Many beginner rabbit pet owners have read that all you need to do when your doe has a new litter of baby bunnies is to put a nest box in the cage lined with hay and the mother’s fur for the kits to sleep and feed in, and the mother will take care of the rest. Unfortunately that is not true.
Rabbit mothers, due to their nature as prey animals, spend the vast majority of time away from their babies and their nest to avoid attracting predators. Therefore, they only feed their litter once sometimes twice a day, for a maximum of five minutes before scurrying off. This is because in nature, anytime the mother rabbit is near her kits she is putting them in danger.
This maternal instinct has survived in domesticated rabbits, even though they are no longer under threat of predators. As a result, unlike many other mammals, rabbit mothers are not careful in making sure all of their litter are properly fed. They do not lie on their side for extended periods of time allowing their litter to saunter up to them, get in a comfortable position, and feed.
Rather, they simple stand over their litter in their nest (box) for a few minutes, and it’s up to the litter to scramble and try to find a nipple and feed before the mother scampers off.
Through my years of raising and breeding rabbits, I have often seen many kits miss feedings simply because they were not “at the right place at the right time”, separated from the other kits, or simply did not have enough time to get “into position”.
What makes this worse is that with each missed feeding, the newborn rabbit gets weaker and weaker, making it harder and harder for them to feed. Often a baby rabbit might be asleep when their mother comes over to feed, and misses the feeding completely!
This is why it’s not uncommon for beginner rabbit pet owners to lose half if not most or all of their litter. Many guidebooks will try to justify this high mortality rate by saying it’s “nature’s way”, but it’s really not and can be totally prevented.
Would you allow a human baby to miss feedings and die from starvation because it’s “nature’s way”?
The best way to prevent the death of these infant babies is to hand-feed them, but with their mother’s milk, not with pet store-bought cat milk formula or goat’s milk.
Like how is demonstrated in the video, it’s best to have someone helping you. One person needs to gently but firmly hold onto the mother’s shoulder area and lower back area with both hands. It’s very important that the mother’s legs are secure so that she can’t accidentally injure her babies.
Once the mother is secure, you can place the newborn rabbit onto the mother’s belly and let them at it!
The baby rabbit will be able to find the mother’s nipples, whether by smell, touch or instinct. A rabbit doe will have eight teats so it’s best to utilize all eight to make sure the baby bunnies are well-fed.
Rabbit mothers usually feed their litters once a day, but it’s preferable for you to feed them twice a day as this will further guarantee the babies are healthy and well-fed. This ample feeding will also make sure the babies are kept warm while they sleep.
Best time to feed the litter is early in the morning and early in the evening, usually right after sundown, similar to the natural schedule that a rabbit mother would feed her litter in the wild.
As rabbit kits don’t cuddle or keep warm with their mother, who is mostly away from the nest, it’s not important to keep the litter in the same cage as the mother. It’s actually preferable to keep the litter away from the mother’s cage in a safe, warm space.
This guarantees that the mother won’t accidentally hurt her litter, which is not uncommon, due to the mother being too young, stressed or simply by accident. Rabbits can have long and sharp nails, even when trimmed, and can easily slice open a baby rabbit, causing instant or a slow, painful death by infection.
It’s also not uncommon for rabbit mothers to step on, stomp or crush their litters when jumping into the nest box, which is another contributor to the high mortality rate of “nest box” litters.
If you keep the litter outside the mother’s cage, as advised, then for the first few days after feeding you should moisten the end of a Q-Tip cotton swab with warm water and gently massage the belly area of each baby rabbit kit. You can start from around the front legs all the way down to their anus area.
This is so to stimulate the baby bunny’s digestive tract so that they can urinate and defecate. Baby rabbits are not born being able to do this themselves, with usually their mother licking their behinds aid stimulation of their digestive system, and if this isn’t done could even cause the death of kit, another factor in the high mortality rates of leaving litters with their mothers.
It’s best to do this until you see the baby bunny urinate, usually within a minute of the gentle massage. Have fun!