Every once in a while tragedy strikes. The doe could develop young doe syndrome. You would find the mother rabbit suddenly dead in her cage, with her baby kits being just a week or 10 days old. Or, the doe could develop mastitis, refuse to nurse the newly born rabbits because of the pain, or herself die from bacterial toxins.
Whatever the disaster, feeding baby rabbits now falls to the rabbit farmer. This is what today's lesson is all about. How to nurse your newly born baby rabbits.
A domestic rabbit feeds her babies for about 8 weeks, gradually decreasing the frequency of feedings until they lose interest. Your baby bunnies will start to nibble on pellets and solid food at about the age of two to three weeks, but this does NOT mean they are ready to be weaned. At such a point where they no longer "need" the mother for food, they are said to be weaned. This physiological point arrives roughly about 4 weeks of age.
Rabbit mothers nurse their babies for approximately 5 minutes a day. Both wild and domestic rabbit mothers will be in the nest early in the morning and then again later in the evening. The milk is very rich in nutrients and the babies “fill up” to capacity within minutes.
You can pick up the babies and see if they are feeding by checking the size of their stomachs and skin health.
The only way you will know for sure if the kits aren’t being fed is by inspecting their tummies to see if they are skinny looking and wrinkled or they look round and smooth. Babies who haven’t been fed will have wrinkly, shrunk-in tummies. If the tummies are bulgy and round, then the mother rabbit is taking good care of her babies. That means you don't have to do anything, just continue giving the mother unlimited supply of fresh water and more food so that she may be able to generate more milk for the babies.
In my case the mother is still alive, but one of her babies is way too adventurous. The 1 week old baby often strays from the nest box very early morning before the mother feeds the rest of the kits. All bunnies will have round and plump bellies, except this notorious baby rabbit. I am therefore forced to nurse the baby rabbit myself to save it from starving to death. The first thing is to wash your hands with soap so that you don't contaminate the mother's nipples with any bacteria or germs.
I then take the mother and make her sit on my lap and hold her nicely and firmly with my right hand. I use my left hand to spread fur apart and open at least two of her nipples which are naturally hidden with fur as a natural way of protecting them from germs and bacteria. With that same left hand, I gently pick up the baby rabbit and put its head to one of the nipples. Immediately the kit will start suckling. If the rabbit is very hungry, it often makes a huge sound while suckling and it will suckle aggressively. Normally the baby rabbit will feed for less than five minutes before the mother attempts to drift away – a sign that she feels her baby is now full. It is also natural and normal for the baby rabbit to search for another nipple while feeding. It will be searching for a nipple that emits more milk.
You should repeat this whole process once or twice a day when need arises. Once the baby rabbit is 10 to 12 days old, its eyes will eventually open, and feeding it once a day will be adequate. When the baby rabbit turns 3 weeks old, it will start eating solid food – hay mostly and a few pellets – and mother rabbit will continue supplementing the kits' food with milk for 3 to 5 more weeks. Avoid feeding the baby rabbits with greens such as vegetable leaves until they are 6 to 8 weeks old and when you do, give them sparingly, otherwise they will likely succumb to bloating.