Fostering Kits

When to foster baby bunnies.

When to foster baby bunnies.

Today we woke up to find our Cinnamon doe, little miss Fancy, hovering over a nest filled with – count them! – 13 babies!


{Let’s have a moment of silence to be thankful that humans don’t have 13 babies at a time. I can only imagine the gray hair I would be sporting if I had multiples…}


We have a few more litters due right now as well, so once I saw the crazy number of babies in Fancy’s nest, I started hoping that another doe would have a small litter so we can foster babies to the other doe. That brought up the idea of fostering and I realized I haven’t blogged about it here yet.


One relatively common practice for rabbit husbandry is fostering kits from one doe to another. There are typically specific reasons why this would be advantageous as a management technique: perhaps the original doe had too many kits for them to thrive, perhaps one doe is exhibiting a distinct lack of maternal instinct, perhaps it makes sense to have a fantastic show rabbit birth the litter but not raise it so there is less wear and tear on her body. There are several rationale for fostering to begin with, so…


How do you actually do it?! The basic premise is to take kits from one litter and place them with another litter. We have had good success with this when we do the fostering within the first 2-3 days of a newborn kit’s life. We will remove both nestboxes from the cage and rearrange as needed. (I usually keep the nestbox away from mama for about an hour so that any scents will have a chance to mingle.) Then I put the nestbox(es) back and let the does do all the dirty work!


Remember to identify the moved kits in some way! Some will tattoo a dot in the moved kit’s ear, another idea is to put nail polish on the kit’s paws or fur. Just remember that all bunnies tend to look remarkably alike when side by side… and to keep your pedigrees straight you’re going to need some type of identification on the newborn kits.


I’ve also heard suggestions of putting a bit of vanilla extract on the foster mama’s nose so she won’t be able to smell the difference between her birthed and adopted kits. This might be a useful tactic for a high strung mother… but it’s not one we’ve yet practiced or even felt like we needed.


When do you know when fostering is needed? Most commercial breed does can very adequately handle 6-8 babies with plenty of milk for them to grow and thrive. When you have more kits than nipples, you might want to consider fostering! So far, the largest litter we’ve had a mama successfully raise is 10. Those kits were healthy but definitely did not have the weight gain and growth we see in a smaller litter. There’s a lot of flexibility in what an individual doe can handle with her milk supply. Regardless, consider putting her on 18% protein feed for as long as she’s nursing her kits.


We’ve only had one complete fostering failure and that was when we tried to put a baby about 10 days old in with a new litter. The foster mama was not pleased with this state of affairs and the kit was dead by the morning, which was a major bummer all the way around.


Only in rabbits can your animals actually claim the “brutha from anotha mutha” phrase! May your nestboxes be full!

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10 thoughts on “Fostering Kits

  1. Courtney May 19, 2014 at 11:27 am Reply

    If I have a doe whose litter has died shortly after birth, can I foster kits to her.? They are 6 days old.


    • madhatrabbits May 19, 2014 at 11:59 am Reply

      I would try it! You don’t have much to lose at this point so you can dare to risk. Without fostering they will surely die. They might still die with fostering, but at least you would have tried! And it might work!


  2. Sam July 29, 2015 at 3:28 am Reply

    Hi. I’ve got two litters at the moment. A litter of 5 siamese sables cross English lops and a litter of 9 English lops. There is one pure lop that’s really runty and wrinkly and no swollen belly. Both litters are 3 days old this evening. I’ve moved it to the smaller litter with the sable. Will it be OK being a pure lop in with cross lops? I can’t seem to find an answer any where. Thanks


    • madhatrabbits July 29, 2015 at 8:46 am Reply

      The moms typically won’t notice at all! However, make sure can tell the babies apart some how (some people put nail polish in the kits ear or sharpie marker on the head) so that you don’t get them confused when you’re trying to create pedigrees! 🙂


      • Sam July 29, 2015 at 10:49 am

        Hi. Thanks. The foster baby is pink (white) and the others ate all dark grey or grey so no confusion there. Thank you so much for your advise. Foster kit has been in for 8 to 9 hrs now with no hassle. Just waiting on doe to feed later. Many thanks again. ☺


      • madhatrabbits July 29, 2015 at 11:03 am

        Oh that’s great news!


  3. Paul August 21, 2015 at 3:37 pm Reply

    Have five does that delivered around the first of the month. they are now 21 days old roughly…. can you still foster the older kits with those that around the same age? Found the mother of one of the litters this morning dead this morning… she has eight kits…


    • madhatrabbits August 21, 2015 at 4:17 pm Reply

      No. I would NOT foster the kits that old. I would offer them hay and possibly some Calf Manna to encourage them to eat. Their growth rates will likely suffer but there’s a decent chance they will survive on their own- if you foster them to a different mother there’s a very solid chance she will kill them herself.


  4. Cami April 23, 2017 at 8:57 pm Reply

    I have a litter of 4 whose mother died at the same time I have a doe with 3 of her own that are close to 3 weeks old how much success can I expect with putting these kits together and fostering them I have no other choice at the moment


  5. Cami April 23, 2017 at 9:00 pm Reply

    The 4 are 2 days old not sure if the doe has even been trying to nurse them since her own are now leaving the box


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