How to Care for Orphaned Bunnies and Cottontails

3-20-2017 10-52-23 AM




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It’s the first day of spring and since it’s about that time of year for babies to start being born, I’ve decided (by popular demand) to do a post on what to do if you find a tiny little wild bunny, like I did last year…Go HERE for the whole story.

At the time I knew absolutely NOTHING about caring for little wild bunnies, and I spent the next few weeks researching and learning everything I could while caring for him.

First of all if you find an abandoned wild baby bunny, check around to see if the nest is nearby as many times the mother will be close (the mother will only feed the baby a few times per day when it’s safe, early in the morning and in the evening)  If there is no doubt in your mind that the little baby is not being cared for by the mother, the next best thing you can do is to take it to a wildlife rehabilitator…and if this isn’t an option, it’ll need you to care for it until it’s old enough to be set free.

Cottontails are a lot smaller than regular pet rabbits so you can imagine how tiny their babies are.  Cottontail babies (kits) are about half the size of most domesticated rabbit kits and from what I hear, are extremely hard to keep alive.

I documented everything so that it may help others who run across a little one that needs help.  There are many different ways, but this is the way I did things…and if you have any experience with baby bunnies, please share at the bottom in the comments! 🙂

(By the way, this method can be used with baby domestic bunnies also)

Formula Preparation & Feeding

  • 6 tbsp. water
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 6 tbsp. evaporated goat milk
  • 1/8c heavy whipping cream
  • 1tbsp Karo syrup (adding caro syrup is controversial through the bunny world and after much debate, I ended up adding it…some don’t add it at all, so you can make that decision)

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I put all the ingredients in a mason jar and shook it all up, then stored it in the refrigerator.  At about 5 days, I threw out the old, and started a new batch

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I used a glass 2oz dropper to feed the formula with.  At first I tried using a tiny syringe but found that the eyedropper worked best.  I bought this one from Sprouts, but you can also get one like I used HERE

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Then I warmed it with water (I prefer NOT to use a microwave, to prevent nutrients being killed)

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The glass part on this dropper is about 2 in long from the handle to tip. I measured his feedings by how many droppers-full he ate, and considered it one dropper-full when the milk line was about 1/2in down from the handle (about 1/4tsp)

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Make sure it’s luke-warm

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His first feeding took me a little while to get the hang of it.  He was a little dehydrated and I wanted to make sure that he wasn’t being fed too little or too much.  I wrapped him in a washcloth with only his head sticking out, making sure to hold him upright (not laying on his back).  I just slipped the tip of the eyedropper under his lip and fed him drop by drop, feeding him slowly to avoid getting milk up his nose or aspirating it into his lungs

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I fed him approx. 5x daily, about every 4 hours. Sometimes he ate 2 droppers full of milk, and others he would only take 1/4 or 1/2 dropper full.  But I would pay attention to how full his tummy was, to decide on if he needed to eat more or not.

He was a little older in this pic and didn’t use the washcloth for this particular feeding since he had already got the hang of being hand fed…

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Before and after pic of his first feeding.  Notice how wrinkled and empty his tummy is on the left, and how full and content he is on the right.  I had to make sure not to overfeed though, as his tummy should never be round and tight.  If your bunny is older and furry, it’s harder to see their tummy, so feeding about 10% of their weight 3x daily is what one specialist said she does…you can read more about it HERE

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After you’re done feeding, make sure to clean and sanitize the eyedropper for the next use, just as you would a human baby bottle.

Also, the mother bunny will gently lick the baby’s abdomen and genital area after feeding to stimulate elimination.  To mimic this you can use your clean moist fingertip, or use a warm wet rag or cotton ball.  Personally, I have found that rubbing them with my finger while holding their little bottom under a warm gentle stream of water works great.

Here’s a video that I made to show how I fed and then stimulated him to go potty…

Prepare Nursery Box

I used a plastic tote to keep my baby in and made sure it was kept in a safe QUIET place, as baby bunnies can get stressed quite easily.

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Kit’s can keep warm without the help of a heating pad if the environment is around 80 degrees or warmer.  Anything colder than that, they’ll need a heating pad.  I slipped my heating pad into a plastic bag (to keep the pad clean) and placed it across HALF of the bottom of the tote.  This way if baby gets hot, he can crawl to the other side without the heating pad.

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I then covered the heading pad with an old sheet, making sure the sheet coverd ALL of the plastic that the heating pad is wrapped in, to avoid suffocation.  Then I turned the heating pad onto LOW

IMPORTANT: Make sure pad is never turned hotter than LOW, to avoid overheating

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Cecotrope Formula

After finding my cottontail kit, I spent hours reading up on how to successfully raise them.  I learned they can be extremely hard to keep alive and many experts who’ve been successful at raising them, swear that including cecotropes in the kit’s daily diet jumps their survival rate from a low 30% up to a much higher 70%.

“What’s a cecotrope”, you ask?  Basically they are:

“partially digested foods that are passed from the bunny and then reingested.  They contain a wild brew of bacteria and fungi that are normal and beneficial for the rabbit.  In fact, the rabbit can’t live without them, since they contain essential nutrients (fatty acids and vitamins) that the rabbit cannot produce on their own.”  (You can read more HERE)

Yes, you heard right…they eat their poop.

Now I’m not gonna lie, the thought of feeding poop to my little guy made me want to gag just thinking about it!  But after some thought I figured if it keeps him alive and healthy, I SUPPOSE I could give it a try…

So I jumped onto craigslist and started emailing bunny breeders, asking if they could spare some bunny poop.  Yes I got a few laughs, but the beauty of emailing is that you don’t have to hear them laugh at you in person!  One breeder was only ten minutes from me so I buzzed on down to her house.

After sifting through the plentiful poop selection under her rabbit cages, I finally found those elusive cecotropes!  Unlike regular ‘cocoa puff-looking’ rabbit droppings, cecotrotes resemble small, mucous-covered bunches of grapes.  I dropped a few of these treasures into my zip lock baggie and headed home.

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I poured a little bunny formula into a dish, dropped in a cecotrote, and basically smooshed and stirred it all up till the liquid resembled chocolate milk.

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Poop-a-liscious, right???

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I fed 1/4 to 1/2 dropper full of this concoction to my little bun bun 2 or 3 times a week.  The remaining liquid and extra cecotrotes where stored in the fridge in a tight plastic bag wayyyyyyyyy in the back (far from my sight) LOL.  After about 5 days I would throw out the old batch of ‘chocolate milk’ and make a new one.

Feeding Diary

Feb 28

The day I found him (1-3 days old)

He can smell but his eyes and ears are closed so he can’t hear or see.  When I touch him and he’s REALLY hungry, he lets me know by letting out a loud cry  (kind of sounds like a loud puppy yelp).  But honestly after the first day, he never cried again because I gave him small, frequent feedings (approx. every 4 hours)

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March 1

(2 days later)

He loves to snuggle and burrow into my hand or his bedding, especially after he is finished being fed

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March 2

His ears have opened and he can hear today!  I sneezed and he was startled by it

March 3

Started him on the cecotrope formula . I was not looking forward to this part (as it still seemed a little ‘yucky’ to me) but after he ate it I was glad I did it.  He ate it slowly and I only fed him about 1/4 to 1/2 of a dropper full, then washed it down with his regular formula.

March 4

This is the first day he grabbed the tip of the dropper with his mouth and ate without me having to coax him!  He sucked the milk out of the dropper and I only had to help him out a little by lightly squeezing the eyedropper, but I still had to be careful that I didn’t squeeze the milk out too fast (only about 1-2 drops at a time)

My hunny Austin, holding him while his milk warmed up…still so tiny!!!

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March 5

Eyes are open!!!

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March 6

He can hold his ears erect!

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March 7

Cutting his feedings down to 3x daily

March 8

Has been doing well with the 3x daily feeding schedule.  Because his feedings are less frequent, he obviously eats more during each feeding.  The little guy ate 5 droppers-full tonight which is the most so far!  He has also started licking my hand when I hold him

March 9

Today he is very listless…I’m worried.  He hasn’t had much of an appetite for the past 2 feedings so I’ve had to somewhat ‘force feed’ him drip by drip, giving him about a dropper-full or two, each feeding, to make sure he doesn’t get dehydrated.  I’ve also gone back to feeding more frequently (every 4-6 hours). I’ve also noticed for a while now that his bowel movements have been very hard so I’ve given him about 2 drops of mineral oil per feeding in hopes that constipation is what is making him not feel well.

March 10 

Because of what I’ve read about them going downhill fast out of nowhere, I woke up expecting him  not be with us anymore…to my relief he was alive but still very listless.  His normally wiggling nose hardly moves and he just slowly crawls around like he has no energy.  I slowly fed him breakfast, and then his drop or two of mineral oil after feeding him.  I’ve continued the drop of mineral oil after each feeding all day.  On his last feeding tonight, he seems to be feeling a little better, looking a little more alert and showed semi-interest in eating.  We will see how he is in the morn…

March 11

Little guy is poking his head out of his little hole when he hears me come in so he seems to be doing a little better.  His little nose is back to it’s normal wiggle but he still just kind of crawls slowly around when he moves…BUT, he has been moving around his box more than he was since he started not feeling well.  He semi-eagerly eats a dropper-full of milk and I slowly coaxed him to eat another 1/2 dropper-full, then topped it off with a drop of mineral oil, and then a few drops of milk to wash it down.

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March 12

Little bun bun is feeling better, and he constantly licks my hand after eating!  After his feeding tonight, I went out, picked some fresh grass, and offered it to him.  He eagerly smelled it and started nibbling on a few pieces!

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March 13

Have continued giving him grass after each feeding, he loves it!

March 15

Giving the 3x daily feeding schedule a try again

March 20

Have been back on the 3x daily feeding schedule for the past 5 days.  He eats 6 or 7 droppers full per feeding.  I still end the feedings off with 2 drops of mineral oil to keep him regular, still help him to potty by rubbing him, then offer grass to nibble on.  I also noticed that he’s starting to clean himself when done eating…Bun Bun is getting big!

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Unlike domesticated bunnies who would normally become more tame with hand feeding, this this little guy became very skittish and alert as he got older.  It became harder and harder for me to catch and feed him and at the 4-5 week weaning age, I knew it was time to prepare this growing baby to be set free.

Weaning him was easy…I simply moved his little nursery box with the heating pad outside and cut a hole in one end of the box, so that he could come and go as he pleased.  I made sure there was plenty of water and grass for him to nibble on near the nursery box and after a few days, he was off and running around with all of the other little cottontails 🙂

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7 Responses to How to Care for Orphaned Bunnies and Cottontails

  1. Mary Jo Scarlette says:

    Thanks so much for sharing this. I am a licensed Wildlife rehabber and rehab all small mammals, except the bunnies. Some of my fellow rehabbers that do rehabilitate orphaned bunnies know nothing about the cecotrope but it was briefly taught in my classes. I was told it was very difficult to keep these young orphans alive and I can see this may be because they don’t use the cecotrope. I have taken in 2 one week old kits and this is day 2. They are doing well so far on the Fox Valley Formula (for orphaned cottontails, squirrels, opossums, etc.) and I know someone who has rabbits to collect the cecotrope from but could you help me with this: Do I need to collect the cecotrope early in the morning since it’s usually produced at night? Should I rinse it off when I get home in case there is urine or other contaminants/bacteria on it? How much cecotrope to formula ratio (pea size maybe)? How long will it be ok in the fridge (the cecotrope and the formula mixed with cecotrope)? When did you stop giving the cecotrope/formula mixture (when completely weaned?). Thank you for any help you can give me. I have researched this online and have found little info. about this. Maybe I’m not looking in the right places, but I’m so glad to have found your blog.

    • Tee says:

      Hi Mary,

      I’m so glad you were able to find my post helpful…I also had a hard time finding information regarding this topic which is why I decided to post about it.
      I didn’t rinse my cecotropes with water or collect them in the morning but it definitely can’t hurt to do both. I would say yes, add a pea size to your milk formula at first and just keep adding little bits until the formula resembles a greenish-brown chocolate milk color. I kept my cecotropes in the fridge for about a week, then threw them away and collected new ones just to make sure they were fresh. I continued giving the cecotrope formula until he was completely weaned.
      It’s good to know there is actually a good formula out there (Fox Valley Formula)…definitely helps to share information to help keep these little guys alive!

  2. Kayli says:

    My friend called me saying her dog had found a baby bunny, and he had killed the mother. I told her to just release the bunny, and let Nature take it’s course, but she said the baby would die. I didn’t know how old the bunny was, or anything. She told me to come and get it, knowing it’d be safer in my hands. Being a child, I had to ask my mom, and we went to get the bunny. I know, child = danger, but I’ve done my research, and I’m more smart about animals than your average kid :/ Anyways, I got the bunny, and was surprised at how small and young it was.
    I have the baby bunny now, and I’ve checked it’s gender, it’s a girl. I know this part will sound pretty messed up, but I’m keeping her in a tub with my mouse, Jwi. Jwi and Hosha (The bunny) are sleeping together and cuddling together… I make sure to open the lid and get fresh air in there every once in a while, and make sure they’re okay. I read on how to feed Hosha, and will do. My mom said I’ll have to let Hosha go once she’s old enough, and I’m fine with that. I want to thank you so much for making this helpful website!

    • Tee says:

      Hi Kayli!

      I’m so glad you enjoyed my post! Lot’s of luck with your little bunny…sounds like she is in good hands though <3

  3. Diana says:

    What do you do if baby cottontail sucks milk up his nose

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