Care of Orphan Rabbits
Susan Brown, D.V.M.
(reprinted from the MSARS newsletter)
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.
In the rare situation that you have an orphaned bunny, such as when a wild bunny’s nest is disturbed by another animal or a lawn mower, or when a domestic rabbit refuses to care for her young, you may try feeding with Kitten Milk Replacer (KMR). Remember to feed ONLY TWICE A DAY. Overfeeding is a leading cause of death in these youngsters which results in fatal intestinal disease. 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 70 deg. 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 hand feeding formula. You can use cow or goats milk with a little Karo syrup added for a few feedings until you get the KMR which is a more complete formula. DO NOT add Karo syrup to the KMR.
The following is a guideline for the daily amount to feed a wild bunny or a domestic bunny that will be approximately 5 Ibs as an adult…you can increase the amounts as needed for larger breeds:
Take the DAILY amount listed and divide it into two feedings.
|Newborn||5 cc KMR|
|1 week old||10-15 cc KMR|
|2 week old||26-30 cc KMR|
|3 weeks old until weaned||30 cc KMR|
(wean at 4 weeks of age)
*** Eyes open at about 10 days of age.
*** One can start introducing them to hay and greens after eyes are open.
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.
After each feeding it is important to make the bunny defecate and urinate to keep the intestinal tract and urinary system running smoothly. 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 alfalfa or timothy, and dark leafy veggies such as dandelion, kale, romaine, collards, Swiss chard, etc. 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 4 to 6 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. 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.
Small Mammals Series, Dr. Susan A. Brown