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QUESTION: Hi, I have been raising a baby jackrabbit because I found it being attacked by birds and it's eye was bleeding. It was about 2 days old when I got it and is now over 2 weeks. It's eye has completely healed now. I have done this once before and the rabbit did very well and was successfully released after 3.5 months in my care.

My baby rabbit was maybe a day old when I originally found it. I am not sure if it would have received it's mom's cecotrophs yet. I got some from a friend who has rabbits and gave the baby jackrabbit some, but I am not sure it got enough of them. I fed the cecotrophs mixed in milk because it refused them any other way. I only gave it some a few times, definitely not over a couple of weeks as you said (I wish i had found that info sooner!) I did the same with the last jackrabbit I raised and it thrived and had no issues with digesting the greens it was given. I wanted to be careful so I gave the baby one dandelion leaf, which it eagerly munched down. Now it's been 4 days and NO DROPPINGS at all! The rabbit is still drinking it's milk every day (goats milk with KMR and added vitamins) and it is alert and active.

I don't know what else to do. I have been giving tummy massages daily to try and get things moving in the gut. I have also given some probiotics and saccaromyces boulardi (a probiotic yeast that's known to  kill e-coli and clostridium difficile and other harmful bacteria). I have given small amounts of simethicone to prevent gas buildup since things are not moving on their own. I just sent my friend a message asking for more cecotrophs if she can get them. I am thinking maybe I can still give some more to the rabbit and generate some more good bacteria for it. Is it too late? I am so worried. I cannot thinking of anything else that would help, but being that she's still very active, alert, and drinking milk I am not about to give up. Will continuing with daily tummy massage ever help move things out?

The reason I am raising it myself is because the wildlife rehab place here when I call them for help they say "put it back". They don't seem to care when these little ones are attacked and killed by birds and they see it as "that's life". Maybe I care too much, but I can't just stand by and let them die like that. They are literally born on the lawn in the city, out in the open and then killed within hours. 3 others were killed the previous day hours after being born and I was surprised to find this one appeared to have actually made it one day before those birds were onto it. So, maybe what I am doing is not right from a rehabilitation perspective and letting them die on day one or 2 is acceptable by their standards but I don't see it that way.

Any advice will be incredibly appreciated!

ANSWER: Dear Michelle,

Your compassion is a beautiful thing, and I agree with you that sometimes wildlife rehabbers (perhaps because they are overloaded with rescues, and/or perhaps because they don't see "prey" species as valuable as predators) don't see the forest for the trees.  Yes, crows/birds need to eat.  But human activities have increased the crow population tremendously (they love our garbage, and we give them more habitat than they would have if not for our habitations and trash), and this puts more of a strain on the jackrabbits than they might have in a natural situation.  So I look at your efforts as trying to set things a little back in balance.

Your observation that he's still eating and bright-eyed is important.  That means his GI tract is moving; a rabbit in ileus will not eat, and is utterly miserable.

Were you seeing poops before?  Is it possible he's producing them, but they are small and hard to find?  I would continue doing what you're doing, because it seems to be working.  If you can get a little bit of cisapride or metoclopramide to have on hand *just in case* he stops eating (and has no poop production, suggesting ileus), that would be good.  The standard dose for each is 0.5mg/kg.  But I would not use it if he's eating and acting fine.  It sounds as if you're doing all the right things.

Be sure the baby is very well hydrated, as sometimes the fecal matter can become desiccated and difficult to pass.  In addition to the milk, you might give him some dilute Pedialyte electrolyte solution.  In general, fluid intake should be about 10% of body mass per day, given in several doses over the course of the day.  If you feel the baby is dehydrated, subQ fluids would help, though they are not easy to give to a wiggly baby!  :(  So stick with oral hydration for now.  

At two weeks, he should be okay with starting to nibble greens.  I don't think it was the dandelion greens that caused this problem.  My guess is insufficient hydration.  So gradually get him hydrated, and I'm betting you will see improvement.  In a drastic case, you can administer an enema, but again, it's not easy with such a wee baby.

Keep doing what you're doing and keep fighting the good fight!  If you have more questions, you can write directly to me at dana@miami.edu

Dana
P.S. - I'm not sure where you found the information about feeding cecotropes over the course of several weeks, because if/when I wrote that, I was not experienced.  I now see that baby lagomorphs appear to have a "critical period" during which they will eagerly nibble cecotropes and "seed" their own GI tracts that way.  After they are inoculated and have a flora going, they will reject further cecotrope infusion.  Nature's way! So if you've given a few cecotrope doses, your little guy should be just fine.

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: Hi Dana,

Thanks for your advice and compliment! I am happy to report that my bun has finally pooped! To answer your questions, I am sure there were no poops because I have him in a large pet carrier with a soft light blue blanket as bedding so I easily saw the poops before. I washed the bedding and then shortly afterwards fed the dandelion leaf and that was last week. No poops since then until today...and now there are lots again! Yay!

I am unable to get cisapride or metoclopramide. Unfortunately where I live it is considered "illegal" to keep wild animals even if you plan to set them free. You are required by law to hand them over to a wildlife rehab facility, which I tried to do with the last jackrabbit I ended up raising but like I said, they just told me to put it back. You are right about the birds. My neighborhood is overrun by magpies and crows and the baby bunnies hardly stand a chance. But that forced me to do a ton of research to learn how to raise them and keep them alive and I did a pretty good job. I hope I can do just as well for this one.

I feed the baby milk 6-7 feedings per day of milk in one of those little baby bottles the vets and pet stores sell in nursing kits. Currently it drinks about 1/2 a bottle at each feeding. Do you think it's safe, given that the baby is producing poops again, to start giving it dandelions again or should I maybe wait and try to get more cecotropes? I am wary now of giving it greens and having this happen again, but I can tell the baby wants something more to munch on because I give it wooden blocks for rabbits and it chews them a lot. It also sometimes tries chewing on my shirt or on it's bedding so I think it's wanting some munchies. Just feeling concerned that maybe it will have a hard time digesting them if perhaps it hasn't had enough cecotropes. I can't really say why it stopped producing poops because it gets a lot of milk every day. Anyways just wondering if you think it could be risky or if you think I should give it a shot as far as giving more dandelions.

Also my last jackrabbit would not eat anything except dandelions. This makes me wonder about how well it would survive once set free because once winter comes there are no dandelions. I know they naturally eat bark etc in winter but would they still do this if never exposed to other food options? Just wondering if there's anything else I should be providing or of dandelions are sufficient.

Thanks again for all your help. It's nice to know there are other people out there that care. I get called "crazy" by people for doing this and I just shake my head at how cold people can be! You are awesome! :)

ANSWER: Hi, Michelle

I wish more people had your kind of "crazy."

Babies of all kinds of mammals acquire taste for the foods that their mother was eating while the babies were in utero, and also while nursing.  They acquire information from compounds transmitted in the fluid surrounding them as embryos and from the milk.  So if mama was eating multiple things when she had the baby, your baby will have an innate recognition of safe things to eat.

I would start introducing well washed, pesticide free items from your garden, similar to what the jackrabbits in your neighborhood are eating.  Introduce items one at a time, to allow the little guy's flora to adjust.  If you can get some cecotropes and poops from a healthy rabbit, just sprinkle them around his carrier so he'll come in contact with them.  That will help him acquire more good bacteria.  

You could also introduce some fresh timothy or other grass hay that he could have available for munching constantly.  If he's chewing wood, his instincts to eat solids are kicking in, and he needs to start that to develop a healthy GI tract flora.

Hang in there!  Jackrabbits are the BEST!  I have cottontails, jacks, and domestics, and of the three the jackrabbits are the most gentle and elegant.  :)

Dana

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: Hi Dana,

Me again lol I have another question. My baby jackrabbit is doing well and is approximately 7 weeks old now. I have been giving her dandelions the same as I did with my last jackrabbit. She was eating them for awhile but now she's refusing them and only wants milk. She will chew anything else she finds, like paper, cloth, carpet, etc. but she won't eat the dandelions. I have been buying them from an organic market, and washing them before giving them to her as well. A couple of weeks ago she was eating them and now she's not. I have also tried picking them outside and she basically let those ones dry out completely before she would eat them. She refuses grass as well, although I have read they don't really eat grass much. I hav tried giving her organic parsley too and she also refuses that. She pretty much only wants her milk.

My last jackrabbit went through loads of dandelions at this age, so I am not sure why she's refusing them. I don't know what else I could offer her that she might eat. I think Timothy Hay pellets are not a great idea to try because she won't find them in the wild. I could try getting a bag of Timothy Hay and seeing if she will eat that.

Do you have any suggestions? Should I be worried or will she eventually start eating her greens? This one is so different from the last one so I'm a bit thrown off and at a loss for what else to do. I have tried not giving her the milk and just leaving her with the greens but she still doesn't eat them and follows me around trying to get me to give her milk so eventually I give in. What can I do?

Thanks,
Michelle

Answer
Hi, Michelle

Hmm.  That's a weird one.  I hope she doesn't have dental problems that are keeping her from chewing properly.  Can you see any evidence of that?  It can be hard to check, except for the front teeth. But my first thought was mouth pain.

I would not withhold milk if it's the only thing she's taking in.  But you could *try* pellets to just see if she's even able to eat solids.  

Let me know what she does.

Dana

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Dana Krempels, Ph.D.

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I've lived with companion rabbits for more than 35 years, and consider them members of my family. I can answer any questions about the biology and health of rabbits, from the commonplace to the unusual. But please note:

RULE #1:
THE INTERNET IS NOT THE PLACE TO SEEK HELP IN AN EMERGENCY.

...it is an EMERGENCY.

Find a rabbit vet at www.rabbit.org/vet for immediate help, and don't risk your bunny's life by spending time asking questions online! If you can't get in touch with your vet, read these Emergency Sick Bunny Instructions.

If you have found a wild baby rabbit, please read these EMERGENCY INSTRUCTIONS FOR WILD BABY RABBITS and then use this link to FIND A LOCAL WILDLIFE REHABILITATOR who can give you the right advice.


RULE #2:
Help me help you! Please make your subject line informative if you have an urgent question. then LET ME KNOW IN THE SUBJECT LINE so I can give your question highest priority over non-urgent questions. If you don't do this, then I can't guarantee timely assistance!

For all the best, most accurate rabbit health, care and behavior information, visit The House Rabbit Society.

Experience

I have been rescuing and rehabilitating domestic and wild rabbits for about 30 years. I have written articles for many rabbit rescue publications, as well as for the veterinary journal, Exotic DVM. I own EtherBun, the internet's largest listserve dedicated to health, care, and behavior of domestic rabbits.

Organizations
Houserabbit Adoption, Rescue, and Education, Inc. (H.A.R.E., Inc.) president National House Rabbit Society (Board member)

Publications
Exotic DVM
Warren Peace (Journal of the House Rabbit Society of Miami)
Various newsletters of the House Rabbit Society, nationwide

Education/Credentials
Ph.D - Biology
B.S. - Biology
B.A. - English

Awards and Honors
Lightspan Academic Excellence Award for web site on rabbit health and biology
(http://www.bio.miami.edu/hare)

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