It’s probably the question nature and rescue centers get the most often: what do I do with this baby rabbit I found? Even though it’s a prey species, bunnies build nests in seemingly inappropriate places—like your front lawn! Many people stumble upon them when landscaping or letting out the family dog.
We understand how kindhearted people are when they find what they assume is a helpless baby. We can’t help it. However, there are several things you should know before you decide to take in a baby rabbit you’ve found in your yard. It’s more complicated than you may think.
Before You Start
If you want to rehabilitate wildlife like a baby bunny, you must have a license. The regulations vary by state. However, it’s worth investigating before you do anything. The other thing to know is that rabbits can carry parasites and diseases, such as tularemia, that you can contract from handling an infected wild animal. That’s imperative to remember if you have small children or other pets in your home.
It’s unwise to assume the bunny you saw in your yard is actually orphaned. Rabbits give birth to altricial offspring that are helpless with their eyes closed.1 They need parental care, which only the female provides. However, she doesn’t spend a lot of time nursing or tending to her young. She may only visit her nest a couple of times a day.
The average weaning age for a baby bunny is 28 days. The baby is still small at this point, measuring only 4–7 inches long. Rabbits are prolific breeders for a good reason. Four females and one male can produce more than a hundred young annually! However, Mother Nature has the final say on this score, with first-year mortality rates as high as 90%. Sadly, the same figures apply to rescued baby bunnies.
Therefore, we strongly urge you to think carefully before proceeding. The chances are highly probable that the animal won’t survive. The best odds the bunny will see its second year are with its mother until it is weaned.
The 8 Tips for Feeding a Baby Rabbit
1. Determine If the Bunny Is Injured or Sick
It’s imperative to determine if the bunny actually needs help. It’s an easy call if you find a dead adult nearby. Look for apparent signs of an injury, including blood. If the rabbit scurries off before you can catch it to examine it, it’s probably just fine on its own.
2. Look for a Nest
The bunny is best off with its mother. Your next step is to try to reunite them by locating the nest. It probably won’t be far from where you spotted the bunny. Place the animal back inside it and retreat. If you can’t find it, put the bunny in a box lined with a soft towel and leave the site. Be sure to keep the household pets away from the area and wash your hands thoroughly. Then, wait.
3. Check the Nest for Activity
We suggest waiting until the next day to see if the female has returned to the nest overnight. She’s most likely to go there during the cover of the night than in broad daylight. If it’s apparent she came back, then your work is done. If the baby is shivering and acts hungry, it’s time to get ready to feed the little one.
4. Grab Some Vinyl Gloves and a Towel
We recommend wearing gloves when handling the bunny because of the extended skin contact. Make sure to get an unscented product. The same advice applies to the towel. Strange smells might upset the animal already stressed by this activity.
5. Sterilize the Nipples and Bottle
Sterilize the bottle and nipple per the products’ instructions. It’ll also remove any odd odors that the bunny could detect.
6. Prepare the Formula and Warm It
Using KMR or a similar product ensures the formula is nutritious and suitable for young animals. You can use a warm water bath to get the liquid up to 105℉.
7. Cradle the Animal in Your Non-Dominant Arm
Sit down on the floor and cradle the bunny in your arm. It’s best to get to ground level in case the rabbit jumps away from you. Instinct will kick in and prompt it to escape. We suggest feeding the baby in a closed room or bathroom to minimize distractions.
8. Place the Nipple Next to the Bunny’s Lips
Gently place the nipple next to the bunny’s lips. You can put a towel over your hand so the rabbit can knead around the nipple, not unlike the way a cat might on her owner’s lap. Patience is essential. The bunny might reject the bottle at first but be persistent. However, don’t force-feed the little one. Instead, let a drop of the formula fall on the animal’s lips. The bunny will make the connection.
Additional Tips for Feeding a Baby Rabbit
You should feed a newborn bunny about 2.5 milliliters of formula twice a day as its mother would do in the wild.
Deciding to rehabilitate a baby rabbit is a serious commitment you should only undertake if it is truly necessary. Of course, other options exist if you want to help but don’t think you can help the animal. However, it’s a rewarding experience to bond with Nature in this novel way. The bunny you rehabilitate can become part of the lucky 10%.
Featured Image Credit: Motortion Films, Shutterstock