Raising orphaned baby rabbits can be challenging, but with the right care and nutrition they can grow up healthy and strong. An important question for any new bunny owner is what kind of milk to feed a baby rabbit. Can you give a baby rabbit cow's milk? What about goat's milk? Here is a comprehensive guide on caring for orphaned baby bunnies, including how to make a milk replacement formula, bottle feeding techniques, and how often to feed the kits.
This comprehensive guide covers everything you need to know about feeding and caring for orphaned baby rabbits. You'll learn why cow's milk is dangerous, when goat milk might work, and the best milk formulas specifically created for baby bunnies. We'll also provide tips on warmth, stimulation, supplements, bottle feeding techniques, and monitoring growth. With dedication and these proven methods, you can raise healthy, thriving orphaned kits.
Do Baby Rabbits Need Milk?
Like all mammal newborns, baby rabbits require milk from their mother during the first weeks of life in order to survive and thrive. In the wild, rabbit mothers nurse their kits once or twice a day. The milk provides essential nutrients like protein, fat, and calcium to help the babies grow.
Mother's milk also contains antibodies that protect the kits from diseases while their immune systems develop. If a baby rabbit is orphaned or abandoned, they will not survive long without a proper milk replacement diet. Providing the correct artificial milk formula is crucial for their health and development.
Baby rabbits should continue to receive milk until they are 4-5 weeks old and ready to transition to solid foods. Weaning usually begins around 3-4 weeks of age, when kits start exploring solid foods like hay and pellets under the watchful eye of their mother. By 5 weeks old, they should be fully weaned off milk and eating mostly solids.
So in summary, yes baby bunnies absolutely require milk in their first weeks of life in order to grow, develop, and survive. If they do not receive proper milk from their mother, then an appropriate replacement formula needs to be fed to orphaned kits.
Can Baby Rabbits Drink Cow Milk?
Straight cow's milk is not an appropriate substitute for rabbit milk. There are a few important reasons why cow's milk should be avoided for orphaned baby rabbits:
- Cow's milk contains too much fat, protein, and minerals for a baby rabbit's digestive system to handle. This can lead to diarrhea and intestinal upset.
- The lactose in cow's milk is difficult for baby rabbits to digest. They need milk that contains sugars they can easily metabolize.
- Cow's milk does not provide the proper nutritional balance baby rabbits need. It is deficient in some vitamins and minerals that rabbits require.
- The antibodies and immune factors in cow's milk are bovine-specific and will not protect baby rabbits from disease.
Feeding straight cow's milk can lead to malnutrition, dehydration, digestive issues, and increased mortality in orphaned baby rabbits. It may seem like an easy solution, but cow's milk should never be given to baby bunnies under any circumstances.
Can Baby Rabbits Drink Goat Milk?
Goat's milk is a slightly better option than cow's milk for baby rabbits, but it still does not provide optimal nutrition. Here are some things to keep in mind about feeding goat milk to orphaned bunnies:
- The fat and protein content of goat's milk is closer to rabbit milk, but still not an exact match.
- Goat's milk is easier for baby rabbits to digest than cow's milk.
- Goat's milk can cause soft stools in some baby rabbits due to its high fat content.
- The nutritional balance still is not ideal, especially for calcium and phosphorus.
In a pinch, diluted goat milk can potentially be used to feed orphaned baby rabbits, but only for a very short time. The dilution reduces the fat and mineral content to prevent digestive upset. However, goat milk lacks the proper nutrition for long-term feeding of rabbit kits.
There are better options for milk replacement formula, so goat milk should not be used as the sole food source. At most, it can serve as a temporary supplement if rabbit-specific formula is unavailable.
So What Milk Can Rabbits Drink?
The best milk for baby rabbits is a commercial milk replacer formula specifically designed for rabbit kits. There are powdered formulas that can be mixed with water to provide balanced nutrition in the right quantities for baby bunnies.
Two common brands of rabbit milk replacer are Wombaroo and Fox Valley. When mixed properly these formulas will contain the ideal amounts of protein, fat, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals. This supports healthy growth and development.
The ingredients are also optimized for a baby rabbit's digestive system. The milk sugars and proteins are derived from rabbit-safe sources. Probiotics are even added to some formulas to support good gut bacteria.
Rabbit milk replacers provide the right nutrition and health protection that cow/goat milk lacks. They are formulated based on the unique needs of orphaned baby rabbits. This species-specific approach makes them the best and safest choice.
Caring for an Orphaned Baby Rabbit
Raising an orphaned baby rabbit properly requires more than just the right milk formula. Here is a quick guide to caring for baby bunnies without their mother:
- Shelter. House orphaned kits in a warm, draft-free enclosure like a box or cage with soft bedding.
- Hydration. Always provide fresh, clean water in a shallow bowl or dish.
- Stimulation. Gently rub the babies' genitals and bottoms with a warm cloth to mimic their mother's licking to encourage urination/defecation.
- Warmth. Use a heating pad, Snuggle Safe disc or bottle filled with warm water to provide external heat sources.
- Handling. Handle the babies as little as possible and for short periods to reduce stress.
Monitor orphaned kits closely for signs of dehydration, low energy or failure to thrive. Take any concerns to an experienced rabbit veterinarian. Providing attentive, nurturing care gives baby bunnies their best chance at survival.
What to Feed Baby Rabbits without a Mother
Mother's milk is essential, but orphaned baby rabbits also need appropriate supplementary foods as they grow and transition to solids. Here are some guidelines:
- At 2 weeks old, provide unlimited grass hay. Orchard grass or oat hay are good choices.
- At 3 weeks old, introduce a very small amount of alfalfa hay.
- At 4 weeks old, provide a tablespoon of plain rolled oats daily.
- At 5 weeks old, can offer limited rabbit pellets, lettuces and vegetables.
Avoid sugary treats, fruits, grains or protein-rich foods too early. Introduce new foods slowly to allow the babies' digestive system to adjust. Keep providing unlimited grass hay as the staple diet. Consistent access to hay promotes good lifelong eating habits.
Weigh the kits regularly to ensure they are gaining weight as expected. Notify your vet if appetite decreases, weight loss occurs or diarrhea develops when adding new foods.
How to Make a Baby Bunny Milk Substitute
In an emergency situation without commercial rabbit milk replacer, you can make a temporary DIY formula. This basic recipe can be used for a day or two until proper replacement milk is obtained:
- 1 cup goat milk
- 1 egg yolk
- 1 tbsp whipping cream or half-and-half
- 1 tbsp honey
- 1 drop vanilla extract
- Pinch of salt
Mix all ingredients together well. Refrigerate unused portions immediately. Warm small amounts to about 100-102 F degrees before feeding. Throw away any uneaten milk after feedings.
This homemade recipe lacks many key nutrients baby rabbits need. It should only be used on a very temporary basis. Always transition orphaned kits to a proper commercial milk replacer as soon as possible.
How Often Should Orphaned Baby Rabbits be Fed?
Young orphaned rabbits need to eat frequently to mimic natural nursing patterns. Here are some feeding frequency guidelines:
- 0-2 weeks old: Feed every 2-3 hours around the clock, at least 8-10 times in 24 hours.
- 3-4 weeks old: Feed every 3-4 hours, around 6-8 times in 24 hours.
- 5-6 weeks old: Feed every 5-6 hours, around 4-5 times in 24 hours.
Nighttime feedings are important in the first weeks to keep energy up and prevent GI stasis. As the kits grow, they will better tolerate longer intervals between meals.
At each feeding, allow the babies to eat their fill for 5-10 minutes. Never force milk into their mouths. Watch for them to turn away when full. Smaller, frequent feedings are ideal for proper digestion.
Weigh the kits regularly at the same time each day. Watch for consistent weight gains of 2-5 grams per day. Adjust feeding amount and frequency if weight loss, dehydration or diarrhea occur.
How to Bottle Feed Orphaned Baby Rabbits
Bottle feeding is the most effective way to get milk into orphaned baby rabbits. Follow these tips for successful bottle feeding:
- Select a small pet nurser bottle with a bunny-sized nipple meant for kittens or puppies.
- Gently open the rabbit's mouth and insert the nipple in from the side.
- Tilt the bottle at a 45 degree angle to control the milk flow.
- Let the kit drink until it decides it is full and starts refusing more.
- Never squeeze the bottle to force milk into the mouth.
- Clean nipples thoroughly between uses to prevent illness.
Patience is needed when first teaching orphaned rabbits to take a bottle. Try dipping the nipple in corn syrup then lightly touching it to the mouth to encourage licking. With time most get the hang of it. Consult a vet if feeding difficulties arise.
Bottle feeding orphaned baby rabbits takes commitment but is very rewarding. With attentive care and proper techniques, newborn bunnies can be given an excellent chance at survival and a happy life.
There's nothing quite as adorable as a litter of newborn baby rabbits—their tiny paws, fuzzy fur, and squeaks of joy are irresistibly cute. But when a mama rabbit dies, gets sick, or abandons her kits, those babies are left extremely vulnerable. Without proper care and nutrition, orphaned infant rabbits have little chance of making it through their critical first weeks of life.
So if you find yourself with a nest of motherless baby bunnies, what should you do? Can you just run to the store for some cow's milk to feed them? Or give them regular goat's milk instead? Unfortunately it's not that simple—the wrong kind of milk can make baby rabbits very sick.