Nurturing the lone survivor
Sunday morning dawned bright and cool. We were dressing for church when my son came running into the bathroom to inform us that my daughter’s rabbit had given birth. Toothbrushes were dropped, socks were forgotten and all of us took off running toward the bunny hutches.
Our elephant herd made it down the basement stairs in record time. Indeed, our mama New Zealand rabbit delivered eight baby bunnies overnight. Alas, she was a first-time mom, and had lain on some of them, killing four of them outright.
The other four – hairless, with closed eyes – were outside their nest box. We quickly transferred them back inside, with the exception of one who was particularly cold. We wrapped him in a towel and used a hair dryer set on low to try to warm him. He seemed to be more active after a few moments, so we put him back in with his siblings.
A few hours later, we checked on them again. All four were huddled in a pile in the box and felt warm, so we left them alone. The same thing again at bedtime, so we were confident that they would be fine.
Unfortunately, that was not to be the case. Monday morning, my daughter went down to check on them and discovered that we had lost two more overnight. Distraught, she brought the remaining two bunnies upstairs. Both were so cold that we thought they might also have been gone.
We wrapped them in a towel together and used the hair dryer again. As they warmed up, we noticed that one bunny’s belly was round, as though he had eaten recently, while the other’s was not. We got out the calf colostrum and mixed up a little, using a syringe to drop it into the skinny bunny’s mouth.
He seemed to be trying to eat, and was definitely warming up, but after only a half a dozen drops, he stopped eating and his breathing became more shallow. He rolled over to face his brother, and after a few minutes, he died.
My daughter was nearly inconsolable. She hardly cared that she will be unable to show at the fair (a minimum of three is required). She just wanted to know why her bunnies didn’t make it. Unable to answer that question for her, I simply told her that we had done our best by the babies, and that we were learning by the school of hard knocks how to make our best better.
She was more determined than ever not to lose the last baby. She brought the mom inside to stay with the baby in a heated room to make sure that the baby didn’t have to work so hard to keep warm. She checked on the baby every half hour to make sure its temperature was staying up. She even held the mother and put the baby onto her teats and made sure it was eating.
We aren’t out of the woods yet, but the baby looks the best it has in its young life. It is moving more, squeaking some and showing some spark of energy. We are hopeful that, under my daughter’s watchful eye, he will survive and thrive, and we all will be better for the experience.
Laura Zoeller can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.