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Orphaned Rabbits

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Rabbits

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.

Baby Bunnies: Screen the baby first to ensure you are not attempting to re-nest an unhealthy or injured baby.

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).

The "nest" will look like a shallow depression sparsely lined with the mother's belly fur and grasses. It is usually located in high grasses, under bushes, or in flowerbeds. Return the babies to the nest and lightly cover them with the fur and grasses. They will usually stay put if they feel adequately hidden.

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.

Orphaned Rabbits

NOTE: Because rabbits stress so easily and often die of heart attacks, the baby should only be handled as necessary. If you find an orphaned rabbit, place the baby in box with clean towels and eliminate light stress by covering the box so that 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 much 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.

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.

Feeding Guidelines

The following is a guideline for the daily amount to feed:

GENERAL FEEDING OF ORPHANED RABBITS Age + Amount

This WILL vary depending on type of rabbit. Use KMR, or Goat Milk, regular not low fat. Add a pinch of acidophilus (AKA Probiotic) to all formula to promote healthy gut flora. Other formulas may vary depending on the region of the country. Avoid using Esbilac. FEED TWICE A DAY ONLY.

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). 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.

Domestics are weaned about 6 weeks. Cottontails wean and release about 3-4 weeks and jack rabbits much later (9+ weeks). Wild rabbits NEED a skilled wildlife rehabber. Please call your humane society's wildlife center or the contacts below. Bloat is commonly associated with too frequent feedings! (Feed only twice a day up to these TOTAL amounts). You may find an eyedropper or syringe easiest to use at first. Feed them upright, and go slowly watching them lick and swallow so they do not aspirate. For domestic rabbits; if you have a healthy adult rabbit at home and you can collect cecotropes (the soft chain-like droppings that the rabbit usually eats) then these can be mixed with the KMR or goat milk 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. Acidophilus capsules for humans, opened and sprinkled some in milk, works well too.

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.)

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. They may be easily injured in your care as they attempt to get free. For wild bunnies, please do not raise them yourself, but call our center so that they are ensured a better chance of survival.

Also see:

I Found A Baby Mammal - Now What?
How To Rescue Baby Mammals

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