It is possible to hand raise infant bunnies, however mortality rates are high. The age and physical condition of the infant when abandoned/found will in part determine the chances of survival.
Where To Put The Babies
Make the babies a soft nest area in a box with clean towels. Put one folded towel on the bottom and another “bunched” on top of that, so the babies can snuggle into it. You can also purchase soft nesting wool (be certain it is not comprised of strings as this can wrap around tiny limbs and cause problems) from a pet store and put that on top of the towel. Cover the box with a towel so it is dark, making sure that there will be enough air so the babies do not suffocate. Leaving about a one inch gap at the top is sufficient.
Keep the babies in an out-of-the way, QUIET area, such as an adult’s bedroom. If the room temperature is between 68-72 degrees you will not need to provide extra heat, but if it’s cooler than that you will need to provide extra warmth. Use a heating pad set on low and slip it under one half only of the bottom towel in the box or better yet underneath half of the box itself. This allows the babies to move to a cooler area if it gets too warm. ALWAYS make sure that the heating pad is covered, as babies can burn themselves very badly on an exposed heating pad.
If the babies were with their mother, but she is not caring for them – and you are sure she is ignoring them you will need to separate her from them, so they will not get hurt. If she has created a nest, use that material in the box that you have made to hold the babies. Rabbits nurse only ONE TIME a day, so if you think that she is not caring for them based only on the fact you don’t see them feed…think again. But if you are sure she is neglecting them, if they are dehydrated, cold, obviously ignored, then something must be done!
What To Feed The Babies
Baby (infant) rabbits should be fed Kitten Milk Replacer (KMR), which you can buy at your veterinarian’s office. Unless you are familiar with and skilled at tube feeding babies, use an eye dropper or sterile syringe. Small 1 cc syringes to start with and larger sizes as the babies grow.
Feed baby rabbits no more than twice a day. Baby rabbits normally feed only ONCE a day, however the KMR is not as caloric as rabbit milk—so if baby does not take in the total amount quoted below in one feeding, you may split the feedings in half, AM/PM – but no more frequently as it can cause severe gastrointestinal distress. Overfeeding is a leading cause of death in infant rabbits.
If this is a wild rabbit, handle it ONLY during feedings and make sure to keep it in a quiet, safe, out-of-the-way area of your home, as excessive handling and human interaction can be extremely stressful and potentially fatal, and will lessen its chance or survival once released back into the wild.
Following is a guideline for the daily amount to feed a domestic OR wild rabbit approximately 5 pounds as an adult (average rabbit size). You can increase the amounts as needed for larger breeds. Remember, if the rabbit does not eat the full amount listed, feed the remainder later – but do not feed more than twice a day.
For the BEST results, go to your local health food store and get a bottle of ACIDOPHILUS. Ask for the capsules that have the “grainy stuff” inside (they are easier to mix than the “powdery stuff”)–and add it to the KMR at each feeding. ONE ACIDOPHILUS CAPSULE = 1 cc.
Using acidophilus will GREATLY increase the baby rabbit’s chance of survival, because it helps keep the GI bacteria in balance.
5 cc KMR plus 1/2cc acidophilus
1 week old
10-15 cc KMR plus 1/2cc acidophilus
2 week old
26-30 cc KMR Plus 1 acidophilus
3 AND 4 weeks old until weaned
30 cc KMR plus 1cc acidophilus (You may wean at 4 weeks of age)
Baby bunnies will start eating solids around 3 weeks of age. If you find a furry baby bunny out hopping around this bunny will likely already be eating solids and may well be completely weaned.
Baby rabbits feed from their mothers while lying on their backs. You may loosely wrap baby in a soft face cloth or hand towel and lay it on your lap or in the crook of your arm. If bunny will NOT eat this way, of course, do the best you can. It is ABSOLUTELY CRUCIAL to let the baby eat at it’s own pace—especially if it is not suckling from a nipple (i.e. if you are using a dropper or syringe to feed it…). If you squirt the liquid in too quickly it can get into the lung causing aspiration pneumonia and death.
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 soft cloth or a cotton ball moistened with warm water and gently stroke from between the bunny’s front legs all the way down over the anal area until the bunny starts producing stool and urine, and keep stroking until the bunny stops. You are replicating the behavior of the mother rabbit who would lick her young to stimulate them to go to the bathroom (as well as to keep the nest clean). The stool will be soft and may be varying shades of green and yellow. Be sure to clean baby’s mouth with a damp cloth or paper towel, so that no milk dries in the hair.
Baby rabbit eyes open at about 10 days of age. You may start introducing them to hay and pellets at this point, but no veggies or fruits yet. Just leave some hay and pellets in a corner of the box where the babies can easily get to them. Make sure it the pellets are plain, high fiber and fresh, with no added “goodies” such as dried banana chips or seeds. Don’t ever leave a deep water dish in which a baby could drown; instead, use something shallow and rinse and fill it frequently.
If these are wild rabbit babies: Start giving them small amounts of pesticide-free greens and timothy or oat hay at this point (grass, dandelions, weeds, parsley…), but you do not need to introduce them to pellets, as the goal is to release them back into the wild where the food is not that high in protein.
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. Make sure to release them in a safe place, where no pesticides are used — and where they will not run out into a street or become breakfast for a predator! It is best to release them in the early morning so that they have the day to acclimate. Community parks are NOT the place to release ANY rabbit, let alone a wild one. Consult your veterinarian prior to releasing the youngsters to ensure they are ready to go it on their own and that you have chosen a suitable area for release.
If you plan to keep this rabbit as a pet (as long as it is domestic – keeping of wild bunnies is against the law!), make sure that you have the time and really want a House Rabbit. They are wonderful, affectionate, playful pets than can be litter box trained like cats and can live 8 or more years if altered and properly cared for. If you just want to let it live in the back yard or a cage – then give the bunny to someone who desires a House Rabbit! Pet Rabbits should not live outside, or in isolated cages. They are very social animals, love people – and the outside life is simply too dangerous (heat, cold, predators, parasites, infectious disease) for a rabbit to live a long happy life.
If you have what you feel is an abandoned infant or young rabbit contact your local veterinarian for an age and physical condition assessment. An excellent reference source is:
Textbook of Rabbit Medicine by Frances Harcort-Brown.