Is the rabbit injured?
A baby rabbit has the best chance of survival when it is cared for by its mother. Before intervening, we want to make sure the rabbit really needs our help. Cottontail rabbits nest from March through September and may have as many as four litters per year. The average litter contains four to five babies. Young rabbits disperse from the nest at 15-20 days old. By three weeks of age, they are on their own in the wild and no longer require a mother’s care. This means that young rabbits found on the ground may be completely healthy. Even though they look small, they are not orphans and do not need any human intervention.
A baby rabbit needs to be rescued for the following reasons:
- It is bleeding, has an open wound, or has a broken bone.
- It has been in a cat’s or dog’s mouth.
- It is covered in fly eggs (these look like small grains of rice).
- It is cold, wet, or crying nonstop.
Still unsure if the rabbit you found needs assistance? The next step is to determine the age of the rabbit to see if intervention is needed.
Found a juvenile rabbit?
- Is the rabbit fully furred?
- Are its eyes open?
- Is it larger than a baseball?
If so, you have found a juvenile rabbit. Juvenile rabbits may look very small but they are independent from their mother and know how to do just fine on their own. Juvenile rabbits do not need to be rescued.
Found an infant rabbit?
Infant rabbits are very small, have a very thin layer of fur, and their eyes are closed or may have just opened. Their best chance for survival is to be reunited with their mom.
- In order to reunite an infant rabbit with its mother, the baby must be warm. Place uncooked rice or bird seed in a sock and warm in the microwave for 20-30 seconds. Wrap the sock in a soft towel and place it next to the baby to warm it up.
- Next, attempt to locate the nest and put the baby back. A rabbit’s nest looks like a shallow depression in the ground, possibly lined with rabbit fur and/or grass; cottontail rabbits do not burrow.
- Place the baby back in the nest and sprinkle the area with flour or cross two twigs over the nest and check back in 24 hours. It is unlikely that you will see the mother return because she does not want to draw attention to her babies, but you will likely notice other signs of activity.
- If there are rabbit footprints in the flour or the twigs have been moved it is likely that the mother rabbit has been reunited with her baby!
- If there are no signs of activity, take the infant rabbit to a wildlife rehabilitator. Keep the baby warm, but never attempt to give an orphaned rabbit any food or water. Rabbits have very sensitive digestive systems and giving the baby anything without the proper training can be fatal.
NOTE: Each animal’s nutritional, housing, and handling requirements are very specific and must be met if the animal has any chance of survival. It is best not to feed a wild animal any food or water as this can cause more harm than good. Cow’s milk and human milk replacers will make wild animals sick. Raising a wild animal in captivity without the proper training is never recommended.