If you know the mother of domestic baby rabbits is dead or seriously ill, you can attempt to raise the kits, as they're called. If you think the mother is neglecting her babies, that's another story. Mother rabbits pretty much leave their offspring alone, except to feed them twice daily. If you do take on orphaned rabbit care, the good news is that they grow up quickly.
If the mother rabbit died shortly after giving birth, you must make sure the babies receive colostrum, the nutrient-packed first milk. Your vet should provide you with colostrum or colostrum tablets to mix into the formula. Ask your vet how long you should feed the colostrum. Always wash and dry your hands thoroughly before feeding the babies.
While commercial kitten and puppy milk replacer is readily available, that's not true of rabbit milk. Rabbit's milk is very high in protein. The University of Florida Extension recommends a bunny milk replacement formula consisting of 2 cups of 2 percent milk, 2 egg yolks, 2 tablespoons powdered milk, 2 tablespoons corn syrup and 1 teaspoon bone meal. After mixing the ingredients thoroughly, place them in the refrigerator. Take out only what you need for each feeding, generally about 1/4 cup. Before feeding, heat the formula to 90 degrees F. Use a thermometer to ensure the correct temperature -- higher temperatures can burn the babies' gastrointestinal systems. Feed the babies morning and evening, placing the formula in an eyedropper for those under 2 weeks and a bottle for older kits. Holding the baby upright, feed him only as much as he will consume. If he squeezes his lips together, that means he still wants to suck and eat.
A mother rabbit builds a nest for her babies, consisting of fur she's pulled from her body and hay or similar material. You can construct a similar nest using clean cotton if no rabbit fur is available. Keep the nest in a secluded, quiet room away from other pets. The temperature should range between 75 and 78 degrees. Multiple bunnies can snuggle together for warmth. If you're caring for a single baby, the University of Miami recommends wrapping a warm water bottle in a soft towel to keep him comfortable.
Until the kit is 2 weeks old, he requires stimulation to urinate and defecate. The mother would gently lick the babies' abdomens and genitals after feeding to stimulate elimination. You can take your clean, moist fingertip or use a damp cotton ball and softly rub the area until the baby pees and poops. If the baby experiences diarrhea, call your vet at once. Diarrhea can quickly kill kits.
Solid Food and Weaning
Once the baby bunnies open their eyes, at about 2 weeks, you can start introducing them to solid foods. You can feed the same sort of food you feed adult rabbits -- timothy or grass hay and commercial pellets -- to the little guys. You also need to find a cecotrope -- a special type of rabbit poop -- from a healthy bunny to mix into their formula at about the time you start feeding solids. This introduces healthy bacteria into the gut. By the time the kits are about 6 weeks old, you can start weaning them. Start adding more water to their formula, increasing the amount gradually until it's primarily water. By that point, the kits are eating solid food and no longer interested in nursing.
Mothers of wild rabbits spend little time with their babies. They stay away from the nest, so any potential predators go after them rather than the kits. Don't bother wild kits unless you are certain their mother is dead. Call a local wildlife rehabilitator, as it might be illegal in your state to raise wild animals. Your vet or local animal shelter can provide you with a person to contact.
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Jane Meggitt has been a writer for more than 20 years. In addition to reporting for a major newspaper chain, she has been published in "Horse News," "Suburban Classic," "Hoof Beats," "Equine Journal" and other publications. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English from New York University and an Associate of Arts from the American Academy of Dramatics Arts, New York City.