Hand-feeding a baby rabbit is not for the faint of heart. In fact, the job is very time consuming and is harder to do that what it may seem to be. Not only do you need to know what to feed them, you must also know what the correct amount is for each stage of growth. While under feeding will cause them to starve to death, over feeding them can cause pain and gas, making the baby sick. As you continue to read this article, we will provide the answers that you need to successfully hand rear bunnies.
Choosing the correct bottle is as important as having the correct formula to put into the bottle. For novices, the choices can be confusing. The typical pet-nursing bottles that are sold for kittens and other small animals, but that is not the end-all be-all options you have to work with. There are various types of Syringe feeders, Q-Tips, and sponges. There really is no right or wrong option; however there are right and wrong ways to use each of them.
1. PET NURSING BOTTLES: These can be bought at very low prices, in most stores which offer pet supplies. The important thing to note is the nipple size and the fact that you have to make the hole in the tip of the nipple. If you make the hole too large, the babies can get too much formula and possibly aspirate. On the other hand, if you make the hole too small, the babies may not be able to get enough formula and will, essentially, starve to death. Therefore, the best method is to use a pair of (tiny, very sharp) fingernail scissors. Push the tip of the scissors up thru the “inside” of the nipple, and continue pushing until half of the blades are pushed thru and out of the tip. When you pull the scissors out, pinch the tip of the nipple to expose the cut area, and then working from the outside, using the center of the cut as your center-point, snip an “X” into the nipple. This may need to be repeated to get the hole to produce an effective amount of formula. You will ‘have it right’ when you test the cut. To do this, put water in the bottle, replace the top and nipple, and hold it at a 60-80* downward angle. Pinch the end of the nipple with mild to moderate pressure. If a droplet easily comes out, you are in good shape. If water comes out without the need of pinching the nipple, your hole may be too large. And if there is no droplet or if it requires you to pinch hard and only results in a small drop, then your hole is too small.
2. Q-TIPS: These are readily available at most any store, and cheap. This option may be best and easiest to use for newborn babies. You will want to use the type with rounded tips, not the pointed type that are made for make-up applications. There are two ways to use a Q-tip to feed with. The first method is to dip the cotton-end of the q-tip into the formula and allow the baby to suck the formula off of it, then re-dip and repeat. It may take a few tries to get the baby to understand that it is being fed this way, so don’t be too forceful, but keep trying until he gets the hang of it. The next method is to cut a q-tip in half and insert the stick end into the end of a syringe. Note that the syringe will need to snuggly hold the stick, or formula will just pour out when you try to use it to feed with. Otherwise, when using this method, you will need to be sure the q-tip has the plastic, hollow type sticks. This allows you the option of putting the formula into the syringe and allowing it to flow down and soak the cotton, therefore eliminating the need to continually dip the q-tip into the formula so many times.
3. SPONGES: Buy a pack of make-up wedge sponges. Dip the thin end into the formula, and use the corner edge for the baby to suckle from. This is a better option than the q-tip dipping method in regards that you don’t have to continually dip the sponge. Instead, once the baby has drained the formula from it, you can put more formula on the center of sponge with a dropper, which will then be absorbed down into the tip the baby is nursing from.
4. SYRINGES: Syringe feeding can save a lot of time, however the type of syringe you use will play an important role in how the formula will be accepted.
(A) Rubber Ear Bulb Syringes work very well for this, as the tip of the syringe and the stick of the q-tip are relatively a good fit, although you will still need to “push” the stick into the syringe so that it is snug and will not be easily removed from the baby while suckling from it. One notable caution is to pay attention to the cotton. If the baby chews it and frays the fibers apart, you will want to switch q-tips to a new one; to prevent the baby from swallowing the stringy fibers which might cause choking or GI problems such as Wool Block.
(B) Sponge-Syringes can be used in similar method as described above. If opting for this method, you would push the end of the syringe into the wider/thicker end of the sponge about half-way down into the sponge. The notable caution with this method is also as described above; being careful to watch that the baby doesn’t chew any bits of the sponge off, which could result in choking or GI problems.
(C) Slip-On Nipple Syringes would be your other choice. These can be used with several types of feeding tips, from silicone tube to nipple. One of the more popular types is called a “Miracle Nipple”, which slips over the end of a slip-tip and luer-lock syringe as well as small pet bottles, and offers a pre-made hole in the tip (available on Amazon).
Now that we have covered the container options, let’s look at what you will need to put into the bottle. There are several milk replacers, including kitten formula that can be used safely when feeding orphaned bunnies. However, the best option is Goats Milk, which can often be found in the dairy section of your local grocery or Health Food type stores. Next, you will need Heavy Whipping Cream; also available in the dairy section of your local grocery store. And then you will need Colostrum. The most commonly used form is the powdered “Kid Colostrum” for Goats, which can be found at most feed-supply stores. Once you get these items home, you will need to gather up a few tools: A container with a lid that closes (such as a Water Bottle) for mixing and storing, a small bowl and coffee cup, ½ cup measuring cup, and measuring spoons at 1 Tablespoon and ½ Teaspoon. Now, you will want to put the formula mixture into the mixing/storing container. Here is the recipe: ½ Cup Goat Milk, ½ Teaspoon of Heavy Cream, and 1 Tablespoon (or 10 emptied capsules, if using that form) of Colostrum. Now in your coffee cup, fill half full of water and microwave for 1-3 minutes, or until the water is at a low boil. While waiting on the water to heat, close the container with the formula and shake vigorously for several minutes. Once the water is hot, pour a small amount of the formula into a the small bowl.
(Tip: A washed out single-snack size yogurt cup works great!)
Then place the small bowl of formula into the hot water. This will heat the formula without scorching it, while allowing you to have a more consistent watch on the temperature of the formula. As you would with an infant child, you want the formula to be room temperature or luke-warm. The babies will not drink cold milk, and if it’s too hot it could cause them to be burned.
Feeding the babies
When feeding baby rabbits, there are several things that should be noted. First of all, the babies only need to be fed twice daily – morning and night. And after every feeding, for at least the first 2-3 weeks, each baby will have to be stimulated to potty. It is easily done! Just gently rub or pat the genital/anal area with a warm, soft cloth; however, failure to do so could be fatal. Otherwise, here is a simple chart to show you the amounts that baby bunnies should be fed.
0-1 week of age: 2 – 3cc per baby
1-2 weeks of age: 4 – 7cc per baby > resist over feeding and do not allow the baby to eat too fast, as this could result in aspiration or gas build up
2-3 weeks of age: 7 – 14cc per baby > start introducing hay
3-6 weeks of age: 14 – 17cc per baby > gather a cecotrope from any healthy, parasite free adult rabbit and mix it into a small amount of the formula for 2-3 consecutive days; may need to syringe-feed this as most babies do not like it and will often try to refuse to eat it… this is an important step in establishing healthy flora in the babies guts. *After this cecotrope introduction, you can also begin offering small amounts of pellets to the babies.
Help! My baby bunny is aspirating
One of the most common forms of death by hand-fed baby animals is due to aspiration. This is the term used for a baby who failed to correctly swallow formula. The liquid gets into the lungs and quickly, the baby “drowns” and dies very quickly while you watch helplessly. But guess what! You CAN save your baby. This is how: place the baby, lengthwise, on the palm of your hand (head at fingertips, tail at wrist) and close your other hand securely over the baby, so that you are cupping it in your hands. Now, standing up, raise your hands to chest level and swing downwards, between your knees. Do this swiftly, but not harshly, and be very careful not to drop the baby. Doing this acts like doing the Heimlich Maneuver, causing the fluid to be forced out and restoring the ability to breath.