Newborns in Trouble
There are rare times, when for a variety of reasons, a mother (doe) will not nurse its litter of babies (kits). Hand-raising is time-consuming and requires commitment and determination.
To lose a kit to starvation or birth trauma is NOT acceptable to me.
And that is a personal decision. Not everyone will go to the extremes I
take, and that's OK. So this is based on 20+ years of my experiences of hand-raising kits, advice from friends, and research through literature and many websites on birth traumas and hand-raising kits.
Feel free to email me directly for additional advice.
I have many "tricks in my nestbox." Below are listed only a few ideas.
1. DOA (Dead On Arrival):
Gently massage the baby with a soft paper towel, giving small compressions to the ribs to stimulate the heart and/or get air into the lungs. Often this massage revives the kit. It is imperative the kit be kept warm.
2. Cold kit:
Hold body, not head, under gentle warm flow of water and massage body. Once it starts to move, dry it and place it in warm shoebox of saved rabbit hair and "rabbit heater" (fill sock 1/2 full raw rice grains & tie knot in open end, microwave for one minute, shake to distribute heat. DON'T OVERHEAT. It radiates heat for hours). I have even slipped a baby inside my bra if I couldn't get inside the house right away (yeah.... yeah.... laugh.... but human body heat works wonders)
Bottle feed 2-4 times a day
1. Milk replacement recipe, mix well:
1 can goat's milk (grocery store)
1 egg yolk
I don't dilute the goat's milk. I use a small baby animal bottle (see your vet or feed store), cutting a slit (not hole) in the tip. As the baby presses down, milk comes out easier. You may have to apply some pressure to the bottle to help force milk out.
I heat up the bottle of milk (take lid/nipple off) in the microwave...low heat, 2 seconds at a time till milk is lukewarm. Shake and test temperature just like human baby's formula on your wrist. Kits only drink warm milk. As soon as it cools, they stop drinking.
And there's the technique: apply too much pressure, too much comes out flooding the baby's mouth and nose; too little pressure, and the baby gets worn out trying to get milk. Keep a paper towel handy to dab its nose and mouth as needed. Oh yeah...warm the bottle up again for the second helping. DON'T WARM UP THE CAN OF MILK. I throw out any unused milk in the bottle. I keep the canned milk for 7 days in the refrigerator.
You can see the ingested milk through the skin of the kit's tummy. Gently tickle its stomach and genital area with a moistened cotton ball to stimulate urination/ elimination (yes... you're imitating the doe's licking behavior). Return the kit to its nestbox and it will dig down into the fur/hay/aspen shavings and go soundly to sleep. That's your reward for a job well done! :-)
2. Probiotic gel is fed to the kits every 2-3 days for the first 3 weeks. It can be found at any feed store. It is actually sold in the beef section in huge syringe-looking tubes under various brand names. It contains lactobacillus (LB)...which is the good bacteria needed in a rabbit's hindgut. LB is also in most rabbit feeds, Doc's Rabbit Pellets Enhancer, Winner's Edge, etc. The more ingested...the better.
It's a paste, so mix a teeny, tiny bit (1/8 tsp.) with some goat's milk and feed it to the kit with an eye dropper. I buy Probiotic paste/gel from feed stores and give doses to ANY rabbit in stress, sluggish appetite, ill, etc. It only helps...never hurts.
If you can...order some tiny tubes just for feeding kits. Benebac Beneficial Bacteria pet gel: 4 half ounce tubes for $5. It's great for feeding babies probiotic gel right out of a baby-size tube!
3. Beware of ENTERITIS!!!
This is a disorder due to over-loading the hindgut and lack of roughage in the diet. Enteritis is a danger when switching babies over to solid foods. Symptoms are a smelly, loose stool and hearing a "sloshing" sound when the baby is gently shaken. It is very hard to treat this condition. And it is highly contagious. The probiotic/Benebac helps prevent this ugly baby-killer illness. But it usually is best to immediately cull the kit, change out the nest materials, and sterilize the nestbox to prevent the other babies from getting enteritis. Wash your hands between handling different animals to prevent the spread of enteritis beyond this litter.
4. At 3 weeks of age, after milk feedings, I offer the baby a variety of solid foods, adding a new item every 3 days: leafy timothy hay, steamed/crimpled oats from the feed store, Doc's Enhancer pellets, plain Cheerios, and tiny chunks of raw sweet potato or banana. Be sure to feed the probiotic/Benebac to help digestion of the solid foods. I have even fed Gerber baby foods (spinach, and sweet potatoes, banana). The goal is to get the baby on solid foods and weaned off milk by age 6 weeks.
The nestbox of orphaned babies is kept in the house...never sees its mother again. She may dig the babies out, attack them aggressively, or even throw the nestbox around the cage if it's returned to her. Go figure that behavior!!
I put this nestbox in a tall rabbit carrier (keeps our dog and cats away from it), cover it with a towel, and then store it in a secluded, non-drafty place in the house. Single orphans get a stuffed rabbit for some company. Good Luck!!
Dr. Susan Brown. Care of Orphaned Rabbits.
Pat Vanecek. Caring for Baby Bunnies.