Before weaning baby rabbits (kits, or baby bunnies) from their mother, they should be eating commercial rabbit food pellets. These small bits are designed specifically for the rabbit’s sensitive gastrointestinal system.
With kits, it’s a matter of feeding just the right amount, neither overfeeding or underfeeding the developing rabbits. Watch the babies carefully for signs of illness after weaning. Call the vet if a kit stops eating or develops diarrhea.
Avoid weaning the kits from their mother before the age of 4 weeks. Before that time, they still rely on mother’s milk for their nutritional needs.
Wean the babies between the ages of 4 weeks and 6 weeks although you might want to wait until the kits are 8 weeks old for large breeds.
By these ages, they are drinking little, if any, milk and are fairly independent. Take their mother out of the cage and leave the litter together.
Keeping them in the familiar cage helps reduce some of the stress of weaning. Make sure the babies have a constant supply of fresh, clean water.
The University of Florida Cooperative 4-H Extension recommends giving them about 60 percent of recommended commercial feed ration on the first day of weaning, 80 percent the following day and the full amount on the third day. Make hay available all at times during this period.
Diet for Young/Baby Rabbits
What you feed you rabbit has a big impact on their health and well-being. Feeding the correct diet to a young rabbit will support their growth and help them form good eating habits, which in turn will help avoid many diet related issues in adulthood.
Although young rabbits eat the same types of foods as adults, we need to take into account the different nutritional needs of their growing bodies and the extra sensitivity of their developing digestive system.
Baby Rabbits’ Diet
Like all mammals rabbit’s initial diet is their mother’s milk, which they’ll continue to drink until 6-8 weeks old. They first start nibbling on solids (usually hay from around the nest) between 2-3 weeks and by 3-4 they’ll be eating the same foods as their mum (plus milk).
As rabbits are weaning between 6-8 weeks their digestive system is adjusting from milk to adult solids, which is a particularly sensitive time and why rabbits should stay with their mother for a minimum of 8 weeks.
If your rabbit is younger than 8 weeks: one, never get a rabbit from that source again they shouldn’t be selling them, and two, you’ll need to be particularly careful about your bunny’s diet and try to avoid any changes.
One of the key points in feeding any young rabbit is consistency. Baby’s digestive systems are much more sensitive to changes in food and they are more susceptible to digestive related problems and can go downhill more quickly if they do get sick. Moving home is already a stressful time for a young rabbit so it is best to avoid changes to food at the same time.
When you get a rabbit you should ask exactly what food your baby has been eating and make sure you get a supply of the same brand food to start you off. In most cases it will do less harm to continue temporarily with a bad diet e.g. low quality pellets or mix, rather than make a sudden change to a ‘good’ diet.
If you don’t know what your rabbit was fed prior to you getting it or you can’t get hold of a supply then the safest option is to start with just hay and water. You can then introduce the other components to their diet gradually.
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Feeding Newly Weaned Rabbits
Twice daily, give baby bunnies only the amount of feed pellets they can consume in about half an hour. The feed should consist of a minimum of 18 percent protein and should be low in carbohydrates.
Since nursing mothers require high protein, you can probably give the kits the same feed you gave the doe. Feed labels will give you protein and carbohydrate information, but it’s wise to ask your vet for brand recommendations.
After a few weeks, switch to a lower-protein diet, around 16 percent. When you make any changes in the commercial feed, including switching brands, do so gradually over a period of several days rather than all at once.
All domestic rabbits require the fiber in hay to keep their gastrointestinal tract moving efficiently and their constantly growing teeth worn down. Newly weaned bunnies are no exception.
The University of Florida advises either giving newly weaned kits free choice access to hay or feeding pellets in the morning and hay at night.
Feed either timothy or grass hay, not a legume like alfalfa. The latter contains too much calcium.
Newly weaned rabbits might suffer and succumb to enteritis, or gastrointestinal tract infection. It’s important to keep an eye on your kits’ fecal output once they’re weaned.
Feeding too many carbohydrates and too little fiber is a recipe for disaster in rabbits 1 to 2 months of age. Enteritis usually presents itself in the form of diarrhea.
Your vet might be able to save your kit by prescribing antibiotics and recommending dietary changes.
Baby rabbits have higher protein requirements to support their growth, so whilst an adult requires dry food around 12-14% protein, for a baby rabbit around 16% protein is ideal. Many manufactures offer junior versions of their foods specifically formulated with this in mind.
The most popular brands in the UK are Supreme and Burgess. Allen & Page is only available in large bags, aimed at breeders rather than people feeding one or two bunnies. Oxbow is also a good brand and very popular in the US, it’s more expensive in the UK as it’s imported.
|Supreme Science Selective Junior Rabbit||19%||17%||Alfalfa, wheat, soybean hulls…||£3.13 for 1.5kg (£2.09 / kg)|
|Burgess Excel – Junior and Dwarf||17%||16%||Grass, Oat Bran, Wheat…||£8.50 for 2kg (£4.25 per kg)|
|Allen & Page Breeder Grower||18%||15%||Grass meal wheatfeed, oat feed, nutritionally improved straw…||£16 for 20kg (80p/kg)|
|Oxbow Essentials/Bunny Basics – Young Rabbit Food||22-25%||15%||Alfalfa Meal, Soybean Hulls, Wheat Middlings…||£11.55 for 2.25kg (£5.13 per kg)|
It’s also possible to meet young rabbit’s protein needs simply by feeding a larger portion of adult pellets, but it’s important to ensure they don’t eat fill up on pellets and avoid hay.
Should I feed unlimited pellets?
It’s suggested in some books that young rabbits be given unlimited access to pellets but doing this can create issues later on.
As with people, good habits are often formed when young, and it is very important for your rabbit’s future health that they get into the habit of eating lots of hay. It’s much more difficult to introduce hay to an adult that has not grown up eating it.
Pellets are extremely tasty and rabbits often prefer them to hay, so having unlimited pellets available can mean young rabbits eat little or no hay, a habit that can cause dental problems and make them more prone to digestive issues.
Pellets were designed for commercial breeders to make rabbits grow quickly, but in this situation little attention was given to the long term health or lifespan. Remember, wild rabbits grow up just fine on a diet exclusively plant material. Unlimited pellets are not necessary to rabbit’s development.
For these reasons, it’s a good idea to restrict pellets to a certain extent even in young rabbits, although they can have more than an adult.
How much dry food?
It’s difficult to give an exact quantity because it will depend on the nutritional content of the pellets (high or low protein), your individual rabbit’s growth, what other foods they are eating (e.g. alfalfa) and their activity levels.
I also know though, it’s difficult to estimate, particularly if you’re a first time owner so as a rough guide 25g per 1kg of expected adult weight for high protein pellets and a little more if you are feeding adult pellets. You can split the feed into two so they are spread out over the day/night.
With this as a basis you can observe your rabbit and adjust if necessary. If your rabbit is active and healthy looking, and eating lots of hay you have it about right. If they are not eating much hay or produce soft droppings then reduce the quantity.
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Changing dry food
Changes to dry food brands or varieties need to be done gradually over 7-10 days, by gradually reducing the amount of old food and increasing the new. If you have enough of the old food, it’s a good idea to allow your rabbit to settle in before making a change, even if the old food isn’t great quality.
If you don’t have any of the old food, then just gradually introduce the new food over the same period, gradually building up the quantity over 7-10 days. Your rabbit will top up on hay in the interim.
When can a baby rabbit have fresh foods?
If you read some old books you might find it suggested that rabbits are not given any fresh foods until they are 6 months old. This is an over simplified approach that came about because people would buy young rabbits, often at an age when they should still be with their mum, take them home and feed them things like carrot or lettuce, and then find that they become ill with digestive problems. Telling people not to give any fresh foods was easy to remember and helped bypass these issues.
However, providing you follow a few simple rules, it’s fine to introduce fresh foods to young rabbits.
If a rabbit’s mother was fed fresh foods whilst she was raising the litter, your baby will have been nibbling those too and it’s fine to continue providing these same foods. The key is to ask what your rabbit is used to and continue that – consistency.
If your rabbit has not access to fresh foods before, then allow them to settle in before introducing new foods so you aren’t making lots of changes at an already stressful time. Twelve weeks or two weeks after you’ve got your bunny, whichever is later, is a good guide. If your rabbit has had any digestive issues then hold off a little longer.
Introducing fresh foods
New fresh foods need to be introduced slowly so your rabbit’s gut bacteria can adapt to processing the new food. It’s a good idea to introduce one type of food at a time, then if your rabbit is sensitive to one type it’s easy to identify and avoid in future.
If you find your rabbit’s droppings change from their normal solid round pellets, this is a sign that you may be going too fast or that particular food doesn’t agree with them. Stopping the fresh foods for a few days should return them to normal.
What fresh foods for a baby rabbit?
Leafy greens, except lettuce, are best for rabbits for example dandelion leaves, carrot tops, kale, spinach, spring greens, raspberry/blackberry leaves and herbs such as parsley and basil. For young rabbits first introduction to greens it’s best to avoid fruits, though these can be introduced as treats later. Start with small pieces e.g. 2″ square as a test as build up the amount and variety gradually.
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