Caring for Newborn Rabbits

The following information is provided as a reference source in cases where either wild or domestic baby bunnies are involved. The Third Edition of HOUSE RABBIT HANDBOOK was used in compiling some of this data.

Wild Rabbits
In most cases where individuals have found rabbit nests in their backyards, the nest HAS NOT BEEN abandoned by the doe. The mother returns to her nest once every 24 hours, normally in the middle of the night. The doe does not want to call attention to her nest, therefore you should not see her. If you have removed the babies from the nest, please return them. Their best change for survival is to be nursed by their natural mother.

A false perception is one involving human scent on baby rabbits that have been handled. The doe will not abandon her babies because of human scent.

If the nest is in an open area of the yard and subject to disturbances (by another pet, etc.), cordon off that area with garden fencing, leaving sufficient space for the doe to go in and out of to feed her young. If it is grass cutting time, you will probably have to forgo cutting that portion for two weeks until the nest is vacated.

Baby bunnies that have squirmed away from the nest are probably about 4 weeks of age. The doe will return at night to feed them. You can weigh them on a food scale — if they are gaining weight, they are being fed. Another suggestion is to place a string over the nest at night, if it has been disturbed the next day, you can be assured that the mother is nursing them. If you are positive the mother is dead, please read the next section.

Domestic Rabbits
Your female rabbit has become aggressive lately and has started to shred newspapers and pulling out her fur. This is a good indication that she is about to give birth within the next 48 hours.

A nestbox will be needed, roughly 12 x 14 inches in diameter. You may use a cardboard box to serve as a nesting box. Punch some holes in the bottom for drainage and cut the front portion of the box to within 4 inches of the bottom. This allows the doe to easily move in and out of the box, and will prevent the newborns from falling out. Line the box with clean hay and/or shredded newspaper. Let the mother-to-be do the rest. If you find that she has had the babies outside the nest, carefully scoop them up in your hands (normally there will be a “well” of papers etc. that they are laying on and simply slip your hand underneath and place them in the “well” depression of hay in the box. Remember to place the fur in the nesting box (under and over them). As the
babies may be in more than one location be sure to verify that you have moved all the babies to the nesting box.
The mother rabbit should get unlimited pellets and fresh green vegetables high in vitamin A (kale, broccoli, spinach) to maintain her health and the babies while nursing.

Keep the room temperature at 70 degrees. If necessary, attach a heating pad to one side of the nesting box. But remember, this area may overheat quickly, so monitor it closely. The babies normally bunch together for warmth — either all together or in multiple groups.

Within 24-48 hours of birth, you will know if they are being fed by the mother. If no noises are being emitted from the nesting box, mom is doing her job. If, however, you hear constant meowing (something like a kitten meow), the mother probably is not nursing and you must act.

A miracle nipple on the end of a syringe will work best but you can also use a kitten feeding bottle. Slice off the thick rubber portion at the end of the nipple. Enlarge the size of the hole to allow a very fine spray to emerge when the bottle is squeezed (not tiny or big drops).

Eye droppers are not recommended as they allow too much liquid for the babies to swallow, which can cause aspiration or pneumonia. Since babies lose their suckling instinct within roughly 48 hours, it is important to get them on a nursing bottle quickly.

Canned kitten formula from a pet supply store can be used in a pinch but a species appropriate formula like Fox Valley Day one 32/40 or Wombaroo Rabbit Milk Replacer. Lactobacillus Acidophilus (from a human health food store) and heavy cream can be added to the formula. It will not hurt the babies and may help some of them.

Feed daily total quantities in either two larger feedings or several smaller feedings:

  • Newborn – 6 cc KMR formula mix
  • 1 week – 15 to 25 cc KMR formula mix
  • 2 weeks – 25 to 30 cc KMR formula mix
  • 3 to 4 weeks – 30 to 35 cc KMR formula mix

Wash the babies faces and bottoms with warm water and cotton after each feeding to stimulate elimination.
Babies can nibble on dry alfalfa or a few pellets as soon as they show an interest. Formula consumption levels off at about 4 weeks, but do not rush weaning.

If you used a cardboard container as a nesting box, it will become soggy and soiled. Change the box as it becomes necessary.

Frequently the babies start coming out of the nest within 2 – 3 weeks so be prepared for them to roam a little bit. If they are in a metal dog crate, make sure that the sides are blocked so that they do not get out of the crate. This is especially important if you have other pets in the household.

Call your local wildlife rehabilitation officer in cases of wild rabbits to find out any additional information regarding wildlife regulations. See for a list of local licensed wildlife rehabbers.