There are circumstances when a mother rabbit cannot, or should not take care of their newborn. The kindest thing to do for the babies is to remove them from the mother (if at all possible) and hand-rear them yourself. This may seem like an impossible feat if you’ve never done it before, but with lots of love and patience, caring for baby bunnies is well within your grasp!
As hutch life explains on their blog, ” As hard as this may be to believe or accept, there are many times when even with our best efforts rabbits can not or should not raise their young.” Rabbits have very specific nesting requirements which are different from other animals.
Mrs. Hutchison goes on to explain that the nest should be at room temperature, the right height from the floor and other surfaces for a rabbit to climb onto it comfortably and that there should not be any sharp corners in the nest.
In order to avoid litter-training problems, later on, it’s best to set up a box big enough for an adult rabbit (approximately 24″x24″x18″) so they go in easily without squeezing too tightly.
Rabbit nursing their young. Photo by Mark O’Brien. If you spot a mother bunny who is having trouble feeding her babies due to illness, old age, or neglect, try your best to keep her hydrated and help her find them when she gets confused about where they are located.
The House Rabbit Society recommends giving the female electrolytes through her water, then syringe-feeding the babies until they are strong enough to eat on their own. You can also consult your local veterinarian for advice.
If you’re faced with the reality that there is no mother around and it’s up to you to hand-rear them, here are things you’ll need: A rabbit nest box (24″x24″x18″). For information on how to make one yourself or purchase one, see here. Unfamiliar bunny smell. Newborns will smell like human babies do – like powder and lotion rather than like a bunny should smell (they should smell sweet).
Pasteurized liquid feed supplements such as Goatadvance, at Tractor Supply stores in the goat section. Can also be ordered online. It’s very important to not use artificial milk replacers, which can cause scours (diarrhea) and death. Pedialyte or Gatorade (yes, for humans).
If you run out, plain water is OK but has fewer electrolytes (sodium and potassium salts). Rabbit-specific infant oral electrolyte solution such as Nupro found on Amazon. A 20ml syringe without the needle. You can purchase this at your local pharmacy or get it from an online source like Farm & Fleet. A soft rubber catheter with tubing (available at Tractor Supply in the livestock section).
A heating pad set on low underneath half the nest box – make sure the pad is completely covered in a towel and only the animals’ legs touch it. A box is at least twice as large as the rabbit’s nest box (this will be used for transport). If you don’t have one already, get an animal carrier like this for carrying your bunny around in.
If you find yourself with a motherless litter of babies, here’s what to do:
1 . You can help by providing warmth; put all babies that are left inside their nest box on top of the heating pad (on low) underneath half of their home. The other half can be filled with hay – not straw! Straw doesn’t retain heat and has sharp edges, so if any babies sit or lie on it they might injure themselves.
2 . Place the babies in a box on top of a heating pad that is on low. Keep it covered with a towel to keep it from getting burned and be careful not to touch the bunny’s feet while they’re still attached to their egg sacs. It will hurt them if you do!
3 . Feed them every two hours until their eyes open, which happens at around 10-16 days old. You can check by gently feeling inside of their ears – when an eye opens it feels like a small pea beneath the skin. Once you feel this, get ready for the first feeding! If done properly, they will learn how to lap up liquid food from your finger instead of needing syringes later on. This may seem messy the first couple of times but it gets easier.
4 . When their eyes open, they will start to get pretty active…until you pick them up and handle them. They should begin eating from a bowl with a nipple bottle by themselves between 10-16 days of age or sooner. It is also very common for bunnies born without a mother to be rejected by their siblings because they look different – this can happen at any point in time before the eyes open.
5 . When feeding the babies, leave the towel off so they don’t get too warm. The temperature of the room they’re in should be anywhere from 70-85 degrees Fahrenheit and you’ll want to keep them at this temperature until around five weeks old when their bodies can begin to regulate things. If they were born in a cold environment, they will need more heating pads and/or heat lamps so that is added protection.
6 . If the babies are squealing or crying out, it is likely they are cold and need more heat! However, if their little noses are dry and scaly looking rather than moist, they might be dehydrated so adding water to their formula would help with this problem. You’ll want to keep them at around 90-92 degrees Fahrenheit in a heated environment until around 5 weeks old when their bodies can regulate things better.
7 . At around 3 weeks old, you should start to handle them daily so they get used to being handled. You want to start this process very early on so it is easier for the baby and doesn’t cause too much stress! This way, they’ll be used to it later on which will make things easier if they are not meant to be pets.
8 . Once their eyes are open, you can tell the males from females. The larger rabbits with pointier noses are likely boys! Males can be put back into the frypan at this point while the females should stay with you until they’re old enough to be spayed. Males should be put into the frypan by week 17 and females should be kept until week 18 or 19 before spaying them.
9 . Females can get pregnant as early as 4 weeks old so you need to be extra careful while they are still in your care. They also go through a heat cycle every 18-23 days so even if they’re not impregnated, you still have to watch them carefully and remove any male bunnies from the cage.
10 . The best time of day to feed a new baby bunny is around 7-8 am and then again at 5-7 pm. You must know that newborns need help when it comes to digestion and movement, so you need to be doing the chores around them. If you neglect their duties for too long they can die of either trauma or starvation.
11 . When your baby bunny is born without a mother, you must take care of him/her until they are old enough to be weaned off formula and onto a normal bunny diet. They should only have the same formula as they would if their mother was still alive and it is very important not to change this for at least 4 weeks until they can regulate their digestive system on their own.
12 . Some people choose to make a “momma rabbit” with an old t-shirt or sweatshirt to make them feel more comfortable after they leave the frypan. This way they have something to snuggle with during the day and avoid human contact. You can’t put plastic or fabric around them too tightly, however, because it may suffocate them!
13 . To help your baby rabbit get used to being handled, start by touching their backs and bottoms and then their ears and feet. Hold one of their paws and let them get used to you touching all areas of their body. You should do this for at least 5-10 minutes per day so they don’t become skittish around people.
14 . Learning to pick up a baby bunny takes some time and patience but as long as your hands are clean and you move slowly, it won’t hurt them.
15 . As you hold the rabbit, make sure to talk to them and pet them and even sing or hum while they’re in your arms! This way they know that being held by a human is a good thing. You also need to constantly have their cages clean so they don’t start to dislike being handled because of the smell of their own waste.