Raising a litter of baby rabbits is a unique and rewarding experience. However, it’s important to learn how to take care of baby rabbits properly. Though the bunny mother will do most of the work, there are still some things you’ll need to know.
Set up a warm nest box for the babies to live in. Check the kits each day to make sure they are full and gaining weight. When they reach ten days’ old, provide them with alfalfa hay and pellets to nibble. They should be weaned and removed from their mother at eight weeks old.
Rabbit mothers are generally good at looking after their young. But as their owner, it’s your job to make sure they’re healthy and well taken care of. We’ll look at what you need to know about looking after baby rabbits, from birth to 8 weeks’ old.
- 1 How to Set Up a Nesting Box for Rabbits
- 2 When Can You Handle Baby Rabbits?
- 3 What Do You Feed Baby Rabbits?
- 4 Do Baby Bunnies Have Diseases?
- 5 How to Setup a Cage for a Baby Rabbit
- 6 When Can Rabbits Leave Their Mother?
- 7 How to Find a New Home for a Rabbit
- 8 How to Care for Newborn Rabbits Without a Mother
- 9 How to Keep Baby Rabbits Warm
- 10 How to Hand Feed Baby Rabbits
- 11 How to Help a Baby Rabbit Poop
- 12 How to Care For a Wild Baby Bunny
How to Set Up a Nesting Box for Rabbits
Baby rabbits spend their first two weeks living exclusively inside their nest. They then begin to explore the outside world.
Have the nest box ready for the baby bunnies at least three days before they are due. That way, the mother has time to prepare it to her liking.
Select a large cardboard or wooden box. Wood is better than cardboard, as there’s less chance your rabbit will chew it up. A good size is nine by 15 inches, or thereabouts.
The walls should be at least 5 inches high, to stop the babies from falling out. Line the bottom of the box with newspaper or paper pulp bedding. On top, add a generous amount of soft eating hay, such as Timothy or Orchard.
Make an indentation in the middle of the hay using your fist. This creates a space for the babies to be laid in. Then, give your rabbit a supply of hay to add her customization to it.
Soon before your rabbit gives birth, she will start pulling fur from her chest and adding it to the nesting box. This helps to keep the babies warm. Gather up any loose fur that you find and place it in the nest.
The mother rabbit should realize what the box is for, and birth her babies inside it when the time comes. You should leave her alone while she gives birth, though check on the babies soon after.
When Can You Handle Baby Rabbits?
You may have heard that you should never touch a baby rabbit. Some people claim that the mother will refuse to feed her babies if she smells your scent. This is untrue.
Domesticated rabbits are comfortable around humans. The mother won’t be alarmed by you handling the babies, as she’s already used to you. Your scent won’t put her off caring for her young.
As soon as the baby rabbits are born, it’s OK to handle them right away. You may even need to, as a matter of life or death.
Your rabbit should give birth to all of her babies at once, in the nesting box. These babies need to stay snuggled up together to regulate their body heat.
However, rarely, rabbits can accidentally give birth to a baby outside of the box. It’s not known precisely why this happens, but it’s dangerous. The separated baby can quickly become cold and die.
Mother rabbits do not retrieve or transport their young. If you notice a baby on its own, you must pick it up and put it back in the box. As long as the sides of the box are high enough, they’ll stay put once they’re inside.
Once per day, take each baby out to weigh them and check their body condition. If you can’t tell the babies apart, mark the inside of their ears with a washable marker.
Don’t handle the babies for longer than you need to. According to the Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science, being picked up can cause stress because rabbits are a prey species. They may believe that they are being captured by a predator.
What Do You Feed Baby Rabbits?
Newborn rabbit kits need only one type of food: their mother’s milk. This will be their only nutrient source for the first two weeks of their life.
Don’t worry if you don’t see the doe spending a lot of time with her babies. Because rabbit milk is so calorific, baby bunnies only need to be fed twice per day. It’s normal for their mother to stay away from the nest most of the time.
The mother will usually feed her babies during the night, so you might never see the babies suckling. Fortunately, it’s easy to tell whether the babies are being fed.
Each morning, gently pick each baby up and examine their bellies. If they are being fed, their stomachs will look round, plump, and distended. They should also have lots of energy and be very wriggly.
You should also weigh the babies each day. Their weights will vary, but they should each put on a little weight every day.
Concave bellies, wrinkled bellies, and weight loss are all signs that the babies aren’t being fed. A baby rabbit not eating is an emergency. You should take the mother and all babies (in their nest box) to a rabbit veterinarian straight away.
When to Feed Baby Rabbits Solid Food
Baby rabbits open their eyes when they’re about ten days old. At this point, they’re ready to start exploring the world of solid food. Some kits may begin nibbling earlier than others, but they should all be eating solids by two weeks.
A healthy diet for baby rabbits includes:
- Alfalfa hay. This is much higher in calories than grass hay, and helps babies gain weight.
- Pellets. These should be high-quality hay pellets, with no added extras like corn.
The babies should be allowed unlimited access to the above foods. You should also give them a shallow water dish, though they may not start drinking until 3-4 weeks.
Rabbits under eight weeks old should not eat any fresh vegetables or leafy greens. Their digestive systems are still developing, and can’t handle veggies yet.
Alongside their solid food, the kits will continue drinking their mother’s milk. You may also notice that they begin eating their mother’s cecotropes (soft fecal pellets). This is an essential food for baby bunnies, as it helps them to develop healthy gut bacteria.
When the babies are around six weeks old, the doe should naturally start feeding them less often. At eight weeks, they’re ready to be weaned and removed from their mother. They can survive purely on solid food from here on out.
Do Baby Bunnies Have Diseases?
If you’re wondering how to keep baby rabbits healthy, it’s quite straightforward. Just provide them with adequate warmth, and check them every day to make sure they’re fed and happy.
Baby bunnies can suffer from illness and poor health, just as adults can. Unfortunately, developing an illness at a young age is often fatal.
The most common baby rabbit illness is diarrhea. This can have various causes. It is usually brought on by an imbalance of microbes in the cecum (part of a rabbit’s intestine).
The cecum is the area where hindgut fermentation takes place. It’s supposed to be filled with good bacteria, which help rabbits digest their food. However, sometimes, bad bacteria – such as E. coli – can find their way in.
Diarrhea is very dangerous in baby rabbits. It can kill quickly. If harmful bacteria aren’t the cause, it may be parasitical.
To keep your baby rabbits healthy, you must check up on them every day. Make sure that they are well fed, with full bellies, and are warm and wriggling. Keep watch for:
- Diarrhea or loose stool
- Stool containing blood
- A concave stomach, due to the baby not feeding
If you spot any of the above, take your babies to the veterinarian straight away, in their nest box. Your veterinarian will have to follow an emergency protocol to keep them alive, outlined by the University of Miami.
How to Setup a Cage for a Baby Rabbit
Until the baby rabbits are two weeks’ old, they will live permanently in the nest box. Before this age, they’ll spend all their time nestled up together.
A few days after their eyes open, though, you’ll notice that they become quite curious. They’ll suddenly realize that the world is their oyster, and want to start exploring.
Before this happens, you should ensure that you have rabbit-proofed the room that the nesting box is in.
Make sure all cords and cables are inaccessible. Put anything unsafe, or that you don’t want chewed, high up. Use a baby fence or playpen to cordon off troublesome areas.
Rabbits are happiest when they have access to a large space to run around in. If you can’t give them an entire room, the next best thing is a wire pen. It should have 32 square feet of space.
Commercially sold cages are often too small for rabbits. If you do decide to use a cage, choose the biggest one that you can find. There should be a bare minimum of 12 square feet of space inside. The bunnies will still need access to a large pen for exercise during the day.
Inside the cage, pen or bunny room, provide a large litter box. It should contain paper-pulp litter, such as Carefresh, with hay on top. Include a few cardboard boxes and toys for the bunnies.
Make sure the bunnies have access to hay, pellets, and water at all times. The water dish should be shallow so the babies can’t drown. Here’s some advice on training a rabbit to use its tray.
When Can Rabbits Leave Their Mother?
Baby rabbits should be separated from their mother at eight weeks old.
The separation of a kit from its mother before eight weeks can be dangerous. Baby rabbits need to develop healthy gut bacteria, and their mother’s milk and cecotropes help them do this.
It’s common to see babies as young as four weeks old for sale in pet shops. However, being separated from their mother too early can be fatal. The babies’ guts can develop an imbalance of bacteria, causing death.
Once they reach eight weeks of age, though, remove them from their mother straight away. Male rabbits can become sexually mature as young as 8-12 weeks old. They will mate with their mother if not separated from her.
Before finding new homes for your rabbits, take them for a veterinary checkup. The vet will assess their overall health, check for parasites, and sex the babies for you.
Ideally, have any male babies neutered before you give them away. Females should not be spayed until they’re four months old. The new owner will take care of this.
How to Find a New Home for a Rabbit
If you have enough room to keep all the bunnies, you don’t have to give them away. However, rabbits require a lot of space, care, and attention. It may be a wise choice to try and find homes for them instead.
Advertise your rabbits on websites such as Craigslist, and in local newspapers. Check with your local veterinarian, too. Many will have notice boards where you can advertise your bunnies.
Try to give away your baby rabbits in pairs. Rabbits are much happier when living together, and littermates often develop strong lifelong bonds.
To help the babies adjust to their new home, send them with a toy or blanket that smells like their mother. This will help to reassure them.
You should also provide the new owners with a small supply of your rabbit’s food. If their new owner plans to swap them to a different brand, they should transition them slowly.
If you cannot find homes for your babies, contact local no-kill shelters to see if they have any space. Baby rabbits are often snapped up quickly into loving homes.
How to Care for Newborn Rabbits Without a Mother
Rabbits are generally good mothers, and will do a great job caring for their young. As owners, we don’t need to intervene unless we feel the babies are being neglected.
However, mothers can abandon their babies and refuse to feed them. Does can also die in the process of giving birth, leaving live kits without a mother.
Raising healthy baby bunnies without a mother is possible. It doesn’t always work out, though.
Orphaned babies struggle to thrive without their mother’s milk. They are particularly prone to gut bacteria imbalances and ill health. If they don’t make it, don’t blame yourself.
If you can’t dedicate enough time to taking care of the baby kits, call your veterinarian. They may be able to recommend an experienced rabbit breeder who can take them in.
How to Keep Baby Rabbits Warm
Set up a nesting box. This should be large enough to contain all the babies, with room for them to grow.
Line the bottom of the box with two thick, soft towels. Bunch one of them up slightly, so that the babies have something to snuggle into.
Then, place the babies inside, with some soft nesting wool on top to mimic their mother’s fur. This is available at pet shops, usually advertised for birds’ nests. You can also use hay.
Leave 1-2 inches of space above the kits, so that they can breathe. Cover the box with a thin towel, leaving a small gap for airflow.
Keep the room temperature between 68 and 72 degrees Fahrenheit. If it is any colder than 65 degrees, you’ll need to provide a heating pad.
Choose a pet-safe brand of heating pad, and set it on the lowest heat setting. Place it underneath both towels, on one side of the box. This will allow your bunnies to move to a cooler area if they get too warm.
How to Hand Feed Baby Rabbits
There is no such thing as replacement rabbit milk formula. The closest thing available is replacement cat milk, designed for orphaned kittens.
The best brand is KMR (Kitten Milk Replacer). This comes in two forms: powder that you make up with water, and liquid milk in a can. Either of the two is fine for bunnies.
For the best results, add two ingredients to the kitten milk:
- Acidophilus powder. This is a probiotic which helps orphaned bunnies form healthy gut flora. You can purchase it in capsule form. Break open the capsules and sprinkle a tiny pinch into each feeding.
- Heavy whipping cream, with no sugar or other ingredients. Rabbit milk is higher in calories than kitten formula, so this helps them to put on weight. Add 1tbsp to 8oz of liquid milk.
Feed the kits twice per day, in the following amounts:
- 0-1 week old: 2-2.5cc per feed
- 1-2 weeks old: 5-8cc per feed
- 2-3 weeks old: 8-15cc per feed
- 3-8 weeks old: 15cc per feed
Use a syringe or eyedropper to feed the babies. Some kits like to drink lying on their backs, while others get on better upright. Feed as slowly as possible and allow them to swallow naturally.
Starting at two weeks old, allow the kits unlimited access to alfalfa hay, grass hay, pellets, and water. You can also offer them cecotropes, collected from an adult rabbit. This will help them to develop healthy gut bacteria.
At seven weeks, start gradually decreasing the frequency of feeds. By eight weeks, you can wean the bunnies off milk altogether.
How to Help a Baby Rabbit Poop
Newborn rabbits can’t go to the toilet by themselves. Their mother has to lick them after every feed, to stimulate them to pee and poop. If your rabbit kits are orphaned, you have to mimic this.
Immediately after each feed, moisten a cotton ball in warm water. Then, repeatedly stroke it over the bunnies’ anal and genital region.
The bunny should start to defecate and urinate. Their poop will be yellowish-green and soft. Continue stroking with the cotton ball until the baby has stopped going to the toilet.
As soon as the kits have opened their eyes, you can stop doing this. This should happen when they’re ten days old.
How to Care For a Wild Baby Bunny
Our above guide pertains only to domestic rabbits. Wild rabbits are very different from pet bunnies, and require a different kind of care.
If you find a wild rabbit nest that appears to be abandoned, you might be tempted to intervene. However, wild rabbit mothers only visit the nest to feed their babies twice per day. The rest of the time, they stay away, to avoid revealing the location of their nest to predators.
The following are all signs that the babies are healthy and being looked after.
- They’re nestled together, and covered by a layer of shed fur
- They are active and wriggly
- Their bellies look full and plump
If you are concerned, come back the next day. Arrive early in the morning, as rabbits usually feed their babies overnight. If their bellies look concave or wrinkled, they may have been abandoned.
Do not try to care for wild baby bunnies by yourself, even if you are experienced with domestic rabbits. Wild rabbits are much harder to look after, and do not often do well when raised by humans. They can even die from fright when picked up, however gently you do it.
To give them the best chance at life, search for a local wildlife rehabilitator that deals with bunnies. Give them a phone call and explain the situation to them. They’ll advise you on what to do.