Feeding baby rabbits falls mostly to the mother rabbit for the first 3 weeks of the bunny’s life. Between 3 weeks and around 6 weeks old, the baby rabbits need less and less of mom, and more and more pellets and hay.
At the point they no longer "need" the mother for food, they are said to be weaned. This physiological point arrives almost precisely at 4 weeks of age, at least in regards to the operative word "need." This means that a kit orphaned for some reason at 3.5 - 4 weeks old can go straight to solids, and will not need supplemental milk unless it happens to also be malnourished.
In our domestic rabbits, however, the doe permits her kits to keep right on nursing, simply because she can physically afford to do so. The typical litter of bunnies in your home or hutch can be 6-7 weeks of age, possibly older, by the time their mums forbid any more nursing.
See our Raising
Baby Rabbits page for more detail on caring for bunnies from 2 weeks of age and older, including the processes of weaning the litter.
What do you do if something catastrophic happens to the doe?
Every once in a while tragedy strikes. The doe could develop young doe syndrome. You’d find her suddenly dead in her cage, with her kits being just a week or 10 days old. Or, the doe could develop mastitis, refuse to nurse the kits because of the pain, or herself die from bacterial toxins.
Whatever the disaster, feeding baby rabbits now falls to the rabbit raiser or owner.
What you do will likely depend on how old the kits are. Obviously, the older, the better the survival rate.
Can you foster the baby rabbits to another
Between the age of 0 to about a week, fostering is fairly easy, especially if the kits are within a couple days of the age of the foster-mother’s kits. Just slip the babies into the new doe’s nest. Do it in the morning, and rub their little bodies gently with the new doe’s fur in order to transfer her smell to them.
As you replace the nestbox, give the new doe a generous helping of calf manna, whole oats, or a favorite treat, in order to distract her. She’ll think everything is fine, and by evening, all the kits should smell like they belong in the nest. If you’re still nervous about the doe, just leave the nestbox outside the nest all day, and then put it back in with the doe about suppertime.
The foster doe will do a much better job at feeding baby
rabbits than you could, if you don’t overwhelm the new doe with a bazillion
bunnies. How many kits you give her may depend on her ability to make the additional milk. Adding a source of fats, like whole oats or black oil sunflower seeds, will definitely help her augment her milk supply.
Below: These very healthy 2 1/2 week old baby rex rabbits still rely nearly entirely on the doe's milk.
does to foster the kits to?
You can attempt bottlefeeding. Here’s some tips and techniques, depending on the age of the orphaned kits.
But first, a sober head’s up:
Survival rate for bottle-fed infant bunnies is as low as 0 - 10%, especially if the babies are orphaned before their eyes open. That means 9 out of 10 (or worse) usually don’t survive. There’s a number of reasons bunnies fail to survive without their mums. Here are the most common reasons:
Lou Rea Kenyon, a registered nurse and a licensed wildlife rehabilitation expert, has successfully saved bunny-lives for over 17 years. She is the owner of Nutkin’s Nest Wildlife Rehabilitation Center.
This is where we would send you directly to her wild-cottontail-feeding
protocols, however her website has recently disappeared from the web.
With her permission however, we summarized Ms. Kenyon's
instructions on our Feeding
Wild Rabbits page, because her instructions for feeding
baby rabbits work for both cottontails and orphan domestic rabbit bunnies.
By three weeks old, baby rabbits are already nibbling pellets and hay, but they still need mother's milk. They may also still be at risk for life-threatening bunny diarrhea. Nevertheless, their survival rate improves dramatically by 3.5 weeks old, even on just excellent rabbit pellets and water.
Raising-Rabbits.com cannot vouch for the effectiveness of the following formulas for safely feeding baby rabbits. While they come from elite rabbit scientists and 'rabbit experts,' they are a bit contradictory. And neither source mentions the critical step of feeding baby rabbits the cecotropes of healthy adult rabbits. Please use at your own risk.
Whatever formula you choose, your best
bet is to use it in conjunction with these guidelines and those at Feeding Wild Rabbits, including adding cecotropes or Bene-Bac before starting any kit on
From Rabbit Production, Cheeke et al. (1987):
1) Raw cow or goat milk
2) Evaporated milk diluted 50:50 with
To every cup, add: 1 egg yolk, and 1Tbsp karo syrup
3) Puppy formula
From the House Rabbit Society:
4) KMR (Kitten Milk Replacer) for domestic rabbits, and Meyenberg Goat Milk, regular not low fat (or KMR) for wild cottontail bunnies. They suggest avoiding puppy formulas or cow's milk...
They also recommend a pinch of acidophilus (AKA Probiotic capsules) to all formula to promote healthy gut flora.
(Supporting healthy gut flora is crucial to orphan-bunny survival, especially when orphaned at 10-11 days of age or younger. Feeding an orphaned bunny cecotropes from a healthy rabbit BEFORE starting solids is essential.
If necessary, BeneBac® (or similar probiotic) has proven to be an effective substitute for cecotropes, and can possibly help prevent fatal bunny-diarrhea.
In the case of orphaned domestic rabbits, it is wise to continue the use of BeneBac® (or similar probiotic) through week 9 of life in order to minimize the chance for life-threatening intestinal flora imbalance.)