How To Tell If Your Mother Rabbit Is Feeding Her Babies: What To Do About It

Knowing how to tell if your mother rabbit is feeding her babies will help you have more successful litters in your rabbitry.

First let me be clear that I am not talking about wild rabbits, I am going to go over how to tell if the baby bunnies in a litter of domestic rabbits are getting fed. Likely if you are thinking something isn’t right they are probably 14 days of age or less.

By the end of this post, you will learn how to recognize a kit that is not getting fed and know how to step in if you see baby rabbits not getting fed and eventually have more surviving kits.

Babies not getting fed, I would say, is the most common reason for losses in a rabbit litter. Next to the mother stepping on the babies. You can read this post if you are having trouble with that.

How Do I Know If My Mother Rabbit Is Feeding Her Babies?

The short answer is well-fed babies bellies are round and full. And they will not have any wrinkles across their back. ( You can see an example below) wrinkled skin yes, but not what I call dehydration lines.

underfed baby rabbits
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You Might Not See Your Mother Rabbit Feeding The Babies

First off I want to clarify that just because a baby is not getting fed it’s not that the doe (mother rabbit) means to. Sometimes babies don’t always get to momma quick enough and one sibling will take over all the food. I have seen this happen several times in my 20+ years of raising rabbits.

Also just because you never see the doe with her kits does not mean that she has not fed them.Which is why learning what the kits should look like is very important.

Female rabbits will stay in the nest box to feed their rabbits for maybe 5 minutes tops. If all of the babies don’t get their food in that time. They will miss out until next time.

mother rabbit sitting in a nest box

Seeing the doe feeding her babies underneath her has only happened MAYBE 3 times in the 15+ years I’ve been raising french lops. I NEVER saw the Jersey Wooly’s in with their babies which is the breed I raised before that.

Unless you have been raising rabbits for a long time you most likely will not see the does feeding her babies.

Every once in a while I have a doe that just does not care and will jump in the nest box with me there but that is not common.

Most of the time, if I go out to the caging area while she is feeding, the mother will jump out of the nesting box. If I see her before she jumps out I will come back in a few minutes after she is done feeding. Her natural instinct is to run away from her nest to get any kind of danger to follow her and not cause harm to her babies. That is amazing, isn’t it!

baby rabbit

Reasons Your Mother Rabbit Might Not Be Feeding Her Babies

There are a few reasons why a rabbit might not feed her babies. Some you can fix and some you can’t. Try to fix what you can and don’t feel bad about what happens.

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If the mother is a first-timer she may not know what to do.

A perfect example was a doe I had this summer. She had her first litter and she didn’t try to feed them for a full 24 hours. I also think it took a while for her milk to come in. But it started slowly and I was able to hand feed the babies until her milk came in.

But once it did she was a pro. She kept all of her babies fed and they are now big and strong.

If your doe has milk you should be able to see milk around her nipples on the underside of the doe.

If she has milk and you think the doe isn’t feeding her litter You might have to help the kit’s nurse a time or two and after that, her instincts should kick in and she should feed the babies on her own. 

baby rabbit on a scale

What To Do If Your Doe Does Not Have Enough Milk

Secondly, the mother may not be making enough milk. Or she may not have any at all. (Her not having any at all is far less common than just not having enough.)

It’s not easy to tell like a cow or goat. Rabbits will have little puddles around their teets if it is full of milk. If the doe has picked a lot of fur for the nest that will help you see them. But if not you may have to feel around for soft little “bags” of milk on her underside.

If you need to trim the hair around her belly then do that. But just be careful not to cut your doe. Using buzzers like these will be safer than scissors.

With rabbits, it is very hard to make their milk come in. Your rabbits should never be without water but make sure the doe has more than enough.

Something new I have been doing over the past year or two that is making a huge difference is putting electrolytes in the does water right after she gives birth. Check these out on Amazon. It has done really well with increasing milk production for my does.

The does are a lot more energetic and the babies are getting fed more.

One or two babies are hogging all the food.

If most of the litter is doing well but there is one or two rabbit kits that are significantly bigger than the others… this is probably your issue. I have had a litter of 9 go down to 4 because one rabbit has taken food from the others. The only thing you can do in this situation is hand-feed the kits that are not getting enough in hopes that they will gain enough strength to compete against the other.

What Does An Unfed Kit Look Like

They will have flat and shrunken bellies and will have lines across their back like you see in the image below.

You likely have a few (or one in particular) of the stronger babies pushing the weaker ones out of the way. Mamma does not have control over who gets there first.

Example: Here is a perfect example of one baby being a total food hog. She was double the size of the babies until she left. The owner touched base with me after she was over a year old and she is still huge.

How To Help The Kit Nurse If The Mother Rabbit Is Not Feeding Her Babies

If you decide you need to help one of the baby rabbits nurse here are a few ways to do that. You may need a second pair of hands if they are available to you. If not don’t worry you can do it!

Step 1: Take momma out of her cage and place her on a table high enough you don’t have to bend over. Or you can grab a seat for yourself to sit on. – As shown below.

french lop doe sitting on a table with carpet under her.

Step 2: Feel around on the doe’s belly to see if you can feel where there might be more milk. Her milk runs along her underside from her behind her front legs all the way back to the front of her hind legs. If she is full of milk you will feel little puddles around her nipples.

If she is really full then this should be easy to feel. If not you just might have to guess or clip some fur to make it easier to see.

If you really don’t see any then you might have to hand-feed a baby until she produces milk. Or consider fostering the kits to another doe.

Step 3: When you are ready to help the baby feed. Take the baby you want out and hold him up to the does belly close to one of her nipples.

Just be sure to hold on to the kit well because it will go crazy when it smells Mama or feels her fur touch it. Even if the kit is weak it will surprise you how much that critter can move.

If the kit is not getting any milk it will most likely detach and look for another nipple.

If the baby’s belly does not look like it is filling up or it doesn’t have moisture around its lips, try to help it get some more. If you get the belly to the point where it does not look sunken in that will do wonders for the kit.

If you are not having any success with helping a baby rabbit nurse then you will need to try hand feeding.

Supplies To Hand Feed A Baby Rabbit

I keep milk replacer on hand I LOVE this type of whiskies cat milk. It has a sweet taste and is thicker than other milk replacers I’ve seen.

It can also stay un-refrigerated for quite a while if not opened. The small container makes it great for using a little bit for one litter rather than throwing out a whole carton of goat milk after you’re done. Check this kitten milk out on amazon.

The droppers and AMAZING and help feeding the babies really well.

How To Hand Feed Baby Rabbits

Step 1: Hold the baby as shown below. Place the dropper (or syringe) in the side of the baby’s mouth just enough to get it to open. I like to go from the side of the baby’s mouth so you are not damaging the teeth.

hand feeding a baby rabbit

It’s also easier to get them to open their mouth that way. They should be more willing to suck with the feeder out in front of them. Just test it out to see what works.

Step 2: Drop a bit of the milk in. It might take a little trying to get the baby to feed. Once they realize it is food they tend to be more willing.

Don’t worry about overfeeding. The babies who get fed well from mom have huge bellies so try to get them to eat at least 2ml or 2 flent droppers full.

full belly of a baby rabbit

If they stop wanting to swallow they often are tired and are dozing off. Just come back and do some more later.

How Long Will You Have To Hand Feed Baby Rabbits

If the doe starts feeding them you shouldn’t have to do it for more than a week. Domestic bunnies are weened by 3-4 weeks and cans tart testing out solid foods by 2.5 weeks. 

When the kits are getting old enough to try pellets I wouldn’t give them anything but rabbit pellets until they are a few months old if they are hand-fed babies.

When babies start to go south they need to be fed quickly. Keep supplies on hand so you can fix the problem anytime you need to. I have to feed babies in almost every litter of french lops. 

A recent litter where one baby fought for his food and quickly outgrew the others. Two of the 5 it was raised with probably would not have made it if I had not hand-fed them until they got strong enough to feed on their own.

Once I learned how to start feeding the babies and spotting the ones that needed it everything changed. I started having far more kits survive and ultimately more income.

Start learning how to feed them just enough to give them a boost. You can do it. Promise cross my heart.

FAQs about baby rabbits not getting fed

How long can baby rabbits survive without being fed?

If your doe has not fed her kits at all you will start to see a decline after about 18-24hrs. If your kits are not fed in 48hrs they likely will not survive.

How long do baby bunnies stay with their mother?

A mother will feed her babies until they are 3 weeks old. Occasionally they will try to sneak a feeding but its rare for the mom to let them do it. The doe will often start getting frustrated with them by 6 weeks and sometimes she may even get aggressive with them. Legally you shouldn’t sell them sooner than 8 weeks old. But check with your state to make sure.

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What to feed baby rabbits without a mother?

If you lose the doe then hand feed them with whiskies cat milk as described above.

How do I force my mom and rabbit to feed her babies?

You can’t force her to do it. You have to teach her what to do. Try to trigger her natural instinct. Thinks like helping the kit’s nurse (as explained above) and plucking fur around her belly and from her dewlap will help.

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  1. Tanya Horst says:

    I don’t feel any teats on my momma rabbit. She is a first time momma so I’m just worried her babies won’t live. She had 4 but 2 have died. What can I do to help or should I not be worried?

  2. The milk probably has not come in. They are not super big so try moving her fur around to see if you can find them and see if they look swollen. Get some milk replacer and a dropper to feed the babies.

  3. I would also encourage the babies to help nurse if you can like I described in the post. The momma may not know what to do.

  4. Lisa McEldowney says:

    Hi, I have a doe that has 2 little kits way smaller and looking deprived so I fed them the catmilk formula and they look better after. I’ve done that twice now. How long should I continue it?

  5. I have a litter of 9 bunnies. A couple of them are over twice the size of the smallest ones. I know my bunny feeds at night. Should I remove my well-fed bunnies for a night to make sure the underfed bunnies can get milk with out being pushed out? When I try to get mom to feed them during the day- there does not seem to be enough milk.

  6. I have had this a few times. Those babies are hogging all the food. What I do is take momma out and let those try to nurse and catch up without having to push past the other babies. If they don’t get a little help they could pass if they lose enough strength.

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