Sometimes baby rabbits need help, but do you know how to tell if they need your intervention for feeding? Most people who raise rabbits can tell you that many times baby bunnies look like they need help, but they really don’t. So then, how do you tell?
Let’s say you found a nest of wild baby rabbits in your yard. You watched all day and never saw mom come to feed them, but did you know that mom only feeds them once, maybe twice every 24 hours? Did you know they do it late at night or early in the morning? The fact is that most suspected abandoned baby rabbits are not abandoned at all! During the day mamma rabbit stays away from the nest, but close enough to watch her babies. She doesn’t want to risk alerting predators to her kits. Since rabbit milk is high in fat and protein, the babies only need to nurse once a day.
How do you know if it’s time to take over and foster those young baby rabbits?
#1 You know the mother is dead.
Sometimes mom will die from birthing complications, and sometimes she can be killed by a predator. If you actually saw mom die or found her that way, then you know it’s time to help out.
#2 The mother rabbit is too stressed, sick or injured to care for her babies properly.
Sometimes a doe will abandon her kits if she has recently been relocated to a new home (like what happened to me), or she has medical issues that prevent her from feeding them. She may not feel well enough or she might not be able to get to them in the nest.
The only way you will know for sure if the kits aren’t being fed is by inspecting their tummies to see if they are skinny looking and wrinkled or they look round and smooth. Babies who haven’t been feed will have wrinkly, shrunk-in tummies.
Checking early in the morning and again in the evening should help you know for sure. Just make sure you aren’t checking constantly if they are wild rabbits or you may actually be spook mom enough to keep her away! Contrary to popular belief, if you touch them, their mom will still take care of them.
#3 The doe’s milk isn’t coming in.
You can test this by gently and securely putting mom on her back and hand expressing to see if there is anything. This is also a good time to try putting the babies on her to see if they can latch on and get things going.
If that doesn’t work, she can get a special shot from a vet that is supposed to help her milk production start. (This must be given by the third day, or it won’t work.) Or, if you are lucky enough to have access to another doe who has recently given birth, you can have her nurse them by either holding her on her back and putting the kits on her. Then put a dab of vanilla on her nose so she doesn’t smell a difference between hers and the new babies.
Just make sure they are close to the same age as her babies, or it won’t work!
#4 The litter of baby rabbit kits is unusually large.
If this happens giving supplemental feedings can help them get enough to eat until they start solid foods.
They have a harder time fighting their siblings for the food and as a result, become weaker and weaker. You can help them stay in the game and compete by supplementing with raw goat milk formula. Just because a baby is smaller and weaker, doesn’t mean it won’t turn into an amazing rabbit!
Just an FYI on keeping them warm:
If they fall out of the nest, you must put them back. The doe will not pick them up like dogs or cats do with their babies. You will also need to help with warmth if there is only one kit. In a situation with one kit, you also have to worry about it getting too much milk from mom, so be prepared to keep an eye on that.
Here is a picture of the nest my friend’s son found while mowing the backyard. Can you see those cute little baby rabbits? Their camouflage is pretty good! These guys are almost old enough to be weaned. Our best guess for their age was 5-6 weeks old. Wild rabbits are a lot smaller than most domestic rabbits!
Here is a picture of one of our hungry baby rabbits before feeding:
Here is a picture after feeding the baby rabbits:
Notice how round and tight the baby rabbit belly is? This is what a kit looks like when it is getting fed.
What should you do if the baby rabbits are really abandoned and there are no other rabbits to foster them out to?
If you know that they truly are abandoned, see if you have a wildlife rehab expert in your area by calling the department of fish and game, or a local animal shelter. Another option is to get in touch with a local rabbit breeder or veterinarian for help or information. If you can’t find a competent resource for help and you want to try and save them, see my blog post on feeding newborn baby rabbits. It is not easy and the death rate is high, but if you are sure they will die anyway, then you can definitely try to save them. Be very suspicious of formulas you find on the internet. Most use products that are made for puppies and kittens. The very best formula, in my opinion is a specially modified raw goat milk formula that you can make yourself. I have my recipe here.
- Baby bunnies that look abandoned probably aren’t.
- Full tummies are the biggest clue to know if they are being fed. They will be round and not saggy.
- If they do need help, try and find someone who has experience hand-feeding rabbit kits.
- Understand they have a low survival rate when they are 100% hand-raised, but it can be done!
This post may contain affiliate links. Meaning I receive a small commission when you purchase from my links, at no additional cost to you… which helps me spoil my adorable rescue rabbits.
Disclaimer: Jaimie is not the great and powerful Wizard of Oz, a lawyer, a doctor, a veterinarian, or a CPA. Nothing your read in my blog is a substitute for professional advice and doing your own good research. Remember that just because someone has credentials doesn’t guarantee their advice is golden or perfect. Put your smart hat on and do your due diligence. Good luck!