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Saving Wild Baby Rabbits

That is something rabbit breeders hear all too often, especially in springtime. In most cases, young, inexperienced baby rabbits are found shortly after the mother has kicked them out of the nest. People stumble across the babies, assume they are orphans, and try to do the right thing by giving them cow’s milk and cabbage, which often is fatal for the babies.

So what should you do if you find wild baby rabbits? The answer to this question is pretty simple: in most cases you should leave them where you found them. Wild rabbits do not need human help, unless the mother rabbit has been killed. Do not handle them (or any other wild animal) unless absolutely necessary. Wild rabbits are host to fleas, ticks, lice, and other parasites that can transmit disease to humans and domestic animals alike.

How can you tell if a baby rabbit is old enough to fend for itself? Look for a white blaze on their foreheads. If they don’t have the blaze, they are old enough to be outside on their own. Just leave them alone. If they do have a white blaze, they are still under their mother’s care. Leave them in their nest or put them back if they’re outside of the nest. If you are concerned that the mother has abandoned the babies, take two twigs and lay them in an “X” over the nest. When mother rabbit comes to feed them, she will disturb the twigs.

Wild female rabbits build shallow nests (called “forms”) and only visit the nest once or twice a day to nurse. The rest of the time, they will be out of sight but probably nearby. A mother rabbit’s infrequent visitations are meant to keep the nest hidden – more frequent visits would draw unwelcome attention from predators. Because the doe visits the nest typically just before dawn and just after dark, it can appear as if the babies were abandoned. If the babies have full bellies, they are being cared for, and the best thing you can do is to leave them alone.

If you know the mother rabbit to be deceased (say, a dog catches her and you find the nest) or if the nest has been destroyed, call your state Wildlife or Fish & Game department or a wildlife rehabilitator as soon as possible. Your veterinarian probably can help you locate a wildlife rehabilitator because vets typically get dozens of calls every spring like this. You can also do a search on the Internet for a wildlife rehabilitation information directory to find a wildlife rehabilitator nearest you. Rehabbers are listed by state. It is important that you get the babies to someone who is experienced in raising rabbits and is licensed by the state to do so because it is really difficult work to raise baby wild bunnies to adulthood.

In this situation, you might need to nurse the babies until you can get appropriate care arranged for them. Here’s a rabbit formula you can make to feed them.

1 can of sweetened condensed milk or fresh goat’s milk (don’t use cow’s milk)
3 tablespoons heavy cream
3 tablespoons Karo corn syrup
1 egg yolk
Combine ingredients in a plastic bowl. Warm in microwave and heat mixture until it’s slightly above room temperature. Test it by putting a few drops of the formula on your wrist first because you don’t want to accidentally scald the babies.

Feed the babies with a pet nurser bottle or a feeding syringe or an eyedropper, and do so slowly. Baby rabbits are quite uncoordinated and can easily inhale fluid into their lungs. If they aspirate the formula into their lungs, they will die. Please, take it slow!

After feeding the babies, you must massage their lower abdomen with a warm, moist washcloth to stimulate urination and defecation. Feed them every three hours or so.

The baby rabbits should be kept in a cardboard box. Place a blanket or old sweatshirt inside for them to snuggle into. You will need a heat source to keep them warm. Place a heating pad beneath the box set on low (or medium, but beware of high heat – you don’t want them to cook). A hot water bottle will also work for a heat source, or in a pinch, a 60 watt lightbulb placed over the box (you must make sure they don’t get too hot). Ideal temperature is around body temperature; anywhere from 85 to 98 degrees Fahrenheit will suffice. If the babies are restless and are trying to get away from the heat, it is too hot for them.

The babies must be kept warm at all times. Feed them only when they are nice and warm. Cold babies do poorly – their digestion falters, and they will usually die. Handle them as little as possible; wild rabbits are very sensitive and can die from the shock of being handled by a human!

After nursing them, you might be tempted to keep them as pets. Don’t do this! Wild rabbits are meant to be free and do not make good pets. They are skittish, nervous, and can be very aggressive when mature. They do not deal well interacting with humans because they are very sensitive and can stress out quickly. It is also illegal to keep wild animals or game without the proper permit from the F&WS or your state Wildlife or Fish & Game department.

Note: if you find a wild baby rabbit that was caught by a predator such as a cat or dog, the baby can have severe internal injuries and will probably die from the shock alone. A loss of one wild rabbit or even a whole litter is not a threat to the species. Up to 95 percent of all wild rabbits die before they are six months old. It’s cruel, but it is nature’s way.

For more detailed instructions and advice on what to do about wild baby rabbits, please visit the following pages:

Rabbit Web
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