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Handfeeding Baby Rabbits

Squeak, one of our does, had trouble producing enough milk for one of her litters.  She hadn’t had any trouble before, and I don’t know why she had trouble that time, but she did.  My helpful friends at RabbitTalk advised me to give her some rolled oats (old-fashioned plain oatmeal) lightly coated in blackstrap molasses.  Blackstrap contains many nutrients, and can help a doe produce the milk her babies need.

It did indeed help, but she still didn’t produce enough.  So I started looking up recipes for baby bunny formula.

I found several.  The ones I came across first involved using canned evaporated goat’s milk, and then mixing it with water, syrup, and egg.  I found in some forums, however, advice regarding powdered goat’s milk for rabbits — to mix it at double strength.  Baby rabbits drink so very little.  Their mother’s milk is very rich, to give them all the nutrition they need in a very small amount.  There were remarks that the kits raised on the formula with the water grew up looking malnourished, so I figured maybe that was the reason.

Evaporated goat’s milk is already double strength, so I took the formula recipe I had, cut it in half so I wouldn’t have as much waste, and eliminated the water.  This is what I ended up with:

1/2 Cup evaporated goat’s milk
1 egg yolk (kinda hard to cut in half, so…)
1/2 Tablespoon corn syrup

Cow’s milk is not as easily digested as goat’s milk, so that’s why most recipes suggest goat’s milk.

I poured a little into a small bowl, and then microwaved it for 5 seconds at a time, stirring it well with a fork each time I stopped the microwave, until it was really warm — a little too warm for the bunnies, because by the time I’ve stirred it the last time, taken it to the table, and filled an eyedropper, it’s cooled to just about the right temperature.

I fed it to them with an eyedropper, only about half a drop to a whole drop at a time. Handfeeding babies takes a while, but I don't want them to aspirate the formula. The divided upper lip rabbits have makes it especially easy for the formula to travel to the nose. We were always ready with a towel to quickly dry their little noses. They don't make much noise when they get their noses full of formula. They just suddenly start opening their mouths and moving their heads around. Sometimes they'll produce the quietest sneeze you can imagine.

Some of the babies were very receptive right from the start, and very eager to drink the formula. Others took a while to get past the fact that this HARD GLASS THING IS TOUCHING MY LIPS! Once they realized that hard glass thing had yummy food in it, though, they were fine with it.

I fed them about two half-droppers before they zonked out.  They didn’t look as full as they would with a full feeding from Squeak, but I was only trying to supplement her, not replace her.  As they grew, I increased the amount.

Then we discovered that one of Squeak’s ten babies (about 4-5 days old) was missing. After looking as well as we could on the chutes and around in the dark, we called it quits and hoped he had burrowed into a pile of dropped hay we had let grow too large. The next day, we started pulling the hay out slowly, and, sure enough, he was in there, alive and frantic! He was pretty warm, thanks to all the hay and the fact that this litter managed to fur out early. He was hard to hold, he was so desperately searching for food! So we gave him a formula feeding, too.

Hungry, hungry baby bunny sucking on his toes!

"Stop taking pictures and feed me... I'm about to dry up and blow away here!"

ILoveBunnies commented that the formula looks like egg nog. I started thinking… double-strength milk, egg yolk, sugar… it basically IS egg nog!  Guess I’d better hold the nutmeg, though.

One of my more resistant popples, finally won over by the formula.

Look at the little tiny teeth! We had to hold this one's head until he realized he was getting fed.

One of the two babies that did stuff himself on the formula. They both started looking like toads with wide, flat bellies. That's when I learned that you can overfeed them, and it will cause their organs to shut down. The other one died, but I withheld a couple of feedings from this one, and then limited his intake after that.

A couple of them got really messy!

I realized that it wasn't always the same ones that were smallest, and I wanted to keep track of the ones I had started supplementing, to see how they did in comparison. I took some enamel (I can't remember if it was nail polish or some of Shay's train enamel), and marked the backs of the ones I had started out with.

Now they would stand out from their littermates!

The enamel stayed on for a couple of weeks, long enough for me to see that the supplementing ultimately helped them catch up to the others. When butchering day came, they were all almost the same size.

Here’s a video of three of them at three weeks, not long before I stopped supplementing them (it’s at Vimeo, which I’m new to, so hopefully it works).  Enjoy — it is pretty funny:

embedded by Embedded Video

vimeo DirektHand Feeding Baby Bunnies

Here’s a link to the video:  https://vimeo.com/46203530


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2 Responses to “Handfeeding Baby Rabbits”

  1. stacy says:

    Thanks for the video that was cute. They are little pigs. LOL

    • Miss M says:

      Glad you enjoyed it! They were hilarious… that last one I had to hold a lot of the time. He was so enthusiastic, he was just about stuffing the eyedropper down his throat if I didn’t, at least until he’d had a couple!