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How to Hand feed.


Page 2 Important Information >

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The Kit must be kept warm.

A cardboard box set on top of a heating pad does well. The heating pad does NOT go inside the box. Place a hand towel or a small baby receiving blanket inside the bottom of the box. Bunch it up so that if the kit feels too warm it can crawl higher up the blanket to a cooler spot. Mostly they just pick the warmest spot in the box. Place a  smaller flannel or cloth on top of the kit in order to keep the warmth in. Make sure you don't buy/use a heating pad that automatically turns off after 2 hours. I set the heating pad to medium for weak, cool kits and low if they are try to distance themselves from it. For older kits that are mobile, you can put the heating pad under half the box so they can regulate their temperature.

Note From Gretchen Fathauer a wildlife rehabber in Ohio;
I used one of those electric candles with a 4 watt bulb. Inside a small carrier, that was enough to keep things warm. It was at one end so they could move closer or further away to regulate their temperature. I had towels folded; they often burrowed under a couple layers. If I had the box centered over a heating pad, they couldn't go to a cooler or warmer section--whichever they wanted to be in.

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Weak Kits

If babies "of any kind" are weak, give them a couple drops of sugar water. A vet taught me that trick many, many years ago and it's a life saver. Sugar can be absorbed as soon as it enters the mouth. It also sends a signal to the brain and the most limp weak babies perk up enough to nurse a bit. Make sure you have the milk replacer warmed and ready prior to giving sugar water to perk them up. Perking them up doesn't last long. 

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How much to feed and how often

Mother rabbits feed only once or twice a day, but newborn orphans do better being fed every  4-6 hours, since this isn't mothers milk but a manmade product.

The first formula feedings mix 3-4 parts Pedialyte to 1 parts formula inorder to rehdryate the kit and get it used to the manmade milk. Then increase to 2-3 parts Pedialyte to 1 parts powder formula. 
By the second or third day you may feed 100% formula (one scoop of Enfilac powder to two scoops warm water).
If you can't get human infant Pedialyte for the local drug store then use water.

The directions on the Esibulac Puppy milk replacer say not to water down the formula but my large animal vet and the wild life rehab center (also run by a vet) both say it's better to water the formula down to allow the babies to adjust.

I'd give a newborn baby bunny 0 - 4 days old as little as 
.25 to .5 cc per feeding every 4 hours. It's extremely hard to feed a newborn.

It's easier to feed  kits 4 to 7 days old, I still prefer feeding every 5 to 6 hours. 
Some rehabbers feed only 3 times a day even at this young age.


4 to 7 days old 1
cc to 2 cc per feeding, 
Totaling 6cc per day, 4 to 5 times a day for the first few days, slowly increase to 8 cc per day.


At 2 weeks old I'm feeding 3cc to 5 cc per feeding. 
Totaling 15- 20cc (15cc =1 tablespoon) a day, 3-4 times a day.

At 3 weeks old 4 to 6 cc per feeding. 
Totaling 24 cc (nearly 1 ounce) a day, 3-4 time a day.

By three weeks the kits will start tasting timothy hay and pellets.
Offer water bottle or very shallow water dish.

At 4 weeks old 4 to 6 cc per feeding. 
Totaling 24 cc (nearly 1 ounce) a day, 3 times a day
You can try offering the formula in a bowl.

During the 4-6 weeks period the kits should start weaning themselves by
 be eating timothy hay and pellets.
They should be drinking water from a water bottle or very shallow water dish.
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How to hand-feed

Expect the kit to refuse the milk replacer at first. It won't like the syringe nozzle or the taste of  the milk replacer. I hold the kits face between my thumb and finger so the kit can't avoid the syringe. I force the syringe tip into the mouth and put a drop of milk in allowing kit to swallow before adding another drop. I repeat a few time and then remove the syringe to allow baby to fully swallow and clear throat before continuing. (For newborns I do this with every drop, one drop at a time.) For older kits it normally only takes a few feedings for them to decide they like the milk replacer. After that I no longer need to hold their face or force the syringe into their mouth. They will lick the milk replace off the syringe tip as fast as they can while I administer it slowly. Feeding only takes a couple minutes per baby once they catch on.

It is important to keep the kit warm and hydrated. I always make sure the kit eats well in the evening feeding. Morning feeding normally goes well and afternoon feeding they may not be as hungry. Use your judgment. The kit's skin should never appear baggy or wrinkly. They should be active and wiggling around. They should never be lethargic. A wrinkled, lethargic kits is a sign that they are not getting enough to eat and are dehydrated.

Babies like their milk a bit warmer than human babies do (warmer than your skin). If the kit refuses to eat you may have the milk too cool or too warm
Don't allow milk to get to cool while feeding or the baby will lose interest in eating.
You can fill a bowl or coffee mug with hot warm and put you milk container in the hot water to keep it warm while you're feed.

You must keep the kit warm while feeding. 
I wrap a kleenex tissue around mine. The tissue absorbs any drips and keeps the baby dry.
Any milk the baby dibbles needs to be wiped off with a warm damp cloth afterward or it will dry hard like glue to the babies fur and skin. The kleenex tissue catches most of this.
I use an eye dropper with a curve at the bottom or a 1cc syringe.
A syringe is good because as the baby increases it's intake you can graduate upgrade to 2 full 3 cc syringes. The bottle and nipple system you find for sale at pet stores are for larger animals like puppy's and raccoons. You'll find that baby rabbits won't nurse or suck.
They require you to put a the milk in their mouth via eye dropper or syringe a drop or two at a time. Expect it to take 5 to 10 minutes to complete a feeding with a newborn bunny. Feedings get quicker once they accept their new food and the method of feeding. They will eat more too.


I'm feeding a baby red squirrel here. The eye dropper has an angled tip.
Babies like their milk a bit warmer than your skin. If the kit refuses to eat you 
may have the milk too cool or too warm. Don't allow milk to get to cool while feeding.

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Dealing with problems

Syringe Sticking
When using syringes to feed the baby you'll find the black plunger will start to stick and not slide smoothly. This can result in too much milk given to a newborn and can cause aspirating (choking). Make sure you use new syringes very couple of  days. It's a lot easier for you and the baby.

Refusing Syringe
Expect the kit to refuse the syringe or eye dropper at first. 
You need to be patient.
Put a drop at a time in the baby's mouth and allow it time to swallow.
Hold the baby upright and not on it's back, this allows excess milk to dribble away from the kit and not up the kits nose or lungs causing it to aspirate (choke). See photo of baby squirrel above.

Bloating
Bloat is is often caused by too frequent feedings or feeding too much at one time.
Resulting in the rabbit's stomach not digesting the food/milk in a timely manner and producing gas.
Rabbits can't burp so the gas builds up in the stomach and can be fatal. 
The stomach can twist so there's no place for the food to exit. 
If the stomach twists than there isn't anything that I know of that'll save the baby.
If you catch it in time then you can give the kit a drop or two of OVAL (colic drops for human infants) found at a drug store. 
I feel the kits stomach before I start to feed. After I feed I check on the kit and make sure it's stomach isn't filling up with gas. If it feels a bit like a balloon than I give the kit a drop of Oval. Just a drop. It works right away.  A vet may try is to insert a tube down the throat making a passage for the gas to escape. In older animals with a twisted stomach surgery can be performed however rabbits don't do well under such conditions like surgery, Anesthetic, or pain. 

Choking
If it chokes a bit. Use the tissue to dab it's nose and mouth dry. 
You can tip the baby forward to help clear it's nasal pathway.
Rabbits can only breath through their nose (not their mouth). 
So it's important not to put too much milk in it's mouth to quickly.
For bad choking you can swing the hand holding the kit to use gravity to clear it.

In a litter of newborn kits don't expect all of the babies to survive.
Raising orphaned baby rabbits is very tricky. Their digestive tracts are delicate compared to other baby species. 

Eyes Stuck Closed
Baby rabbits will open their eyes around 10 to 14 days. 
Sometimes their eyes will get stuck shut. So around 10 days if they appear fully sealed you can put a bit of Human Polysporin Eye & ears drops on them. 

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Stimulating after feeding


A mother animal will lick it's babies anus (butt) to stimulate a bowl movement. 
After hand feeding a kit you must get a warm damp cloth and wipe it's bum.
This will help train the baby's digestive tract to work properly.

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Weaning

The kits will start nibbling timothy hay as early as three weeks old.
Supply good quality timothy hay, orchard hay or grass hay.
Don't feed Alfalfa. The babies will love the Alfalfa but the Alfalfa hay is too rich and can cause diarrhea.
At three weeks supply a very swallow dish of water, they will climb into it, so small and shallow is best. Babies also like water bottles they find it fun to lick.
They will still rely mainly on milk replacer until they are at least 6 weeks old.
3-4 weeks old they'll start tasting pellets.
Mother rabbits will start to wean their babies from milk at 5 to 8 weeks.
Don't wean a kit early, milk even in small amounts is necessary to regulate the kits 
PH levels as the kit adjusts to solid foods.
The kits should stay together for 8 weeks before being separated. 

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