Can Baby Rabbits Drink Cow Milk?

The sight of a tiny newborn bunny may seem all cute and cuddly, but without its mother’s care, the fragile infant rabbit is in grave danger. When a litter is orphaned or abandoned, every hour brings them closer to starvation and death without life-sustaining milk. Can you rescue these helpless babies in time? What can you safely feed the hungry bunny babies to help them survive? Join us on an urgent mission to save adorable little lives as we reveal the secrets to nourishing orphaned rabbit kits. You’ll need determination, round-the-clock dedication and just the right milk mixture to raise the bunnies into healthy, bouncing juveniles. The countdown is on – let’s get these babies hopping!

Can Baby Rabbits Drink Cow Milk?

Do Baby Rabbits Need Milk?

Baby rabbits, also known as kits or kittens, do require milk during the first few weeks of their lives in order to survive and thrive. Like all mammals, rabbits produce milk to feed their young. Mother rabbits, called does, nurse their kits for approximately 3-4 weeks until they are weaned around 4-5 weeks of age. During this time, the kits rely entirely on their mother's milk to provide the protein, fat, vitamins and minerals they need to grow and develop properly.

A doe rabbit's milk contains ideal nutrition and antibodies specifically formulated to meet the needs of growing baby rabbits. It has higher protein, fat and calcium content compared to the milk of other mammals such as cows or humans. Rabbit milk also contains a special enzyme called deoxyribonuclease which helps digest the mother's antibodies and transmit immunity to her kits.

So during the first month of life, baby rabbits absolutely require access to milk from their mother doe in order to survive. If for some reason the mother rabbit dies or abandons her litter, then the kits need an alternative source of milk during this critical developmental period.

Can Baby Rabbits Drink Cow Milk?

Cow's milk is not an appropriate substitute for rabbit milk. There are several important reasons why cow's milk should not be fed to baby rabbits:

  • Allergy risk – Rabbits can develop allergies or intolerance to the proteins in cow's milk. Their digestive systems are not designed to properly digest the components in cow's milk. This can lead to diarrhea, gastrointestinal upset and poor growth.

  • Nutritional imbalance – Cow's milk has a different balance of protein, fat, sugar and minerals compared to rabbit milk. The excess protein and minerals in cow's milk can put strain on a baby rabbit's immature kidneys and digestive system.

  • Lactose intolerance – Rabbits do not have enough of the enzyme lactase to properly digest the lactose sugars in cow's milk. Feeding lactose to baby rabbits often causes digestive upset, gas and diarrhea.

  • Formula dilution – Substituting cow's milk for rabbit milk will dilute out the proper balance of nutrients the kits need since cow's milk has lower protein and fat. This can lead to malnutrition.

  • Bacteria risk – Unpasteurized cow's milk carries a high risk of transmitting dangerous bacteria like E. coli or salmonella to baby rabbits. Their immature immune systems may not be able to fend off these harmful pathogens.

For all these reasons, veterinarians and rabbit experts warn against feeding regular cow's milk to baby rabbits. Doing so can easily lead to diarrhea, malnutrition, intestinal issues or even death in some cases. Instead, an alternative formula tailored to meet rabbit nutritional needs should be offered.

Can Baby Rabbits Drink Goat Milk?

Goat's milk is generally not recommended as an alternative milk source for orphaned baby rabbits either. Here's why:

  • Goat's milk still contains proteins and sugars that are difficult for baby rabbits to digest properly. This can irritate their sensitive digestive tract.

  • It does not contain the ideal fat and protein levels that growing rabbit kits require. So nutritional imbalances are still a risk.

  • Goat's milk would still dilute out the antibodies and nutritional profile that rabbit milk provides.

  • Unpasteurized goat's milk can also transmit dangerous bacteria to vulnerable baby rabbits.

While goat's milk may be slightly more digestible than regular cow's milk for rabbits, it still does not come close to providing what mother rabbit milk does. There are better milk replacer options for hand-feeding orphaned rabbits.

In general, the only species milk that may be appropriate for baby rabbits is that of a lactating rabbit doe who recently gave birth. But this option is rarely available, especially for rescued litters. So other alternatives must usually be formulated.

So What Milk Can Rabbits Drink?

The best milk options for baby rabbits are specialty rabbit milk replacers. There are commercial powdered milk replacement products made specifically for orphaned baby rabbits. These powders are mixed with water to provide a nutritionally balanced formula that closely mimics real rabbit milk.

When mixed and fed according to label directions, rabbit milk replacers provide the protein, fat, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals that kits need. Some options also include probiotics or prebiotics to support digestive health. Several brands of rabbit milk replacer powders are available at pet stores or online for purchase.

For orphaned wild rabbit kits or in a pinch, an emergency DIY formula can be made by mixing together:

  • Goat's milk (or sheep's milk)
  • Heavy whipping cream
  • Egg yolk
  • Yogurt or probiotic powder
  • Honey
  • Baby rice cereal

Combining these ingredients helps provide adequate nutrition for short-term feedings until a proper rabbit milk replacer can be obtained. However homemade formulas don't perfectly match the components of doe's milk, so should only be used temporarily.

Pet rabbit owners should always have a supply of rabbit milk replacer formula on hand in case they need to hand-raise an orphaned litter. Having the right milk formula is crucial for nourishing rabbit kits until they are old enough to transition to solid foods.

Caring for an Orphaned Baby Rabbit

Caring for a baby rabbit without its mother present requires diligent attention and care. Here are some tips for tending to orphaned kits:

  • Keep the babies warm – Use a heating pad or snuggle safe disc under one side of the nesting area to provide warmth, but allow them to move off if too hot. Keep ambient temperatures 80-90°F.

  • Handle carefully – Rabbits are fragile, especially babies. Be gentle, never shake or squeeze them. Support the full body when holding.

  • Feed on schedule – Orphans need fed every 2-3 hours ideally. Time feedings and stimulate urination/defecation.

  • Check for dehydration – Ensure pink skin,hydrated eyes/mouth, plump belly. Subcutaneous fluids may be needed.

  • Provide security – Place a soft toy or stuffed animal in with the litter to cuddle against. Solo kits may need a mirror or audio comfort.

  • Sanitize supplies – Bottles, bedding and surfaces need washed and disinfected daily to prevent bacterial spread.

  • Consult a vet – Have orphaned kits fully checked over for health issues. Get guidance on proper care and nutrition.

With diligent round-the-clock care, orphaned baby rabbits can survive and thrive, but it does take substantial time and effort. Be prepared for the commitment required before taking on hand-raising infant rabbits without their mother.

What to Feed Baby Rabbits without a Mother

Feeding appropriate food to orphaned baby rabbits is essential to their well-being. Here are the dietary guidelines:

  • Birth to 2 weeks – Rabbit milk replacer formula only. Baby rabbits cannot digest solid foods yet. Feed formula every 2-3 hours.

  • 2-4 weeks – Continue formula feeds every 3-4 hours but can slowly introduce alfalfa hay, pellets and veggies starting at 3 weeks old.

  • 4-7 weeks – Wean off formula as they show less interest in bottle. Focus on grass hay, veggies and healthy pellets instead.

  • 7-12 weeks – Continue unlimited hay, 1/4 cup pellets, 1 cup greens daily. Also offer some timothy hay and introduce small amounts of limited fruits.

Avoid feeding cow’s milk, yogurt drops, iceberg lettuce, citrus fruits, spinach, onions, nuts, seeds or other high-calorie human junk foods. Stick to a proper rabbit diet optimized for their delicate young digestive system.

Weigh kits daily and monitor their growth. Adjust food amounts to ensure they are gaining adequate weight. Healthy kits will grow rapidly as they reach 12 weeks old.

How to Make a Baby Bunny Milk Substitute

If you need to hand-raise an orphaned baby rabbit, use this recipe to make an emergency DIY milk substitute until you can acquire a proper commercial rabbit milk replacer:


  • 1 cup goat milk (or sheep milk)
  • 1?4 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1 egg yolk from a disease-free chicken
  • 1?4 cup plain full-fat Greek yogurt
  • 1?4 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1-2 drops honey (optional)
  • 1?4 teaspoon probiotic powder (optional)

Mixing Instructions:

  • Warm the goat milk to about 100°F by placing in a glass jar in hot water.
  • Mix in all other ingredients well until fully blended and uniform.
  • Pour into a clean bottle to feed. Can store up to 48 hours refrigerated.
  • Warm again before feeding. Test temperature on wrist.

Feeding Instructions:

  • Feed with kit lying belly down using kitten nursing bottles.
  • Feed every 2-3 hours around the clock.
  • Only make enough for a single day to prevent spoilage.
  • Rinse bottles after each feeding and sanitize daily.

While homemade, this DIY formula can sustain orphaned kits for a few days until you can obtain milk replacer specifically formulated for baby rabbits.

How Often Should Orphaned Baby Rabbits be Fed?

Orphaned baby rabbits have very specific feeding requirements, especially in their first few weeks of life. Here are the ideal feeding frequencies:

  • 0-2 weeks old – Feed formula every 2-3 hours around the clock, even at night. Expect to feed 8-10 times in 24 hours.

  • 2-3 weeks old – Shift to feeding every 3-4 hours, about 6-8 feedings per day. Slowly introduce solid foods.

  • 3-4 weeks old – As they show interest in solid foods, drop to 5-6 formula feeds per day plus unlimited fresh hay and veggies.

  • 4-5 weeks old – Start weaning off formula as kits show less interest. Replace with grass hay, greens and healthy pellets instead.

  • 5-7 weeks old – Formula feeds are seldom needed. Ensure unlimited hay, 1/4 cup pellets daily and start introducing limited fruits.

  • 8+ weeks old – Kits are now juvenile rabbits being raised on complete rabbit diets. No more formula needed.

Watch for signs of hunger like crying, rooting behaviors and weight loss. Increase formula feeds if the litter seems excessively hungry. By 8 weeks old, they should thrive on solid rabbit foods.

How to Bottle Feed Orphaned Baby Rabbits

Bottle feeding orphaned baby rabbits takes patience and proper technique. Here are tips for success:

  • Choose kitten nurser bottles, not regular human baby bottles. Tubes should be thin and flexible.

  • Make sure bottles are very clean and sanitized before each use to prevent bacterial infections.

  • Fill bottles with freshly warmed milk replacer or formula cooled to around 100°F.

  • Gently pick up a kit and position on belly with head slightly elevated.

  • Place nipple near nose so kit roots and begins suckling. Lightly squeeze bottle to encourage drinking if needed.

  • Tilt bottle so kit does not ingest too much air. Take pauses to burp if necessary.

  • Never squeeze bottle to force or squirt milk into mouth/nose – can cause aspiration.

  • Feed each kit fully until milk coma, then stimulate genitals to encourage pottying before returning to nest.

  • Rinse bottles immediately after use and sanitize fully before next feeding.

Bottle feeding orphaned kits takes time but must be done gently, patiently and consistently. Work closely with a rabbit vet to ensure kits are cared for properly. With dedicated attention, hand-raised rabbits can grow up healthy and strong.


Raising orphaned baby rabbits is very difficult but absolutely essential to their survival. While cow or goat milk is unsuitable, specially formulated rabbit milk replacers provide the nutrition they need. With attentive around-the-clock feedings, gentle handling and proper techniques, the kits can continue developing until old enough to transition to solid rabbit foods and grow into healthy adult rabbits. If you choose to take on this daunting task, consult closely with rabbit experts to give the orphans their best chance to thrive.

Rabbit Breeders

Rabbit Breeders is the leading website for rabbit information & research. For over 10 years has been serving the rabbit community. We provide the world's largest rabbit breeders directory.

Recent Posts