How To Care For Newborn Bunnies

Raising rabbits is a great project to have on your hobby farm or homestead but learning how to care for newborn bunnies is not easy. There are so many nuances that can cause issues with your newborn kits. 

But I’m going to walk you through everything you need to know to have successful litters and avoid as many issues as possible. 

If your doe has not given birth yet make sure to read this post about the process of rabbits giving birth so you will be ready and have a better idea of what to expect during delivery.

Let’s start with the environment that makes caring for baby bunnies easier.

Ideal Temperature For Baby Bunnies

While adult rabbits like it as cool as 50 degrees this is not good for newborn rabbits. Since they are born without fur the kits need to stay in the nest that the mother has made for them until the temperatures are 75 degrees outside. Once they start to get their own furn around day 5-7 they are not in as much danger BUT they still can not handle frigid temperatures.

6 week old baby french lop

The Kits Need A Nest To Live In

You should have given the expecting doe a nest box filled with straw and she should have started pulling fur and lined the whole she made with the fur for the kits to stay warm in once they were born. If she had them outside the nest you could pick them up and put them in the nest.

The best thing to make nesting boxes out of is wood. Cardboard boxes are too flimsy and the doe will likely rip it apart while in her nesting frenzy as the kits are being born. They are also easily knocked over which could cause damage to the kits. 

7 day old baby rabbits

What To Do The Day The Kits Are Born

Once the kits are born and the mother rabbit (doe) seems to have settled down you should look over the kits and the nest to make sure there are no dead kits in the nest. If they are left in the nest box this can cause the rest of the kits to move away from the cold bunnies and be spread out all over the nest and the doe may step on them or they won’t be able to stay warm.

If the nesting material is wet from the after birth you can remove the material and replace it with dry straw. But try to save as much of the fur that the doe has pulled and put it back in the nest with the kits. The fur is what helps the kits stay warm until they get their own.

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How To Tell If Newborn Babies Are Dead

Its not a matter of if but when you will have dead baby rabbits when you are raising them. Its hard to deal with at first but if you keep going you will learn to handle it a little better each time.

For the most part, it is pretty easy to tell if the baby rabbits are dead. But the one area where it gets a little tricky is if the kits have gotten out of the nest and are cold.

If the kits are simply cold and stiff it is possible they could be warmed up and they could make it. But if the kit is flat-looking and relaxed then they are definitely passed. If you do find dead baby bunnies you are going to have to remove them because the mother won’t do that and if they are left too long they will start to decay and attract bugs to the nest.

How To Tell If Your Mother Rabbit Is Feeding Her Babies

It is going to take about a day before you are able to tell if the doe is feeding her kits. A well-fed baby bunny should look like the image below. They should have a round belly that looks like a water balloon.

a well fed newborn bunny

Depending on the number of rabbits in the litter they may not be quite as full but the does milk should pick up in a day or so. 

If the kit is starting to wrinkle up or get dehydration lines on its back and its belly is looking flat or sunken you may have to help feed the baby rabbits.

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.

14 day old baby rabbits

How To Hand Feed Baby Rabbits

You don’t want to if you don’t need to BUT here are the steps to hand-feed a baby rabbit if you think your mother rabbit isn’t feeding her kits.

Here is the best rabbit milk replacer I have found.

  • 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.
  • 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.

What To Do If Your Mother Rabbit Is Stepping On Her Babies

If you are not ending up with any dead babies I wouldn’t worry about it too much. Because it will look like the doe is stepping on her kits more often than not. This mostly becomes an issue with larger breed rabbits and the doe is accidentally killing the kits by stepping on them. 

The best way I found to solve this is to have a rabbit nest box that is large enough for two full-size rabbits of the breed you raise to be able to fit inside the box. This gives the doe space to jump in the box without landing on the kits. 

How Long Do Baby Rabbits Stay In The Nest

Ideally, you want to try and keep your kits in the nest box until they are 3 weeks old or so but you may have a bold kit or two that decide they want to come out beforehand. The main reason for keeping them in the box is so they don’t get stepped on or injured by their feet going through the wire. 

If the baby rabbits leave the nest around 2.5 weeks then keep an eye on them and if they are doing ok you may have to turn the nest box on its side so they can get in and out on their own. 

baby rabbits peaking out of the nest box

As for the nest itself, the kits should stay in the straw and under the fur that the doe has pulled until their eyes open which happens around days 10-14. After this, they might start doing a lap or two around the nest box and head back to the hole that the doe has for them. 

Note: If your litter has fur and was born it the middle of summer you may see them surface and lay on top of the nest and this is ok. On days that are 80 degrees or better, it’s normal for the babies to surface. There is no need to cover them back up. Just make sure they find their way back to the nest at night.

baby rabbits sitting in a nest box

When Can You Separate Baby Rabbits From The Mother

The kits are done nursing around 3-4 weeks and should be trying out solid food by then. They don’t “need” the doe once they are transitioned over to water and feed.

You can separate the kits from the mother around 6 weeks if you need to thin the litter out so they have enough space. My giant breed rabbits often need to be spaced out so they are not competing for food. However, they can stay with the doe as late as 10 weeks but I would not let them stay with her any longer than that. 

I have seen this cause rabbits to be harder to handle and they also don’t make good pets. This also depends on the doe and her temperament if the doe is tolerating her kits at this point. It is her job to teach them it live without her and some does may get grouchy with their kits at a certain point and you don’t want to leave them with her for too long. 

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What Do Baby Rabbits Eat From 0-8 Weeks Old And How To Introduce New Food

Here is and overview of what to feed baby rabbits until they are ready to leave your farm.

Newborn baby rabbits nurse solely on the mother’s milk until they are 2.5-3 weeks old. I will start to offer rabbit pellets around 2.5 weeks old in a shallow dish and watch the kit’s response. If they are into the feed and start nubling away at it then I now they need it and will leave a small amount with them in the nest box. 

3 week old baby rabbit

Remember that we are trying to keep them in the nest for their own safety. So we don’t want them to get hungry if the doe (female rabbit) has started to wean them early.

The rabbits should not be nursing at all by 5 weeks old. You may find them occasionally trying to sneak some from momma but the doe should be discouraging it. If not then she is likely a push over but it should decrease by the time the kits are 6 weeks old. 

DO NOT give your baby rabbits fresh greens or anything other than clean water and rabbit pellets until they are 12 weeks old. I know this is a popular thing but this is so dangerous for young rabbits and there is not nearly enough protein in the vegetables for your rabbits to survive on. 

You want to feed your rabbits commercial rabbit pellets that have 16-18% protein. Most pet rabbit feed at pet supply stores is often much less. Which is why so many people have issues. Your rabbits will not fill out as well. Mana pro, blue seal, Heynold rabbit feed (the brand I feed my rabbits) and a few others will do just fine.

When Do Baby Rabbits Open Their Eyes And What To Do If They Are Late

 Baby rabbits should start to open their eyes at 10-14 days of age. Around day 10 you MAY see a small crack where the eyelids are starting to separate. You probably won’t see the actual eye until day 14. Now with that said if the litter is born in the cooler months they may be focusing on staying warm and they aren’t adventuring out around the nest. This causes their eyes to get stuck together and even build up what we would think of as sleep dirt in their eyes. 

This is important for you to get a damp cloth and wipe the dirt away to encourage them to open their eyes. If they don’t open their eyes like they should this can cause an eye infection. Read this post to learn how to hand the kits not opening their eyes on time.

doe holding straw in her mouth.

Caring for newborn rabbits takes a lot of work and careful monitoring to spot problems. But if you notice something doesn’t seem right and you do what you can to fix it you will do fine.

If you know you want to raise rabbits for the long hull then make sure to check out my rabbit breeding made easy guide to help you with the most common rabbit breeding struggles.

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