After all the excitement of getting our first Standard Rex litter after almost a year of trying, things started to go wrong, fast.
Tuna did everything right, she pulled fur, she had her kits inside the nestbox, she cleaned them up. So far so good. After the first 24 hours the kits were all still alive, but it was obvious that they were not being fed. Their bellies were wrinkled and shriveled, but they were still very active. Ok, first time mom, let’s give her another day. That evening I even went in very late to check on her, and she jumped in the nestbox to “feed” and tend to her kits, right in front of me. Something none of my other does have ever done. I was hopeful. The next morning however the kits still looked emaciated and the runt had perished.
I took Tuna out of her cage and sat with her on my lap while I tried to allow her kits to nurse. They went frantically from nipple to nipple, seemingly getting nothing. Maybe Tuna wasn’t lactating yet? Good thing Rosalind also kindled a litter recently, so at least I have options. I filled up Tuna’s hopper with pellets and whole oats and went to the feed store for KMR (kitten milk replacer) and a baby bottle. I have access to whole goat’s milk as well but wanted to try the KMR first as it seems richer.
Thus began my first adventure with hand-feeding newborn rabbits. I mixed up the warm formula, set up a towel with a heating pad underneath and some warm wet washcloths and went to work. I started with the smallest kit and began by wiping the genital area to stimulate excretion. Once I got a little stream of pee, I went ahead with the feeding. Despite how eager they were to search out nipples on their mom, they weren’t enthusiastic about the formula. They put up quite a fight, and I only got a very small amount in each one. It takes a long time. You have to be very careful that the liquid doesn’t get squirted into the rabbit’s mouth and that it doesn’t enter their nose. If they aspirate milk into their lungs they can get pneumonia very quickly and die. You will be feeding drop by drop and waiting for the baby to finish the drop before you offer more. When they start fussing and refusing, they are done. They need to be cleaned thoroughly with a warm washcloth so the dried milk doesn’t cause sores, and their genitals need another round of wiping. On to kit number two. Feeding all eight kits took probably about two hours.
Two hours. I’m a busy girl, there’s no way I can hand raise all these kits. Not to mention the success rate for hand-raising kits so young is very poor. I need another solution. Maybe Tuna’s milk will come in with a little encouragement? Time for a little nestbox juggling.
Luckily Rosalind has always been a great mom and she had a new litter too, born the day after the Rex kits. For once I found myself wishing she had produced a small litter so I could foster more easily. No such luck, she usually throws 9-12 kits per litter and this was no exception. Ten kits. Ok. Her kits looked very well fed for the most part, at least seven of them looked very fat and large. I removed these kits and placed them in a warm holding area and replaced them with all eight of Tuna’s starving kits. I put the nextbox back in with Ros around 7pm and left it there all night. The seven large Silver Marten kits were placed in Tuna’s next box for a few hours to absorb some of her smell and then placed in with Tuna. My hope with this arrangement was that Ros would give all the starving babies a good feed, while the strong babies could stimulate Tuna’s lactation with their more vigorous nursing. But would it work?
Well, I went to check on everyone this morning and was very pleased to find all starving babies with full, fat tummies. Good work, Ros! Even the kits left with Tuna look like they’ve been fed, albeit not much. Possibly since she’s a first time mom her milk is coming in late and there’s not a lot of it. I’m going to continue to free-feed her pellets and oats and hope that her production increases. In the meantime I will keep rotating kits to keep everyone fed, I hope. Can one rabbit doe provide enough milk to feed two large litters?