WILD RABBITS DO NOT MAKE GOOD PETS.
They are wild things and have wild instincts. They do not trust humans and do not accept other domestic animals as companions. Please do not consider keeping these incredible and fragile creatures as a pet – to keep a cottontail in a cage for the rest of its life is to doom it to a life of sadness and broken spirit.
For further information, please contact us!
WildRescue, Inc./Rabbit Rescue
If you are outside of the Dallas/Ft. Worth area and need to find a wildlife rehabilitator, please go here:
Wild Rabbit 911
“I found a nest of orphaned, eyes-closed baby rabbits. What do I do?”If the babies’ eyes are still closed, it is under 10 days of age. If the nest is intact, the babies look fat and plump and are nestled snuggly next to each other, and there seems to be no immediate danger to them, then leave them alone!
You can check to see if the mother rabbit is coming back to the nest by doing the following: Make an X over the nest with strands of dental floss or other thin string. If the string is pushed back out of the way in the morning, then you know that mom has returned to her babies. If after 24 hours the string is still in place, then we need to think about emergency care for those babies.
Another method is to sprinkle cornstarch, flour, or other unscented powder around the nest. You will see the mother’s footprints in the powder in the daylight. Again, you will then know that she has returned to her nest and her babies should be left undisturbed.
NEITHER METHOD IS ALWAYS A GUARANTEE – so be sure to check the babies for plump tummies before determining that the mother has not come back.
"How do I tell how old a baby cottontail is?”So you’ve found a baby cottontail. But how do you tell how old they are? Why, with this handy guide, of course! We’ll walk you through the stages of cottontail development so you can deem whether your cottontail is old enough to go back into the wild, or whether he still needs the care of mom or a rehabilitator.
Newborn: Cottontails have a dark grey-black body with a light pink or white transparent underside. Their eyes are closed and their ears are closed and flat against their head. They weigh 16-23 grams and are about 2″ in length. Newborns cannot survive without their mother’s milk, and it is important to determine whether these babies are still being cared for by mom (chances are high if she just gave birth), or if they have truly been abandoned and need the care of a rehabber.
Four to Five Days Old: By now the fur has turned from black to agouti (natural colored) and they’ll start looking more like baby rabbits than rats. Their fur is slick and flat against their bodies. Their eyes are still closed, but their ears are starting to come away from the body. They should weigh between 23-25 grams and be about 3″ in length. At this age, the cottontails still cannot live without mother’s milk.
3 day old cottontail (right) next to 14 day old cottontail (left)
Seven to Nine Days Old: Similar to a 4-5 day old cottontail, there should not be too much difference at this stage. Eyes should be beginning to open and may look like little slits. Ears start to come away from the body and the ear canal opens, meaning the cottontail can now hear. Fur should still be slick against the body. Their weight should now be 35-40+ grams and should be 3″ or longer. In this picture, a 7 day old cottontail is compared against a 5cc syringe. At this age, the cottontails still cannot live without mother’s milk.
Ten Days Old:Eyes are now open, and ears are away from the body and starting to stand up. The cottontail can ear and see well now. Their fur is still slick against their body. They should now weigh 40-55+ grams and be longer than 3″ — he should fit in your palm but not fill your hand. At this age the cottontails are still very much dependent on mother’s milk, but they will start nibbling on dried grasses.
10 day old cottontail
Two Weeks Old: The fur should be starting to stand up and be less slick against the body. Eyes and ears are wide open. They should weigh 55-70+ grams and be 4″ or longer — he should fit in your palm but not fill your hand.
Two and a Half Weeks Old: Cottontails should begin to look “fluffy” at this stage. They should weigh 70 grams or more, and be over 4-4 1/2″ long – he should fit in your palm but not fill your hand. At this age the cottontails are still very much dependent on mother’s milk, but they will nibble on dried grasses.
Three Weeks Old: At this age, their fur should be standing up a little more off their bodies and they should start to appear to have normal rabbit fur. Cottontails at this age should be eating natural foods — grasses, weeds, fruits and vegetables — and should now weigh 70-80+ grams. They should be 4-4 1/2″ long — he should fit in your palm and almost fill your hand. They should still be able to be handled without shrinking from your hand too much. Though they may look like small versions of adults, they are not yet ready to be released back to the wild. Cottontails at this age will start leaving the nest to find food, but will still remain in the area and return to their nest at night.
Three and a Half Weeks Old:Cottontails at this stage should have fur that stands out from their body, eyes and ears bright and alert. Their ears should stand straight up from their head. They are now fully weaned and eating natural foods – grasses, weeds, fruits and vegetables. They should weigh 80-120+ grams and be 41/2-5″ long, approximately the size of a tennis ball. They are now at the age where they can be released back into the wild. Rabbits still in their nest should be roaming around outside of their nests and should be left alone if found unless they appear injured or otherwise compromised (if brought in by your dog or cat, for example).
Four to Five Weeks Old:Cottontails at this age should very much look like a small version of an adult. Fur stands off the body like an adult rabbit, ears stand straight up from the head, eyes are bright, and they should appear alert and wary of humans. They should weigh 150+ grams and measure about 5-7″ long — bigger than a softball, and filling both hands.
Adult: Cottontails weigh 2-3 pounds and are usually 15-20″ long. They should be very much wary of humans and are now at reproductive age.
“I have found a baby cottontail outside of its nest. Is he okay?”Baby conttontails go mobile between three and four weeks of age. If the cottontail is roughly the size of a baseball, it is old enough to be fully on its own and there is no need to take any action. If the cottontail’s eyes are closed or it is smaller than a baseball, simply find the nest and renest it. The nest is usually located close to a house or other sheltered environment in shallow holes lined with dried grasses and fur. If the nest is disturbed, gently replace the baby and put the nesting material back in the nest. Your human smell will not deter Mom from feeding them. Monitor the nest and the babies over the next day or so. If the nest has been disturbed a little, mom has most likely come to feed her babies. You can find out by picking up each baby and turning him over to see if his belly is plump and full. Mom comes to feed at dusk and at dawn, so checking during the middle of the day or in the morning is the best time. If the babies look thin, dehydrated or injured at all, contact us for further information.
“How do I know if the babies are old enough to be released?”Baby rabbits leave the nest at approximately 3-4 weeks of age (sometimes older). If the rabbit is as big as a tennis ball (or fully fills your hand), then it is able to survive in the wild. If it fits within your hand or is obviously small or injured, then it needs to be re-nested or taken to a wildlife rehabilitator as soon as possible.At 3-4 weeks of age, their instincts to survive in the wild are fully intact. They know how to camouflage themselves, what natural foods to eat, and what a predator is and how to behave around it. They automatically know to run away from a predator in a “broken path” pattern, thus making it hard for a predator to catch them, or to freeze in the “you can’t see me” position.
“How often does the mother feed the babies?”The mother rabbit usually feeds her babies under cover of darkness – early in the morning before sunrise and in the evening after sunset. This is so that a predator cannot easily “see” the mother returning to her nest. She feeds two to three times within 12-hour timeframes. The babies flip over onto their backs and nurse upside-down. The mother stands over them, ready to flee the nest at the first hint of a predator. It only takes a minute or so for the babies’ stomachs to fill and for the feeding to be complete.
“The mother has not returned to the nest – what do we do now?”Remember, mom stays away from the nest during the day. She does not stay with her babies except to feed, stimulate and clean them. Follow the instructions regarding the use of dental floss to criss-cross the nest. If the mom does not return after 24 hours, or if the nest is destroyed and so forth, then it is time for human intervention.
“The nest has been torn up and the babies have no cover. What do I do?”If the nest has been destroyed by you, a lawnmower, a dog, etc, you can actually recreate a nest for the babies on the original nest site or few feet away from the original nest site. Gather dried grasses and scoop out a similar shallow form in the earth. Replace the dried grasses and bits of rabbit fur (the mother always pulls fur from her chest and abdomen to line the nest for her babies). Rub your hands in the grass and soil around the nest to get rid of any residual human smell, and gently replace the babies in the new nest you’ve made.
If it is impossible to reestablish the nest or create a new one; if the babies are in imminent danger; if there is no sign of the mother for over 24 hours; or if the babies are in any way injured, please contact us or your local state-permitted wildlife rehabilitator.
“I’d like to renest the babies, but they won’t be safe outside; how can I help them naturally?”Click here for detailed information on how to help healthy babies that cannot be renested.
“I have picked up the babies – won’t my scent keep the mother away?”No – the mother will not abandon her babies just because the scent of a human is on them. If you are doubtful, then wash your hands and rub them in the grass and soil around the nest before gently replacing the babies, making the nest up as it was before you disturbed it.
“I’ve determined that a rescue is necessary. What do I do now?”
If after having read the information on the 911 for Wild Rabbits page you have determined that a rescue is absolutely necessary, here are some instructions for preparing the rabbit(s) for transport to the rescue center.
Use a container such as a small cardboard box or shoebox. Punch air holes in the lid. Line the container with a clean, soft cloth or old t-shirt that you do not mind giving up. Place the rabbit inside the container and put a rubber band around the box and lid, securing it for the ride.
Babies must stay warm! 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. Place the sock in the microwave and heat for less than a minute. 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. The babies will crawl next to the warmth of the sock, and they can move away if it is too warm. Another option is to put a wet washcloth (wrung out) into a ziplock baggie and microwave until warm but not hot. This acts as a portable heating pad and should be placed underneath the cloth at the bottom of the shoebox.
If it is going to be a length of time before you can get the babies to a rehabilitator, please do the following:
DO NOT ATTEMPT TO FEED THE BABIES – TO DO SO COULD CAUSE THEIR DEATH!
Follow the instructions above as per the shoebox or other small container. If you have a heating pad, set it on low and place the pad on a non-conductive surface (your bathroom counter or washing machine lid will do just fine). Place the container with the babies half-on and half-off the heating pad. This will allow the babies to move away from the heat if they need to.
Wild rabbits require a specialized formula. Rehabilitators have been trained to offer the formula appropriate for this species and know the correct feeding schedule and protocol for rehydration. You also run the risk of aspirating the baby (accidentally letting him breathe the fluid instead of swallowing it) by using an incorrect feeding utensil. Baby rabbits are incredibly fragile and do not take handling by humans well. They will die of stress if handled improperly or kept in a cage for too long. Keep baby birds away from children, household noise (such as vacuum cleaners and so forth), domestic pets and bright light.
If you determine that a rabbit needs to be seen by us please call us at 972-891-9286; be prepared to tell us the number of animals found, the physical condition of the animal, under what circumstances the animal was found, and your location. We field dozens of calls a day from all over the country, so please be as succinct as possible during your call. Click here for detailed information on how to safely transport babies. Animals can be dropped off at our center in Denton, TX Monday through Saturday from 10:00am to 8:00pm and Sunday from noon to 6:00pm. We also have drop-off locations in Plano and Lewisville available Monday through Thursday from 9:00am to 4:00pm. Contact us for location information. We are a small, non-profit center – any donation you can give to help with the animals care is greatly appreciated!