How to Care for Orphaned Bunnies and Cottontails-Video
How to Care for Orphaned Bunnies and Cottontails
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.
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)
How to Care for Orphaned Bunnies and Cottontails Tutorial
Formula Preparation & Feeding
UPDATE: I was later told by a wildlife rehabilitator that Fox Valley Day One Formula for rabbits is the best, as it takes the guesswork out of mixing up your own formula. If you don’t have access to this, you can mix up the formula below:
- 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)
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
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
Then I warmed it with water (I prefer NOT to use a microwave, to prevent nutrients being killed)
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)
Make sure it’s luke-warm
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
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…
The next two pics are before and after pics of his first feeding. Notice how wrinkled and empty his tummy is before eating, and how full and content he is after eating. 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 that I read about.
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 (see video at the top of this post).
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.
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.
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
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%. Bunnies normally eat their mothers cecotropes around 10 days old, so I would start adding them to baby’s milk around day 10 and after.
Update: Although I fed my bunny cecotropes, you may or may not have access to them. If you don’t, all is not lost, as one of my readers did have luck raising up his 6 newborn cottontails successfully without feeding cecotropes. Also, another one of my readers that didn’t have access to cecotropes, successfully raised her newborn cottontail using a prebiotic called Bene-Bac.
“What’s a cecotrope”, you ask? Basically they are:
“partially digested foods that are passed from the bunny and then re-ingested. 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.
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.
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.
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)
(2 days later)
He loves to snuggle and burrow into my hand or his bedding, especially after he is finished being fed
His ears have opened and he can hear today! I sneezed and he was startled by it
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.
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
Eyes are open!!!
He can hold his ears erect!
Cutting his feedings down to 3x daily
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
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.
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…
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.
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!
Have continued giving him grass after each feeding, he loves it!
Giving the 3x daily feeding schedule a try again
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 food grade mineral oil (found in the pharmacy section of a grocery/drug store) 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!
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 🙂