Rehome the bunnies or get ready to take lots of pics?
May 27, 2009 6:36 AM   Subscribe

Our beagle discovered a nest of bunnies in our backyard. A few are dead or dying, but most are undisturbed in the nest with one with only apparent minor external injury. Humane society is closed until noon today for training; now what?

We're in Kitchener, ON. We like bunnies. Our budget allows for vetcare for the dogs and cat, but with a beagle on painmeds, a recent bacterial infection of the other dog, and flea/heartworm meds, and rabies shots/checkups in the near future, with three boys and a single income we do not have the room to pay for vet care.

While quick web searching, things say we can move the nest up to 10 feet, but 10 feet away is our neighbor, who dislikes all wildlife, or more of our yard. The nest is in our fully fenced back yard, which is a *great* convenience for us for relieving full dog bladders. We don't have a front lawn, so otherwise we're walking the dogs to the nearby park (granted it's only 1/2 block away, but the three kids make things seem really busy). Online sources say it will be 3-4 weeks until the bunnies are finding homes of their own. Is there a realistic expectation that the bunnies could be rehabilitated? Looking at pictures, and knowing the beagle nose I suspect these bunnies were born last night, or the night before.

Re dead/injured bunnies: the one that has only minor external scrapes I donned my earthy gardening gloves and moved near the nest, and it circle/burrowed back on top of it's sleeping nestmates. The grievously injured one I suspect will be dead before VioletU returns from dropping off the little one at school. Currently for the sake of not knowing what's best we left it where it was; about 3 feet away from the nest. The dead one I assume will be best to just move to the different side of lawn and bury.

What I'm asking: should we move the slightly injured one back out of the nest? Should we move the greatly injured one (if still alive) back in the nest and let momma bunny decide? Can we realistically hope to have the bunnies successfully brought up outside of our yard, and are there any good resources beyond the KW humane society?
posted by nobeagle to Pets & Animals (11 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I don't know a thing about the bunnies, but seems your questions focus on still allowing the dogs full access to the backyard, yes? Would it be possible to just keep the dogs on leashes for the next 3-4 weeks? In the backyard still, so you're not having to go to the park, but just on leashes, thereby restricting their access to the nest?
posted by cooker girl at 6:45 AM on May 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

Dunkadunc - for reals? It's a beagle, chasing bunnies is what they *do*.

As for the question at hand, I think you're gonna have to put the dogs on leashes to pee for a couple weeks.
posted by notsnot at 6:47 AM on May 27, 2009

Yeah, just keep the dog on a leash for a couple weeks until the rabbits are grown enough to flee and hide. Those little mammals will mature surprisingly fast.

And if attacking rabbits is now a capital offense for beagles, then I give up. Sheesh.
posted by General Tonic at 6:53 AM on May 27, 2009

Response by poster: Yes, the beagle's not going down for this. She's fine with our kids, plays well with our kitty (now cat), and I should expect to not find an infant lying covered in grass in my fenced back yard. Baby bunnies are smaller than my 5 year old's first, and (I got to experience this) squeak just like her toys when poked/chewed by a beagle (/me shudders).

Reading online, mother bunnies visit their nests about 5 minutes each day. The mother was not there when this happened.

The beagle squeaks/shrieks when she smells something interesting, and she really thought they're interesting when I was removing her from the situation. I'm not sure I can take her into the back lawn at night without waking up a 1 mile radius.

We've since made contact with a bunny rehabber; baby bunnies only like their mommy, if we remove them from the mom, they're all but guaranteed dead. She also suspects it will be closer to 2 weeks until the bunnies are gone, and says the mother might actually move them somewhere new entirely when she realizes a few are gone tonight.

Also, for future searchers, I was wrong to move the slightly injured one back into the nest, as momma bunny might abandon them now, but as it's not a guarantee I should leave it there now that I've moved it. It's best to leave injured ones where they are, and remove dead ones if they're already outside of the nest.

She also recommended putting tomato cages around the nest just in case the dogs escape from the house off leash to give us a bit of time to catch her before she digs at the nest.
posted by nobeagle at 7:10 AM on May 27, 2009

Best answer: You weren't wrong to move it back to the nest. Specifically, the mother bunny, depending on her "personality" may move or abandon the nest for any reason - including any blood near/in the nest, a/some missing bunny(s), disturbed nesting material, injured/unwell babies, etc.

She may also ignore all of those factors and very happily continue to nest in the same spot, turfing out the injured OR keeping them around past their death.

Moving the nest is the only way to guarantee that she'll abandon them. And it is nearly impossible for even skilled rehabbers to nurse wild bunnies to health under even the best circumstances.

The gist of what we've learned is that bunnies are cute but kind of stupid.
posted by VioletU at 7:22 AM on May 27, 2009 [4 favorites]

Rabbits breed like, well, you know, for a reason. I'd say "let nature take its course" (while keeping the pets away) and consider doing things to dissuade them from nesting there in future. The parents may work it out well enough from losing a few kits.
posted by holgate at 7:24 AM on May 27, 2009

Mod note: A few comments removed, had sort of a good-intentions-bad-result derail going there.
posted by cortex (staff) at 7:30 AM on May 27, 2009

I've had the exact same problem. I see you've gotten some expert advice, which is awesome. I didn't know bunny rehabbers exist. How did you find this one?

My beagle knows before he gets into the yard if there is prey (bunnies, birds, squirrels, toads, mostly) out there, and will start baying before we get him to the door. This makes it easy for us to do a Bunny Check before we let him out. Does (did?) yours exhibit any kind of excitement that you can use as a warning before letting him out? Maybe you can let him get a sniff of the outdoors before opening the door, to see if you can let him out safely, until the bunnies are gone?

The good news for you is the Bunny Hotline will eventually reach all the mamas, and they will stop using your yard. We haven't had a bunny nest (knock on wood) since our beagle got into one last spring. You can also try to remove any enticing nest locations (ground cover, leaf piles, compost that's not contained, etc.

Re injured bunnies - I found a baby bunny lying in an open spot in the yard, and assumed it was paralyzed (no blood, but I had seen it in the Jaws of Beagle moments earlier, so I figured its back was broken). While contemplating what to do with it, it jumped up and hopped away. Google told me that bunnies will lie totally still and play dead as a defense mechanism, and once the immediate threat is gone, will hop away on its own. So from now on, unless the bunny is obviously bleeding, I plan to leave it where it is. I'm curious if the bunny rehabber mentioned this, and if my plan is a good one?
posted by SuperSquirrel at 7:35 AM on May 27, 2009

Our beagle basically squeals her fool head off at the very idea of going outside. There's no early warning system for her!

I found the bunny rehabber by calling our local vet and explaining the situation. She was able to give me the name/info of a local woman who does rehab and also coordinates for several bunny rehabbers in the area. (Apparently, at this time of the year, most of them are full-up on wild bunnies - go figure.)

The gist of what the rehabber said was that bunnies really only thrive without human intervention. Even if you scoop one up and dash to the vet, chances are good it won't survive even the most minor of injuries or simple abandonment.

She also noted that bunnies are rather odd in their baby-rearing behaviour - depending on many, many factors - so it's hard to predict what will drive them away from a nest and what they'll ignore. One big thing she noted is that most do not care about human scent on the babies - so opening a nest accidentally or having a situation like ours doesn't mean you've doomed the babies.

SuperSquirrel, your plan is a really good one apparently!

As well, once a bunny has open eyes and ears that stand up, it is old enough to be away from the nest (even if it's very, very tiny and appears completely helpless.)
posted by VioletU at 7:43 AM on May 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I used to raise domestic rabbits yea these many years ago, and will echo all the comments above about mother rabbits being quite stupid and unpredictable when it comes to baby bunny caretaking. They may eject the injured bunny from the nest - and they may eject several other healthy bunnies at the same time, for no real reason. Or they may abandon the nest altogether. Or not!

Regarding the questions above:

should we move the slightly injured one back out of the nest?

No (sounds like you know that already)!

Should we move the greatly injured one (if still alive) back in the nest and let momma bunny decide?

Honestly, I would just kill that one immediately. Nature will take its course eventually, but an injured newborn rabbit has basically no chance of survival.

Can we realistically hope to have the bunnies successfully brought up outside of our yard, and are there any good resources beyond the KW humane society?

If you are truly dedicated to saving this nest of bunnies without the mother, you have two options:

- transfer the babies to a portable nest (cardboard box with straw/shredded newspapers) and find a lactating domestic rabbit to feed them (e.g. a rabbit with a litter of her own). They only need to eat for a very short period of time every day, so you can actually hold the mother rabbit down in the nest for long enough for the babies to latch on and eat (5 minutes or so) two or three times a day.

- feed the babies yourself using an eyedropper and kitten formula. Almost certain to end up with bloated dead bunnies within a week, but perhaps you will luck out.
posted by Wavelet at 8:05 AM on May 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

As an update - a few hours after the question was originally asked, I popped outside to peek at the remaining bunnies in the nest. The mother had clearly been by to check on them and they were recovered in a lovely new blanket of (mother's) fur. Huzzah!
posted by VioletU at 9:50 AM on May 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

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