Not sure how to determine if baby rabbits have passed away? If all went according to plan when raising rabbits, they would always be born in a safe and cozy nest, away from their mother’s large feet…but unfortunately, that’s only the case about 25% of the time. Newborn kits (baby rabbits) are extremely fragile, and certain breeds aren’t skilled at caring for litters. There are many challenges they face. Additionally, if the mother rabbit doesn’t like the nest’s location or a particular smell, she may completely abandon her responsibilities.
I apologize if this sounds discouraging, but it’s important to understand that raising rabbits isn’t easy. Even if you encounter constant issues, it’s not your fault. Sometimes, things go awry despite your best efforts. I frequently find myself moving the babies to ensure they are in the right spot or relocating the nest to prevent the mother from accidentally harming them.
In the case of the French lop breed that I raise, losing one-third of the kits born each summer is normal. Now, let’s dive into how to determine if baby rabbits are deceased due to cold, among other reasons.
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How to Identify If Baby Rabbits Are Deceased from Cold
This is one scenario in which it may be possible to revive a rabbit. However, there are several other causes of death that I’ll explain later on. For now, let’s focus on cold-related fatalities.
A baby rabbit that appears lifeless due to cold may still have a chance at survival. When touched, the kit will feel cool and rigid, with its legs often sticking straight out.
If the kit remains cold, limp, and unresponsive even after attempting to warm it for a few minutes, it’s too late to revive it. To save cold babies, you must take action within approximately 30 minutes of them becoming cold.
Here are the most effective methods for warming a seemingly lifeless baby rabbit:
Top Approaches to Warm a Cold Baby Rabbit
- Utilize a hairdryer on low heat, keeping it 12-18 inches away from the kit. Be careful not to burn the rabbits. Holding them in your hand is a good way to prevent overheating or burns. Place the babies in a basket with a cloth at the bottom to ensure they don’t wiggle and fall.
- Try using a heating pad to warm them up.
- Consider submerging them in warm water, making sure to keep their heads above water level. Thoroughly dry them off once they become active again (Source: farmingmybackyard.com).
- Your own body heat can also be effective. Some people prefer this method, although I personally find it uncomfortable to have wiggly rabbits in my bra.
Note: Avoid using heat lamps, as they produce excessive heat and can result in cooking the kit.
Once the kits feel warm to the touch (though they may not be completely back to normal), you can place them back in the nest. Being with their siblings is the best way to keep them warm.
However, if the kits are still cold to the touch, it’s best not to return them to the nest just yet. There’s a risk that the other kits may move away and fail to provide warmth. If necessary, you can bring the entire nest inside to monitor them closely for a short period. This won’t harm the mother rabbit, as she only enters the nest to feed her babies.
Another method, called shelving, involves placing the nests in a warmer location (often on a shelf) and returning the nest box filled with the mother rabbit’s own babies to her twice a day. This technique is often used during the winter months, but I tend to avoid it due to the significant effort it requires.
How Long Does It Take to Revive a Baby Rabbit?
If the kit is cold, you should observe movement within 5 minutes or less if there’s a chance of survival.
Ensuring the Kit Is Warm Enough to Rejoin the Litter
When warming up a kit, I usually place it in a deep basket with rags and cover it with a cloth to maintain warmth. I then place it in our smallest room with a space heater set to achieve a temperature of 75-80 degrees Fahrenheit.
To determine if the kit is warm enough to rejoin the rest of the litter, I check if touching it doesn’t result in a sensation of chill on its skin. If it can maintain this warmth for about 30 minutes without any external heat source, I will return it to the group.
How Cold of Temperatures Can Baby Rabbits Tolerate
For newborn litters, temperatures above 45 degrees Fahrenheit at night are fine as long as they stay under the fur. However, if they venture out of the nest and remain unfound for more than 30 minutes, they will likely perish.
If you have a decent-sized litter with fur but closed eyes, they can withstand temperatures just above freezing.
If the temperature drops below 30 degrees Fahrenheit, it’s advisable to relocate them to a slightly warmer area, such as a garage (but not as warm as your house, as the sudden change will be too much of a shock). This is why I pay extra attention to the timing of my does’ breeding.
Will a Mother Rabbit Remove a Dead Kit From the Nest?
No, a mother rabbit will not remove a dead kit from the nest on her own. You must be the one to remove it. Leaving a deceased kit in the box is unhealthy for the surviving kits, especially during mid-summer when it may lead to the hatching of maggots in the nest. If you prefer not to touch it directly, you can use a gardening hand trowel or a plastic bag to remove it.
The presence of a deceased kit may cause the remaining kits to move away from it as part of their survival instinct.
Occasionally, a doe may eat a dead kit for various reasons. While it may be unpleasant, the best course of action is to remove the dead kit from the box and maintain a clean environment.
What Does a Deceased Rabbit Look Like
If a kit has just died, it may be stiff. However, if it has been deceased for more than 12 hours, it will feel soft when picked up and may appear somewhat flat. The appearance also depends on the cause of death. If the mother stepped on the kit, there may be visible bruising, especially if the kit is light-colored.
Other Reasons for Baby Rabbit Mortality
Raising rabbits is challenging, and not all mother rabbits fulfill their duties. Unfortunately, things can go wrong. Here are some other common causes of baby rabbit mortality:
- Lack of breastfeeding
- Accidental stepping on the kits
- Wandering away from the nest and becoming cold
- [GRAPHIC WARNING] The doe consuming all or part of the kit. This happens more often than I’d like to admit. The reasons behind this behavior are speculative, but it could be due to something being wrong with the kit or the doe experiencing a lapse in judgment. If your doe repeats this behavior, it is not advisable to continue breeding her, as it may become a detrimental habit that you don’t want to pass on to future generations.
Determining If Baby Rabbits Are Deceased Due to Insufficient Feeding
When kits aren’t receiving adequate nourishment, they start developing wrinkles across their backs, as shown in the image below. Their stomachs appear flat, and eventually, they become extremely skinny.
In such cases, it takes approximately 3 days for the kit to pass away. This provides some warning and allows you time to address the problem. However, it’s best to assist in feeding the kit if you suspect it isn’t getting enough milk, rather than waiting until the last minute. A kit as emaciated as the one depicted in the image is unlikely to survive due to shock and the advanced stage of malnutrition.
You should be able to hand-feed the kit, so be sure to read this post if you’re facing issues with this method.
Reasons for Kits Not Receiving Adequate Nourishment
Two primary reasons can result in kits dying from insufficient feeding. One is having too many kits in the litter, overwhelming the doe and causing some kits to overpower the smaller ones.
This particular issue frustrates me as I’m seeing it more and more. It’s not your fault; it’s the fault of the media and individuals who claim to know about rabbit rearing but lack firsthand experience. In short, the doe isn’t receiving the proper nutrition and is starving. The prevalent trend of predominantly feeding rabbits hay and vegetables, with minimal pellets, has detrimental consequences.
I receive numerous messages confirming this problem in my inbox. Vegetables contain less than 3% protein, while the seemingly nutritious green hay bags available in stores often offer only 9-12% protein, if you’re lucky.
Your rabbit MUST HAVE 16-18% protein to survive!!!!!!!!!!!!
If you encourage rabbits to consume these lower protein feeds, they won’t have enough space in their diet for pellets with sufficient protein levels, ultimately leading to starvation. If the doe isn’t well-fed, she cannot produce the necessary milk. At this point, I’ll halt my explanation before I lose my patience. Read the post below if this resonates with you and you want to learn more.
Determining If Your Baby Rabbit Died Due to Stepping On
Since I raise large rabbits, this scenario occurs quite frequently.
If a kit has been stepped on, it will often be found outside the nest (the depression made by the mother but still within the nesting box). The kit will feel soft and pliable from below the ribs. You may also notice some discoloration (blue or green) in the midsection, indicating internal bleeding.
If you’re dealing with this issue, refer to my post on what to do if your mother rabbit steps on her babies.
Will a Mother Rabbit Remove a Deceased Kit?
No, a doe will not remove a dead kit from the nest on her own. If a kit is missing or you can’t locate it, there are a few other possibilities. Please refer to this post discussing nesting behavior and whether a mother rabbit will remove a deceased kit from the nest.
Losing rabbits is undoubtedly disheartening and often a reason why people give up on raising them. However, it’s essential to not get too attached until the kits are closer to 10-14 days old. I understand that this can be difficult, and it takes years of experience and numerous losses before one can continue without feeling devastated.
Learning to protect your heart takes time, but the rewards are worth it. Nothing valuable comes easily.