Raising House Rabbits
Providing Information About Rabbits
Being involved in rabbit rescue and rehabilitation one comes across many an orphaned kit. Anyone who comes by these helpless creatures cannot just stay idle and instantly hopes to raise the orphans whether they are domestic rabbits or their wild cousins. Let me tell you, raising newborn kits is not an easy undertaking. The survival rate for orphan rabbits is extremely low. If they donít die within the first few days they often die between four to eight weeks when weaning would naturally occur. This is also the point were the stomach pH values drop from 5-6.5 to a more normal range of 1-2. Very few people, including professionals have successfully hand reared newborn kits without loosing any from the litter.
When dealing with wild orphans, do not assume that a litter of rabbits is orphaned just because mamma rabbit is now where to be seen. A mother rabbit only nurses her kits once or twice a day and often leaves the nest during the day to hunt for food. A well fed baby will have a very distended tummy, looking like the "Pilsbury Dough Boy". Whereas a baby that has not been fed, will have a sunken tummy and their skin will be wrinkled from dehydration and they may appear to be weak or unresponsive.
If you do happen to come into possession of orphaned rabbits keep them warm, around a temperature of 27-30įC (80.6-86įF), heat loss is a primary cause of death among newborn kits.
Until you can get them to the veterinarian or wildlife rehabilitator you may want to place a drop of honey or fruit jam into their mouths to help keep their blood sugars elevated.
In the event of a worse-case scenario and there is no wildlife rehabilitator available, or your pet rabbit (mother of the kits) has died or is unable to care for the babies herself you may need to hand rear the kits yourself.
I have listed some formula suggestions which can be used as a replacement for motherís milk. You must be careful when feeding kits. You do not want to over feed them, nor do you want them to aspirate on the formula. All of which can happen very quickly and easily.
To safeguard against aspiration hold the kit facing towards you in an upright position or at a 45 degree angle, and point syringe down towards bottom or side of mouth. Use extreme caution not to get formula in their noses. If this happens, firmly press down on the bridge of the kits nose, and move down to the top lip and wipe the milk away with a soft tissue.
For the first few feedings you will probably have to place the tip of the syringe in the corner of the mouth placing just a drop or two of formula inside the mouth. Wait for the bunny to swallow before trying again.
A mother rabbit will feed her kits twice a day. Therefore the minimum you should feed a kit is every 12 hours. However, it has also been suggested that you should feed the kits more frequently. No matter how often you feed the kits be extremely careful not to overfeed them as this can prove deadly. Before attempting to bottle feed a kit yourself I suggest you read the article "Bottle Feeding Kits" in addition to the information listed below.
1-2 weeks old kits,
Feed every 6 or 12 hours, no more than 4-5cc/ml
per day for the first week and 10-14cc/ml for the second week. After each feeding you must wash the kitsí belly and genital area with a warm moist towel to stimulate them to pee.
2-4 week kits,
Feed every 8 or 12 hours, no more than 14-26cc/ml per day, in addition introduce hay, pellets and water. Cecotropes should be introduced to the kit as soon as the eyes are open giving each kit only one per day for 4-5 days.
4-6 week kits,
Feed every 12 hours, no more than 26-30cc/ml per day.
After 6 weeks of age you no longer need to supplement the kitsí diet if they are eating a regular diet of pellets.
If you are adding acidophilus powder (Probiotic) to the formula kits 2 weeks and younger should be given 1/2cc/ml per day and kits older than 2 weeks fed 1cc/ml per day.
Hand-rearing orphaned kits is not without its problems.
Diarrhea is common place, it could be the result of over feeding or the formula may be too rich. If diarrhea continues for more than a day it is best to see your veterinarian.
Dehydration is also no stranger to orphaned kits. This could mean the kit is not getting enough fluids so you may want to replace one or two feeding with Pedialyte.
Constipation is another complication so you must remember to wipe the belly and genital region after each feed to stimulate the kit.
1. The Biology & Medicine of Rabbits & Rodents - page 26-27
2. ARBA Official Guidebook to Raising Better Rabbits & Cavies - page 126-127
3. Rabbits For Dummies - page 193-195
4. House Rabbit Handbook - page 88-89
5. Rabbit Health, Husbandry & Diseases - page 61-63
6. I Found A Baby Rabbit, What Do I Do? - page 35-39
7. HRS Article: Domestic Baby Bunnies And Their Mom, by Sandi Koi
8. HRS Article: Caring For Orphans
9. Article: Hand Raising Baby Bunnies, by West Boulevard Veterinary Clinic
Disclaimer: Raising House Rabbits takes no responsibility for the use or misuse of any information in this article. If you are uncertain of how to deal with a situation, consult your veterinarian or local animal rehabilitator immediately.
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