Lately I’ve been asked a lot how to care for orphaned baby rabbits… seems like everyone is digging up their nests lately! A girlfriend of mine in NY has been successfully fostering a litter of wild rabbits by feeding them kitten milk replacement with a dropper.
There are many differing opinions on how to take care of a baby wild rabbit you may find. Success rate is variable and what works for one may not work for another. Rabbits are very environmentally sensitive creatures. Since Collins is having another bad success rate with her second litter I’ve taken the last baby away from her (honestly I don’t know if it’s the heat, her not feeding it or she has dried up already since she lost 4 others). This morning I found the little one with a empty belly so I rushed to the grocery store and bought a can of evaporated goats milk. This should be diluted 50:50 if you are using it and I only use it temporarily for an emergency. You can also use the kitten milk replacer. If a baby is severely dehydrated I usually just feed it Gatorade or sugar-water to help revive them quickly.
For long-term fostering it is a little more complex. As with any species nothing compares to their mother’s milk. When possible keep the babies with the mother or foster them with another nursing doe if you have one (which is why it’s always good to have 2 does bred at the same time). Not only will it make your life easier but the babies will have a better chance of survival. I’m not going to reinvent the wheel here. If you are in a situation where you need to know more about how and what to feed please visit this site as it has a great break-down of what to do!
So back to my little one. He will be feed a diet of raw goat’s milk 2-3 times per day (or more depending on how his belly looks). I try to avoid using the kitten milk replacer as rabbits and cats are very nutritionally different animals (carnivore vs. herbivore). You have to remember as well when feeding baby rabbits you must stimulate their bowels and bladder if their eyes are still shut or else they can die from constipation or full bladder. Momma rabbits lick their babies as they nurse to do this so use slightly warm, wet washcloth. Needless to say even while holding him out in front of me he successfully hosed my shirt this morning with a nice stream of rabbit pee. You’ve been warned.
If he survives for these first weeks, he will then have to be fed cecotropes. Rabbits have 2 different kinds of poop. The round, pelleted type that we are all familiar with and a soft, light brown type which are called cecotropes. These droppings are full of beneficial bacteria and essential nutrients that the rabbits eat (yes this is gross) to help maintain proper digestion and health. Babies get these from their mother as they get older to establish a healthy gut flora and increase their immune system. This means at some point I will have to ‘harvest’ some cecotropes from Collins to feed him before I start him on solid foods…so around 3-4 weeks. Rabbit poo slushie anyone?! Those who don’t have a rabbit to chase around trying to collect its poo can use probiotics to supplement instead (Bene-Bac is a good substitution). Once they are around 4-5 weeks they can usually be successfully weaned on to hay and quality rabbit pellets. If I successfully get him to this point it will be the first rabbit I’ve fostered this way that’s survived!