Step 1: You've Found a Nest!
If you come across a nest under no special circumstances, the best thing to do is leave it be. Don't lift the cover to see the cute bunnies inside. Yes, baby rabbits are incredibly cute and fun to watch, but don't let that be a risk to their survival. If nothing looks out of the ordinary, do not disturb the nest.
Step 2: Your Dog Found a Nest!
- (S)he is very excited, running to the same spot over and over again.
- Abnormally heavy panting.
- Loud screeching noises, often confused for a squeaker toy. (Baby rabbits sure have a major set of lungs, I once heard this cry for help when I was inside at the computer.)
- Your dog has something in it's mouth that seems odd, and is acting strangely about it.
- You see an adult rabbit (the mother) frantically dashing about.
Your dog has something in it's mouth.
Immediately order your dog to drop it. Put force into your voice to tell the dog you mean business. If your dog is well trained, (S)he will comply. If not, grab hold of your dog's nose and lower jaw. Gently force the mouth open and retrieve the rabbit. If someone else is present, have them take the dog inside. Walk over to the rabbit and check for any obvious signs of injury. This includes blood, broken bones, and intense squirming. If the rabbit is injured, immediately call the local vet or humane society. Unless you are a professional, any attempts to care for the wounded rabbit are futile.
The rabbit is uninjured.
I know what you're thinking. This cute, helpless baby rabbit is spooked, confused, and "homeless". I know, I'll raise it myself! Whatever you do, DO NOT TAKE THEM INSIDE! Any care you think you're giving could, and probably will, kill the rabbit. In fact, it is illegal to take in a young wild rabbit in most states. This will also cause the mother and captive baby to become frantic. This often results in the baby injuring itself.
. Gently pick up the young rabbit. If you can, wrap it in a small towel. Don't be startled if the rabbit begins to rub and push it's head against your fingers. It won't bite, it is simply trying to burrow into a less traumatic environment. The rabbit will probably be wet in places from your dog's saliva. Don't worry about this too much. The nest cannot be too far, you should find it within a few minutes. Gently place the rabbit back into it's burrow and replace the cover.
The nest is destroyed.
If your dog found the nest, it is likely in disarray. Do your best to reconstruct the nest, it is vital to the rabbit's survival. If it is absolutely necessary, you can move the nest up to ten feet away. To do this, dig a shallow hole about as deep and wide as the original burrow. Gently pick up the rabbits and transfer them to the new nest. If possible, surround the nest with a bunny accessible fence to keep your dog away. Be sure to leave a gap large enough for the mother. Fences aren't foolproof, you will still need to keep an eye on your dog. Mine managed to trap itself inside the fence. Be extra cautious when the rabbits enter their exploring stage.
Do not worry, the mother will not abandon her young if you or your dog's scent is on it.
Step 3: The Mother is Nowhere in Sight
. There are several ways to check if the mother is returning to the nest. The first is to make a crisscross or tick-tac-toe pattern on the nest with grass. If this is disturbed in the morning, the mother has visited the nest. This doesn't always work though, the rabbits can enter and exit the nest without disturbing it much. It's best if you place it near the area you think is the entrance.
. You can also place unscented baking soda near the nest and check for disturbances the next day. Also, once a day carefully remove the cover of the burrow. Look inside and check the condition of the rabbits. If they seem skinny, dehydrated, cold (no body heat), or are whining often, the mother is not returning. A sign of dehydration is a lack of "springiness" in the skin. If you gently pull on the skin around the back of the neck and it does not spring back, the rabbit is dehydrated. You should call your local vet or Humane Society if any of these signs apply. If the rabbits seem healthy, replace the cover and leave them be.
Step 4: Lost Rabbit.
Step 5: Truly Orphaned Rabbits
Again, make sure you KNOW for sure the mom was killed and the bunnies are abandoned (not warm, etc). You will not see the mom. Remember, the mom will only come back in the middle of the night to feed her babies. If the mom was killed, the best thing you can do for a wild orphaned baby bunny is to get in touch with a skilled rehabilitator. In the meantime, call your local humane society or animal control and one of these vets for a wildlife referral: http://www.rabbit.org/vets/vets.html