3 week old rabbit kits dying...help!

by Sue G
(Delta, PA)

Please help. Within 2 days, we have found 2 of our seemingly healthy kits dead. They are 3 weeks old. All have been visibly healthy, running around, eating hay, nibbling pellets and Momma is still nursing them. The first dead kit we found was the largest of the litter and seemed perfect the night before. The next I found very lethargic in the cage and while I held it, it kept opening and closing its mouth. I knew it was going to die. It seemed very thin, like it hadn't eaten in a couple days :( We have 4 left and I am terrified they will die as well.

We had Momma at the vet for a messy bottom a week ago but the vet said it was probably just the stress from nursing and having a litter. ??? Now I am wondering if there is some bacteria infection spreading to the kits. :( My kids are devastated, as am I. This was the mother's first litter and all survived up until just a few days ago. We feed the mother timothy and alfalfa hay, pellets and have discontinued veggies as per vets orders until messy bottom clears up. Any advice or answers as to why kits are dying? Thanks.

***** Karen Sez *****
So sorry! It's hard to say the precise cause of the deaths, but I'd bet a couple glazed donuts that enterotoxemia was the cause. This is an acute diarrheal inflammation of the intestines triggered by a dietary imbalance between carbs and fiber (usually), that permits disease germs to bloom in the rabbit's hind gut. In the case of the kits, the toxins from those germs flooded the blood stream, causing circulatory collapse and death before there was any signs of diarrhea. The doe got a messy behind, but was able to compensate better than her little kits.

It's also possible that coccidiosis or other illness precipitated the problem, but it sure looks to me like the cases of fatal bunny diarrhea we've had in our barn from time to time.

The question is - was it more than just too many carbs? Were there pesticides on the greens? Were the pellets or hay moldy? What happened around your rabbits exactly 1 week prior to the deaths? An extreme stressor at that time might cause the stress-related diarrhea a week later.

It is always a heart-breaker to lose kits, especially at 3 weeks when they're the cutest ever. Please don't be discouraged; with care your remaining rabbits will do fine.

It would be good to remove both doe and remaining kits from the cage and give it a good cleaning with bleach, a rinse and a dry, especially the floor of the cage. This should help to minimize the populations of any pathogenic bacteria. The kits that have not gotten sick stand a good chance of surviving at this point.

Also, withhold ALL food except for the timothy hay and water for the next 24-48 hours. This is to reduce the easily digestible carbs and increase the fiber, which will help to restore the health of your rabbits' guts.

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Feb 21, 2024
Farm Sitting Disaster
by: Anonymous

Help! We are farm sitting for someone.

They raise rabbits in a colony. The enclosure is completely overcrowded. We found several dead kit and have no idea how long they were there the first day. Then, another was found dead away from the nest box. There are some remaining. I found one away from the others and very lethargic, so I picked it up and warmed it before returning it to the area near the nest. However, I also noticed another rabbit had lost an eye in a fight and more are wounded.

I want to clean the nest box at the appropriate time, but I have no idea how old these kits are. (I am assuming around 3 weeks, based in other kits I have seen in the past.)

Have I likely stressed the baby that I tried to warm up to the point of killing it? Would it make sense to get mom & babies and bring them to our home to be kept until weaned? They do not feed hat, only pellets. We feed hay and pellets at our home, so if I brought them here, should I keep them on the pellet only diet? We have not yet bred our rabbits, so while I am vaguely familiar, I don't know what is best.

Apr 25, 2023
My girlfriends 5 week old rabbits keep dying
by: Anonymous

My girlfriends rabbit just had a litter of 10 rabbits
They lived to 5 weeks
And one by one, they died.
We lost all ten baby rabbits.

She kept them all fed well on Timothy hay. Kept them close to the mother.
Our vet gave us critical care to help out but in the end they all still died


******Leia sez******

So sorry to hear about the kits. There could be several factors, so here are a few questions that might help narrow it down:

You said you kept them well fed on Timothy hay. Did the kits have other food such as pellets or foraged greens? We have several pages on Healthy Rabbit Eating, , and a handy ebook, FEEDING YOUR RABBIT, that has all the information consolidated. Bunny shall not live on hay alone.

Did the kits ever show signs of diarrhea or constipation? Diarrhea can rapidly become fatal. It's very important to keep fresh water accessible at all times, because rabbits can become lethally dehydrated rather quickly. We have pages on the website about warning signs of Diarrhea, and how to treat it. Also, our ebook, KEEP YOUR RABBITS HEALTHY, is loaded with information about rabbit diseases and maladies, and how to treat them. If your rabbits have intestinal blockage, Keep Your Rabbits Healthy also has information on how to treat that.

Depending on where you live, heat may be a factor. Up in the northern states, May is still pleasant, but down in the southern states, they are already ovens (west) or steamers (east). You would do well to have thermometers around their habitats so you can monitor the temperature. Unless the rabbit is indigenous to hot climate, above 80F can be a serious issue. We also have a page on KEEPING YOUR RABBITS COOL.

Most likely it is Enterotoxemia, which is commonly a diet issue. The ebooks FEEDING YOUR RABBITS and KEEP YOUR RABBITS HEALTHY have information about enterotoxemia, and our paper book, The Rabbit Raising Problem Solver, is a great question and answer style book, which has 5 pages devoted to the subject.

Once you have figured out the issue, go ahead and rebreed the doe. Just to be on the safe side, thoroughly clean their enclosure, especially the nursing box.

Aug 30, 2021
My 3 week old rabbit died
by: Anonymous

Hi I need some advice my doe has now a second litter until today morning its been 10 babies.. Kids woke up and when they look in cage one of them was dead. I have no any idea what was the cause. Last night all the babies were running around and chewing on hay, and this morning one was just dead.. And now I don't know if it can happen again to the rest...

Dec 01, 2020
Baby Bunnies Dying
by: Tulip

I have two Californian-New Zealand White cross rabbits. They have just had their first litter of kits. Five were born. One died within a few days. Two days ago I went out to check on them (they live in an outdoor enclosure - the doe dug a burrow - didn't want the nesting box - and had her kits in there).

I found one of her babies lying outside the burrow (it has full fur and eyes are almost completely open). It was cold and stiff but still alive. I tried all the online advice on warming the kit up but sadly it died within a few hours.

Yesterday morning I went out to check on them again, and found another one outside the burrow. Same thing. It is cold and stiff, head tilted back but still breathing fast. It died also within a few hours.

This morning I checked on the remaining 2. One had died and the other seemed lively. I checked again an hour later and the final kit is showing the same symptoms. I have it inside now, but not sure what to do. I think its going to die. Any advice?

***** Karen Sez *****

Sorry to hear it, Tulip. I can see misfortune falling on a litter in the form of kit death once, even twice. Heck, we can even stretch that to three times. But when every single kit in the litter dies one by one showing the same symptoms, I'd say there is some kind of infection or adverse environmental condition happening.

I also need to ask - did any other rabbits in the area die suddenly? Any bleeding from, say, the nose of the kits?

I suggest you take that last kit to a rabbit savvy vet stat, and see what is going on. You may not be able to save the kit, but it might help to learn if there are germs present in your enclosure that could endanger your subsequent litters.

Here are a couple additional resources related to rabbit health:
Rabbit Raising Problem Solver (Paperback).
Keep Your Rabbit Healthy (PDF).

Sep 23, 2020
My Day Old Rabbit Kits Keep On Dying
by: Anonymous

My rabbit delivered 3 kits last August 2020, and I separated them from the mother and they all died. Again in September she delivered with 6 kits, I removed them from the mother on the 3rd day because they look weak so I put droplight on them. they look healthy and alive again but in the evening they all died. please I need help. what will I do next time my rabbit deliver babies?

***** Karen Sez *****
One vital piece of information is missing from your question: why are you separating the baby kits from their mother at just 3 days old? Did you feed those kits with milk replacer while they were separated from their only source of food?

The following link goes to a very reasonably priced PDF of what is literally a step by step manual on how to successfully take care of a litter of bunnies from conception to weaning. Please do consider acquiring it or something like it to help you with your next litters:
Rabbit Reproduction (PDF).

Plus, our Rabbit Raising Problem Solver also offers answers to the gamut of questions you might think to ask.

Nov 02, 2018
Dying rabbit baby
by: Anonymous

My rabbit had a litter of babies. One of them has all of a sudden started acting a little distant and then I saw a mucus like substance on her butt looking similar to extra green snot what do I do.

***** Karen Sez *****
Sorry to hear it, Anon. That green mucus is probably scours (from E.coli). In a young kit, it is almost always fatal.

The best course of action is to remove and euthanize the one sick kit, remove the nesting materials, giving the nest box a new nest. Take the cleanest of the dam's fur from the old nest and add it to the refreshed nest. Pluck or groom more fur from the dam if necessary.

In this manner, hopefully you will save the rest of the litter healthy, instead of allowing the sick kit to continue to foul the nest and therefore sicken the rest of the litter.

Best of luck with everything....

Sep 12, 2018
Many baby rabbits dying
by: Anonymous

My rabbits run free in a 50 ft by 60ft covered pen. I've got several adult rabbits in this enclosure, some male some female. They're having babies all the time. The kits seem to make their first appearance when they're about 6 weeks old. In about 2 weeks of running free at about 8 weeks of age they begin to die. I've lost about fifty of them by now. They seem to do fine at first running all over the place, then they act lethargic and usually die with in the day or the next day. This week I lost two of my adult rabbits with the same symptoms. They have been around for two or three years. I need help, don't understand what’s going on. Thanks.

***** Karen Sez *****

Ugh, this is no fun. First, I question the age of the kits, not that it matters. They usually first pop up out of their nests at around 2.5 weeks of age or so. This means that they are dying at around 4-5 weeks of age, or the age at which the dam naturally weans them (because she is pregnant with the next litter). Without the protective antibodies in the dam's milk, the kits sicken and die around the age of weaning.

Second, the continuing problems indicate contagion. I'm guessing an intestinal parasite, possibly coccidiosis. You need a veterinary opinion, a culture/sensitivity, or necropsy of a dead kit to determine the true cause of the problems. He can also prescribe the right anti-parasitical medication which will help to save most of the remaining rabbits and kits, and eventually to reduce the prevalence of the disease organism in your colony.

Third, the adults are frequently resistant to common parasites due to their immune systems being strong. But it is possible that as your rabbits have aged, and as the number of suspected parasites has increased within your colony, they could not overcome the stress, and therefore succumbed.

Finally, as an aside, THIS is why housing rabbits in wire cages off the ground is a wise choice. The wire allows the droppings to fall away to the ground and out of the rabbit's environment. This breaks the life cycle of the parasite, and the rabbits can heal and recover. Slotted resting boards in wire cages help to ensure the health of the rabbit's feet and the animal's comfort level.

More general info on solutions to rabbit problems, including health and disease, is here:
Rabbit Raising Problem Solver

Best of luck with everything!

Mar 13, 2018
Bunnies dieing at 2wks
by: Anonymous

Hi, I'm relatively new to rabbit breeding, and could use some help or advice. My bunnies live outside in solid handmade insulated hutches, in a sheltered corner. They have covers and this time of yr extra blankets over. My older doe had 3 kits and it was a treasured litter as she may only have one more litter if that.

One kit was born dead, but the other two were in nest. It was during our coldest 4 days ever yet babies did okay. I didn't interfere as felt best leave them alone in their nest. Weather warmed up; I kept blankets over hutches and the kits did well. On day 14 one baby was found outside of the nest in the morning. Left the last baby in the nest as I didn't want to move it and it was so fat and healthy. On day 15 I found the last baby cold and like dead. I tried to warm it up but it died within 15 mins of finding it.

Noticed the mum has a slightly messy bum..but no diarhoea, it's been all hard pellets in the hutch. But she's a lion lop and sometimes does get faeces stuck.

Weather here is about 6 degrees centigrade, maybe 9 degrees at night, but was -7 degrees when they were born and hairless.

Was it cold that killed them on leaving the nest? Did the last one die from no one to cuddle...but being 14 and 15 days. They hadn't really moved. Is this normal as well. Should I give the doe one last go and when I feel sorry for her...but she will also be 3 later this yr. Many thanks

***** Karen Sez *****
Anon, be comforted; no one is going to judge you for being a newbie, at least, not on Raising-Rabbits. (People "out there" can be genuinely cruel; this ought not to be.)

From your description, it does not appear the cold played an initial factor in the deaths of the bunnies. (Except possibly the first one? But I would not promise that, as many litters in both summer and winter present with one kit dead.) I think multiple factors played a role, not the least of which was diet. The sticky butt is an important clue, as this indicates a digestive imbalance, which may have been sufficient to also upset the kits' very immature intestinal flora, resulting in death. Again - no judgment. This has happened occasionally in my own herd.

The fact that there were only 2 kits in the litter is another possible clue, including the fact that the last kit was roly-poly. It is evidence of the cause of death being dietary.

Did the cold kill the second kit, or did it happen to die while out of the nest? It had 2 weeks of fur growth already; I'm inclined to think perhaps it died while out of the nest. (But I wasn't there, so can't be positive.)

Yes, give the old girl another chance at a litter. This time watch the diet - give more pellets. Supplement with black oil sunflower seeds. Ensure the greens/people food is completely free of pesticides (the stuff kills pests AND healthy bacterial flora). And provide timothy or orchard hay every day. Best of luck!

Feb 04, 2013
by: Sue G

Thank you for your comments. The little ones have only been given timothy and alfalfa hay and pellets and water. There were no signs of the diarrhea in the babies, but as you said perhaps their system shut down before any sign of it. One of the remaining four has a slightly messy bottom now and I am very worried he/she will succumb to this disease and die as well. :( All the rest are eating and drinking, still nursing and seem active and alert. Even the one with messy bottom. I can't think of any stressors the week before except that our entire family was sick with the flu. Babies were not handled when we were sick. I cleaned the cage today, and after each kit had died. I didn't do bleach, but will do that tomorrow. The floor is lined with newspaper and the cage is on the floor. Thanks for your advice and comments. I'm praying that the remaining 4 survive.

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