These sweet babies were unfortunate to have been born just long enough for their mother
to free them of the amniotic sac and clear their airways before she passed on
due to birthing complications.
This is their story from a shaky beginning to burrowing their way deep into my heart.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
"What formula did you use?"
I have the pleasure of being part of a wonderful forum called Rabbit Talk and actually used a formula mixture outlined there. Click here for the link.
The basic outline to what I mixed was this:
1/2 cup evaporated goat's milk (found canned at Walmart)
1 egg yolk (fresher the better!)
1/2 teaspoon corn syrup
1 teaspoon powered colostrum supplement for newborn animals
1/8 teaspoon Bene Bac probiotic powder (I ordered it off Amazon)
In the beginning that was WAY too much for such tiny bellies, even having 6 kits so I ended up cutting the recipe in half.
When I was raising these kits on the formula mixture I describe above I was doing my best to make sure they had as close to mother's milk as I possibly could but it was tough. Fox Valley came out with the solution to this problem and I sorely wish I had this available back then.
I now keep a supply of it "just in case." This formula was designed with the digestive needs of newborn rabbits in mind, it's an all-in-one mixture, all you have to do is add water and blend.
100% I would recommend this over any other formula mix out there if you want your kits to survive and thrive.
You can buy it off Amazon ($20/lb w/ Prime) or directly from the manufacturer (Roughly $32/lb).
"What about Kitten Formula?"
I did read online that Kitten Milk Replacement is a very common formula to use with baby rabbits, but I personally don't think it would work as well as the formula mixture I posted above.
Felines are carnivores and rabbits are herbivores, therefore I feel a kitten needs different nutrients than a baby bunny. Thankfully we have easy access to goat milk in your local supermarket and they have a digestive system closer to a rabbit.
"What about bloat?"
We did have a run-in with bloat, and one kit bloated up so big I was sure we would lose him. (See pictures)
Short term solution: I administered .02ml Simethicone gas drops for infants that I purchased at Walmart every 2 hours and his poor little belly reduce in size.
Cause: At first I thought I overfed him, and he drank the formula too fast which caused it, but what I really think is he drank too much luke-warm formula and lowered his body temp too much. Then being put back in with the rest of the kits, who had also drank the luke-warm formula and their body temps were dropped as well, so the whole nest wasn't as warm as it should have been to help them digest. The next day when I experienced minor bloat in most of the kits even when I was making SURE to slowly feed them and to not overfeed them did I realize what Maggie had warned me of previously in this topic:
MaggieJ wrote: "Remember that kits can only digest milk or formula if they are warm to start with--they can't do it while still chilled. If they need two bottles, put one on one side of the box and the other at the top or bottom."
Now I have utilized her advice about the water bottles, and prior to starting feeding I have two small water bottles that I put hot water in and then place them at the bottom and the side of the nestbox, (they are not directly next to the kits, there is a blanket or towel layer in-between) and then I refresh those bottles with hot water when I am done with feeding. That way even if the formula has cooled off when they ingest it and they have a belly full of luke-warm liquid, they go into a nice and toasty nest box to sleep and digest their meals.
I have also taken to re-heating the water bath that the formula is sitting within after each individual kit feeding. Feed one, reheat water, feed one, reheat water, this way the formula never gets too cold on them. Since doing this we have had zero instance of bloat (and the kits love those water bottles! Cuddling up right in the corner of them.)
Bottom line: Keep those babies warm! ... and listen to people who know more about rabbits than you do, lol.
"Why do they look wet in some photos?"
When their mother died she did not pull any fur for a nest, so I had to look elsewhere for bedding, and luckily I have a husky mix who was just starting her spring undercoat drop, so I brushed her out and have been using her fur as their bedding. One problem though, apparently she has a very healthy coat with plenty of OILS! More oils than rabbits are used to so before long my cute little kits were getting an oily sheen! Once I realized my mistake I washed all of the bedding / fur with dawn dish soap and that greatly helped cut down on the greasy kits. On the bright side, they sure had some healthy skin and shiny coats!
Then we ran into the issue where I would get done feeding a kit and he'd wipe his mouth off on his sister and vice versa! Before I knew it they had formula flakes and remnants in their fur. So then I started using Chemical Free Natural baby wipes to wipe them down after feeding, and a soft bristle toothbrush to comb them out. I worried initially about it tugging too much on their skin but when they fell asleep in my lap while I brushed them... well, I stopped worrying.
"How often did you feed them?"
Not often enough. I was mislead by a youtube video of some gentleman saying that the mother rabbit only feeds the kits once to twice a day so he models his feeding schedule off of that. Therefore initially I was feeding them once in the morning and once in the evening but 5 days in I noticed the babies simply weren't holding weight and were quite boney.
That's when it hit me. There's a very big difference between mothers rich, nutritious milk and this substitute. Once to twice a day just isn't going to cut it especially from birth like these guys were.
At this point I realized my error and upped the frequency of feeding and they started holding weight. I fed them at 6am, 3pm, and 9pm.
Formula =/= Mother's milk.
"What was your success rate?"
I read somewhere that the success rate of hand feeding newborn kits before their eyes opened (birth-10 days) had a success rate of 0-10%! I do not know how true this is but we had a success rate of 66% using the formula above as a first timer (never bottle fed anything before) and kits who needed to be bottle fed from day 1.
The runt faded away within two days of birth and I do wonder if he would have made it if I was feeding 3x a day. I suppose we will never know.
Our second loss was at 7 days of life, one of the kits had his little belly cut open by his mother's claws (probably in death spasms) about a centimeter in length. I had cleaned it and he was a healthy kit but started fading away around day 5 and I ended up culling him on day 7. He was healing but it had started to crust yellow and I believe infection took him.
"What syringe did you use?"
Oh boy, there sure are quite a variety to choose from aren't there?!
This nipple wasn't available at the time but like the Fox Valley Formula, this is a game changer. The Miracle Nipple. Best success rate and easy for the kits to use, and it comes with a kneading pad at the base. Read further to see what I ended up using since I didn't have access to the Miracle Nipple at the time:
I had so many different types of bottles/nipples and syringes to feed these guys with and the best one for these kits I found was a simple glass dropper from Walmart. I tried the luer lock syringe (because I had one) and that was just way too messy. The luer slip syringe worked "okay" but it didn't fit into the mouth of my milk container, still probably my second favorite. I picked up some feeding syringes (curved tips) from my local vet but they are really too large for rabbits and the formula slides out too fast even with minor pressure, thankfully they were free! I expected to purchase them but they just gave them to me, so no loss there. The kitten bottle / nipple system was too unwieldy at this point, the long thin nipple attachment was the right size, but it was too long and bent away when the kit tried to grab it. The regular kitten nipples were a good length, but too large. There are two glass droppers that come in a pack at Walmart (or CVS/Walgreens), one is a straight feed and the other is angled, both worked well and at the time it worked out the best for both the kits and for me.
Also I never forced the formula to come out of the dropper into their mouthes, the kits were about to suck it out without my help in most cases. If they needed a little help I would VERY LIGHTLY depress the dropper just to get things started. Of course when they were just a few days old I would go drop-by-drop on their lips since they didn't quite understand the dropper yet.
"What about healthy gut bacteria?"
Ah, okay, so no one has asked me this but I'll answer it anyway.
They are getting Bene Bac Probiotic powder in their formula each feeding and after their eyes opened I contacted a local breeder for some fresh cecotropes from a healthy rabbit. I then mixed in some of the cecotrope into the formula and fed the kits... they were LESS than pleased about it but they all got some in their bellies for about three days to start cultivating the gut flora. "Gross. This again?"
"When/how do you wean them?"
I start weaning at 5 weeks of age, I reduced the amount of feeding to twice a day, morning and evening. At 6 weeks of age they only get a breakfast feeding of formula. Week 7 I start diluting the formula with water so by the end of the week it's just water in the dropper.
I started keeping pellets and rolled oats in their nestbox at around 20 days of age for them to nibble on, and they always had hay around. At three weeks old I would take them outside onto the grass for "lunch" and they started chewing on the chickweed and grass with fervor! Not that they actually ate much, but they sure chewed it! From this point on I would give them some dandelion or mulberry leaves daily for their chewing.
"They won't stop wiggling!"
Haha, yes, I kept them wrapped up in a hand towel / old t-shirt / rag both to keep the kit warm while feeding and to stop it from wiggling away! It's incredibly difficult to feed a blind kit from a dropper when he's ravenous, "Where is it?! WHERE?!"
I stopped wrapping them shortly after their eyes opened up, but to fend off the cold chill of the house I would get a small space heater and point it at my lap before starting to feed. You can see this in some of the early videos.
Any additional questions?
Please don't hesitate to ask!