If you have caught up an injured or orphaned rabbit, DON'T PET it. Rabbits
are high stress, they may be sitting still while you are petting them,
but they are terrified. Any undue stress can cause them to have heart
failure. To avoid this, keep them in a quiet, dark and warm place. Keep
them away from the smells and sounds of your pets.
In the eastern United States, baby bunnies that are larger than a softball
are already independent of their mother. They should be returned to a
spot close to where they were found with dense foliage in which they can
hide. Keep all pets and other activities away from this area. Smaller
babies should be returned to their nest. You will NEVER see the mother;
she only feeds them between dusk and pre-dawn to avoid attracting predators.
To determine if a baby is orphaned, 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 need to mow or work near an active bunny nest, consider covering the nest with a laundry basket to prevent causing injury to the babies or having the babies "bolt" in fear.
You can protect active nests in your yard by enclosing them with 2x4 or 4x4 inch wire to exclude children and pets. The openings will still be large enough for mom to reach the babies.
A successful bunny re-nest is determined by checking on the babies during the next 3 mornings, during which you should be able to see a "milk line" at the tummy showing that the babies were fed. Please note, we no longer recommend using twigs, string, or flour on or around the nest. This is not an absolute for ensuring that the babies are still healthy and being fed. You can have a very high re-nest success rate when you follow these instructions.
Rabbit mothers nurse their babies early in the morning and again in the evening for a total of approximately 5 minutes a day. This is because their milk is very rich and the babies fill up within minutes. Therefore an orphaned bunny should only be fed TWICE per day! Overfeeding is a leading cause of death in these youngsters and results in fatal intestinal disease. You can use KMR (Kitten Milk Replacer), which is available at most pet stores or your veterinarian’s office. You can also use goat milk (regular carton found in the grocery section). DO NOT add Karo syrup and NEVER use cow's milk.
The following is a guideline for the daily amount to feed:
GENERAL FEEDING OF ORPHANED RABBITS Age + Amount
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).
2-3 weeks: 7-13 cc/ml each feeding (two feedings). Domestic
eyes open at about 10 days of age. Start introducing them to timothy and
oat hay, pellets and water (always add fresh greens for wild ones). Bunnies
whose eyes are still closed need to be stimulated to urinate and defecate
before or after each feeding. See below for detail.
After each feeding it is important to make the bunny defecate and urinate (until their eyes are open) 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. No need to do this for jackrabbits.
As soon as their eyes are open, you may introduce the bunnies to hay, such as oat and timothy hay, some alfalfa, and pellets. For wild rabbits, add dark leafy veggies such as dandelion greens, carrot tops, parsley, carrots, etc. If this is a wild rabbit, you do not need to introduce pellets. If this is a domestic rabbit baby, then you may introduce plain alfalfa pellets at 2 weeks of age. Wild rabbits should be released as soon as they are eating hay and greens and are approximately 5 inches in body length (for cottontails) and are afraid of you (about 3-4 weeks). Jackrabbits are released much later (9 weeks up).
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.)