TECHNIQUE

Hand-rearing Rabbits & Hares (Wildlife Casualty Management)
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Summary Information
Type of technique Health & Management / UK Wildlife Casualty Management / Techniques:
Synonyms and Keywords N.B. This information should be read in association with Hand-rearing of Orphaned Wildlife which contains background information together with links to the Electronic Library and Organisations (UK Contacts). The related Species pages contain similar linkages.
Description This page has been prepared for the "UK Wildlife: First Aid and Care" Wildpro module, and is designed for the needs of the following species: Lepus europaeus - Brown hare, Lepus timidus - Mountain hare, Oryctolagus cuniculus - European rabbit.

These species are within the family Leporidae.

  • Lagomorphs are not considered easy to hand-rear.(B156.12.w12)
  • Healthy leverets are normally left alone in areas of grassland during the day (normal behaviour). Members of the public may find such a leveret and mistakenly assume that it has been abandoned by its parents and is in need of care. Where possible, the public should be educated that this is normal behaviour and such youngsters should be left alone unless they are obviously sick, injured or in immediate danger.

Initial Care: 

General mammal information: 

  • On arrival any young mammal should be weighed, warmed, stimulated to urinate/defecate and given supplementary fluids by an appropriate route to counteract dehydration. 
  • The age should be determined if possible. (See individual species information pages, sections "Appearance - Neonate" and "Life Stages - Reproductive stages").
  • The first feed given should be an oral rehydration (electrolyte) solution (e.g. Lectade, Pfizer Limited), with a gradual changeover to a milk substitute over several feeds.
  • See: Hand Rearing of Orphaned Wildlife for further general information. for further general information.

General Care (including warmth and hygiene):

General mammal information

  • Young mammals have poor ability to maintain body temperature and are prone to hypothermia, hyperthermia and burns, particularly when unfurred or only sparsely furred.
  • Keep out of draughts but ensure ventilation is adequate.
  • Provide a temperature range, e.g. by heating one end of the container more than the other, which, while not allowing either overheating or chilling, permits the animal to chose the position at which it feels most comfortable.
  • The container used should be sufficiently large to allow the occupant to move into a comfortable position.
  • The sides of the container should be sufficiently high to prevent the occupant falling out.
  • Bedding materials should be soft, comfortable and either disposable or easily washed. They should keep the animal dry and be changed as frequently as necessary to prevent soiling.
  • (B194, P3.1987.w5, V.w5)

Small mammal information:

  • Maintain small mammals initially at 32C, then 28C, later 23C.(P3.1987.w5)
  • Initially at 95F for a hairless baby, 90F for a haired infant with the eyes still closed, and reduce by 5F per week once the eyes are open.(B194)

Rabbit & hare specific information:

  • For Lepus europaeus - Brown hare warmth may be provided by infra red light until 15 days old, depending on the ambient temperature.(J23.28.w1)
  • Cover the box with a wire screen to ensure the orphans cannot jump out. (B196)
  • Provide heat at one end of the box, with a smaller nest box at the heated end; food may be provided in the unheated end from an early age.(B196)
  • House in a quiet undisturbed area. (J23.35.w2)

Milk replacer:

  • Milk of lagomorphs is very high in dry matter, high in fat and low in carbohydrate. (P19.5.w5, B156.12.w12, P3.1987.w3):
    • Oryctolagus cuniculus - European rabbit: Energy 2.06 Kcal/ml. Solids 31.2%, of which fat 49%, protein 32%, carbohydrates 6%, ash 6%. (P19.1.w5)
    • Lepus europaeus - Brown hare: Energy 2.01 Kcal/ml. Solids 32.2%, of which fat 46%, protein 31%, carbohydrates 5%.(P19.1.w5)
    • Lepus timidus - Mountain hare: Energy 2.92 Kcal/ml. Solids 40.0%, of which fat 48%, protein 49%, carbohydrates 2%.(P19.51w5)
  • Suggested milk replacers include:
    • Esbilac (Pet Ag).(B151, J34.9.w1, P3.1987.w3)
    • Welpi (Hoechst UK Ltd.), mixed one part powder to two parts warm water, with 0.3ml multivitamins (Abidec, Parke-Davis) added once daily has been used for Lepus europaeus - Brown hare from about two days old.(J23.28.w1)
    • KMR (Pet-Ag Inc, Illinois USA). (B156.12.w12)
    • Esbilac (Pet Ag) for Oryctolagus cuniculus - European rabbit. (D24)
    • Esbilac (Pet Ag), possibly with egg yolk to increase fat and protein, or with added Multi-Milk (Pet-Ag, Illinois). (B156.12.w12)
    • KMR or Esbilac (Pet Ag), possibly with added egg yolk (P19.1.w5), or Multi-Milk (Pet-Ag, Illinois).
    • Goats milk or lamb milk replacer.(D25)
    • Cow's milk with added vitamins has been used successfully to rear Lepus nigricollis nigricollis - Black-naped hare leverets.(J23.35.w2)

Utensils:

  • Catac puppy bottle with small teat.(B151)
  • Syringe and small rubber teat.(D24)

Feeding Frequency:

Rabbit & hare specific information:

  • Twice daily feeds only.(B151)
  • Lepus europaeus - Brown hare feed maximum of four times daily, and three times daily from 24 days old. (J23.28.w1)
  • Oryctolagus cuniculus - European rabbit:
  • Optimum frequency may be three feeds per day: four times daily for 1-2 to 5 days old (approximate age) and three or two feeds daily for older leverets (more than five days old) until weaning has been used successfully to rear Lepus nigricollis nigricollis - Black-naped hare leverets.(J23.35.w2)

Feeding Technique: 

  • To encourage feeding in very small animals, place a drop of milk on lips, preferably with animal held upright.(P3.1987.w5)
  • To feed using a medicine dropper:
    • Hold the infant in one hand with its head slightly higher than its body, place the dropper just inside the animal's lips and press the bulb extremely gently to place a tiny drop of formula in the infant's mouth to encourage feeding to start. As it begins to suck or lick the dropper may be pressed very gently to assist the infant to take the formula.(B194)
    • If a bubble of liquid appears at the nose or the infant opens its mouth wide, immediately stop feeding and tilt the infant head down to allow the excess formula to drain from its mouth. Give the infant a chance to recover then start again more slowly.(B194)
    • Refill the dropper as required.(B194)
    • Some infants may feed by licking individual hanging drops of the end of the dropper.(B194)
    • Clean any excess from the infant's nose/chin after each feed.(B194)
  • A similar technique can be used with a small syringe, pressing very slowly on the plunger as the infant sucks or licks.(V.w5)
  • When feeding very small neonates it is vital that the feeding technique used provides milk at a sufficiently slow rate to minimise the risk of milk being inhaled with resultant aspiration pneumonia (V.w26).

Quantities:

General mammal information:

  • Energy intake (kilocalories per day) = 200-250 x weight(kg) 0.83. (P19.1.w5, P3.1987.w3)

Rabbit & hare specific information:

  • Avoid overfeeding.
  • Feed approximately 10% body weight per day, divided between the number of feeds given.(J34.9.w1)
  • 12 ml total feed volume per day taken by a Lepus nigricollis nigricollis - Black-naped hare leveret of estimated 1-2 days of age (body weight less than 180g), increasing to about 138ml/day at 31-35 days old and body weight of about 750g.(J23.35.w2)

Toileting: 

General mammal information:

  • Most infant mammals require gentle stimulation of the ano-genital area (using e.g. a damp cotton bud, damp cotton wool or damp soft paper towel) in order to urinate and defecate. 
  • This should be done when the animal is first presented and at every feed until voluntary elimination is observed.

Rabbit & hare specific information:

  • Toileting is not required for hares.(J23.28.w1, J23.35.w2)

Weighing: 

General mammal information:

  • Weigh daily. 
  • If more than one infant is being reared in a litter, the infants may be marked in a safe manner e.g. using small amount of a non-toxic coloured correction fluid such as Tippex in order to allow individual identification and monitoring.(V.w26)

Rabbit & hare specific information:

  • Lepus europaeus - Brown hare body weight increased 10-20g daily to day 12 old, then approximately 25g daily to day 24 old.(J23.28.w1)

Weaning:

Suggested weaning protocols include:

  • Hares wean at an earlier age than rabbits.(B151)
  • Green foods such as dandelion and clover are suitable weaning foods.(B151)
  • Give daily access to grass outside in a wire-bottomed run which prevents access by vermin and predators and with protection from the weather from an early age.(B196)
  • Grass, clover, grain, wholemeal bread, apple and carrot may be used as weaning foods.(B196)
  • Make soil available.(J23.28.w1)
  • Hares (data from Lepus europaeus - Brown hare) (J23.28.w1):
    • Small amounts of e.g. grass may be eaten from as early as nine days old.
    • Milupa (Milupa) infant foods (fruit varieties), wholemeal bread, grass, dandelions taken readily from 11 days old.
    • Milk consumption may continue to e.g. 36 days old.
    • Leverets should be housed in an outside run by 21 days old. (J23.28.w1)
    • (J23.28.w1)
    • Grass eaten by about 10-12 days old and about 150g/day of grass and forbes (herbaceous flowering plant other than a grass) eaten by about 31-33 days old by a Lepus nigricollis nigricollis - Black-naped hare leveret.(J23.35.w2) Offer grass and forbes from arrival, although these may not be eaten at all until the orphan is about 10 days old. (J23.35.w2)
    • Grazing or grass and clover may eaten by as early as one week old along with green plants such as dandelion leaves, plantain, green lettuce, sowthistles; offer milk for lapping by three weeks and thicken with baby cereal by four weeks. Consumption of milk is likely to cease by five to six weeks old. (B224)
    • Keep outside as soon as possible, in a secure run with netting no larger than one inch and a weatherproof box with dry bedding. The run should be moveable to provide constant access to fresh grass.(B224)
  • Rabbits:
    • Start by providing Milupa (Milupa) baby foods; gradually reduce the amount of Milupa offered as other foods are eaten.(V.w27)
    • Milk may be thickened with baby cereal as weaning age approaches. Offer dry breakfast cereals initially and green leafy vegetables. A range of foods should be offered by the time the infant is hopping around its accommodation, e.g. green lettuce, green cabbage leaves, apple, locally available wild-growing green leafy plants.(B194)
    • Start with solid food at 12-14 days old: provide chopped grass, grated carrot, diced apple, and reduce milk feed frequency. Eating independently by 16-17 days old, and should be on adult diet by 3-4 weeks. old(D24)
    • Grazing or grass and clover may eaten after two weeks old; hay, prepared rabbit diets, oats, vegetables and fruits may be offered soon after this, consumption of milk is likely to cease by 35 days old.(B224)
    • Keep outside as soon as possible, in a secure run with netting no larger than one inch and a weatherproof box with dry bedding. The run should be moveable to provide constant access to fresh grass. (B224)

Release:

Appropriate Use (?)
  • Wild animals should not be taken for hand rearing unless they are definitely orphaned or abandoned, injured/visibly unwell, or in immediate danger.
  • Healthy leverets, left alone during the day (normal behaviour) may be picked up as "abandoned " by members of the public. Where possible, the public should be educated that this is normal behaviour and such youngsters should be left alone unless sick/injured or in immediate danger.
  • Juvenile rabbits are commonly seen alone at a young age when first emerging from the burrow (at about the age of weaning), and may be brought in by a cat or dog at this age. Such rabbits do not require hand-rearing and may be released after appropriate treatment for shock or injuries.
Notes
  • Lepus europaeus - Brown hare leveret released at 46 days old.(J23.28.w1)
  • Preferably have only one person rearing/handling the orphan.(J23.35.w2)
  • An ordinary outdoor thermometer may be used to indicate the temperature in the container used to house the orphan.(B194)
  • Routine records should be maintained of daily weight, times of each feed, quantities of milk consumed, urine/faeces production and general condition/demeanour. Such records provide an objective means of assessing progress and provide useful data for improving rearing methods.(V.w5)
  • It may be appropriate to vaccinate rabbits against Myxomatosis prior to release. (V.w26)
Complications/ Limitations / Risk
  • Rabbits and hares may be difficult to hand-rear. (B156.12.w12, D24)
  • Risk of injury due to severe flight reaction when transferred to a larger enclosure after weaning. (J23.35.w2)
Equipment / Chemicals required and Suppliers
  • KMR (Pet-Ag Inc, Illinois USA).
  • Esbilac (Pet Ag, Kruus UK Ltd., Unit 17, Moor Lane Industrial Estate, Sherburn in Elmet, North Yorkshire, LS25 6ES) (PetAg Inc, Illinois, USA).
  • Welpi (Hoechst UK ltd., PO Box 18, Hounslow, Middlesex TW4 6JH). Available from pet stores.
  • Multi-Milk (Pet-Ag Inc., Illinois, USA).
  • Abidec multi-vitamin drops (Parke-Davis, Pontypool, Gwent, UK. Available from chemists).
  • Milupa (Milupa, White Horse Business Parki, Trowbridge, WILTS BA14 0XB): from supermarkets, chemists etc.
Expertise level / Ease of Use
  • Not easy to hand-rear. If the carer does not have experience with these species advice should be sought from experienced rehabilitators and other people with expertise with these species. 
  • Considerable time commitment involved.
  • Manual dexterity is important for caring for these small individuals. OR (Manual dexterity important.)
  • Requires empathy, observation skills and the ability to "read" the animals' body language.
  • Experience with hand-rearing is useful and likely to greatly increase the success rate.
Cost/ Availability
  • Products and equipment all widely available, not particularly expensive.
Legal and Ethical Considerations
  • Non-injured leverets which were picked up after being found "abandoned" should be returned to their exact original location and monitored discreetly to determine whether the female will return to nurse the infant.(D24)
  • Hand-rearing should not be started unless the carer is prepared to give the time and effort required for rearing to release, or to ensure that appropriate care will be continued through to release.
  • Consider whether hand-rearing is the best option for the individual compared with leaving it in the wild.
  • Consider whether euthanasia is a more humane/kinder option for the individual than attempting hand-rearing.
  • An offence may be committed under the Abandonment of Animals Act 1960 Section 1 if a released animal does not have a reasonable chance of survival (i.e. a chance similar to its non-rehabilitated peers). It is an offence under this Act for a person having control or charge of an animal to abandon it permanently or otherwise in circumstances likely to cause unnecessary suffering. This may include release at an unsuitable site, in the wrong territory, unfit, not having learned to hunt, at the wrong time of year etc. (J35.147.w1, B156.21.w21, B223, W5.Jan01)
  • See: Legislation relating to Wildlife Casualties.
Author Debra Bourne
Referee Becki Lawson and Suzanne Boardman
References

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