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Ask the Breeder Oct/Nov/Dec 2008 Issue


What methods do you use when you find newborn kits that are cold and close to death to try and restore warmth?
From Sue Hill:
Even though my barn is heated in the winter to 45 degrees, several youngsters that end up on the wire instead of the nestbox are chilled and in need of help when I find them.  I always think of the newborns at the hospital I used to work at; they were placed under a warmer, had a special temperature probe lightly adhered to their chest area and a knit hat popped on their head, regardless of how much hair they had. The focus was to keep them warm.  They need some help in the beginning with the drastic climate changes from being inside mom to out in the big people's world.  We'd watch them closely as they could lose body heat quickly, which used their energy reserves. 

It's the same with baby bunnies.  They cool off very fast and need to be kept warm in the nest the doe (hopefully) built with her fur.  If I find a baby chilled, I will wrap it up in a hand towel kept in the barn and bring it into the house.  I have a gooseneck lamp with a 25 watt bulb that I bring out and place on the floor over a plastic container lined with kleenex or paper towel with the baby(ies) in it.  The plastic works best for me because it doesn't seem to draw heat away from the kits like ceramic or metal does.  I make sure the lamp is sitting so it is not too close to the kits to overheat them.  I frequently check them and adjust the lighting height as needed, and then keep them under the light for a good eight hours before returning them to mom.  If the baby is one of several others, I add it (or them) back to the nestbox before I feed for the evening so I can watch the doe.  If it's the only one, I combine it with another litter if at all possible so the baby has others to keep it warm.  

Should the baby be dirty at all or very cold, I'll bring it to the house and rinse it under warm water from the neck on down, rubbing it gently to stimulate it to breathe better.  The baby then goes under the lights and is kept for the eight hours, and returned to the mom if at all possible.  I find that I check my rabbits frequently when they are due to kindle so I can be watching for issues such as cold kits.  I've been able to pull countless babies through in this manner.  After planning the breedings to produced the parents, and then waiting the time to have a litter from them, it's worth the extra effort to help any struggling babies make it through those important few days.   
From Theresa Schwandt:
(note: part of this response is to last issue’s question)
During the winter is actually a great time to raise rabbits.  Well, it has to be, since most of your NDS prospects are born during this time.  The does do much better in the cold, raising bunnies than the heat of summer.   First of all I work on saving extra fur all summer long when it is not needed.  This is important since sometimes the does will prefer to keep their winter coat on and not pluck as much as they should.  I just take some of this fur and add where needed.  Don't worry, your doe won't mind.  Another quick fix for this is cotton balls.  You can pull them apart and "fluff" them and add 'em to the nest if you don't have any extra saved fur.  Some breeders do make use of nestbox heaters, but I have never tried one.  Our barn is an unheated pole building for now and it gets cold.  Another recommendation is to keep does that have the very best mothering instincts.  I have had litters born in subzero conditions and my experienced does have no problems saving the hole litter.  This is quite amazing, but credit must be given where due - Mothering instinct is so important. 
During the winter when we have litters due, which is most of the time, we are out there checking those does even late at night right before bed.  Sometimes it means playing a game of Rock-Paper-Scissors to decide who gets the honors of venturing out into the dark and cold...thankgoodness I am better at that game than Dan:-) You have to be attentive and frequently check those nestboxes to make sure that your kits are in the warm nest of fur, not in the front of the box alone and cold or even worse on the wire. 
Yes, even if you are attentive and do everything right, you will still have bunnies that get too cold......
So you find a nice bunny out of the nest and it is 10 degrees.  He won't last long with no fur.  If I find one cold, I take it to the house and begin the warming process.  Even if the bunny is barely moving it still may be saved, it is quite a miracle.  I run warm water in the sink, not hot, just nice and warm.  Then I put bunny in a small plastic container with the cover off.  I let bunny float in the "bunny boat" plastic container in the sink of warm water.  (I do lay the cover on top but not closed totally.  We want bunny to be able to breath, but to keep the heat in.) I have heard some submerge the bunny, but I prefer to warm them slowly and have had success with this goofy method.  I don't want to get bunny wet or risk getting water where it shouldn't be. In the past I have use an open ziplock bag, but I always worry about them suffocating in it.  I prefer the rigidness of a plastic container.  I have saved more bunnies this way than not.  So try it out, it might work for you or else you can read this article and laugh at this goofy Dutch breeder that sails bunnies in the sink.  Good luck with your winter litters, but keep in mind that winter is a very unnatural time for rabbits to reproduce so you will lose some, but maybe you will produce the next NDS BOB!
From Fran Schettler:
When we find newborns in this stage, we have found that running down to the house with them while rubbing them with our warm hands, then quickly warming a kitchen towel in the microwave, putting the bunny in there while grabbing a small bowl, filling it with very warm, almost hot, water and then placing the kit in the water with only its nose sticking out has the best chance of success. Sometimes we will refill the bowl multiple times until either the bunny is wiggling a lot or is clearly not going to survive.
Rubbing them in the warm towel, especially in the tail area, seems to help revive them too, and these methods sometimes revive even those that appear to be dead. The rubbing also serves to dry them off.
For those that are cold but not quite that far gone, a nice warm pocket while doing chores seems to help.
After this process, finding them a warm nest for the night is very important, even if it means fostering into another litter the same age or a week older.  If they survive, we might give them back to their mother or we might not.  If they’re still cold at all though when putting them back into a warm nest, the other kits will move away from them to get away from the cold, and the newcomers usually don’t survive.
From Kevin Hooper:
I am not of much help on this issue.  The majority of the time, I will put the babies in with their litter, or with a different litter.  I have on occasion, found the whole or most of the litter was out of the box and chilled.  I have placed a heat lamp over the litter and warmed up the entire bunch, only to find they still died later in the day.  I am guessing that I did not get their core temperature adequately heated to a high enough level so that they maintained their temperature.
From Jesse Flahety:
In my earlier years of raising rabbits, I used a traditional method of holding kits in my hands and hoping for the best. This didn't have a very high success rate if the kits were already on their way to becoming Popsicles. However last winter I started bringing rabbits inside my home for birthing, and converted an enclosed porch inside into a maternity ward. It still got cold here but not so much as outside and being so close to my bedroom door, I was able to keep a closer watch. When a French Lop doe of mine had a full litter of eight, she had most of them on the wire. I had just gotten home to find the litter scattered about the floor of the cage. I immediately checked for signs of life. I had two kits that were barely wiggling a paw, and I had to hold my breath to even note the minute movements. I gathered up the whole litter and put them in a large plastic catbox. I moved the ones I noted movement in to one side, and the dead off to the other. Then I busted out my (soon to be called) MAGIC hair dryer and set it to high. Within a minute, they were becoming more and more active.  I kept at it until the babies were fully active and squeaking for food. But then something amazing happened. The ''dead'' babies came to life. The ones that had not been moving or breathing and even seemed rather ''stiff'' to me...were coming alive under the dryer. I quickly pulled all the babies into a ''ball'' and stayed with the hairdryer. All of them came back 100%.

Several days later, the doe overturned her nest box, dumping babies all over the wire again. Somehow, one newborn Frenchie, managed to slide his body, backwards, through a 1"X1" hole in the cage wire. I found him hanging by his neck. I swore he was dead. But hey, ''dead'' has come to mean at the very least, ''zombie'' after my magic hairdryer incident so we had at it again. And once again all 8 babies were 100% normal within minutes.

When attempting this trick, please note that you have to constantly keep the airflow from the dryer moving so you don't burn the kits. Also, for the same reason, keep the front of the dryer a safe distance away from the babies. Best of luck to you all.
From Julie Hume:
When we find babies that are cold and stiff, we cuddle them against our body, cupped in our hands as we bring them up to the house. We fill a wide mouth plastic drinking glass with warm to hot water and place a baggie around the rim of the glass, with the bag laying in the water. We line the baggie with Kleenex and place a baby in each cup. We then put more Kleenex or rabbit fur over the top of the baby. Usually within a few minutes this will revive the baby. Once they are well warmed and active, we return them to the mother. We have bags of fur and if the nestbox needs more we add it. Since we breed several does at a time, if we are uncertain that the mother will take care of the babies, we may foster with another doe. We have found this method successful even with babies that give every appearance of being dead.

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