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Did you find a nest of cottontails? Have a mother rabbit who won’t care for her kits? This guide will help you decide if they are orphaned and how to care for them.
NOTE: You should always contact your local Game and Fish before you attempt to raise orphaned (cottontail only) rabbits.
How to Determine if a Litter of Kits are Orphaned
When determining if a litter of kits are truly orphaned, there are a few factors you need to keep in mind before making this decision.
- A mother rabbit will not return to her nest if she senses danger nearby.
- Kits will only nurse once or twice a day.
- Rabbits will lay at a safe distance from her nest while she keeps watch. This is why she pulls her fur before birth, to keep them warm cause she doesn’t spend time in the nest.
Don’t be too quick to think a litter is abandoned just because you didn’t see mom go into her nest. She won’t feed her young if you (a predator to her) are always watching the nest.
Here are some things to check for to help you make that decision.
- When the kits are cold and thin she isn’t feeding them. If a kit is being fed, their bellies should be nice and plump.
- The kits should be snuggled into a pile of her fur she pulled, or a nest she made from straw, grass, or other surrounding items to keep them warm.
Rabbits who are handled regularly (excluding cottontails) can be handled. It is a myth that if you touch or handle a mother’s kits she will kill them.
When it comes to cottontails, be absolutely sure the mother is not caring for them. These rabbits can hide their young close to your house or in bushes to keep them safer from predators in the outside world.
You will want to buy a 5 CC/ML syringe to feed them as baby kits do not suckle but instead lap up their milk
The best formula to use for baby rabbits is KMR Kitten Milk Replacer.
Start by mixing the formula, the replacer should have instructions. With baby kits, it would be ideal to add one tsp of heavy cream to the milk to make it richer for them.
The chart below will show you how much your baby rabbits should be eating varying on age.
Newborn to 1 Week: 2 – 2 1/2 cc/ml each feeding, two feedings a day. At this age baby rabbits still need to be stimulated to urinate and defecate until they open their eyes. See instructions at the end of the chart.
1-2 Weeks: 5-7 cc/ml each feeding, twice a day (if eyes are still closed they will need to be stimulated to urinate and defecate).
2-3 Weeks: 7-13 cc/ml each feeding, twice a day. I always start introducing them to timothy hay, pellets, fresh water and a few fresh greens.
3-6 Weeks: 13-15 cc/ml each feeding, twice a day. Domesticated rabbits can be adopted out or weaned at the age of 6 weeks. But recommended to keep until they are 8 weeks of age to socialize them.
How to Stimulate a Kit to Urinate + Deficate
Take a cotton ball and run it under warm water until it’s moist. Rub the cotton ball around the anal area until the kit starts producing fecal and urine. Keep rubbing until he stops.
You are copying the actions of a mother rabbit. Where they would generally lick their young to stimulate them to urinate and defecate. Make sure they are done urinating and defecating before you stop.
As a newborn they cannot urinate or defecate on their own until their eyes open at about 10 days of age.
Handling Your Kits
When you handle your orphaned kits, make sure you are gentle. Even a drop from one or two feet can be fatal or cause serious injuries.
If your kits are domestic handle them everyday, morning and night when feeding (ONLY when their eyes have opened). This ensures your kits will be friendly and not as skittish as ones that are never handled.
When they get to be 6 weeks of age you can find homes for them. If you keep them until they are 8 weeks like I do, then try to socialize them. They will be easier to place in homes when you work with them.
If you have raised cottontails, the best for them would be to release them. When you are nursing them, handle them ONLY when you are feeding them. This will ensure they don’t bond to you and are easier to release.
When you do release baby cottontails make sure they are near a water source and free from predators.
Cottontails can be weaned and survive on their own sooner than domestic kits. A week after they get their white spot on their foreheads is the right time to release them.
Never keep a cottontail. They are wild and when they become older they may be more aggressive than a domesticated rabbit.
Has this guide helped you?