Baby Cottontail Information
Get the Facts Before Picking Up a Baby Cottontail
- Mother rabbits only nurse their babies for approximately 5 minutes twice a day.
- The mothers return to the nest once or twice a day in the evening or at night letting the babies appear abandoned and orphaned so as not to call attention to the nest for predators.
- Rabbits will still care for their babies even if they have been touched by human hands.
- If you find a nest that has been destroyed, you can move it or rebuild it to a safer area within 10 feet of it's original location. Gather dried grasses and scoop out a similar shallow form in the earth. Make an "X" over the nest with string so that you can see if the mother is returning.
- If you know for certain that the mother has been killed or the babies are in need of urgent help, contact a wildlife rehabilitator (listed at the top of the page) immediately.
- Baby rabbits are very cute and it is natural to want to handle them. However, they are very easily stressed by handling and noise. Any undue stress can cause them to have heart failure. They are wild animals. Individuals raising orphaned babies must not treat them as pets.
- There is a 90% mortality rate with orphaned baby rabbits in human care.
Most baby cottontails end up in human care for all the wrong reasons even though the heart of the rescuer was surely in the right spot and their intentions honorable and motives kind. If you come across a nest of bunnies in the wild and the mother is nowhere in sight, please DO NOT disturb them! By removing them from the nest you are greatly reducing their chances of survival.
You can check to see if the mother rabbit is coming back to the nest by making an "X" over the nest with strands of dental floss or other thin string. If the string has been pushed back out of the way in the morning, then you know that the mother has returned to her babies. Other indicators that the mother has fed her babies are if they are quiet and sleeping soundly and/or if their tummies are rounded.
There is a 90% mortality rate with orphaned baby rabbits in human care, especially cottontails. This number increases if the rabbits are very young and their eyes still closed. They are extremely hard to "save." There is little substitute for the nutrients their mother's milk provides. Often they die of bloat, improper feeding or overfeeding. Many die even when people have done everything "right."
My Dog or Cat Caught a Baby Cottontail
If your dog or cat captures a baby cottontail and you don’t know the location of the nest, follow the instructions for preparing a substitute nest and contact a wildlife rehabilitator as soon as possible. The saliva of a cat actually carries billions of particles of bacteria and enzymes that break down the cellular structure of living tissue; consequently, contact with cats is frequently fatal to young animals, even when no injury is apparent.
If you see a cottontail with its eyes open wandering around, leave it alone. It is exploring outside the nest and learning to forage for food. The nest is nearby and the baby will be able to find it. Do not touch the rabbit and keep pets and children away. A juvenile cottontail is at least four weeks of age (about the size of a tennis ball) and no longer requires the nurturing of its mother or the protection of the nest.
Baby Emergency Care Instructions
In the rare situation that you have an orphaned bunny or bunnies, such as when a mother rabbit is killed by another animal or in the road, or when a domestic rabbit refuses to care for her young, you need a professional rehabilitator. Here are a few simple steps that will help them survive until they can be transferred to a wildlife expert.
Use a box or bucket with a lid. Punch a few holes in the container for air. Create a cup-like nest using rags, towels or paper tissues. Place the babies in the substitute nest and affix the lid securely. Even very small bunnies can escape from an open box. Place the container in a warm, quiet place, away from household sounds, odors, children, and pets.
Place half of the cottontail’s container on an insulated heating pad set on low (to insulate the pad, wrap it in a towel) or apply an overhead light. Check the container (do not touch the animal itself) every few minutes to avoid overheating. Fill a clean tube sock with uncooked white rice and tie it off towards the top of the sock with a piece of string or a good knot. Heat the sock with the rice in it for less than a minute in the microwave. Place the sock inside the shoebox and put a washcloth or other piece of clean cloth over the sock. You don’t want the sock to be so hot that it could burn the babies since they have very delicate skin.
Do NOT attempt to feed babies whose eyes are sealed shut. These infants require a carefully developed formula delivered at the proper strength and amount, and feeding them anything else could compromise their survival, so please contact a licensed wildlife rehabilitator before you offer anything.
An older baby whose eyes are open may be offered clean grass and clover (pulled from an area void of pesticides and herbicides), a bit of fresh apple, dry oatmeal, and a shallow dish of water. Do not hand-feed or force-feed a baby cottontail.
Cottontails of any age usually become very stressed in captivity. Do not handle or pet them and keep the container covered at all times. Being confined in a limited space with an open top or sides may cause the cottontail to panic and literally traumatize itself to death. If using a cage or other see-through housing, cover it completely using a sheet, towels, or newspapers.
Do not hold, pet, or talk to the cottontail. When confined, older cottontails may appear to be calm and tame; in reality they are scared to death, frozen in fear. Cottontails have also been known to suffer heart attacks due to the trauma of confinement and handling.
Again, please do not attempt to care for baby cottontails at home. They require the care of a wildlife rehabilitation specialist. The local DFW center is listed at the top of the page for easy reference.
~ Information courtesy of Rainbow Wildlife Rescue.