There's no question. When you first see a baby rabbit you want to take him home. Especially when he's as cute as Fred 'Slappy' Thumper... as the neighbor kids called him.
Here are the basics for keeping your new found rabbit alive when he is less than 10 days old.
Step 1: Feeding
This instruction is for rabbits under 10 days old... the time before their eyes open. Once they open their eyes they start grazing. Fred is just about 8-10 days old and still needs his mother for feeding even though he's able enough to leave the nest.
Mother Rabbits - It's important to know that the mother rabbits leave their nest for over 90% of the day. They actually only feed the baby rabbits for 5 minutes once or twice a day. Most of their time is spent out foraging.
Rabbit Milk - To offset the infrequency of feedings rabbit milk is especially nutritious compared to cows or humans. Goats are the next closest animal which is why goats milk is often recommended. The goats milk is available at most pet stores. Another highly recommended product is KMR Kitten Replacement.
My first attempt was to see if Fred would drink from a saucer. He made no move for the milk. After learning a bit more about Fred's needs I found a suitable option... formula with added cream. My neighbor recently added a third child. We mixed up a baby formula with heavy cream milk. The heavy cream provided the caloric boost young rabbits need!
How Much Formula?
- 0-1 week - 2cc twice a day
- 1-2 week - 5-7cc twice a day
- 2-3 week - 7-13cc twice a day
- 3-6 week - 13-16cc twice a day
Note that these are guidelines. It will depend on the size of the rabbit. After the 10 day mark they should start eating oats, alfalfa, greens and water. The whole food will start to offset the need for formula.
You can see in the pictures that we used a medical syringe that was at hand. For regular care it is best to have a feeding kit with cleanable nipples to prevent contamination. Keep the bunny upright while feeding.
Fred didn't care for the milk I tried to first feed him from the dish. I used my finger to try and bring it to his lips. He still wasn't interested when I tried to feed him with the syringe. As soon as the formula was introduced he started lapping it up! He was very excited for about 2cc. He then stopped and we were convinced he was full.
Don't overfeed. This can be very dangerous for animals - especially rabbits! Baby rabbits have a very delicate digestive system. They also don't naturally pass waste. Because of their close quarters in the nest they actually are built to only defecate when stimulated by their mother. To get a baby rabbit to pass a movement they must be stimulated by the mother or by using a wet cotton ball on the anus. This may be reason enough to skip straight to step 4! (More information on feeding/evacuating is available at rabbit.org)
A baby rabbit typically will pickup normal bacteria and probiotics from eating it's mother's cetetropes... yes the small soft droppings (rabbits eat them)... it isn't something they should eat all the time but when they start eating solids it help them develop a normal stomach. To help your baby rabbit you'll want to sprinkle the human probiotic acidophilus powder into their milk from around day 10-15.
--a syringe set is pretty handy to have around
Step 2: Keeping Warm
Keeping Fred warm wasn't a challenge. Most young bunnies are found before their fur really starts to come in. It is because Fred has such thick fur that he looks like he's almost a full 10 days.
Bedding - from raising chickens I had plenty of pine chips to spare. Along with an ice cream bucket and some dried grass Fred had a comfortable place to spend the evening. I was comfortable with this temporary home. If you are considering keeping a rabbit long term a there are a range of specially built rabbit hutches available. Or you can always build one!
Fred could have stayed the night but the important thing was trying to return him to his mother. If I knew a dog had killed the mother or had reason to believe he was truly abandoned a regular routine could have been developed for Fred. As a young bunny the challenge is really just to keep him alive.
Fred's best chance was to return to his mother...
- Further, a few early comments showed the need to reinforce that a wild animal's best chance for survival is with it's mother. 90% (or greater) of animals taken from their mother in the first few weeks don't survive despite our best efforts.
- This post shows how I learned that as I researched Fred's case and found that I needed to help him return to his mother to have a chance.
Step 3: Returning Home
Fred's mother was likely out all day. I happened to find him around 5:30pm in front of an office building only a few blocks from my house.
By returning Fred to a protected area near where I found him his mother had the best chance of finding him. Mothers will often spend time calling to any rabbits when they return. There was a line of hedges and I assumed the nest would be somewhere within 10-30 feet of the path I found Fred. I had Fred home by 8:30.
Certainly make sure to leave a rabbit with a good layer of insulation and camouflage. I used the hedge branches to cover the lighter color pine chips.
--if you need to call to a rabbit it may sound something like this rabbit call
Step 4: Reunion...
At 6:30 the next morning I walked over to check on Fred. To my delight Fred was nowhere in sight!
Raising chicks just a few blocks away I know there are very few predators in our town. There is certainly a chance an animal found Fred but I think his mother came back for him. Certainly that's what I want to believe. It was also nice to see that the little burrow was undisturbed. Had I planned a bit more ahead a motion activated surveillance camera would have certainly helped me know for certain! -hunting/security products are like james bond gear
Totally inspired by my little adventure with Fred. Think it's time to test a raising a few rabbits in the yard. They don't lay eggs but I recently learned that before 1950 rabbit meat was more popular in the UK than chicken - who knew!
Thanks for reading, Jeff
--how do we know his name is Fred "Slappy" Thumper... My neighbor's 4 and 6 year old were able to ask him. That was very helpful. They also 'just knew' he was male and shared that he wasn't scared.