If the kid has lost its mother and is less than 1 month old, it will not be able to survive without help. We must provide milk-based feeding for lactating kittens and a quiet and warm place.
After the month is up, she can survive without help, but it is advisable to supplement her feeding with alfalfa hay and feed with milk for lactating kittens.
If the mother lives but does not seem to be caring for him, we must ensure that this is the case. Rabbits only nurse their young once or twice a day. This is done very quickly and can last less than a minute. The rest of the time the rabbit will stay away from the nest so as not to attract predators.
Before intervening, the condition of the rabbits must be checked. If the rabbits are being fed they will have a full belly, smooth and hydrated skin, they will be sleeping peacefully in the nest. If the rabbits have an empty tummy, they are wrinkled, bluish in color and they move restlessly looking for their mother, it is very possible that the mother is not attending to them.
What to do to feed them
Before we start bottle-feeding, if the mother is healthy, we can try several things to feed her.
We will prepare a nest in which you can easily enter to feed them. A box neither too high nor too low so that it can be easily entered but the rabbits cannot escape, with a towel at the bottom, hay and hair left by the mother in the nest will suffice. We will put the mother and the nest with the rabbits in a quiet place.
Before touching the rabbits, we should wash our hands with disinfecting soap and rub our hands with hay and then on the mother so that she doesn’t miss the smell.
If the mother has not yet fed them in 24 hours, we will gently hold her on them while we calm her so that the rabbits can feed. If the rabbits manage to suck once, it is very possible that the next time the rabbit will do it by herself.
If the mother is not available we will have to bottle feed the rabbits. We will keep them at an ambient temperature of around 25ºC in a quiet place with no noise and little light. Using an electric blanket is not recommended as it can be dangerous if the temperature gets too high. A cotton cloth may be sufficient shelter if there is more than one rag. If there is only one kid, you can put a bottle of hot water covered with a cloth as long as the kid has the chance to escape if it is too hot.
The first thing to consider is if the rabbits have taken some milk from the mother. The first day’s mothers produce colostrum, which contains antibodies. If the rabbits have not taken this colostrum, they have little chance of survival. In this case, we must add powdered colostrum to the bottle.
The milk most suitable for young rabbits is milk for lactating kittens, although it is much less nutrient-rich than rabbit milk and may need to be fortified (explained later).
We should also get a bottle with the smallest nipple possible (they sell them for kittens). There are some very small teats that can be attached to a syringe but they are difficult to find and it is usually necessary to go to online stores.
We must sterilize the teats and the bottle before each use, so it does not hurt to get a sterilization kit.
During the first 10 days of life, we will try to manipulate the rabbits as little as possible outside the feeding hours.
Newborn rabbits need to be stimulated to urinate and defecate. We will perform this task by rubbing your genital area with a cotton ball moistened in warm water for 15-30 seconds before eating. If it doesn’t work we will try after eating as well. If we don’t get him to relieve himself, the kid can die.
It is important to weigh the rabbits every day with a kitchen scale. If they are not gaining weight, we should enrich the milk or increase the amount of milk daily. If necessary, shots will be added.
From 2 weeks the rabbits will begin to eat hay and feed. We must continue giving them milk with colostrum (in the next section we explain what milk to give them) until 8 weeks.
When they are 3 weeks old, we must supply the rabbits with bacteria typical of the intestinal flora of rabbits. For this, we will mix fresh cecotropes from an adult rabbit, healthy and free of parasites with milk and we will give it to drink. This must be repeated for 3 days. If we cannot get cecotropes we can do it with normal poles but in this case, the sowing is less efficient and will have to be prolonged longer.
When the time comes to weaning (6-8 weeks), if the rabbits ask for milk, they can be given more and more diluted in water until they lose interest.
Milk and drinks
They should not be given cow’s milk.
The most suitable milk is infant formula for lactating kittens, but not just any. Some of those sold are of low quality. It is best to choose one that has a colostrum like Lactadiet. Or if not, a quality brand like Royal Canin, KMR or similar. Colostrum can be purchased separately lyophilized in some pharmacies.
The mixture will be made with half the water that is indicated for kittens, that is, twice as concentrated. Rabbit’s milk is much richer in fat in other nutrients than cat’s milk, so it must be made more concentrated. If 60 ml of water is indicated for kittens for each envelope of powder, we will do it with 30 ml of water for each envelope.
Another way to enrich milk would be to add kitten milk, made with its normal amount of water, goat’s milk and cream (50% kitten’s milk, 50% goat’s milk and a pinch of cream). This way of enriching is more complicated, the above is better recommended.
At first the rabbits will not want the substitute milk, but little by little they will get used to it and drink it with more desire.
The kid must take between 60-90% of his weight in milk a day. If it weighs 50 gr, you should take between 30 and 45 ml a day, divided into as many doses as necessary, with a minimum of 3. You can go 8 hours without eating at night if you have taken enough during the day.
The milk must be at a temperature of 40 ºC at the time of taking it. It can be measured with a disinfected thermometer. The milk will be kept warm by immersing the container in hot water. It can be kept in the fridge for one day between feedings.
Bottles, teats, and syringes must be disinfected before each feeding.
To avoid accidents if the rabbits stir or jump, it is advisable to get down to ground level. We will use a towel to support the raccoon.
We will hold the horizontal rack with one hand and the bottle or syringe with the other.
If they resist drinking they should not be forced as we could introduce liquid into their lungs. We will wet the lips of the kid with the milk so that they can suck them. You should never squeeze the bottle or push the plunger of the syringe hard, the child should suck. The plunger of the syringe must be pre-lubricated with a pediatric suspension of simethicone ( WHOLE – SILICONE )
If everything goes well and the kid hooks to the teat properly, he will be able to drink the entire feed in a few seconds.
Be careful not to give too much liquid in one shot. Gas, pain, and discomfort can occur.
If the kid sniffs liquid, it can completely block the airways. In this case, the only thing we can do is try a version of the “Heimlich maneuver” that consists of holding the kid between the palms of the hands with the back and neck securely, raising the hands up with the kid’s nose towards up and down with a firm motion (not too fast) towards our feet. The idea is that the internal organs press down on the diaphragm with their weight and that this pushes the air out of the lungs. If all goes well, this air will expel the liquid that blocks breathing. It will be repeated 2 or 3 times if necessary. When the kid starts moving we will stop.
Once the airways are cleared, the vet should be consulted about the need to start some prophylactic treatment with antibiotics to avoid aspiration pneumonia.