Raising Rabbits – Saving “Dead” or “Frozen” Kits

I had two litters of rabbits born late last week. One mother, Nona, was a new doe to my breeding program, and this was her first litter. It’s not unusual for first time does to have difficulties, get everything wrong, and possibly loose entire litters.

This looked to be one of those times.

To set the stage, let me preface this with the fact that while it IS winter here, our days are in the low 70’s and nights in the 60′. These are the typical temperatures, and usually nothing to worry about for rabbits. However, the night Nona kindled, we had a cold front hit us that drove the overnight temps down into the low 30’s with a chance of frost. Yes, its horrible to be threatened with a CHANCE of frost. If this wasn’t such a flat state, I’m sure some of the locals would have gone running for the hills in terror. But to us, its very uncommon….and scares us. I think it has something to do with nobody owning a window scraper for their car.

On top of the unusual cold weather, Nona built her first nest on the wire, using the hay I put in her cage for the next box provided. So not only did she not build a proper nest in a sheltered spot, but two days early leaving me no time to adjust her next location, she delivered her first litter in the pile of hay on the wire.Lifeless baby rabbits

So Saturday morning, we woke to six newborn babies that were cold and lifeless.  Typically, I just dispose of the cold bodies in the vacant lot behind us, burying them without ceremony. Its a very sad, sobering moment when ever I lose one. The waste of such an innocent life makes me strive to learn all I can on how to prevent this from happening again.

As I pulled pitiful little kits from the nest, I recalled something I’d read about saving cold kits from exposure. I ran into the house, and hollered for my everyone to to give me a hand, we had baby rabbits born outside the nest box, they were cold and lifeless, and I wanted to try to save them.

I have moments of pride with my kids, as most parents do. However, my proudest moments aren’t home runs, Honor Society inductions, or playing the lead in a play. My proudest moments are when my kids step up and deal with adversity head on. Both girls jumped up and started to work together to try to save the babies.

Grabbing a couple towels, we wrapped them up to start slowly warming them up. From what I’d read, much like bears hibernating, rabbits seem to have the ability to go into a form of suspended animation when their body temps dropped too low. I was hoping this was the case.

Grabbing several Hotsnapz, I activated them and slid them under the towel, and also placed one on top, being sure not to crush the kits. Hotsnapz are reusable hand warmers that get to around 125 degrees and last for roughly 45 minutes. I was hoping these would bring up the body temps and prove my hibernation theory correct.

Each girl took turns warming their hands, then holding each of the kits, trying to get some sign of life out of them. Closer observation showed, without a doubt, that a couple of them were gone. The others four, we were not so sure about, so we worked with them, trying to get some sign.

Two of them eventually responded, one being the largest, and oddly enough the other being the runt. As we tried to bring them both back, for whatever reason, the runt eventually just stop responding, and we lost it too. The wife, who was working with him, was trying everything she could think of to warm him up and save him, but after about fifteen minutes, the runt stopped responding, and the little guy died in her hands.

Once I was sure the sole survivor was warm enough, I marked his head with a Sharpie, and placed him with the other litter, all half siblings of his anyway, since they all have a common father.  Before placing him in the next box, I dabbed a bit of pure vanilla extract onto the surrogate doe’s nose. I’m told this masks the scent of the strange kit, allowing it time to take on the smell of its new litter mates. It’s now been almost two days, and the survivor seems to have been completely accepted. He was warm and had a full belly the last time I checked on him.

Bunny GraveMy thirteen year old buried the other five, and marked their grave.

The loss doesn’t set me back much, since I try to have two does pregnant at the same time. This allows me to do things like I just did, and foster kits with another mother. If a doe would happen to die during delivery, I’d be able to move the orphans over to the other doe, and not lose everything. I did lose about 30 days though, but I’ve already re-bred the young mother, along with another doe, so should have more babies due in about four weeks.

AliveAfter about an hour of working with the kits, the wife and kids we actually very happy that they had been able to save at least one. I was impressed that they didn’t dwell on the loss of the other five, but celebrated the one life they had saved. I can think of no better Christmas gift for me than to see my family working hard against difficult odds, then celebrating a minor success in the face of an overwhelming loss.



  1. I just found 4 babies in my box and they are frozen solid, This is probably the stupidest question to ask but could they possible warm up and life??

    1. Actually, it IS possible that they can survive.

      Get them into a warm area, free of drafts. My favorite way to try to save cold kits (baby rabbits) is to simply hold them in my hands and holding them close to my body, using my body heat to warm them.

      Another option is a heating pad set on low, with a couple of towels between the pad and the kits.

      Whatever method you use, make sure it is a slow, gradual increase in temp.

      I have used both methods to save kits on a couple of occasions.

      I really hope this helps!
      Give the little bodies several hours to see if they recover.

  2. we used to raise rabbits when we were kids, and I have seen this happen a few times even though we put the rabbits in a shed in winter. my mother used to open the oven door and set it on a very, very low setting. we put the babies in a box or on towels and layed them on the open oven door. we would very lightly rubbed them to get their circulation going. we usually saved most of the babies.

    1. we all learn by experimenting. sometimes it works, other times it doesn’t. don’t feel like a failure, there might be another time that you will know how to try to save them, and if it works for you your a savior!

  3. My one kit isn’t eating and keeps freezing but none of the others have they are all staying warm its just this one, I don’t want to let it go, I have been tryin to keep it warm for over an hour now but if I even try to put it back in with the others it freezes again and I have to repeat it, I don’t have any type of milk to give it and I heard regular milk will kill it

    1. If there is plenty of fur from the mother in the nest, put the kits together, its about all you can do.

      Don’t stress over it, these things happen. You do what you can…putting that kit with its siblings is what you can do…

      IF you’ve raised rabbits for any amount of time, you know you lose kits from time to time. Sadly, it is part of raising rabbits.

  4. I am planing on buying a male rabbit for my brother so I can breed them I will start the mating Christmas week for the first time is there anything I should know before doing so?

    We’ll getting the male for my doe and I will probly cry my heart out if one of the kits die.

    1. Do you have any prior experience raising rabbits? If not, you should just practice with something simple like “Keep it alive for a year”.

      Once you have that mastered, then move on to breeding….

      And I promise, if you start breeding, you WILL lose some…its part of nature.

  5. Thanks for your helpful posts. I have a pair of new Zealand whites about 10 months old. The buck and doe are in adjacent wire cages but have not been bred. I got home from work today to find 8 apparently dead kits appear from nowhere. There was a little fur in one corner of the cage that hadn’t been there yesterday, one of the kits was in halves, another was missing a leg. I put them in my wool hat and warmed them up, they were barely alive, after about 30 minutes they wiggled and cheered like baby birds. I have read that rarely they can mate through wire cages and that “cold” kits can be saved. Two miracles in one day.

      1. My rabbit just had a litter of 5 yesterday morning. I had went out that day and came back around 5pm. I checked on my rabbit and found 5 COLD babies so I had took them inside and tried putting them in warm water and the heating pad. They were warming up but still no sign of movement.so I read it could take up to 4 hrs trying to save the babieS so I left them on the heating pad and went into the other room to help my boys with their home work.After I went to check on the Babis and they were cold because of the heating pad had a timer on it and cut of. Idk why I didn’t think of that. Do you think the babies have a chance still?

        1. Well, by the time you read my response, no.

          For future reference, keep them warm and dry, for as long as a day.
          You wrote “tried putting them in warm water”, I hope this is a typo, as getting them wet is a sure way to NOT save them. However, a hot water bottle, or any water bottle with warm water in it is a good way to try to warm them up. I’ve used ziplock baggies with good results, just be sure to double bag and seal each to be sure to keep the water away from the kits.

          Sorry about the slow response :( Don’t give up hope for future litters. You learn as you go. Many folks give up after a few failed attempts. If you didn’t have a mentor, or better still, a parent, showing you how to do it, you have to learn the hard way, and sadly, sometimes that means you lose some. Learn from those mistakes, and keep trying.


  6. My rabbit just had 1 kit and we found it frozen. We tried everything that we could-Hot water bottles, ziplock bags with warm water, towels and a neck warmer pad- it has been about an hour and a half and there are no signs of life. Do you think that he still has a chance?

    1. If the body is close to your own body temp and there are still no signs after a half hour or so, then probably not.


  7. Had 5 kits born 3 days ago. Went out this am. All cold. Brought them in have 1 that is responding well, small hope for the others. When do I put this 1 back in with Mom?

    1. As soon as it can maintain its own body temp and continues to show activity, put it back. Its better off with mom….and as sad as it sounds…if it can’t make it with mom, it probably shouldn’t get too much help.

      Assisting the weaker creatures can perpetuate poor genetic traits. If only the strong survive, they will tend to produce strong offspring, with each generation getting a little better.

  8. My rabbit had two kits on the wire and didn’t pull any hair I put poplar shavings in for there nest is it safe for me to handle them I was told she may eat them or stop feeding them if I handle them

    1. I limit my handling of new kits, but I try to spend time enough with the does before they kindle, so they are accustomed to my smell. I also am sure to rub and handle the mom BEFORE touching her kits. With these methods, I’ve not lost one to a doe eating one yet ….

  9. I actually buried 2 frozen baby bunnies,i don’t know this warming method before i bury.I am really very upset…….

  10. I’ve raised plenty of animals as a zookeeper. As an at home mom I’ve raised goats, rats, chickens, guineas, puppies and…well kids. Your info has been very helpful as I’ve just started rabbits and lost 2 litters to chilling. They were born the same day. I wish I’d tried your warming methods! It was my fault to not have a proper nesting box floor. Next 2 litter are due in 3 weeks and I vow to honor the lost babies and further educate myself.

    1. Life always offers the opportunity to learn….alternatively, if you are going to be dumb, you had better be tough!


  11. I am new to raising RABBITS and while it will be a while before I try breedi g (I want to go slow, with just raising to begin with) breeding is my end goal. My question is, you inevitably will lose kits over time, how do you dispose of them? I can’t bury them in my yard, I’m in an urban rental house. Suggestions?

    1. Feed them to a pet. Dogs would call it a tasty snack 😛

      OR bury them. Seriously. Who is going to know? Or just wrap it up and put it in the trash.

    1. I realize this was far from a timely response, but for future reference, if they hag floppy-limp, then probably so. If there is some rigidity to the body, there may be hope still.

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