Rabbits are born naked and blind. During the first days of their life, young rabbits are so clumsy that when they are accidentally pulled out of the nest by their mother, they die if they don't get help from the breeder in time.
The female usually feeds her offspring at night or in the absence of the breeder, so when checking her milk yield, the breeder relies solely on the appearance of the young rabbits. If the youngsters develop quickly and grow properly, their bellies are complete, and their skin is smooth, this proves their mother is properly lactating. If the young do not grow properly, their skin is not covered with hair, and their bodies are wrinkled, we have evidence that the young are malnourished.
There may be various reasons for malnutrition in young rabbits. Most often, this is due to a lack of food in the mother, who has too many offspring to feed, e.g., 10 offspring (a queen can feed up to 8 young), or to simple neglect by the mother of her offspring. Unfortunately, the weakest offspring get to the udder at the latest, while the stronger siblings will reach the udder faster and drink all the milk. That is why the weaker ones are still not satiated, go hungry, lose their strength and eventually die.
Unfortunately, a female with a sufficient number of young to feed, e.g., 6-8, sometimes cannot properly feed and raise small rabbits. In such a case, the breeder must adequately inspect and, if necessary, change the rabbit's feed ration, or if this procedure does not produce the desired results, the breeder must remove a few more animals from among all the young in the litter, sacrificing them to save the rest. Such an under-milked queen will usually not be suitable for breeding even in the future, so the best solution is to send her for slaughter.
During the rearing of young rabbits, starchy and fattening feedstuffs should be avoided. The best lactating feeds to feed a queen nursing young are beets, carrots, various greens, and soybean cake. Milk is also best and should be given by the rabbit breeder to the nursing queen as a drink.
Sometimes a young female who has her first litter in her life cannot feed her young, so the help of a breeder is essential. The breeder should capture the female and hold her over the nest until the young bunnies are satiated. This should be enough, and it rarely needs to be repeated. However, if the female still does not want to feed the young, she should be removed from the kennel.
In raising young rabbits, there are also situations in which a perfect queen does not want to feed her offspring exceedingly when, due to neglect by the breeder of the necessary hygiene conditions, they multiply in the rabbit cages. These parasites irritate and disturb the queen, not allowing her to stay peacefully in the nest with the young.
Raising rabbits without a mother, especially in the first weeks of life, is complex and only exceptionally successful. This is due to the infirmity and inability of the young rabbits, as well as to the difficulty of replacing the queen's milk with any other food. Rabbit milk is rich in protein, fat, and minerals but relatively poor in sugar and water.
Rabbit milk contains about three times more protein and fat than cow's milk. However, it is almost half as sweet. There is also much more, nearly three times as much, of the various minerals needed for bone formation. That is why it cannot be substituted for cow's milk when raising young.
If a breeder wishes to feed artificially orphaned or abandoned rabbits, he must provide them fresh, non-sour cream with the addition of various mineral salts and protein components. Such food must be given to the rabbits warm and heated to at least 36°C or 38°C.
However, this kind of breeding is too expensive and does not promise success. If the breeder does not have a mother who could take in the orphaned rabbits, it is better to kill the young ones to not tire them since they would probably die anyway.
Attention should be paid to the composition of rabbit milk
That takes place during feeding. The colostrum, rich in mineral salts and protein, changes gradually into milk lacking nutrients. This milk, on the other hand, shortly before the weaning of the young, changes its composition to a more concentrated one, suitable for older offspring.
Therefore, when giving rabbits to an unfamiliar mother, we must be careful that the young's age corresponds to the development of her own offspring. Otherwise, the offspring become ill and die due to inadequate nutrition.
If there are no disturbing situations in the breeding of the rabbits, there is no need for the breeder to frequently visit the nest of the female. After about three weeks, the breeder can enjoy the sight of strong and healthy rabbits, which will increasingly come out of the nest into a bright, clean cage.
On the ninth or tenth day of the rabbits' life, however, the breeder should take sufficient time to carefully inspect the eyes of all the rabbits in the entire litter. At this time comes the critical period when their eyelids, usually overgrown to date, open, and the help of the breeder may then prove necessary, especially to apply a break to the eyes with warm water or a lukewarm infusion of chamomile.
The eyes should be washed with a damp cotton ball or a soft cloth, moving it along the eye slit from the outside towards the nose. With this treatment, the breeder aims to remove the mucus and even pus clouding the eyelids. Neglecting to remove these impurities from the eyes of young rabbits can lead to serious eye diseases and even lead to complete blindness of adult animals.
During the first 3 weeks of life, rabbits' only food is their mother's milk. Therefore, the milk yield of the female is significant. It is a hereditary trait that can be influenced only to a limited extent. Rabbits that receive enough milk grow fast and develop properly.
Bunnies that are underfed have wrinkled skin and sunken bellies and try to sprawl out in the litter box. With this condition, a visual inspection of the female and her mammary glands should be done. If inflamed, they are swollen, red, and lack milk. A light massage of the glands may help, which will lead to the flow of milk.
The length of lactation depends on the breeding system and, in particular, on feeding. Lactation can last 6 weeks, with a peak in the first 18-20 days. Lactation may be shortened if the female mates 10-12 days after mating.
The milk yield of a primiparous female during lactation averages 3000 g. By the second litter, it rises to 4000 g and remains at this level until the 11th, after which there is a sharp drop in milk yield.
A queen's milk is rich in nutrients (protein - about 13%, fat - 10-12%, sugar - 1-2%), minerals, and vitamins, especially in the B group. It has the consistency of cream, white colour, is slightly salty, without smell. In summer, milk is slightly thinner. In winter, it changes its colour to slightly yellow due to a slightly higher fat content.
The young are fed by the female once, sometimes twice a day, usually at night. Bunnies know which teats are most abundant in milk and compete with each other for access to it. A suckling rabbit in a favourable situation can take up milk in amounts up to 30% of its body weight. In case of milk shortage, young rabbits may run after their mother all day long in search of teats.
On day 10, young rabbits open their eyes, and around day 18, they begin to leave the nest and feed on the female's food. On day 18, the teeth change in rabbits also begins, ending at 1 month. Practically at 21 days of age, rabbits start to feed themselves.
Sometimes rabbits abandon their young, do not feed the newborns, and start to trample them or eat them. This happens when the females have no milk, the feeding process is unpleasant, or the mothers do not receive enough healthy and nutritious food and water. If a rabbit refuses to feed the newborns, they are immediately picked up and placed in a separate cage.
You can add the young to a calm lactating female. Some rabbits indeed refuse to feed other people's rabbits. The abandoned cubs are then moved to artificial feeding. They are fed milk with a pipette, a disposable syringe without a needle, or a bottle with a small teat (like for kittens). Newborns are given cows, goats, powdered, and baby food.
How to replace rabbit milk
Newborn rabbits should be fed immediately. Without food, they will not live long and will die quickly. Instead of rabbit milk, you can give boiled, cooled, lukewarm cow's milk. Better - goat, it is thicker and more nutritious.
Baby rabbits can be fed goat's milk. This product has a similar composition to mother rabbit milk. It is boiled before use and then cooled to 36 degrees. It has good fat content and all substances beneficial for the body.
Important! Milk should always be fresh. It is cooked, stored in the refrigerator, and warmed before feeding.
Milk substitute mixes
A dry mixture for feeding rabbits can be purchased at pet stores or veterinary pharmacies. It is a powder similar in composition to rabbit milk. It is diluted with warm boiled water before use.