Have you ever wondered, “What do baby rabbits eat?”
How do you know what to feed baby bunnies, anyway?
You may think that the obvious answer is, “Their mother’s milk, silly!”
However, baby bunnies who have been abandoned, who have been unable to nurse for some reason or another, or those who have lost their mother require specific nutrients from birth until they’re old enough to be weaned.
Unfortunately, you can’t just feed baby bunnies who aren’t of weaning age hay and leafy greens, like you can with adult rabbits. Similarly to human babies, it takes a while until they are able to digest solid foods.
Therefore, when mother’s milk isn’t available, you have to improvise and then gradually introduce solid foods, such as hay and pellets, when the time is right.
In this article, we’ll talk about how to feed a baby rabbit from birth through the age of six months.
We’ll walk you through how to ensure they get the nutrients they need every step of the way!
What do I feed a baby rabbit?
So, what do baby bunnies eat and drink?
The answer to that question, along with how much to feed a baby rabbit, depends on how old the rabbit in question is and whether or not it’s had any of its mother’s milk.
We’ll break down what to feed baby rabbits based on their age later in this article.
How do baby rabbits eat and drink?
Baby rabbits eat and drink like any other warm-blooded mammal, meaning that they obtain their first nutrients and other important things from their mother’s milk.
As soon as they’re born, such mammals as baby bunnies instinctively know to find their mother’s teat and to suckle for that first bit of vital nourishment.
How often do baby bunnies eat? Surprisingly, mother rabbits only nurse their young once or twice daily, for just a few minutes at a time!
Somehow, it’s enough for the tiny babies to grow and quickly! Baby bunnies typically nurse from their mother until their teeth and digestive system have fully developed, which takes about six to eight weeks.
During this time, baby rabbits are provided with everything they need while their bodies prepare to be able to digest solid foods, such as alfalfa hay, fresh vegetables, and nutrient-packed pellets.
What to feed baby rabbits three weeks old and younger
Feeding baby rabbits that need their mother’s milk, but that do not have a mother to nurse from or which are unable to nurse can be a bit of an endeavor to take on.
This can happen if a baby bunny is too sick or weak to nurse, has an issue with suckling, or simply hasn’t been able to make it to a teat during one of the two brief feedings.
You see, feeding baby bunnies which are newborn or a couple of days old should be done with supplemental colostrum.
Colostrum is the first milk that a baby rabbit eats when it nurses immediately after birth and for the first couple of days. It can provide the baby with a boost of nutrients that may not be present in as great of concentrations in “later milk.”
A 1999 study of 450 newborn rabbits shows how important it is for baby bunnies to nurse.
Of the 82% which were able to nurse from their mothers within 12 hours of birth, only 7% died. Of the remaining 19% which were unable to nurse within the same time frame, 16% of them died.
The study concluded that this increase in mortality, while contributed to by various factors, still seemed to correlate lack of colostrum (and thus nutrition) with increased mortality rates in baby bunnies.
And it’s not just baby rabbits which may benefit from colostrum – all mammal babies should ingest colostrum as soon as possible once born to increase their chances of survival.
What can you feed baby rabbits that need colostrum, but which have been unable to nurse or do not have a mother to nurse from? Or, what do baby bunnies eat if they’ve already had some colostrum, but can no longer nurse from mom?
Let’s find out!
What do you feed baby bunnies that haven’t had colostrum?
Baby bunnies which haven’t been able to nurse at all must be fed a colostrum supplemental diet. While they would typically receive colostrum from their mother for just a few days, it may not hurt to feed them colostrum from birth through two or three weeks of age.
The good news is, you can mix up a milk replacer with some colostrum (livestock or human-grade) mixed in.
You may be able to find colostrum at a livestock feed store, where it’s typically sold in bulk for large dairy, hog, or horse farm use. You may find it more easily in pill form at a human health food store (yes, human babies need colostrum, too!).
If you can’t obtain colostrum, then you may be able to mix up a milk replacer with some added probiotics to help provide similar benefits as colostrum. The West Boulevard Veterinary Clinic has a nice blog post about what you can use in a milk replacer for baby bunnies here.
Additionally, here are a couple of ready-made milk replacers that are meant specifically for rabbits and other small animals and are available on Amazon.com:
What do you feed baby rabbits that have had colostrum?
Baby bunnies which have been able to nurse from their mom, but for less than several days, still need a colostrum supplemental diet.
However, babies which have ingested colostrum for more than a couple of days (so not quite newborn babies) may be able to be fed one of the milk replacers or homemade milk replacement recipes mentioned above.
If you’re unable to obtain “specialized” milk replacers, then goat’s milk or a kitten milk replacer should work just fine for these little guys.
Before you do anything, though, it’s best to consult with a small animal veterinarian, who will be able to tell you exactly what baby bunnies can eat depending on their unique situation and current health.
How to bottle-feed baby rabbits
Now that we’ve determined what to feed a newborn rabbit, let’s talk about how to feed a baby bunny!
As we mentioned earlier in this article, most babies that nurse from their mothers for nourishment are born with the urge to seek out a teat and to suckle away!
However, this sometimes takes a little bit of coaxing from Mama as well as a bit of practice before it becomes second nature.
You may find that bottle-feeding a baby rabbit who hasn’t learned to suckle is not as easy as it sounds, and it can be dangerous for the baby when done improperly.
So, let’s go through the steps to safely bottle-feed a baby bunny:
- Before you pick up a baby bunny, ALWAYS wash your hands thoroughly with mild soap and water. Humans (and animals) carry lots of germs that can be easily transferred to a fragile baby via skin to skin contact.
- Clean the bottle, syringe, or dropper that you intend to feed the bunny with (use the right size for their tiny belly sizes and small mouths). Then fill the bottle/syringe/dropper with your selected milk replacer choice.
- If you do have the baby’s mama on hand, it may calm the baby if you rub your hands through the mama bunny’s fur so that you smell like her. If you do not have mama, it may help to rub your hands in some clean bedding or hay, as baby is used to that scent, too.
- Using a towel or soft cloth, GENTLY pick up the baby and hold using light pressure. You might consider sitting down to feed him so that you don’t accidentally drop him if he gets squirmy.
- Hold the bottle nipple, syringe tip, or dropper tip to the baby’s mouth and see if he starts suckling. If not, push just a tiny drop of milk onto his lips where he can lick it up and decide he wants more! Just be careful that you don’t force any milk into his mouth, or he may choke.
- Refer to the next section for how much milk replacer to feed a baby rabbit based on his age and size.
How much milk should you feed baby rabbits?
The amount of milk that you should feed a baby rabbit depends on how old the baby is.
Newborn bunnies cannot eat as much as older bunnies simply due to the small size of their bellies at birth. As they grow, they can naturally tolerate more milk because their stomachs are growing, too!
Here is a guide for how much milk you should feed unweaned baby bunnies by age, according to the University of Miami Biology department:
- Newborn through two weeks of age: 5-7 ml twice daily, but use your best judgment based on the baby’s size.
- Two weeks through three weeks of age: 7-13 ml twice daily, and start introducing solid foods.
- Three weeks through six weeks of age: 13-15 ml twice daily, but begin watering formula down or offering water free-choice. Continue introducing solid foods.
What can you feed baby bunnies aged six weeks through weaning age?
Baby bunnies naturally become less interested in nursing from six weeks or eight weeks of age onward. After this, you can safely transition the baby to a fully solid diet.
So you’ve been bottle-feeding a baby bunny, who is becoming increasingly interested in the “big bunny” food that you’ve been leaving in the hutch with them. What can baby rabbits eat once they’re drinking less milk, more water, and looking for more solid foods?
You can safely start bunnies aged six to eight weeks on solid foods like soft alfalfa hay.
Here is a popular hay-based bunny food that provides complete nutritional needs for baby bunnies that are being gradually weaned from milk through 12 weeks of age.
Be careful not to overdo it with new foods all at once, as their tummies and bodies are still growing and getting used to new things!
What to feed weaned baby bunnies through six months of age
According to the VCA Animal Hospital, weaned baby bunnies under six or seven months of age should be fed free-choice alfalfa pellets and alfalfa hay.
These feedstuffs provide lots of protein and calcium to help them grow big and strong.
Once the baby is accustomed to a solid diet, you can also start to introduce fresh vegetables, but as always, moderation is key to prevent rabbit diarrhea and digestive upset.
Feeding bunnies aged six months and older
What can I feed a baby rabbit that’s not such a baby anymore?
Rabbits aged six months and older are considered to be adults, and can be transitioned to an adult diet.
Instead of alfalfa hay, you can start feeding them free-choice grass hay (usually timothy, orchard, or brome hay). They won’t need the extra protein, calcium, or calories, since they’re done growing.
High-fiber rabbit nuggets and some fresh veggies will round out their diet. Check out our article on the best rabbit food to learn more!
What do baby rabbits eat – a summary
Orphaned baby rabbits or those that cannot nurse require a specialized milk replacement diet.
This ensures that they get the necessary nutrients that they would otherwise get from their mother’s milk for their first weeks of life.
It’s not an easy task, but with careful precision and perseverance, you can feed baby bunnies milk replacer. Do this until they are old enough to start eating hay, and eventually pellets and fresh vegetables too!
References and Further Reading
Coureaud, G. et al (1999). Immediate postnatal sucking in the rabbit: Its influence on pup survival and growth. EDP Sciences.
Krempels, D. Care and feeding of orphaned domestic rabbits. University of Miami Biology Department.
VCA Animal Hospital, Rabbits – Feeding.