Care of abandoned/orphaned neonate (newly born) rabbits
1. What is the normal nursing behaviour of rabbits?
The gestation (pregnancy) period in rabbits is 30-32 days. Generally 4-12 kits (baby rabbits) areproduced. A few days before kindling (giving birth) the doe will pull out some of her hair to prepare a nest. The kits will be born blind, hairless and are totally dependent on the mother. They will remain in the nest for 3 weeks. Does nurse their litter only 1-2 times a day. During these feedings a kit may drink up to 20% of its body weight in milk.
2. What emergency care is required for abandoned/orphaned neonate rabbits?
Baby rabbits are prone to developing hypothermia. If a kit’s temperature is below 36°C, it needs to be warmed slowly by placing in a warm water bath (37-38°C) while keeping its head above water. Once warmed, dry the kit with a lightly heated towel and keep it warm with a hot water bottle wrapped in a towel placed under the litter.
Hypothermic (cold) juvenile rabbits are often dehydrated and require warmed subcutaneous fluids at a veterinary hospital. If the kits are too weak to suckle, seek veterinary attention immediately.
3. How do I hand-rear abandoned/orphaned neonate rabbits?
As rabbit milk is very high in fat and protein, a specific rabbit milk replacer is required. Commercial products such as Wombaroo rabbit milk replacer are recommended. A home-made recipe follows that may be used if no commercial milk replacer is available:
- 1 part evaporated milk
- 1 part water
- To 1 cup of the above mixture add 1 egg yolk and 1Tbsp of corn syrup.
This mixture should be warmed to approximately 37°C and the rabbits fed 2-4 ml three times a day. Make fresh mixture up for each feeding. The easiest way to feed the baby rabbits is by using a teat-topped bottle. These are available from most pet supply stores.
Newborn rabbits drink only milk for the first 10 days. From 10 days small amounts of hay and veggies may be offered. By day 20 the kits should be nibbling the solid food, and by day 28 no more milk replacer should be offered. If there are still concerns about hydration, water can continue to be offered in a teat-topped bottle.
4. What other care may be needed for abandoned/orphaned neonate rabbits?
Baby rabbits will require help urinating and defecating in their first week. You will need to gently rub their anogenital (anus) region with a wet cotton swab or ear-bud after feeding.
Keep records of how much each kit eats at each feeding time, and weigh each one at the same time every day. Kits which repeatedly consume insufficient amounts of milkor lose weight need to be taken to the vet.
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