What’s the Best Technique for Hand-Rearing Orphaned Wild Rabbit Kits?

April 15, 2024

Baby wild rabbits, also known as kits, are quite challenging to care for, even for the most enthusiastic wildlife enthusiasts among us. Orphaned rabbits are particularly vulnerable, and their survival rates are often low due to their complex dietary needs and the stress of being separated from their mother. Still, with proper understanding and the right techniques, you can increase the chances of survival for these adorable bunnies. This article will discuss the best methods for hand-rearing orphaned wild rabbit kits.

Recognising the Need for Intervention

Before you decide to step in and help, it’s crucial to determine if the baby rabbits truly need your intervention. Often, what appears to be an abandoned nest is not. Mother rabbits often leave their babies alone for up to 12 hours at a time while they forage. If you come across a nest of wild rabbits, don’t be too hasty to pick up the kits.

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To determine if the mother is still around, you can lightly place some string or twigs over the nest in a recognizable pattern. If the pattern remains undisturbed after 24 hours, this likely means that the mother hasn’t returned and the kits may need your help.

Preparing for Hand-Rearing: What You Need

Hand-rearing baby wild rabbits requires specialized equipment and supplies. Here’s what you will need:

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  • A warm, quiet, and safe space for the rabbits to live
  • Kitten milk replacer or a specialized rabbit milk formula
  • A feeding syringe or dropper
  • A digital scale for weighing the rabbits

It’s important to note that cow’s milk, human baby formula, and puppy or kitten formula (unless specified to be safe for rabbits) are not suitable substitutes for a rabbit-specific formula. These do not meet the nutritional needs of baby rabbits and can cause significant health problems.

Feeding Orphaned Rabbit Kits

Feeding is one of the most critical aspects of rabbit care. The survival of orphaned rabbit kits greatly relies on providing the right nutrients in their diet.

You should feed the kits a formula that mimics the mother’s milk. A specialized rabbit milk formula or a kitten milk replacer are the best options. The formula should be warmed slightly before feeding, but not hot. Always test the temperature on your wrist first, just as you would a baby’s bottle.

The amount of milk the kits will need depends on their age and size. In the first week of life, a rabbit kit may need just one milliliter of milk per feeding, twice a day. This will gradually increase to up to 15 milliliters per feeding by the time the kit is three weeks old.

It’s crucial to feed the rabbits slowly and to let them swallow between mouthfuls. Over-feeding or feeding too rapidly can cause a rabbit to aspirate, or inhale milk into its lungs, leading to potentially fatal pneumonia.

Care and Monitoring between Feedings

Between feedings, it’s essential to keep the kits warm and comfortable. Rabbits are very sensitive to temperature changes, so aim for a consistent temperature of around 65°F (18°C).

You also need to monitor the kits’ weight daily to ensure they are gaining weight appropriately. A healthy kit will gain weight steadily – a lack of weight gain or sudden weight loss is a sign of illness and requires immediate veterinary attention.

Another important part of rabbit care is stimulation for elimination. Unlike human babies, rabbit kits cannot urinate and defecate on their own for the first few weeks of life. You’ll need to stimulate them to do so by gently rubbing their genital area with a warm, wet cloth after each feeding.

Introducing Solid Food and Weaning

At around two weeks of age, you can begin to introduce solid food into the kits’ diet. Start with small amounts of alfalfa hay, and gradually increase the amount over time. By the time the kits are four weeks old, they should be eating a diet consisting primarily of hay, along with smaller amounts of fresh vegetables and rabbit pellets.

Weaning is a gradual process that should take place over several weeks. It’s important to ensure the kits are eating enough solid food to sustain them before completely eliminating the milk formula. By the time the kits are six to eight weeks old, they should be fully weaned and ready to survive on their own.

The process of hand-rearing orphaned wild rabbit kits is certainly not an easy task. It requires a lot of time, commitment, and careful attention. But the reward of seeing these fragile creatures grow into healthy, self-sufficient adults is truly worth every moment of effort. Your hands are the closest thing to a mother’s care these kits will receive, and your dedication can be a lifesaver.

Emergency Measures: Temporary Care Before Professional Assistance

Sometimes, it may not be possible to immediately get professional help when you discover orphaned rabbit kits. Therefore, knowing some temporary measures to keep the kits safe and healthy is essential. Heating pads, for example, are very valuable in these moments. Baby wild rabbits, especially those with their eyes still closed, cannot produce enough heat, and hypothermia becomes a significant risk. Placing a heating pad set to low under half of their enclosure allows them to move towards or away from the heat as needed.

Another critical thing to remember is hydration. If a wildlife rehabilitator is not immediately available, you can offer the kits rehydration solution. Mix a quarter teaspoon of salt, a quarter teaspoon of baking soda, and one tablespoon of sugar into a cup of warm water. Give them only a few drops at a time, avoiding force-feeding.

Keep the babies in a dimly lit, quiet place in a box lined with soft cloths. Do not handle the kits more than necessary as they are very delicate and can get stressed easily.

While these are important temporary measures, remember that they are a stop-gap solution. The goal should always be to get the kits to a licensed wildlife rehabilitator as soon as possible.

Releasing the Rabbits Back Into the Wild

Once the baby rabbits have been successfully hand-reared and are fully weaned, it’s time to consider reintroducing them into the wild. Of course, this process should be gradual and carefully monitored.

Before release, ensure that the kits are healthy and have been eating well. They should have their eyes open for several days, be able to hop away quickly, and show no visible signs of illness or distress.

The ideal time to release wild rabbits is in the early morning, as this gives them the whole day to adjust to their new environment. Choose a release site with plenty of cover such as bushes or tall grass, and ideally, a source of water nearby.

Gently place the kits near the chosen location, ensuring they can access shelter quickly. It’s important not to linger too long as your presence can stress the kits and attract predators.

Keep in mind that even after release, the kits may not immediately leave the release site. Nonetheless, the goal is to let them adjust at their own pace while minimizing human interaction.

Conclusion

Hand-rearing orphaned wild rabbit kits is a challenging but rewarding task. From correctly identifying orphaned kits, preparing for their care, feeding, monitoring their health, and finally reintroducing them to the wild, the journey is laden with hurdles but also filled with immense satisfaction. It’s important to remember that professional help from a wildlife rehabilitator should be sought whenever possible as they have the necessary training and resources to provide the best care for these vulnerable beings.

In the end, the goal of hand-rearing these precious beings is not only about survival but also about ensuring they can thrive in their natural habitat. As wildlife enthusiasts, we must always remember that we are just temporary guardians for these wild creatures, and our ultimate goal should be to help them return to where they truly belong – the wild.