|Just A Handful Of Bunny|
We've been keeping rabbits for about 6 months now, and just got our first litter 2 weeks ago. Baby bunnies, adorable little things, are called kittens. When they're first born they look neither like kittens nor like rabbits. In their first days they look something like tailless newborn mice, then they progress to looking like miniscule, furred baby hippos. At last, after a couple weeks, you see the rabbit in them. They don't open their eyes for almost 2 weeks, and are born hairless but super soft.
|A Healthy Kitten At Ten Days Old|
Now, like all myths, there might be some truth to this one. I would not let anyone handle kittens that the mama rabbit is not super comfortable with. If the mother trusts you, she will not consider your smell strange even on her babies. Rabbits can be very feisty though, and mother rabbits that have just kindled are especially protective and suspicious of activity around their babies. Azula is such a good mother; even though she is friendly with us, she did actually bite Nik once when he pulled his arm out of the nest too fast. We learned it's best to be slow and calm around a new mother!
|Azula, looking out for her babies- or maybe just waiting for some fresh greens.|
Since kindling, Azula is always ready to eat, so whenever we want to check on the babies we give her a bunch of fresh, wild greens to distract her. While she calmly nibbles, we can reach into the nest box to count the babies and check how they are doing. One thing that must be checked for is dead babies, or babies that are separate from the rest because, especially before their fur comes in, they need to be close to each other to stay warm.
One day Nik discovered that the tiny runt of the litter was cold and stiff. We had naively thought that since he had made it to 10 days old, he would be OK, but all of his brothers and sisters were 3 or 4 times his size, and he was just not keeping pace! Nik thought this baby, who we called Runty, was dead, but as he carried him, Runty moved his head very slowly. Nik tenderly brought him in and we cuddled him and gave him drops of warm goat milk.
|Many gentle hands cradled Runty.|
I noticed he never went potty, so I did some research and found that a mother rabbit licks the genitals of her babies after they nurse, to get them to urinate. An adoptive caregiver can use a warm washcloth or even a wet finger. When I tried this, nothing happened. Later, Nik tried it and got Runty to poop, the teeniest, tiniest rabbit poops ever.
|We could only love him.|
Feeding him was a two person job. Nik would hold him in position, with Runty's mouth to the sky, while I controlled the milk flow from a needle-less syringe. It would have been easier with a simple eyedropper, but the syringe was all we had. It was hard to control how much milk came out. While I tried to feed him only a drop at a time, more than once I got him with a big spurt as the plunger jumped inside the syringe. We wiped him clean, and he seemed unfazed. It was glorious to watch him eat, to feel his tiny belly filling out.
With Runty being so very, very tiny we were at a loss for where he should spend the night. He seemed to need more warmth than his own fragile body could produce. If he were anywhere near the size of the rest of his littermates, we would have returned him to his family in the nest for the night, but we knew he'd just get pushed out again. Maybe rabbit moms know more than we do about what it takes to survive in this world.
He was too small to co-sleep with us giants, though I wanted to try. Nik set up a heating pad on the lowest possible setting, in a cozy nook on our floor. Runty did not survive the night. At least, I believe, he died warm, well fed, and feeling loved.
We knew his chance of survival was slim, small as he was, and nearly dead already when we found him. We buried him next to the garden, and the children placed some of their treasured safety glass fragments on his eyes, because they heard how in some cultures people send loved ones off with coins on their eyes. Little Runty never even opened those tiny eyes.
|Odin & I hold one of our remaining 9 kittens.|
|Two weeks ago, we could barely see the babies under all their mother's fluff.|
|Azula & Katara in their carefree, pre-pregnancy days.|
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Keeping Rabbits: Our First Litter
4/ 5Oleh Mellow