Feeding a newborn baby rabbit isn’t easy. Knowing how to bottle feed orphaned baby rabbits can be overwhelming and confusing. The clock and the odds are against you, because the survival rate when bottle feeding baby bunnies is pretty slim. The good news is that it can be done!
You are not alone, because I have been in the same situation myself. However, before you attempt to feed a baby rabbit (including orphans, runts, or abandoned domestic or wild baby rabbit kits), you need to make sure they really do need your intervention. Why? Because it is simply very easy to kill an orphaned baby rabbit if you don’t do it correctly or you FEED THEM THE WRONG FORMULA MIX.
It’s not impossible to successfully hand-feed a baby bunny, but you must have good information and you need it fast!
There is A LOT of really bad information on the internet and if you pick the wrong info to guide you, you don’t get a second chance. I know this, because it happened to me. I lost one of my orphaned baby rabbits from bad information. Most people mean well. Sometimes some of these people happen to be rabbit breeders who don’t know any better and others, well, let’s just say they have no business giving anyone advice on a topic they don’t know anything about!
You need someone who has done both the research and rabbit raising.
I may not be a vet, but I happen to have raised pet rabbits since before the internet was commercialized and when dial-up was king. Rabbits are my absolute favorite animal! Most importantly, I have successfully hand-raised two fat and happy rabbits aka the “Bugglets” from birth. It was really an undertaking trying to find the best practices for this emergency mission!
I researched like crazy online the second I knew my rabbit kits were in trouble! I tried everything good, knowledgeable people had to offer. We held mamma bunny on her back and put the babies on her, but she wasn’t producing milk due to stress. (Just an FYI, there is a shot your vet can give the doe to help her milk come in, but it needs to be done within the first 3 days.) I contacted my local 4-H leader, posted to rabbit Facebook groups, contacted a local rabbit breeder, talked with a volunteer at the animal shelter, and did massive amounts of research online including watching YouTube videos.
What’s crazy is that even though lots of people breed and raise rabbits, it turns out there isn’t much good information out there about this. In my area, rabbits are considered exotics by veterinarians and they only know the basics, basically. I really felt that I was on my own. That’s why I had to put this information out there.
AND, before anyone judges me for being such an irresponsible pet owner, here is a little background. The doe that kindled the babies was a rescued feral rabbit that was captured and came home with me THREE days before she gave birth. She and her new babies were saved from a pest control issue that was likely to involve them being poisoned to death.
I want you to have hope, and I want you to know that you can do this!
Bottle feeding a newborn baby rabbit can be challenging for a number of reasons, but when you are determined it is definitely possible. I had to learn through trial and error. The first thing I tried was a baby rabbit formula recipe that I found on YouTube from a rabbit breeder. Unfortunately, I didn’t have much luck with it. It kept them alive, but they were terribly bony and were not gaining any weight. They just weren’t getting the calories they needed. I was feeding them every 3 hours, but they still weren’t getting enough. It also had stuff in it that didn’t sound very good for rabbits.
Then, I made the fatal mistake of adding a touch of organic grass-fed cow’s cream to the formula to help with calories. Yeah, I really messed that up, and I lost the kit that was initially the strongest of the three! You see, rabbit milk has a really high fat and protein content. (According to a report published in 2006 by World Rabbit Science titled, “Rabbit Milk: A Review Of Quantity, Quality and Non-Dietary Affecting Factors.”)
The problem was, their little tummies aren’t well-suited to digest cow’s milk and they got really bad diarrhea, which is super-dangerous for baby bunnies and pretty darn messy to boot!
Losing one of the three baby bunnies made me feel hopeless!
I started with three and was down to two. I was heart-broken, stressed, tired and scared I was going to mess up it up for the other two, but I still kept going. Then a friend mentioned something I should have done from the start – raw goat milk.
Duh! I knew all about the benefits of raw goat milk, but was too tired to get my brain to see the obvious. After a couple feedings of diluted unflavored Pedialyte, I immediately switched them over to raw goat milk and their diarrhea cleared up. Keep in mind, that raw goat milk contains lots of good enzymes that help with digestion, which is something young kits really need, so I didn’t heat it past 100 degrees Fahrenheit.
But even with the raw milk, they just weren’t gaining any weight.
Those hungry little babies were just not getting the fat and protein content their tiny bodies desperately needed. I needed to up the fat and protein concentration, because goat milk is low in both. That’s when I got the idea to MIX POWDERED GOAT MILK with the raw goat milk.
Being an accounting gal, I studied all the food labels and slapped all the appropriate numbers into an excel spreadsheet. I needed to find the exact amount of powder to add to the goat milk to increase the percentage of protein and fat to the closest it could be to true rabbit milk without going overboard. Let me tell you, it takes a lot of powdered goat milk to bring it up to that level and it looked like a thin milkshake when I was done. I ended up erring on the side of caution and added slightly less than I needed. It was easy to make up for that with extra feedings if needed. Rabbit milk has close to 12% of each fat and protein, but raw goat milk only has about 4% of each. With the powdered milk it increased it up to 8% of each.
I was pretty worried that I might hurt them, and that they might get overloaded on extra vitamins and minerals.
Here’s the thing though, I was pretty much out of options and willing to give it a try.
Here is what happened: I fed it to them. They ate it just fine. They didn’t get worse or sick, in fact, they started to gain weight. Then they slowly started to grow. They were totally runty at first! It was so funny, because they looked like fuzzy little button mushrooms with legs. They seemed normal. After a feeding they would fall asleep in my hand. One liked to “groom” my hand after eating.
Next, their eyes eventually opened, they started “going potty” on their own, and they turned into TOTAL LITTLE PIGLETS. They were great eaters with huge appetites! That is how they got nicknamed the “Bugglets.” (A bugglet is something like a cross between a bunny and a piglet.)
Here is the cool thing. They didn’t just survive, THEY THRIVED!
Our orphaned baby rabbits got so strong and healthy eating my custom baby rabbit formula recipe, that they practically kicked my butt every time I had to feed them! They loved to eat so much I could hardly contain them! Scrappy little Bugglets they were and still are. Said in my best Yoda voice, of course. 🙂
I don’t know if it helped that they were born on St. Patrick’s day of 2017, but it sure didn’t hurt. It is pretty darn lucky that they survived, especially considering their back story.
SO YES! YES YOU CAN SAVE THOSE BABIES!!!
Instructions for bottle feeding a baby rabbits, including my baby rabbit formula recipe:
I will tell you exactly what I did, so you can have a fighting chance for your “bugglets.” Keep in mind that I am not a vet, and you need to run this by a vet if at all possible. And, it may not work for every little baby. Sometimes there are just things wrong with babies and they aren’t meant to survive long.
I used a common sense approach, backed with lots of research and topped with love and hard work.
This is pretty detailed and in-depth, but when you need to feed orphaned baby rabbits IT’S THE DETAILS THAT MATTER, so here it is:
(Buy what you can locally, since you’ll need most of it fast! If you can’t find it locally, I’ve provided affiliate links to the items you’ll need. It won’t cost you more and I earn a small commission that helps me spoil my rescue bunnies!)
Must haves right away:
Cosmetic sponge wedges
1 – Half Gallon RAW Goat Milk (Get it as fresh as possible. Look for goat farmers if raw milk isn’t legal in your state)
Miracle Nipples with syringe – get them ordered now! It will take a few days to get them. And most pet stores don’t carry them. (Do try your local vet first, though!)
Must haves for older kits:
Optional, but very helpful:
Microwaveable bean bag and/or heating pad
Best detailed book I have found on rabbit care so far: Raising Rabbit Problem Solver
It’s got a lot of information on rabbit kits and caring for them.
- 1 C. Raw goat milk
- 56 g Meyenberg WHOLE Powdered Goat Milk (No, that is not a typo, and yes that is a lot of powdered milk!)
MAKING THE FORMULA
Measure out 1 cup of milk into a pint canning jar. In a separate container, measure out 56 grams of the powdered milk. Slowly blend in a little at a time until it is fully incorporated. This will take you a very long time if you don’t use a mini mixer, but don’t wait to start if you don’t have one. Mixing it in a blender on low bursts would probably work just fine, too. Cover with a plastic or metal canning lid and ring. Use a permanent marker on Scotch tape to put the date mixed and date the milk expires on the lid. I usually do this at night so the powdered milk can “re-hydrate” better in the fridge at night.
SETTING UP YOUR FEEDING AREA
When bottle feeding baby rabbits, you will want to get the warm water, cotton balls, old towels on top of a warm bean bag, and cotton swabs set up in a secure area where the baby bunnies can’t fall or get hurt while you feed them. I just sat my stuff on top of the kitchen table so I could sit down.
You are going to want to cut your cosmetic sponge to a point to better simulate the nipple. Just don’t cut it too thin, or it could break off and they could choke! Plus, they have tiny sharp little teeth that can rub on it and cut it.
PREPARING THE FORMULA
Before you start, have your feeding area set up. It is critical that the temperature of the formula doesn’t go above 105 degrees Fahrenheit, so the kits will benefit from the enzymes in the formula. This will help their digestion. To be safe, I go for 100 degrees Fahrenheit, because it can keep getting hotter even after you take it off the heat.
Heat a cup or two of water on the stove until it boils. Remove from heat and let it cool for a few minutes. Using a small plastic cup or bowl filled with a few tablespoons of formula, float it on top (you may need to hold it) and stir. Check the temperature often, because it can heat up rather quickly. Once it is between 98 and 100 degrees, pull it out of the water bath and keep stirring and taking the temp until it stops getting hotter. If you over heat it past 106 degrees Fahrenheit, start over.
HOW TO ADMINISTER THE FORMULA
Once you have everything set up and within arm’s reach, take a baby rabbit and put it in a towel fold to keep it warm during feeding. I set them on the warm beanbag to keep them cozy. Hold the baby in one hand. The correct position is with your knuckles and the top of your hand facing the ceiling and your fingers tucked under the kit – kind of like how you hold a pot handle or bike handle bar. Make sure the baby is in an upright position, and NOT ON IT’S BACK. With older babies, use your pointer finger over their forehead to put them in a “bunny headlock” if they try and squirm forward.
I know this isn’t how they feed on mamma bunny, but it’s important to keep them from choking and getting formula into their lungs.
Next, dip the pointy corner of the sponge into the formula and gently squeeze the sponge until it is slightly wet, but not saturated. Touch the tip to the baby’s mouth and encourage them to latch. Once they get the hang of it, they get really good at grabbing it with very little help. Let them suck the formula out. Now here’s the hard part: You have to gently pull it back out of their mouth to reload it and they are NOT going to want to let go! They will usually hold on tight, so be careful not to tear it. Keep repeating until they are full, but not overstuffed. This is a slow process, so it is less likely that they will over-eat.
Here is what an overstuffed belly looks like compared to a normal fed belly:
The biggest challenge: Keeping milk from getting up their little noses!
When feeding newborn rabbits, the milk naturally wants to travel up their split upper lip and into their tiny nostrils. Yikes! The best thing you can do is pull the sponge out and dab their nose with a clean cotton ball and let them sneeze it out. Let them finish sneezing before you offer more milk. This totally unnerved me, but it was nearly impossible to keep it from happening – just be prepared for it! If you don’t slow down, it can get into their lungs and make them really sick.
IMPORTANT! If your babies haven’t eaten in a while and are dehydrated, start with straight raw goat milk instead of the formula. You can gradually increase the ratio of milk to premixed formula after a few feedings. This will help prevent constipation.
Once they are close to two weeks, you can switch them over to a miracle nipple and syringe for feedings.
They will fight it at first, because they are not used to it, but keep trying. Eventually they take it and will get to a point where they suck it dry in less than a minute. I try to slow them down at this point, so they don’t over eat. They can have digestive issues if allowed to stuff themselves.
Here’s a cute video showing how I feed my baby rabbits!
HOW OFTEN TO FEED
Baby rabbits normally get fed by mom once every 24 hours. It is usually at night or early in the morning. The mamma rabbits can get away with this because their milk is so rich. YOU however, don’t get off the hook that easily. You must play “catch up” and feed 3-4 times a day, until your baby rabbits start to see progress. Once they are growing well, you can cut back to 2-3 times per day.
WHAT TO DO AFTER FEEDING
Burp them, of course…
Just kidding! 🙂
Newborn bunnies need mom’s help going potty after eating. Since you are now their mom, you get to do this. Using a warm wet cotton ball, gently wipe their belly in a downward motion several times. Then lightly do the same thing to their bottoms. This stimulates them to pee and poo. Be patient, it can take a few minutes.
If you don’t help them do this in the early weeks, they will die. Just be careful not to rub them raw. This can be a challenge if you are having a hard time getting them to go. For me, it helped to stroke their belly more to begin with and then move on to the sensitive parts. But watch out – they are like little squirt guns!
You won’t have to do this forever, just until they start going on their own.
If you do happen to give them raw skin, use a cotton swab to apply some organic coconut oil. This will help protect the area and help the skin heal. You may also notice that their poop looks like little bee pollen granules. I don’t think this is a problem, it’s just what it looks like when they are on formula.
Optional: To help settle their tummies, you can also give them a few ml of fresh organic chamomile tea that has been cooled to 100 degrees Fahrenheit. (I used my 1 ml oral syringes for this.)
Clean up is really important! When done make sure to clean all your supplies with hot soapy water and rinse well. Don’t let the supplies sit and grow bacteria. Wash them right away! I also sanitized everything with rubbing alcohol after washing and rinsed again, allowing everything to air dry. You can also sterilize by boiling your items for 5 minutes. Use a clean cosmetic sponge for each feeding. It helps to get everything prepped for the next feeding ahead of time, especially if you have to do one or two night feedings.
SPECIAL STEPS TO TAKE AS THEY GROW
It’s kind of a given that you need to make sure they are kept clean and their bedding is kept dry, warm and clean, but there is also an additional step you should take if at all possible when their eyes start to open. I did this for 3 days in a row. And yes, you are going to love this!
Yes, that’s right. As crazy as that sounds, mom rabbit, and all rabbits for that matter produce two types of droppings. They are regular droppings and “night droppings.” The night droppings are called cecotropes (see-ko-tropes) and are loaded with extra nutrients and beneficial gut bacteria. All rabbits eat their own cecotropes as a way to gain the most nutrition from their food. The babies will eat them when mom leaves them in the nest, and it helps to establish their beneficial gut bacteria.
If you can get a hold of some fresh cecotropes (Sounds fun, right??), you can mix a small amount in their formula and give it to them. It doesn’t take much, and I did mine once a day for three days in a row. Then two weeks later, I did it again. And if you have ever seen the look they give you when you try to feed this too them….
Well let’s just say, it’s the only time I have ever seen a rabbit with the “gag” expression.
Collecting cecotropes is not the easiest thing, even if you have several rabbits. Just make sure it is from a healthy rabbit. From their mom is always ideal, but another rabbit’s cecotropes will still have those good benefits. No other rabbits around? Try getting in touch with a local rabbit breeder.
INTRODUCING SOLID FOODS
You can do all that hard work, and then accidentally kill them with solid foods if you don’t do it right.
I always kept timothy hay in the nesting box, and they started nibbling on that as they got older. This is a great, healthy way to start them on solid foods!
Next, you want to only introduce one food at a time. First, they got to try spinach. Then clean, wild non-sprayed dandelion leaves. Then I gave them chard, which they hated! You can buy a spring greens mix at the store and pick one type of green at a time and see how they do. DO NOT GIVE ANY FRUIT OR SUGARY VEGGIES LIKE CARROTS until they are much older. (4-5 months) Because they had such a rough start, their tummies are better off without the extra sugar right now. To this day one of my babies gets diarrhea when given anything too sweet. Here is a list of approved foods for rabbits. As a side note, it is never a good idea to give your rabbits too many sweets or high-carb, sugary foods.
Additionally, I waited until they were about 6 weeks old before introducing pellets. I did this very, very slowly. I fed maybe ½ teaspoon and waited. If they got mushy poop, then I backed off and waited. Then I tried again a few days later. I would slowly increase how much I gave them and only as they could handle it. One baby adjusted slower than the other and I was worried she would never be able to handle rabbit pellets. Lucky for us, she eventually caught up with her brother!
Once your baby rabbits are 7 to 8 weeks old, you can wean them. This is an exciting time and kinda sad too! Once you get into a routine with those feisty little fur balls, it is sooooo fun to feed them. Since my rabbit kits got such a terrible start, I waited until 8 weeks to even start weaning them.
First I cut out one feeding, and then a few days later I cut out another. Once they were down to one feeding, I waited a few more days and gave them a ½ of a feeding for a few more days. Then they were done! There is no exact way to wean, the whole idea is to be gradual and to make sure increasing their intake of solids isn’t causing them problems. If they start to get any mushy stools just slow down.
It is extremely rewarding to save baby animals that would surely die without your help! Once you have successfully raised them, you now get to decide whether or not to keep them. For me, it was out of the question to adopt them out to someone after what we went through together, but that may not be possible for you, and that’s OK!
Every time someone hears our story and shows interest in adopting them, all I can think to myself is “Hey, these are my baby rabbits!” Our family is going to enjoy the fruits of my hard work for years to come! The “bugglets” have come to live with us. They are litter box trained, HILARIOUS to interact with and we call them our “dog rabbits.”
I hope this information helps you in some way as you take on the challenge of feeding newborn rabbits. I would love to hear about your success, so please keep me updated on your baby stories!
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!