How to warm up a cold baby bunny
We had a litter of baby bunnies born on Derby Day. Here in Kentucky, Derby week is a big deal. It is famous for the horse race (also known as “the fastest 2 minutes in sports”). It’s also the day we can finally plant our tomatoes. And it’s guaranteed to deliver crazy weather.
Our last frost date here in Kentucky is “after Derby.” This is when enthusiastic gardeners all over the state march out to their gardens with their tomatoes, peppers and squash seeds in hand.
Once Derby Day has passed we are pretty much out of the woods and summer-bound. Although, Derby Day brings in the season of “no more hard freezes” it is certainly not a warm weather guarantee.
Like many Kentuckians, I plan many of my warm-season related activities around this blessed date. Baby bunnies usually fall onto this list. We bred both of our rabbits at the beginning of April so they would have their litters around Derby Day.
Everything went according to plan and the babies were born ON Derby Day. Unfortunately, the weather was unpredictable and dished out a little too much winter a little too late. Newborn kits are extremely vulnerable to cold temperatures.
Our bunny hutches are made of oak and pretty solid against the weather. To help combat the freezing temperatures mother nature was delivering, we shoved the hutches full of hay and made sure the new babies were tucked in their nests.
Here are 4 tips for keeping baby bunnies warm in cold weather:
- Schedule rabbit kindling (giving birth) during warm weather
- Use a heat lamp to keep everyone warm (be sure it is in a safe location)
- Move the bunny hutch inside a barn or building
- Enclose the mama-rabbit in the nesting area with the kits during extreme temperatures.
Since our bunny hutches are outdoors and unmovable we resort to #4: Enclose the mama-rabbit in the nesting area with the kits during extreme temperatures.
We actually close our doe in the nesting area with her kits at night. This provides additional heat and makes her readily available for nighttime snacks.
It is Important to be on Watch for Cold Baby Bunnies After Birth
#1: Baby Bunnies are Helpless
Baby bunnies are born blind, deaf and totally hairless. They will lose body temperature rapidly and can die in minutes from exposure to cold temperatures.
#2: Rabbits are Terrible Mothers
Add to this that rabbit mothers as a whole are terrible mothers (especially if it is the first time giving birth[kindling]). Even if there is a nice nesting box available, the doe may give birth on the wire (on the grate instead). Our doe has a nesting section of her hutch that is perfect for baby bunnies. No drafts, no predators, it is completely safe. But she still sometimes builds a nest ‘on the wire’ overnight and has her litter there.
#3: They Will Still Fall Out of the Nest
Even if you have a great rabbit-mother, it is likely that one (or 4) of her kits will stay connected to the milk source when she hops out of the nesting box. Dragging them along for a ride to the ‘wire.’
#4: Does do not Pick up Bunnies
Unlike dogs or cats, a rabbit will not pick up her kit and move it. There is no way for a newborn bunny to get back into the nest once it falls out.
#5: Time is Running Out
Once a baby bunny lands on the wires, it is only a matter of time before they die. They can’t stay warm. They can’t walk. They can hop. They can’t even get flipped over to eat something if mama comes out to check on them.
When our babies end up on the wire, their 4 feet are usually sticking through the holes and they are laying flat on their stomachs- stuck. Those legs will wriggle and fight, but the baby bunny goes nowhere.
It is the job of the bunny keeper to make sure the babies stay in the nest and warm.
This means checking on the kits (baby bunnies) several times a day.
If you find one out of the nest and his body is cool to the touch, it is a good idea to warm him up before returning him to his littermates.
When you find a bunny on the wire, sometimes he just needs to be placed back into the nest. He may or may not need to be warmed up:
- How cold is it outside?
- How long has he been out of the nest?
- Does he feel a little cooler than the other baby bunnies or is he ice cold?
- How alert is he? Does he seem lethargic or is he spunky?
- How old is he? Is he a week old or a day old? Are his eyes opened?
- Does he have any fur?
- Did he get wet (from urine or rain)?
If he feels cold and is not moving much -he probably needs to be warmed up. Baby bunnies will stop moving in order to conserve energy (so they can stay warm). This allows them to live as long as possible.
Even with our best efforts, we found one baby bunny alone (not near the rest of the litter) and cold after a long freezing night.
Luckily, he was still alive.
When you find a cold newborn kit, there are a few things you can do to warm him up and help his chances of survival.
ONE: Warm The Kit As Fast As Possible
The first thing is to get him warmed up fast. If you are a female, the best way to accomplish this is to gently put the baby in your brazier right between the girls (Yup, in the bra-front and center). He will be nice and warm in there and should stop shivering in no time. In the case of the frozen Derby bunny, I stuck him in my bra and continued my morning chores. When I finished he was toasty warm and sound asleep.
If you don’t have a bra, just put the baby bunny under your shirt against your skin.
I usually feel the feet start wriggling in no time once he’s tucked against me. If he becomes spunky right away and doesn’t feel too cold, it is likely that he fell out of the nest recently and can be returned to the nest and will be fine.
A second way to warm a baby bunny is to use a heating pad. Keep the baby bunny close to your body for warmth while you want for the pad to heat up. Place the bunny in a thin towel and cradle the towel the heating pad with the heat set on low. The towel will prevent the pad from burning the baby bunny.
If you do not have a heating pad available, you can use a bowl of warm water. Fill a small bowl with some warm water. Lay the bunny in some plastic (I use a bag) but do not close the bag. He needs air. The warm ‘bath’ should warm him up very quickly. Because he is in a bag he will not actually get wet.
Another option is to toss a towel in the dryer and heat it up. Wrap the baby bunny in the warm towel from the dryer.
THREE: Center of the Nest
Once he has been warmed up and fed, the best place for him is with his littermates. I usually try to arrange the struggling kit in the center of the nest. This will allow for plenty of body heat to keep him warm and center him under mama the next time she hops in to deliver a meal.
Keep a close eye on them while they are young. I check on the kits several times a day for the first 2 weeks. I count all the kits and make sure everyone is there. I gather them together into the nest so they are easier for the mama to feed and care for. I also check for round full bellies. If anyone has a wrinkly abdomen I try to get him or her under mama for a meal as quickly as possible.
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