How To Raise Baby Bunnies

 

 

It recently came to our attention that some of you would like more information about raising baby bunnies!

We can certainly sympathize with this concern because when our own rabbits first had babies we didn't know what to expect! We had raised kittens, puppies, chickens, pigeons, even horses -- but never a rabbit. "Surely," we thought, "it must be just like a cat having kittens -- the mother will spend most of her time with her babies, contentedly nursing them, and then go out occasionally to eat or get some exercise." Boy were we wrong!

Below is a directory of the basic information you will need to successfully raise your own baby bunnies, once you have a pregnant female rabbit.  Please realize that this information is intended to help you when your rabbit surprises you with a pregnancy -- or a litter of babies.  If you plan to intentionally breed your rabbits, we urge you to buy a couple of books on the topic and to visit some of the sites listed on our Bunny Links page.  And please, be responsible!  There are plenty of bunnies in need of good homes already.  Many will end up neglected or euthanized simply because there were not enough homes for all of them.

 

 

  

 

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Don't miss Earth's Kids online Rabbit Care page.

 

 


 

 


How To Set Up The Right Home or Living Environment

Making Mama & her babies safe and cozy

 

 1.)      First, provide the mother bunny with a comfortable cage or living space. The living space should be clean, large enough for her to move around, and protected from direct sun and excessive heat or cold. The living space should also be fairly calm and quiet -- no barking dogs, loud or "grabby" children, etc. The mother will most likely want to be left alone by your other pet rabbits -- so make sure she has a room or cage to herself. (For some information on how not to house a mother bunny, click here.)
 

2.)      Second, provide the mother bunny with a nest box and nesting materials. You can buy or make a wooden nest box, or purchase an ordinary "litter box".  Line the bottom of the box with Carefresh or your favorite "bunny litter" product to absorb any moisture (urine, birth fluids, etc.), then cover it with Alfalfa, Timothy Hay, or even dried grasses (pesticide free only). Don't worry about making it look "right", your mother bunny will adjust it as needed. She will also pluck out some of her own fur to add extra warmth and softness to the nest.

3.)     Provide the mother bunny with plenty of fresh water, rabbit chow, fresh vegetables (1/2 cup per day), and Timothy Hay or Alfalfa. She should also have a vitamin & mineral enriched salt lick.

 

 

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How To Care For The New Babies
And what to do when Mama bunny won't do it all for herself.

 

 

 

The key elements to caring for new babies are : taking good care of the mother rabbit, as well as providing the right environment (which includes a nest box), and attending to issues of feeding, warmth, and sanitation/safety.  We have outlined the last three below.  Please read carefully, and you will find that most of your questions about raising baby bunnies will be answered. 

But be sure to also read the preceding section above about providing the right environment.  Be sure to also read our page about general rabbit care.  If you've read all of this material and still have questions, then go ahead and send us some email, and we'll be happy to help.  

Note: If you've found wild baby bunnies, click here to learn what to do.

 

Please note that the mother bunny will not reject her babies because of human handling.  Human smell will not worry her at all!  She is much more likely to be bothered by loud noises and constant activity near the cage.

 

 

1.)  Feeding

If all goes well, mother bunny will completely take care of feeding.  You won't have to do a thing for the first two weeks.  (After two weeks you will see them trying the same foods that you provide the mother.  Be sure to increase the food provided as the babies eat more solid food.)

 

Don't worry if you don't see her nursing the babies the first day.  This is normal.

 

But do watch to see how the mother reacts to them.  If after a day or two she appears anxious or unhappy about being in the cage with the babies, if she hides in the corner, then you will want to check on the babies often to see that they are warm enough and that their little tummies are somewhat rounded.  If after two days the babies are looking shriveled, with loose baggy skin and sunken, empty tummies, then you may need to intervene.

 
 

 

Intervention with the "Pet Cab Method":

If you have reason to believe the mother is not nursing the babies enough, you may try the following:

 

  1. Line a small pet cab with a thick towel and/or nesting material and place the mother and babies inside. (Don't worry, as long as the floor of the pet cab is well cushioned, she will not "squash" them or otherwise hurt them when she steps on them.)
     

  2.  Attach a pet watering bottle (such as "licks-it", etc.) to the outside of the cage so that the metal spout of the bottle protrudes into the cage/pet cab.
     

  3. Attach a food bowl to the inside of the pet cab.
     

  4. Do not keep the mother bunny closed up in the pet cab with the babies all the time. She should be allowed to come out and hop around for a few hours at a time to get some exercise, after being confined with the babies for 1-3 hours. You can leave her in the pet cab over night however, but be sure to let her come out and get some exercise first thing in the morning.

How long to confine with the pet cab: many mother bunnies will get the idea and begin feeding the babies on their own after only a few days. However,  in rare cases you may need to continue using the pet cab arrangement for one to two weeks -- or until the babies can chase her around the cage and successfully get a meal.

After the first few days of using the pet cab to confine the mother, the babies should be sufficiently re-hydrated so that you can reduce the mother's time in the cab to night time plus 2 or 3 times during the day.

 

If the above intervention does not work and the mother does not begin feeding the babies on her own, the next best option is to feed the babies formula.   Please note that most vets will tell you it is pointless to bottle or formula feed a baby bunny who is less than one or two weeks old.

Having tried this several times myself, I can assure you... they are totally correct. Hand feeding such a young bunny is very, very difficult.  And few things are worse than realizing that the tiny baby you have tried to feed has probably just died from formula milk ending up in his lungs rather than his stomach.

Therefore, do not try hand feeding with formula until you have tried the pet cab method outlined above. So far we and everyone we've recommended it to have had a 100% success rate. (For more information on why some mother bunnies don't nurse their young,
click here.)

If you still find you need to feed with formula click here to read more about it.

 

2.) Warmth

 

It is important that your babies don't lose too much body heat.  The more they must burn calories to keep warm, the more they must eat.  And since the mother often doesn't feed them for the first day, this could quickly become a problem.  So keep your babies out of the cold, and out of the wind.

If your babies have arrived at an unfortunate time, like the middle of winter, and you have them in an outdoor cage or pen, you may need to bring them indoors, at least for a few weeks.

 

It's also important that the babies aren't getting wet.  So if you live someplace warm, but rainy be sure the rain isn't getting inside to wet the bunnies or their bedding.

 

If the babies are being fed by the mother, but you think weather is too cold, you may want to provide a heating pad to help keep them warm during the first week.  You can place the heating pad under the pet cab or cage bottom and set the heat on low. Just be sure that the mother can't get to the pad or the pad's electrical cord to chew on it. 

 

You can turn the heating pad off when the mother is in the pet cab or nest box (to prevent her getting too warm).  If for some reason you did not provide the mother bunny with actual nesting materials (but substituted a towel instead), you can place a heating pad under the nesting box to keep the babies warm. (Note that with nesting material, the babies will burrow down, allowing the nesting material to completely cover them, thus keeping them warm and cozy.  This makes heating pads unnecessary in most cases.)

 

 

3.) Safety & Hygiene Precautions

Keep the cage and nest box reasonably clean.   This means you'll need to check in each day to be sure the environment is not becoming damp or excessively soiled.
 

Keep the babies safe from the intrusions of other rabbits (especially during the first two weeks).  This is especially true of other pregnant females who may kill the young bunnies to make room for their own kits in the nest.

If the breeding male has remained in the cage or etc. with the female, you will want to carefully observe his reactions to and interactions with the babies.  Most people prefer to remove the male for the first week or two, just to be on the safe side.  He can have supervised playtime with the female when she comes out for exercise. 

Certainly the male should be removed completely if his has a tendency toward rough or aggressive behavior.  But often it is the female's own aggressive behavior prior to giving birth will make it necessary to remove the male, for his own safety.

Please note:  we advise neutering your male rabbit right away to prevent unwanted pregnancies.  Your female rabbit can become pregnant again a mere three days after giving birth!  30 days later, you will have another litter of babies.  This is not good for your doe's health.  Nor is it responsible pet ownership.  Read Breeding Like Rabbits!

 

Keep the mother and babies safe from potential predators.  This includes raccoons and other wildlife as well as family pets.  Baby rabbits look tasty to cats and dogs who are otherwise friendly or tolerant toward adult rabbits.
 

Be sure that your cage or hutch will not allow the babies to fall out -- either through the bottom, or other the sides.  Baby bunnies only a few hours old have been known to fall or creep out of the cage and become lost under a bed, leaf litter, or other item.
 

After about a 3-7 days you may need to clean out the nest box.  Put a clean towel in a deep-sided box and transfer the bunnies to this while you dump out the dirty litter from the nest box.  Save as much of the mother bunny's fur (lining the nest) as you can, and put this back in the next box on top of the clean litter.  Return the babies to the next box.
 
Always be careful about handling the babies.  It is so easy for them to squirm and leap out of your hands and thus fall to the floor.  A baby can break a collar bone or worse in such a fall.  So only hold one baby at a time.  Cup one hand under the baby, and one hand over, covering completely. 

If you want to interact with them, please sit down on a soft carpet or thick comforter or quilt.  Keep your hands low to the carpet/quilt.  And be prepared for the baby to suddenly twitch or squirm, causing itself to leap surprisingly high or far!  Always supervise children carefully around babies.  In the case of preschoolers and young toddlers it is often better to make them wait until the bunnies are two weeks old before allowing them to pet them while an adult holds the bunny (or the bunny is in the cage).

 

 


 

 

 

Watching Your Bunnies Grow
What you can expect in the weeks to come

For some really detailed information on a baby bunny's first few weeks of life, read our page about AlohMayla's First Babies. In general however, at birth your bunnies will be about 4 inches long, completely hairless, with their eyes still closed (an adaptation that allows wild babies to live in underground burrows), and with their small ears pressed back flat against the sides of the head. They will slowly develop until -- at about 2 weeks old -- your bunnies will be bright-eyed and fluffy, with bouncy legs and large, upright ears. At about 2 to 3 weeks your babies will take a real interest in sampling grasses and other "solid food".

The babies will continue to nurse heavily however until they are about 4 weeks old. They will continue nursing from the mother until they are about 8 weeks old, during which time they will be slowly transitioning to more and more reliance on bunny chow and veggies. At about 8 to 10 weeks old, the mother will refuse to feed them any further and will often lose interest in them. This is the ideal time to find suitable homes for them if you plan to sell them or allow them to be adopted. Please resist any temptation to part the mother from her babies prematurely. The babies benefit greatly from the protein intake of the mother's milk, and the mother is often deeply emotionally attached to her babies during this period.

At 3 to 4 months old (i.e. 12-16 weeks), your bunnies will begin to sexually mature. At this point you will want to separate the males from the females (a vet can help you with determining gender). We strongly recommend neutering or spaying your bunnies to prevent your bunny population from getting quickly out of control. Otherwise, by the time your new bunnies are 5 to 6 months old, you will have yet another generation on the way! Considering that bunnies typically have anywhere from 5 to 9 babies in a litter, you will soon be likening your home to the set of Star Trek during the "Trouble With Tribbles" episode -- or at least your friends will! (Read Breeding Like Rabbits! & It Could Happen To You!)

One final note -- not only will you have to keep un-neutered males away from females, but you will usually have to keep them separated from each other as well. Most male bunnies have a very strong territorial impulse and will give each other quite a bloody beating as they work out their dominance hierarchy-- a hierarchy which basically amounts to one male strutting freely about the house or barn while the other spends the rest of his life cowering somewhere inconspicuous.

Raised properly, bunnies are sweet, curious, trusting, and intelligent little creatures -- don't spoil your bunny's temperament and personality by subjecting him to unnecessary brutality -- or neglect! Take good care of your bunny and show it plenty of loving kindness and you will receive the attentions of a gentle, affectionate pet in return.

 If you have any further questions, feel free to drop us some email . We will try to answer them as best we can. Otherwise....good luck raising your new baby bunnies! And as with any new baby in the family, remember to take pictures! You will be amazed at how quickly your bunnies grow and how dramatically they change and develop.

 

Click the image above to download and print
your own rabbit care guide.

Don't miss Earth's Kids online Rabbit Care page.

 



EK BUNNY PAGES
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We offer the following related books:

Encyclopedia of Pet Rabbits
by David Robinson
320 pages

Aimed at those interested in breeding rabbits or selecting the right kind of pet rabbit breed for them.

 

Order this book on Amazon.com

Your Rabbit: A Kid's Guide to Raising and Showing
by Nancy Searle, Gwen Steege
150 pages

Aimed at kids, this book is highly recommended by School Library Journal and includes information on housing, feeding, grooming, breeding, handling, and showing your rabbit.

Order this book on Amazon.com

 

For more books on rabbit care...

 

 

click here

 

 


 

click one of these topics for more information

Breeding Like Rabbits!

Rabbit Care    

How To Care For
Baby Bunnies

It Could Happen To You! Our Bunny Farm: 
A Look Back
Help!  I Found
 Wild Babies

Our Favorite Rabbit Links

 How To Build An
Outdoor Bunny Pen
Mothering
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Illness & Injury The EK Bunny Pages
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Not for the Wild! Kids Bunny Fun! How Not to House

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