I was so excited when my rabbit had her first litter of babies.
The kits were so tiny, and I was terrified of handling them, which made me wonder if it was even a good idea to pick up these baby rabbits and when it would be safe to do so.
Should You Touch/Handle a Newborn Baby Rabbit?
Rabbit experts agree that newborn kits shouldn’t be handled too much as they are fragile and can easily be hurt if picked up incorrectly or dropped.
In some cases, it may be essential to handle a newborn rabbit as the owner may need to do a headcount of the litter, check on their weight, treat them for injuries or illness, and if the mother rabbit dies or is negligent, cleaning the kits may become a priority too.
Usually, it is safe to handle a newborn kit from the age of three weeks, but handling the baby rabbits before then is sometimes required for medical reasons.
Reasons to Handle a Newborn Rabbit
While it is generally safe to handle a baby rabbit from the age of three weeks, there are other reasons why you may have to handle a newborn rabbit from the point of birth even.
Count the Kits
If you are a breeder, it is vital to know how many kits there are in each litter. This helps you decide when you want the doe covered again so she can get pregnant.
You may need to touch the newborn bunnies to see how many kits there are.
So as soon as the doe has kindled the litter and is busy cleaning herself outside the nesting box, do a headcount.
Make sure all the kits are in the nesting box. Sometimes, a kit or two falls out of the nesting box. They latch onto the doe’s nipples, so when she hops out of the nesting area, they are dragged with her.
They may fall through the cage’s wire floor, get injured, or die.
Sometimes, kits also get lost somewhere in the box. Or a few of them die and are pushed out of sight underneath the bedding of the nesting box.
I routinely do a headcount so I know that the litter size matches the kits that were born.
Check Birth Weight
Rabbits often don’t grow correctly, and by weighing your rabbits you can determine how much weight gain they should have at a particular life stage.
When my young rabbit doe had her first litter, she was overwhelmed, and she ended up rejecting her litter.
I had to weigh the rabbit kits and bottle-rear them, which required that I handle the rabbit kits from birth.
Bottle Feed a Newborn Baby Rabbit
A rejected, sickly, or in-excess-to-the-litter rabbit kit may require additional supplementation.
Handling a rabbit kit that requires extra bottle feeding is a challenging requirement of pet ownership.
Rabbits are fearsome pets and they may often fight among each other.
As a result of the infighting among the litter-mates, your baby rabbit may be injured. Rabbits quickly get septicemia. Handling the injured kit is vital for their survival.
If an injury is left untreated, chances are your rabbit will die within hours, so treat injuries seriously.
This means you need to pick up the injured kit, clean the injured area, apply appropriate medicines, and if severe, you may need to take the kit to the local vet.
Better Bonding Practices
The younger a rabbit, the easier it is to bond with them.
If you have a tame doe that doesn’t mind your presence, you can bond with the kits from their first day of life. This helps the kits to accept you more easily.
By handling the newborn rabbits, you can accustom them to your voice and smell.
When the kits are a little older, you can also begin to train them by using your voice and touch. This begins when the newborn rabbits are familiarized with your presence.
Precautions to Ensure Safe Handling of a Newborn Baby Rabbit
If you do have to pick up a newborn rabbit, be sure to follow these steps that will keep the newborn rabbit kit safe and ensure you are also safe:
Wash your hands before you handle the newborn rabbit
It is vital that you wash your hands before you touch a newborn rabbit. Even if the rabbit kit is several weeks older, it is still wise to wash your hands before petting or holding them.
Your hands can carry diseases and chemicals that may make a rabbit sick. Cleaning your hands before you touch the rabbit keeps them safe.
Hold the newborn rabbit in a gentle cage-like finger formation
When holding the newborn rabbit, its safety depends on you being able to hold the rabbit kit without the kit jumping out of your hands.
Interlocking your fingers creates a confined space where the newborn kits can be held without fear of them wiggling away and falling.
Control the litter mates
If the doe has more than one litter, it becomes vital to ensure the different aged kits don’t harm younger kits.
In this instance, the act of separating the kits may cause one of the newborns to be injured.
If you are handling a whole litter, be sure to gently place a towel over the nesting box, keeping the litter gently secured with a restraining hand while you handle the newborn you need to examine.
When Can You Safely Handle and Touch a Newborn Rabbit?
Newborn rabbits are frail, lack muscle strength, and can easily catch a chill as they don’t have anybody hair or fur yet.
Handling them may expose them to environmental factors like cold air, dampness, and even bacteria.
It is safest to handle a newborn rabbit when they are three weeks old as they have more body weight, can support their limbs better, and have begun growing fur to cover their exposed body, preventing pneumonia.
There are several reasons why you would need to handle a newborn rabbit, but it is essential to hold a newborn rabbit correctly. Handling a newborn rabbit also comes with certain responsibilities and considerations.
How to Handle a Newborn Rabbit
Despite being small, a newborn rabbit can wiggle at surprising speed, and it is easy for them to bounce out of your hand if you hold them incorrectly.
Their bodies are also soft, so you can easily squash them.
This means you need to hold your newborn rabbits carefully but snugly to prevent them simply jumping or leaping off your hand.
A fall, even from the height of a chair can seriously injure a newborn rabbit and ultimately kill them.
It is best to keep a baby rabbit cupped in both hands when handling them so you can prevent them from leaping off your palm.
Simply wrap the fingers of both hands loosely over the body of the baby rabbit.
If you are nursing newborn rabbits, it is best to sit on the floor, which decreases the height they can fall if they do squirm away.
Use a thick towel to lay the newborns out on, being sure to keep them out of any drafts when you need to feed them.
I was so scared of accidentally squishing the first newborn rabbit I held, so I used a face cloth to burrito roll the tiny kit.
This was a good strategy, and it also got the baby rabbit used to how I would hold it when any procedures such as vet visits or nail clippings were necessary in the future.
Dealing With the Rabbit Doe While Handling the Kits
Does are often very protective of their litter, and don’t be surprised if your normally docile pet rabbit suddenly charges you when you try to touch the kits.
She may be especially protective of her newborns as she instinctively knows they are fragile and weak.
If it is necessary for you to handle the kits from a young age such as weighing them or performing health checks, then it is a good idea to remove the mamma rabbit first.
Clearing the doe out of the enclosure or cage will help calm her down, giving you access to the kits without a massive fuss.
If you can’t remove the mommy, then wait until she leaves the litter box, then lift the box out of the cage with the kits inside.
This method helps you inspect the newborns without upsetting the mommy.
Dangers of Handling a Newborn Rabbit
Handling a newborn rabbit has several downsides that may need to be weighed up before you decide to simply scoop up a few newborn kits.
Dangers to the Handler
- The doe may attack you and an angry rabbit can scratch, bite, and kick you.
- Rabbit kits may carry disease as they aren’t vaccinated yet.
- You may be allergic to the newborn rabbits.
Dangers to the Kit
- A newborn rabbit is small and can easily be hurt or killed by incorrect or rough handling.
- People may spread diseases to newborn kits that have a weak immune system.
- Excessive handling, such as at a petting zoo, can lead to abdominal weakness, inflammation, pain, and diarrhea.
Can you Touch/Handle a Wild Baby Rabbit?
You should never touch a wild rabbit’s newborn kits. The contact will transfer your smell to the rabbit kits, and when the doe smells this on the kits, she will reject her litter and either kill the kit that smells like a human or abandon it.
There is also a list of risk factors involved when touching a baby bunny.
Wild baby bunnies are carriers of many dangerous viruses that can infect you.
Tetanus is caused by bacteria called Clostridium tetani, which can be found in wild baby rabbits.
If a bunny bites you or you already have an open wound from where the bacteria could enter your body, only then can you catch the infection.
Tetanus is not fatal, but it can cause painful muscles.
Feral rabbits can transfer rabies to humans through their saliva.
So, only if a baby bunny bites you or a scratch on your skin allows the bunny’s saliva to enter your body, then you can catch rabies.
Although no research to this date has reported such an incident in which a human got rabies from a rabbit, it is a possibility.
It’s better to be safe than sorry. Therefore, don’t touch a wild rabbit.
Rabbits that live in the open have a high chance of getting infested with fleas.
This means a feral baby bunny in your backyard can have the said parasites, which can affect you too if you pick up the little bud.
But the good news is that if such a thing happens, you don’t have to worry about getting fatally sick.
Moreover, you can even help the bunny be free of fleas by using the appropriate treatment products.
You can also read a complete guide on how to get rid of fleas in rabbits.
Wild rabbits are known to be transmitters of tularemia, an infection that leads to diarrhea, pneumonia, a fever, loss of appetite, and some flu-like symptoms.
Tularemia can be more weakening for humans than it is for rabbits.
Generally, a person starts exhibiting symptoms after a day, but it can also take three weeks to happen.
In North America, the major host of bacterial diseases is the cottontail breed. Signs of tularemia include swollen diarrhea, pneumonia, or flu-like signs.
Parasite Encephalitozoonosis is responsible for this infection in bunnies. This virus impacts the liver and kidneys.
But typically, those with a weak immune system are affected by it.
If you hold a bunny infected with Encephalitozoonosis, you could get it, but only if you come in contact with the rabbit’s urine.
Rabbits are naturally high-strung and can die if they suspect danger.
If someone holds a wild baby bunny, they can trigger anxiety in the scared little fellow, which can lead to death.
Nervousness or stress can be too much for a baby bunny’s heart and result in a fatal heart attack.
So, if you find an already fearful rabbit in your backyard, don’t add to its fear by touching/holding it.
Some FAQs about Touching and Handling Baby Rabbits
Can you touch a pet rabbit’s newborn babies?
While you may want to say the answer is “no,” pet rabbits are not quite similar to their wild counterparts.
A pet rabbit is already used to your smell, so detecting au-de-human on their newborns won’t be as upsetting to them.
A pet rabbit may be quite content to let you touch their newborns as long as your pet rabbit is already bonded with you.
If it’s a new pet rabbit, then avoid touching the kits with your bare hands for a few days until the doe has accepted your presence.
Will a wild rabbit doe eat her young when you’ve touched them?
Wild rabbits are prey animals, and they may not accept the smell of a predator on their newborn kits and even on older kits.
If you find a nest with wild rabbit kits, you should avoid touching them.
What is the best way to touch a newborn rabbit?
When you need to touch a newborn rabbit, it is best to do so only after you have cleaned and sanitized your hands.
Touching can be defined as moving, petting, or holding the newborn rabbit.
- Moving the newborn rabbit. Do so by gently shifting the rabbit, but take care with the soft limbs as a newborn rabbit has low muscle tone, and it can easily be injured.
- Petting the newborn rabbit. When you pet a newborn rabbit, you should do so as gently as possible. Never apply force or pull at the newborn’s hairless body. Stroking with a fingertip is sufficient.
- Holding a newborn rabbit. To hold a newborn rabbit, be sure to gently wrap both your hands around the soft body. Interlock your fingers, creating a cage to prevent the rabbit from wiggling free.
At what age is it safe to touch a baby rabbit?
When a rabbit kit is three weeks old, it is safe to touch them.
By this age, the rabbit kit has grown a plush coat of fur, their bodies have strengthened somewhat, and they can self-regulate their body heat better.
I’ve had a few more litters from my lovely doe and buck rabbits since that first litter, and I’ve learned how to pick up and hold the newborn kits.
It’s great for bonding with these tiny hairless little buns to hold them in my hand, speak to them, and gently let them get used to my presence.
Knowing how to touch a newborn rabbit and that I can touch my breeding pair’s offspring has helped me lose fewer kits to malnutrition and bullying.
I can now remove newborns from the breeding box without upsetting the doe, and this has allowed me to administer medicines to sickly kits and nourish bullied and weak kits with a bottle or two.
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