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Nursing Baby Rabbits

Its been quite a journey breeding rabbits for show and learning so much along the way, how to produce good quality babies with good healthy lines, nice features and to keep them alive from birth till they grow independant. We have officially stopped breeding in 2019 (i think), it was kinda upset+cant-bear-to, like a part of me was taken away.. something that i grew to know quite well and something i was passionate about, to raise healthy babies and find suitable homes for them, share my knowledge with others /educating more people about rabbits..

It just got too physically demanding n financially taxing to continue, so we made a conscious decision to devote the time to caring for other things that were more impt.

I feel the need and passion to share knowledge and experience ive gained over the last 15 years so others can learn via a shortcut, rather than trial and error on all the information overload online. So i'll be making random articles along the way (: i actually dislike typing cos i have to check and reread again and again, it takes alot of time really.. but this is the only way i can document things..

This one's about raising baby bunnies, especially without mothers. (Babies have the best chance of survival with their mums, or if possible, a foster mother that is lactating -producing milk, but if no mums are available, then this is the article for u).

Mother rabbits naturally have the instinct to care for their babies but sometimes, with new or immature females (there are cases where some females will just never develop the motherly instinct), human intervention is required. In the case Im busying with currently, the mother rabbit abruptly passed away in the first few days of birth.. some of the babies passed away due to lack of knowledge or resources, so we were tasked to raise the remaining kits.

To keep babies alive, these are main things you need to note:

  1. Heat

  2. Heat

  3. And more heat

I cant stress this enough. I know many feel that confining a living thing is very cruel and poorthing... But seriously, we are talking about keeping defenceless babies alive right now. I dont care if anyone has any other views about this, but this is what i know and experienced and is proven, that babies need warmth. When rabbits are first born, they are naked, no fur. They grow abit of fur veryvery quickly from day0 to day14. This period, regardless of how much fur has grown, you need to make sure the babies get warmth, and keep them SNUG in a confined, covered, small small area when they dont get to run around and feel cold, or lose heat. Singapore's weather may be warm, but these babies are kept indoors when its pretty cool, and im sure the humans on airconditioners or have fans around, that brings down the temperature of the environment..

What to use as the nursing box?

If the mother rabbit is present, prepare a shoe box that is big enough for the rabbit to roost like a chicken in, if there are more than 3 babies, they will generate warmth when they huddle together in a small space.

If we have less than 3 babies and mother rabbit is taking great care of the babies by making an elaborate nest of fur to keep babies warm, u may leave them with the mum.

Usually when theres only 1 or 2 babies and they are not well covered in a nest, the poor baby needs to use energy from its food to generate warmth, and that will take away precious resources needed for growing... Baby rabbits grow super fast. Any tiny wound will seal within 24hours. So we want to make sure all energy in the body is used for development and not wasted to generate warmth (the humans can provide that).

Point to note if you have 1-2 babies living with mother, please monitor development after 1st week of growth, as there may be a chance the babies drink tooo much milk until their back legs cannot handle the body size and weight and grows outward into a splay. Because the tummy grows too big and drags on the floor, the legs essentially becomes flippers like a turtle... This is a permanent damage to the joint n bones, they rabbit will grow up with splayed legs. If mother has too much milk and babies tend to overdrink n drag tummy around, i suggest to remove the babies from the mother and limit feeding time to once or twice a day only.

If we have 1-2 babies only and the mother rabbit is not instinctive to care for the babies / mother is aggressive to babies/ or mother is not present, I like to use a small box such as a starbucks coffee capsule box, thats like a 10cm x 10cm x 10cm box only. My box will be out of the mother's enclosure.

If you have more babies and no mother rabbit, use a slightly bigger box. We have nicknamed a few babies "boxy" cos they grew up in a box hahaha...

What to put inside the nursing box?

If you're making a small box just for the babies, line the box with recycled paper bedding, tissue fluffy bedding and shredded kitchen napkins. We tend to use Oxbow Purecomfort bedding or Kaytee extreme odor control fluffy bedding.

Adding mama rabbit's fur is perfect for keeping the nursing box warm. The baby should be able to burrow inside n be covered. When im not feeding the baby bunnies, the box is always covered.

I would put some pieces of timothy hay/ soft orchard grass hay along with the tissue shreds. So bunny can nibble if they want. Put a few pieces of pellets and alfalfa hay inside for babies to nibble as well. If possible, u may also put a few mama rabbit's poo into the box to add mama's bacteria for babies to build their microflora.

If you're using a nestbox for the mama to sit in,

Make sure it has absorbent bedding below, i use recycled paper pellets, top it up with tissue-like bedding and shred up a few pieces of paper napkins in the middle, add mother rabbit's fur if possible. Use long thin soft hay to make a nest like dome in the nest box. Ideally the babies should be hidden in the nest. Thats what a nestbox is for. Babies hide in nests. They poke their heads out when food source has arrived (ie. Mama bunny going to step into nest box to roost over the babies, or humans going to syringe feed babies).

Where to put the nursing box?

Depending on your house's conditions. Look for a warm space. If i have a fat n well furred baby but its still blind, i will just keep the box somewhere warm / near mum if possible. Sometimes the babies are perpetual cold or not able to keep themselves warm, then i would put the box on top of my fridge (its warm there). Please check the temperature for a period of time to make sure it doesn't get scalding hot. Investing in a heater with temperature control is good. I know some advise using a hot bottle.. but it is really not practical to be changing bottles every 30mins? Cos the temperature fluctuates and it is no good for the babies.. i have also found that my internet router is very warm... So i can put my nursing boxes beside it. My router gets scalding hot, so i wont put my boxes directly on top of the router. I guess its more of, see what works for you, there is no fixed way. But having a constant heat source will help the babies grow more consistently.

Why is keeping the nursing box warm important?

Rabbits do not drink when they are cold. Infact their internal system may shut down to conserve energy to preserve their body, to last as long as possible. Even when offered food/milk, they will most likely not take. It is dangerous to try and force milk down the throat of a cold baby. They can get choked, or worse, if the baby cant resist your syringe pressure, n the milk goes straight into the lungs instead. The babies will die. Most times if a baby has been cold for a day or 2, they generally just waste away. If the body cant keep itself warm, it probably doesnt have enough resources to develop..

What milk to use?

Rabbit milk is super duper thick and oily. I have found the Wombaroo rabbit milk to be very rich and closest to rabbit's milk. As compared to Kitten Milk Replacer. I tend to use PetLac milk for general animals, not just the puppies or kittens one, as i find that it is abit denser. Petlac is definitely easier to purchase from stores in Singapore compared to Wombaroo brand.

Always use the rabbit mama's milk, before thinking of substiuting with powdered milk. Because mother's milk has antibodies ans colostrum. No powdered milk can beat that. If you have issues with a rabbit mother producing enough milk for the babies, you may reach out to me for assistance. I do provide nursing services for mother n kits, starting from $20/day. If the babies are getting cold from day 1-2, please dont wait to seek help.... I have seen too many innocent lives lost because the owners dont know wat to do, or just want to try and see if the mother will suddenly feed the babies.. heart break.. it makes me upset knowing that I could have save these babies if only they were brought to me..

The longer the delay, the colder and weaker the babies will get, some weak ones die within 1 day of not having enough nutrition. Also, the milk in mother's teats needs to be stimulated to production by suckling on it. If no suckling is done, either the mother's milk does not manufacture or the chemicals in the existing milk will trigger the mother's body to stop producing more milk, because the body does not require the milk (since no suckling is done). So it is important for both mothers and kits that the babies must suckle within 24hours.

This is an attachable teat which is the closest to a rabbit mama's teat. Babies drink better from these teats as compared to biting on a hard syringe nozzle (which may hurt their mouths if pushed too far back). I attach this to a syringe and feed the babies. I find that having a hole in the teat allows air to flow out and makes it easier to draw up milk and for babies to suckle better. Use a needle and pierce a hole through the teat, approximately in the position as shown.

attach the teat to a syringe to have better control of the milk flow. When rabbits suckle, the plunger will depress really fast. Ur thumb just needs to touch the plunger lightly and it will depress. If the rabbits dont suckle on their own, then we have to slowly syringe it into their mouths. Put the teat into the mouth, via one side (behind the baby teeth), most times they will start to bite n suck at the teat. Face the teat to the back of the throat and depress tiny bits at a time. Make sure the babies' head are facing upwards and in a seated position. It is very dangerous to syringe feed a baby that is laying on its back. They are more prone to choking- if the milk goes down their windpipe instead. It is fatal. Just like humans are prone to choking if we drank water laying on the bed..

As rabbit's milk is super oily and i dont know what magic content the milk has, but it sure does cause the syringe to get stuck after a couple of use. And worst, the black markings on the surface of the syringe tends to come off if rubbed on when it is in contact with the milk. So ive found a way to keep the markings intact.. that is to apply detergent gently to syringe surface after use and rinse off the milk first. Previously i used running water and my milk-stained hands to wipe off any remants on syringe surface before adding detergent to wash. and the markings would come right off.. cos the milk on my hands aided in rubbing the syringe markings off haha..

I find that a fork helps to break up milk curdles faster and more efficiently. My milk looks like brocolli cream here i know. Thats because i added critical care powder fine grind into the milk for rabbits that have just opened their eyes. The fine grind powder works well with syringing, else theres always the problem of the solution getting stuck in the syringe if the powder is not fine enough. They can start to get some fibre in their diet once they open their eyes. I also add colostorum into the mix.

I make my milk consistency quite thick, as thick as it can easily flow through the syringe and swallow (without having to chew), so the babies can get as much content in one full belly of milk. A full belly can only hold a fixed amount of liquid. So the thicker it is, the more nutrition is getting into the baby.

Milking is not easy.. we check and feed every 30mins or 2hrs depending on how difficult the babies are. Good drinkers probably only needs to be fed 2-3times day. There are those that tend to be sleeping most of the time or have short attention span- they drink for a few moments and fall asleep... sometimes i fall asleep too while feeding hahaah.. sometimes my feeding session lasts an hour or so.. and if they dont drink, i let them rest and check back in an hour or 2.

I wont go to bed if a healthy baby hasnt drank enough to make a full belly.

What is the gold standard for a full belly?

Theres no official standard but this is my benchmark for a full belly that i can safely go to bed once i see it. Feed as much as the babies can take. As long as they are willing to take, you may continue to syringe. For babies 1-7 days old, the the fur hasnt fully grown yet, so we can still see the milk in their tummies. I would like to see their tummy bump filled with white milk, no saggy skin at all.

As they get older, i would always feel their bodies and a tout-skin body with a big bulging tummy, is what im looking for. But the bunny must still be able to walk properly and lift its body. and not look immobilised and dragging its feet on the ground.

Nursing baby rabbits with a lactating mother

I dont reccomend to hand raise a baby on powder milk if the mother is present. A mother's milk is always the best for its baby. If you're having issues keeping babies alive with the mother, please reach out to me, we charge $20/day nursing fee. I will try my best to help save as many babies as i can, with the mother. Generally intervention is not needed anymore once the babies start to eat solid food, that is usually 3weeks of age.

Hold mother rabbit firmly against your body, clasping her both arms, and your other hand pressing the hind legs against your body, stretching her body alittle so that you can expose her teats for the babies to suckle easily. Securing the hind legs is also important so that the mother will not kick too hard to injure herself or worse, kick the babies away. I have seen too many babies injured from mum's kicks...

Happy nursing! Its a rewarding process! And I love bonding with the babies, cos most of the handraised kits grow up very sticky to humans... and all babies are just sooo cute arent they?


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