If you spot a litter of baby wild rabbits and there is no sign of mom, it’s possible that they may be orphans. If you confidently deduce that the rabbits need human care, you can emulate the environment and feeding patterns that they would experience in the wild. However, it is essential to hand the young rabbits over to a wildlife rehabilitation center before they are fully grown.
When to Intervene
It’s easy to misidentify a perfectly healthy, well cared for litter of kits as being orphaned or abandoned. That’s because mom has minimal contact with her litter. Don’t assume that a litter of newborn or very young kits without their mom require human intervention. Kits feed twice a day for approximately five minutes each time. If however, the rabbits are scattered, cold and wrinkled, this is a sign that mom may not be around and human intervention is appropriate.
Building a Nest
In the wild, rabbits make their nest from fur, straw and other soft substances with insulating properties. You should seek to emulate the wild nest environment as much as possible. An old shoe box, thoroughly cleaned and filled with straw or clean towels will do fine.
The Right Temperature
Unlike cats and birds, baby rabbits do not require body heat from their mom to stay alive. If the room temperature is between 65 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit, no further heat is required. If the room is under-heated, or if the rabbits are cold to the touch, place a hot water bottle or plastic drink bottle, filled with warm water under a towel.
Feeding the Babies
If mom is gone, hand feeding is required. You should only use kitten milk replacer or Meyenberg goat milk, not cow’s milk, to feed baby wild rabbits. Hand feeding is challenging, so you may wish to hand the kits over to a professional. If you’re confident that you can hand feed them yourself, you’ll need an eye-dropper or syringe to deliver the milk. Hold the feeder above the kit’s head and gently coax them into an upright position for feeding. Rabbits feed twice a day, late at night and just before dawn. They are instinctively inclined only to feed when it’s dark, so avoid feeding during the day if possible. Newborn rabbits should get no more than 2 1/2 ml of milk. For rabbits aged between 1 and 2 weeks old, feed between 5 and 7ml of milk. For rabbits aged 2 to 3 weeks old, feed 7 to 13ml. Ages 3 weeks to 6 weeks should get between 7 and 13ml.
Rabbit kits wean at between 4 and 6 weeks of age. At this stage, they begin to eat their mother’s droppings. They do this to introduce new types of fauna into their gut, so their digestive system can adapt to eating solid foods. Only adult female rabbits can produce these droppings and there is no way to effectively reproduce it. Going without this important substance won’t necessarily harm the rabbits, but it is always preferable that they receive it. Wildlife rehabilitation centers are able to provide this substance for orphaned kits by taking it from the nest of other nursing rabbits.
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Simon Foden has been a freelance writer and editor since 1999. He began his writing career after graduating with a Bachelors of Arts degree in music from Salford University. He has contributed to and written for various magazines including "K9 Magazine" and "Pet Friendly Magazine." He has also written for Dogmagazine.net.