. Sometimes the babies can be hand fed for short time until the mother rabbit can take over the job. Again, their daily weight gain is the test of adequate nourishment. (If you must hand feed, refer to page 81 of the House Rabbit Handbook.
  7. Generally a male rabbit is tolerant of young rabbits and, if neutered, can remain with his new family. The father will begin to nip and play roughly with the sons as they begin to reach puberty and start acting feisty. Then It’s time for separation. A male rabbit must be neutered before being put back with the mother because she can conceive again immediately after giving birth. They should be kept separate for a month after neutering.

Wild Rabbits - Rabbit Nests

Wild rabbits often make their nests in areas that boggle our minds... sometimes even right in the MIDDLE of an open yard. They are "hiding in plain sight" as often the predators that they naturally fear would be too timid to enter those areas. They don't count on the family dog or cat also being a problem!

The way that a mother rabbit cares for the babies limits her time in the nest, which further makes it less likely a predator will find the nest. So if you find a nest of baby rabbits, think twice before doing anything that requires that you touch the baby rabbits or disturb the nest.

In Indiana, rehabilitating wildlife requires a license from the DNR. To find a licensed rehabber, please contact the DNR, a local exotics vet, or the Purdue University wildlife information page, which also has more information about cottontail rabbits. Links to national lists of wildlife rehabilitators can also be found in the FAQ below.

  • Introduction
  • I/My Dog/My Cat Found a Rabbit Nest! What Do I Do?
  • I/My Dog/My Cat Destroyed a Rabbit Nest! What Do I Do?
  • How Do I Know If the Baby Bunnies Need Help?
  • What If the Baby Bunny Is Injured?
  • Is there anything I can do to avoid orphaning baby bunnies?
  • The Bunny is Wild and Really Orphaned - How do I care for it?
  • The Bunny is Domestic and Really Orphaned - How do I care for it?
  • How much formula should I feed?


Many people mean well when they contact House Rabbit Society after discovering an "abandonded" nest of wild rabbits. Often they wish to "rehabilitate" them with some advice from others. The reality is fewer than 10% of orphaned rabbits survive a week, and the care that people attempt to provide can be illegal, unnecessary, and potentially harmful. The best thing you can do is to contact a wildlife rehabilitator in your area.

I/My Dog/My Cat Found a

Rabbit Nest! What Do I Do?

Rabbits "hide their nests in plain view," often putting them in the open, for example in the middle of the lawn, as well as in brush piles and long grass. If you find a nest that has been disturbed, do all you can to restore and protect it rather than bring the infants inside. If a dog has discovered the nest, you can put a wheelbarrow over it, so that the mother can get to it but the dog cannot. You can also protect the nest with a wicker laundry basket with a hole cut in it for the mother to enter.

Rabbit mothers nurse their babies for approximately 5 minutes a day. They will be in the nest or nest box early in the morning and then again in the evening. The milk is very rich and the babies "fill up" to capacity within minutes. Mother rabbits do not "sit" on the babies to keep them warm as do some mammals and birds. They build a nest with fur and grasses which helps to keep the babies warm in between feedings. Do not force a mother rabbit to sit in the nest box. You can pick up the babies and see if they are feeding by checking the size of their stomachs (should not be sunken in), the pinkness of their skin and activity level (they should not be blue in color or sluggish in movement) and the amount of time that you hear them crying (baby bunnies should be quiet most of the day....if they are crying constantly then they are not getting fed). If you come across a nest of bunnies in the wild and the mother is no where to be seen, please DO NOT disturb them...this is normal. By removing them from the nest you are greatly reducing their chances of survival.

I/My Dog/My Cat Destroyed a

Rabbit Nest! What Do I Do?

Nests can be moved to a safer place up to 10' away from the original site and can be reconstructed if necessary. To make a new nest, dig a shallow hole about 3" deep and put into it as much of the original material as you can recover, including the mother's fur. Add dried grass as needed, and put the young back. Mother rabbits return to the nest to nurse only one or two times a day, staying away as much as possible so as not to attract predators. To determine if the mother is returning, create a tic-tac-toe pattern over the nest with twigs. Wait 24 hours to see if the twigs have been removed. If they have, then the mother is coming back.

How Do I Know If the

Baby Bunnies Need Help?

Very young wild baby bunnies with eyes closed and ears back rarely survive in captivity, even given the most expert human care; and so it is very important to determine whether they really need help. Try to assess whether the infants seem warm and healthy or cold, thin, and dehydrated. One test for dehydration is to gently pinch the loose skin at the back of the neck. If it stays in a "tent," the bunny is dehydrated and needs rehabilitation. Another test is to stroke the genital area to stimulate elimination. If the pee is brown and gritty, the mother rabbit has not been there to help the bunnies urinate. The brown, gritty urine is toxic, and the infant bunny must be cared for.

Older baby bunnies who are found outside of the nest may not be orphaned or in need of assistance. Baby cottontails are born without fur but develop a full coat in a week. Their eyes open in 6-10 days, and in three weeks they are weaned. At this age, they are about as round as a banana, and they may explore the world outside of the nest but return there to sleep. They are not ignored by the mother but stay with the family group until four or five weeks of age. To determine whether a bunny of this age needs assistance, perform the dehydration and urine tests. Also look for bleeding, convulsing, fly larvae, broken limbs. (Being wet does not require hospitalization, I learned!)

What If the

Baby Bunny Is Injured?

Either call or take him to your local humane society or animal shelter/animal control. Call first as often they will come pick up the baby. If they don't have a wildlife center, they will refer you. If after hours, contact a local emergency rabbit vet or go to and look for a vet in your area. Emergency vet clinics often are very good about helping wildlife until the baby can be transferred to a rehab facility.

The best thing you can do for an injured baby bunny is to get in touch with a skilled rehabilitator.

Great info on local rehabilitators can be found at: The Wildlife Rehabilitation Information Directory

Is there anything I can do to avoid orphaning

baby bunnies?

The harsh reality is that many of us who care about wild baby bunnies may be contributing to the suffering and death. House cats who roam outside will kill about every other time they go out. And unlike feral cats who hunt because they are hungry, and kill immediately, house cats maul and torment their prey, sometimes skinning baby bunnies alive. Cat owners need to provide managed outdoor habitats for their cats - such as windowboxes or pens.

Lawn chemicals can produce convulsing death in baby rabbits. According to the Animal Poison Control Center, lawn applications that contain herbicides are not directly toxic to small animals; but they may make toxic plants more palatable to them and may make the animals sick for a few days. Products which contain insecticides, such as Dursban or Diazinion, which are added to many lawn products to control fleas or grubs in the lawn, are toxic.


Bunny is Wild and Really Orphaned - How do I care for it?

The best thing you can do for a wild orphaned baby bunny is to get in touch with a skilled rehabilitator. In the meantime, call your local humane society or animal control and one of these vets for a wildlife referral: Rabbit Vets USA

A great directory of local rehabilitators can be found at: The Wildlife Rehabilitation Information Directory


Bunny is Domestic (NOT WILD) and Really Orphaned - How do I care for it?

In the rare situation that you have an orphaned bunny, such as when a domestic rabbit refuses to care for her young, you will need to feed the babies. Overfeeding is a leading cause of death in these youngsters which results in fatal intestinal disease.

Use KMR or Regular Goats milk. Pet nurser nipples on the end of a luer lock syringe, teat cannula on the end of a syringe or SIMPLY an eye dropper or 3 cc syringe can be used to feed. Feed only upright, and point syringe down towards bottom or side of mouth, so if too much comes out, the baby does not aspirate. For those who are slow to learn nursing, SC fluids may be necessary to prevent electrolyte imbalance or dehydration (check with a vet on this). Domestic buns with closed eyes should be fed 2-3x/day (but only 2x/day for wild bunnies), and the number of feedings gradually decreased until they are weaned. If their eyes are still closed, you need to stimulate their bottoms with a warm moist towel after feedings to help them to pee. (Domestics are weaned about 6 weeks; wild bunnies are weaned about 3-4 weeks for cottontails and 7-9 weeks for jacks). Bloat is commonly associated with too frequent feedings. KMR is made by Pet-Ag. If you have questions, their phone is 800/323-0877. For WILD rabbits, use Regular Goats Milk (found in the carton at your grocery) or KMR, NOT Esbilac.

Provide a soft nest area in a box with clean towels, and cover the babies so it is dark. Do not provide extra heat if the room temperature is at least 65 to 70o F because excessive heat can be fatal. If the room is cooler, then you may place a heating pad on a low setting under no more than HALF of the nest so the bunny can move to a cooler area if it gets too warm. If this is a wild rabbit, handle it ONLY when during feedings as excessive handling can be extremely stressful and potentially fatal.

You can use KMR (Kitten Milk Replacer) available at most pet stores for the handfeeding formula. You can also use Regular Goats Milk found in the carton at your local grocery store.

How much formula should I feed?

The following is a guideline for the daily amount to feed a wild bunny or a domestic bunny. Take the DAILY amount listed and divide it into proper number of feedings.

Domestic buns with closed eyes should be fed 2-3x/day, (2x/day for wild bunnies), and the number of feedings gradually decreased until they are weaned. (Domestics are weaned about 6 weeks; wild bunnies are weaned about 3-4 weeks for cottontails, and 7-9 weeks for jack rabbits). Bloat is commonly associated with too frequent feedings.

Wild bunnies should be fed kitten KMR or KMR and regular Goats Milk. Do not use Esbilac for wild rabbits as we found they do not do well on that. It is okay for domestics.

  • Newborn to One Week: 2 - 2+1/2 cc/ml each feeding (two feedings).
  • 1-2 weeks: 5-7 cc/ml each feeding (two feedings). (depending on bunny..may be much LESS if smaller rabbit).
  • 2-3 weeks: 7-13 cc/ml each feeding (two feedings). Bunnies whose eyes are still CLOSED need to be stimulated to urinate and defecate before or after each feeding. Again, seek a professional on this. Domestic eyes open at about 10 days of age. Then start introducing them to timothy and oat hay, pellets and water (always add fresh greens for wild ones--dandelion greens, parsley, carrot tops, grated carrots, all fresh, watered down). See below for detail.
  • 3-6 weeks: 13-15 cc/ml each feeding (two feedings--again, may be LESS depending on size of rabbit! A cottontail will take so much LESS--about half of this!. )

These small ones (if eyes closed) all need to be stimulated to urinate and defecate prior to and following feeding. (Except Jack Rabbits do not). This can be done by gently running a wet cotton ball (warm water) over the urogenital area. All orphans with open eyes should be offered rolled oats, (whole oats also for wild ones), commercial rabbit pellets, leafy alfalfa, clover, dandelion greens, and some leafy greens. It is IMPORTANT FOR WILD BUNNIES to have mostly OAT HAY, as well as TIMOTHY HAY AND ALFALFA HAY. The idea is to offer a variety. Some formula may also be placed in a stable dish to encourage self-feeding but discard in a hour or so if not eaten.

If you have a healthy adult rabbit at home and you can collect cecotropes (the soft green droppings that the rabbit usually eats) then these can be mixed with the KMR to give the baby bunny normal bacteria for its intestinal tract. Only one cecotrope per day for 4-5 days is needed. This is particularly important for rabbits under one week of age. Also good is to sprinkle acidophilus powder from human capsules in the milk a little each time for healthy flora.

After each feeding it is important to make the bunny defecate and urinate to keep the intestinal tract and urinary system running smoothly (only until their eyes are open). No need to do this for jack rabbits; they go on their own. Use a cotton ball moistened with warm water and gently stroke the anal area until the bunny starts producing stool and urine and keep stroking until the bunny stops. You are reproducing the behavior of the mother rabbit who would lick her young to stimulate them to go to the bathroom and to keep the nest clean. The stool will be soft and may be varying shades of green and yellow.

As soon their eyes are open, you may introduce the bunnies to hay, such as oat hay, alfalfa and timothy, and dark leafy veggies such as carrot tops, parsley, dandelion, romaine, collards, Swiss chard, (apple for wild ones), etc. Dandelion greens are extremely important for jack rabbits. If this is a wild rabbit, you do not need to introduce them to pellets. If this is a domestic rabbit baby, then you may introduce them to pellets at 2 weeks of age (please refer to the handout Care of Rabbits for more information on diet). Wild rabbits should be released as soon as they are eating hay and greens and are approximately 5 inches in body length (cottontails). They will be small, but the longer you keep them, the more agitated and difficult to handle they will become and the less likely their chances for survival in the wild. Release ONLY at dusk or dawn. Jack rabbits will be much larger and are released after 9 weeks when ready. Make sure they get exercise daily.

The exception is the length/age rule is the jack rabbit. They are best released around 9 weeks of age, as they mature much slower than the brush/cottontails and need to develop strength. If they are ready, earlier, they will let you know.

Jack rabbits really enjoy being raised together, whereas cottontails/brush bunnies may fight and do fine alone. Give them a carrier as their place of privacy with plenty of fresh hay, dandelion greens, carrots, carrot tops, whole oats. Brush bunnies/cottontails wean themselves pretty early after a few weeks. Jack rabbits continue on formula much longer, and most are weaned about 7-9 weeks. Replace the formula with cut-up banana or apple.

Sources: Caring for Cricket - What Not To Do When You Find a Wild Baby Bunny by Julie Smith and Handout by Midwest Exotic Animal Hospital, and wild bunny info by M. Wilson (rehabber/HRS).

For more information, please read Caring for Orphans or email [email protected]. This is an e-mail account at the national chapter that specializes in answering questions about wildlife needs.

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