Raising Orphaned Rabbits: When To and How To

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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.

Feeding Instructions

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?

By | 2017-11-06T05:08:56+00:00 August 11th, 2017|Advice, Archives, Health Care, Rabbits 101, Tips + Tricks|18 Comments

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18 Comments

  1. […] Raising Orphaned Rabbits […]

  2. Michelle & The Paw Pack October 28, 2017 at 12:16 am - Reply

    I always love reading your rabbit posts! I so miss my last house rabbit, Barnaby, who passed away in August. Rabbits are so cute when they’re babies, although most of mine I adopted when they were adults and never got to see as babies. Great post for anyone having to face rearing orphaned kits!

  3. Lori Hilliard October 28, 2017 at 3:05 pm - Reply

    This was fascinating information. I learned a lot about an animal I’m not familiar with and I’m always happy to learn.

  4. Karlee October 29, 2017 at 2:47 pm - Reply

    Wow this a really informational post! Is there a visible difference between cottontails and other rabbits? I think rabbits are so cute but I’ve never had one!

  5. Heather Wallace October 29, 2017 at 6:39 pm - Reply

    I really don’t know much about rabbits in general. I am always looking for nests in my yard. My house backs up to the woods and for some reason despite my two large dogs marking up the territory, mama rabbit comes every year. We always have a few baby losses because of it and my dog’s hunting instincts. It’s so sad. I try to check the yard prior to letting the dogs out and scope the property, but sometimes it’s impossible and the dogs catch one.

  6. Paroma October 29, 2017 at 7:26 pm - Reply

    I knew nothing about rabbits so this post was an eye opener. I do have friends who have rabbits as pets though. Thank you for all the information, I will pass it on to some of my animal lover friends who have yards.

  7. sara October 30, 2017 at 12:23 am - Reply

    Oh my gosh, taking care of these rabbits is a huge job! You are really doing a wonderful thing by taking such good care of them. I bet many people buy rabbits for Easter and then have no idea how much work they are and what they need to do to take care of them!

  8. Carol Bryant October 30, 2017 at 12:57 am - Reply

    I love learning about other species. I grew up with rabbits, as my grandma had them as pets. I used to love visiting them and always wished I knew more. Now I did.

  9. Shelby @ For The Love of Paws October 30, 2017 at 2:06 am - Reply

    OH MY GOSH!!!! As a new bunny momma this is so hard to see. 🙁 I get so sad when they are abandoned. I hope that I never have to be in this situation, but now I know what to do.

  10. Kelsie | It's Dog or Nothing October 30, 2017 at 2:42 am - Reply

    This is such great information. I’m definitely one of those people who always wants to help but isn’t sure what exactly should be done.

  11. Ruth Epstein October 30, 2017 at 3:19 am - Reply

    Thank you for an amazing post, I never knew that about rabbits so have just learned. I will keep this in mind for the future if I ever need it although in our area there are no rabbits

  12. Kelly October 30, 2017 at 12:54 pm - Reply

    What an informative post! I really don’t know much about rabbits, other than we have many that come out in the evenings on our lawn and nibble on the grass – they are sooo cute. I find it interesting that they only feed once or twice a day.

  13. Beth October 30, 2017 at 2:25 pm - Reply

    This was helpful, I don’t think I’ll ever need to know how to take care of domestic kits, but we have a lot of wild rabbits here. We once found a nest of cottontail babies and didn’t see the mom. However, we left them alone because we thought she was probably nearby. When we checked on them the next day, they were still thriving.

  14. Talent Hounds October 30, 2017 at 4:04 pm - Reply

    We have quite a few wild rabbits near us but I have not seen any kits. Great info if we do. I have had baby raccoons left on my doorstep and Mom got hit by a car and a baby squirrel my daughter found (so cute but covered in fleas). I took them up to a shelter.

  15. Cathy Armato October 30, 2017 at 4:08 pm - Reply

    This is such good information, very detailed. Thanks for sharing this! I tweeted & pinned.
    Love & biscuits,
    Dogs Luv Us and We Luv Them

  16. Sweet Purrfections October 30, 2017 at 8:33 pm - Reply

    I didn’t know the difference between a cottontail and other wild rabbits. I’ve only seen a small rabbit around our house one time, but it was old enough to hop away. Thank you for the advice should I happen upon a nest of babies.

  17. Shayla November 1, 2017 at 6:29 am - Reply

    We are overrun by now wild rabbits, because someone introduced them to the area..and you know, they did what rabbits do…it’s cute, but I worry about the little ones, especially with my dogs around! I check the yard often in the mornings before I let them out to be safe, and told the kids to always come find me before touching babes!

  18. Dr Leigh @ Your Vet Online November 1, 2017 at 9:00 am - Reply

    Some great tips here!! A good resource for budding rabbit owners!

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