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.


By Chelsea Mattson

Rabbits are intelligent creatures that become very bored, very easily. Boredom often leads to destructive behaviors that may cause property damage. This is affectionately known as *bunstruction.* Digging, foraging, and chewing are how these animals explore and personalize their world, and they absolutely need outlets for those instincts. Here are some options for providing rabbits with enrichment that satisfies the need for bunstruction in a way that is safe for rabbits and acceptable for humans.


Rabbits love to eat. Having to work for their meals will help keep them fit and their minds active. Examples of foraging methods include:

Snuffle mats - These are either hay mats with lots of tufts on them, or fleece mats with lots of ruffles sewn onto them. The fleece mats are marketed for dogs, but can provide a bit of a puzzle for your rabbit. Just sprinkle their pellets, some dried herbs, or pieces of their normal treats into the mat, hiding them in the fabric for your bunny to sniff out. These can be DIY’d by crumpling up a fleece blanket and scattering the chosen reward in the folds.

Treat Balls - This is another item often marketed for dogs, but rabbits can learn to roll around a ball with a hole to dispense their pellets. (There are brands for small pets as well.) This toy can be a great way to feed pellets to those rabbits who like to eat their meals in a hurry. Slower feeding prevents choking, and rolling the ball around gets the bun moving. Movement increases gut motility, which is helpful in preventing GI Stasis.

Scatter feeding - Ditching the bowl and just spreading pellets or greens across the floor is a great way to encourage slower eating, get the bun moving, and keep one rabbit from hogging the bowl or plate. You can scatter in a designated area to monitor feeding, or hide snacks throughout their space to encourage more stimulation.

Stacking cups - Babies love stacking stacking cups, but so do rabbits! Putting a few pellets, some forage, or a treat or two into a stack of baby stacking cups will make their brains work hard. Also, rabbits really seem to like to throw things or knock them down.

Chew toys - Chew toys are essential to a rabbit’s dental health, and also a great outlet for frustration! Some examples of acceptable chews are loofah, balsa wood (or other safe wood), kiln-dried pine, apple sticks, mulberry wood, willow balls, hay wreaths, dried sunflower stalks, bamboo, seagrass twists, and plain cardboard. Rabbits will throw their chews around, play with them, and gnaw away their troubles. Please make sure you’re offering a variety every day. More importantly, make sure your chews are safe! There are a variety of toxic woods, unsafe pet store chews, and unsafe ingredients out there.

Puzzle Toys - Yet another dog toy! Rabbits can learn to use dog puzzle toys in order to get to food rewards. Choose ones with pull-out cups or easy-to-move parts so that they can dig or toss their way to the goodies you add.

DIY Foraging Toys - A paper bag, toilet paper tube, paper towel tube, or a plain cardboard box can be turned into a foraging toy with the addition of some hay. Just stuff them full, add a treat, pellets, or dried herbs if you’d like, and let your bunny figure it out.


Rabbits very much enjoy digging. It’s an instinct to burrow and make themselves comfortable, and a great way to release frustration. Here are some alternatives to them tearing into your carpet...

No-pill Fleece Blankets - A pile of no-pill fleece blankets, or even just one balled up in their pen or hidey house, makes a great digging material. Rabbits will love digging, pushing, or moving the blankets around and making a cozy bed.

Dig Boxes - There are a variety of safe materials to put inside of a box to provide a digging space for your rabbit. Some of these include: Paper crinkle bedding, Cardboard (tp rolls, torn boxes, etc.), No-pill fleece scraps, No-pill fleece blankets, plastic ball pit balls, pet-safe vine balls, Organic soil without added fertilizers, Carefresh Bedding, Straw or hay. Please make sure the materials you choose are safe! DO NOT use sand in a dig box, as it potentially could cause impaction if your rabbit ingests it while grooming themselves, or an infection if it sticks to their genitals. Please supervise the use of a dig box to ensure the rabbit isn’t ingesting unsafe materials.


Rabbits love to hide. They especially enjoy it if their houses have at least 2 or more exits, as they don’t like to be cornered.

Wood houses - These should be made of a safe wood, such as kiln-dried pine. Please make sure that the house has more than one entrance or exit, and is made without nails, screws, or toxic glues. They can be as simple as a box with holes, or as extravagant as a bunny castle.

Cardboard - Plain cardboard boxes (no adhesives, labels, coatings, or tape) are a safe material to DIY houses for rabbits. Add a couple openings to the box and let your rabbit become a bunstruction worker!

Fabric Tunnels - Rabbits enjoy a good cat or toddler pop-up tunnel. After you remove any hanging bits, insert a fleece blanket or two into the tunnel for them to dig around in inside. Bonus points if you put their cardboard boxes or wooden houses at the ends, so that they have a burrow system! Please make sure they aren’t chewing the walls, and remove the tunnel if they try to ingest it.


Some items in a rabbit’s cage are for after the bunstruction has taken place. When it’s time to take a break, here are some things to help them feel more comfortable...

Stuffed animals - A safe stuffed animal can provide comfort to a rabbit who just wants to cuddle. Please make sure that you are giving plushies without parts that can be chewed off, such as plastic eyes, whiskers, or loose threads. If your rabbit starts to chew the toy, please take it away.

Bumper / hop-n-flop beds - Beds with bumpers on either side provide a feeling of comfort to a rabbit because it feels like they’ve got others around them. Rabbits are social creatures, and cuddling helps them to get a better rest. This feeling can be simulated with one of these beds.


Rabbits can be trained to perform several tricks. They can learn to come when called, give high-5s, spin, stand up to beg for treats, play find-the-treat with a few cups, or many other activities. Spend time with your rabbit and see what natural behaviors you could ask for.


Rabbits are social creatures. Another rabbit is a playmate, cuddle buddy, and dinner date. Having a rabbit friend to interact with is a great way to reduce boredom. When rabbits are lonely, destructive behaviors can increase out of frustration. Proper bonding is important, so please make sure to reference knowledgeable parties on how to do this safely. Also, make sure you are spending plenty of time interacting with your rabbit! They need your love, too.

A note on edible and inedible materials:

The safest materials for ingesting on this list are grass hay and safe woods. We already know that anti-pill fleece fabric and plastic are unsafe to ingest, and if the rabbit chews them they should be removed from the pen. However, it is also important to note that large amounts of cardboard or paper should not be ingested by rabbits. Most often, a rabbit will rip and gnaw at cardboard and paper, and maybe a small amount will be ingested. If your rabbit becomes greedy and starts deliberately eating large amounts of cardboard or paper, please choose a different material for their enrichment. Ingesting a significant amount of cardboard or paper can run a risk of intestinal blockages. Please make sure the cardboard and paper you are offering has minimal ink (printing/color), isn't bleached, has no coatings or sprays, and has no tape or adhesives.


Hay! – The GRASS Roots of the Diet

Hay is essential for gut and dental health. It should make up the majority of the rabbit’s diet. Rabbits should have access to fresh grass hay at all times. They should never run out. Refresh/top off at least once daily and expect for some to be wasted every day. Timothy, meadow, orchard, oat, brome, bluegrass and fescue are all great options. Alfalfa is a legume hay, not a grass hay. Providing several varieties helps to build a robust cecal flora which will make your rabbit more resilient to GI upset. Since rabbits are natural foragers, they prefer to eat their hay from the ground as opposed to hay racks and feeders. They also like to have hay piles in several different spots in their space. Consider stuffing small empty boxes with hay and leaving them around their space.

Pellets – Nutritional Supplement

Young Rabbits

Young rabbits require extra nutrients while they’re growing. Feed unlimited plain pellets to young rabbits. Begin to limit pellets to ½ cup – 1 cup daily around 9 months.

Adult Rabbits

1/8 – 1/2 cup of grass hay based pellets daily – plain pellets, no muesli type mixes with colorful treats or seeds. We recommend Oxbow Garden Select, Supreme Science Selective House or Grain Free, Sherwood, and Small Pet Select.

Senior Rabbits

Often as rabbits age, they can have trouble maintaining their weight. When this happens, they will require extra calories to keep them healthy. Consider increasing their normal amount of pellets or switching to a senior alfalfa based formula.

Long hair breeds will also require extra nutrition/pellets to keep them healthy and maintain a normal weight.

Some vets tell people not to feed pellets or to just use them as treats. HRS Chicago does not agree with this because 1) they don’t explain fully that each rabbit is individual and some need more nutrition than others 2) if you are only going to feed hay and greens it has to be about 3 different types of hay daily and 8 different types of greens daily (mixed to make a huge salad) to ensure complete nutrition and 3) their weight has to be monitored to make sure as they age they maintain muscle mass. HRS Chicago feels that the best way to ensure complete nutrition is to feed limited amounts of high quality, grass hay based pellet food.

Leafy Greens – Variety is the spice of life!

Rabbits don’t eat just one type of green veg in nature so we shouldn’t be offering just romaine for them every day. They greatly benefit from multiple types of leafy greens in the diet.

Volume – for adults, feed about 1 cup of greens per 5lbs of bunny.

Baby rabbits can start eating salad with mom when they start eating solids, around 3 weeks.

Below are some safe greens for your rabbit:

  • Spring mix
  • Arugula
  • Basil
  • Bok choy
  • Fennel
  • Escarole
  • Endive
  • Parsley
  • Cilantro
  • Dandelion greens
  • Broccoli rapini
  • Carrot tops
  • Kale
  • Endive
  • Watercress
  • Beet tops
  • Dill
  • Romaine
  • Green/red leaf lettuce

NOTE: While dietary calcium does NOT cause stones or sludge like many people believe, we recommend limiting or omitting spinach from the diet as it is high in oxalates.

It’s best to avoid fruit and sugary vegetables(carrots, pumpkin, sweet potatoes, etc) entirely. Rabbits have specialized digestive tracts to allow fermentation to take place for fiber to be digested by bacteria and broken down into absorb-able forms of nutrients. So the fiber that rabbits eat does nothing in the small intestine. It travels to the cecum where fermentation takes place. The bi-products of that digestion are volatile fatty acids. When you feed an appropriate ratio of fiber to carbs, or non-digestible fiber to simple sugars, a certain ratio of volatile fatty acids is produced.

When you overfeed fruits in the rabbit a few things happen to the digestive tract.

  1. The simple sugars are absorbed in the small intestine and affect appetite/motility hormones, most specifically motilin, which when carbs are overfed is under-produced and GI motility is slowed down.
  2. The ratio of VFA’s produced by the cecum changes, because the population of bacteria changes to favor bacteria that prefer simple sugars. This lowers the pH of the cecum which causes
  3. The veriform appendix to overproduce bicarbonate to buffer the cecal contents. Rabbits that are fed too high of carbohydrates have grossly larger appendixes, are more prone to GI stasis, and may become overweight or have problems with excessive cecotropes.

Water from a clean crock/bowl is best for optimum hydration. Never use a bottle for rabbits as they can cause dehydration, stasis, kidney disease, chipped teeth, choking and neck pain.

NOTE: For rabbits that have chronic GI problems, it may be beneficial to completely remove pellets and/or salad from the diet. Some rabbits are sensitive to grains (found in most pellets) and some cannot tolerate any fresh greens. Please consult your veterinarian with any questions about transitioning to modified diets.


  • Potatoes
  • Avocado
  • Chocolate
  • Onion/Garlic
  • Muesli
  • Millet
  • Nuts/seeds
  • Bread
  • Corn
  • Dairy/yogurt drops


  • Kaytee
  • Purina
  • Vitakraft
  • Small World
  • Rosewood Naturals

Click here to download our Rabbit Diet Guide.

© House Rabbit Society of Chicago