Wild baby Rabbits
For most of us staying in an urban jungle, discovering wild baby rabbits is not a likely event. I think we all need to know what to do however – one never knows where a friend staying in a more rural environment, phones for advice!
Baby rabbits are very fragile little things and more so for wild ones since they face many more challenges than that for domestic rabbits. A couple of days ago a friend of mine received a baby rabbit ‘found somewhere’. Meaning well, she fed the baby cows milk. The baby rabbit died within two days. How very sad. What could have happened?
The baby should not have been taken from its nest. In the wild, the doe does not stay with her litter during the day for long periods of time. This helps to ensure that predators do not find the babies. She feeds them and then disappears. It is during this absence that many well meaning but ill-informed humans find the nest and see the ‘abandoned’ babies.
You really need to know what you are doing when trying to rescue or raise a wild baby rabbit. The best you can do is to walk away from the nest.Believe me, in most cases, the doe is somewhere near.
There are exceptions of course. If the mother has been killed for instance, or your cat arrives with a still alive baby, or there is immediate danger from predators, rather take the baby to a rescue centre, vet, or wildlife rehabilitator for professional care. Remember though, most vets are not specifically trained to treat wildlife, so you may need to phone around. It is rather a complex issue hey?
But I know how we rabbit owners are – we will worry about the babies out there. Say you discover a nest with babies and you suspect they have been abandoned. Try this - lightly cover the nest with hay. Return the next morning. If the babies are cold, or appear weaker to you, then they were most likely abandoned. Take them to a rescue centre or vet. If their stomachs are plump however, or you can see the grass or hay has been disturbed, then you know the mother is still caring for them. Walk away.
Why you should never take a baby rabbit that is younger than 8 weeks.
It is critically important to never ever buy baby rabbits younger than 8 weeks. As rabbits wean (between four to five weeks – I speak under correction here), they begin to ingest bacteria that becomes part of their intestinal flora and they also begin to ingest possibly harmful bacteria. However, the mother's milk provides antibodies that kill the pathogens they ingest – nature knows best as always. If you remove the baby from its mother and it’s source of (very rich, nutritious and protective rabbit milk), its suffers an insanely high risk of intestinal inflammation (called enteritis) or simply the wrong mix of gut flora (called dysbiosis). Sadly, this is almost always fatal.
Do not buy rabbits younger than 8 weeks (no matter how extra cute they may be). I'm just concerned that some unscrupulous sellers may lie about the rabbit's age or simply not know themselves. Of course some unscrupulous sellers will tell you the baby rabbits are dwarf rabbits. For these and other reasons, you should consider getting a rabbit from a rescue / adoption centre rather than a seller.
Natural pain relief for rabbits
I’m a very paranoid rabbit owner – always suspecting the most innocent body postures of Beatrice as being a sign of discomfort or pain. Add to that the fact that rabbit friendly vets are very rare here in Johannesburg, and you will understand my state of mind.
Anyway, just like to share with you a little known natural painkiller which can be used for rabbits - willow twigs and leaves! However, if you do not have a willow tree in your garden, you will have to do like I do – scavenge the neighbourhood for it! It is easily stored. Be sure to wash it first, especially if the tree grows close to a road or motorway. The twigs also serve as something to chew on for the rabbit.
Beatrice just loves the Willow leaves. I strip off the leaves on some of the twigs which I keep for her as something to chew on. By the way, it was Hippocrates who taught us the use of powdering the bark and leaves of willow trees for headaches and fevers. And then in 1829, scientists learned that it was stuff called salicin in willow which gave the pain relief. Who knew!
Who knew that dominant rabbits show their “lesser” rabbits who’s the boss by chewing off their whiskers! The rabbit with short chewed-off whiskers is at the bottom of the hierarchy – poor thing! Incidentally, if you have paired rabbits, the male or the female can be the ‘top rabbit’.
Just watch them though - sometimes the top rabbit will nibble off the whiskers of the lesser rabbit but may eventually start nibbling at the facial fur. This must be discouraged of course. Rabbit Politics!