Lynn Dunlap is a licensed wildlife rehabilitator and biologist in northeast Ohio and founder of the Born to be Wild Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation
.Her passion and dedication belongs to cottontail rabbits and squirrels. Lynn has done some extensive research in the pursuit to find a way to save eyes-closed cottontails which have always been a challenge to every rehabilitator and many have given up on these animals, Not so Lynn Dunlap.
"I started rehabbing because I was an intern at a wildlife center that
euthanizes all eyes closed bunnies that come in. The first time I
was there and a tiny little tyke came in and I found out they were
going to euthanize it, I just knew I had to help, so I took him home.
He lived for 14 days and then died... doing well and then fell suddenly sick and dead within 24 hours.
The following year, I
got a litter of 5 and 4 of them survived. I was ecstatic and
determined to continue helping cottontails and to understand what was
happening to the ones that didn't make it.
I tried researching online but just about
everything said they didn't survive well in captivity and pretty much
there wasn't any hope for the eyes closed guys that came in.
Before reading that I didn't even know that bunnies did the cecotropes (feces only expelled at night or early morning hours containing necessary nutrients to aid digestion and is consumed by the animal itself) at night, I knew nothing about it. The following year I
started adding the cecotropes (I already had a domestic rabbit) to
their formula once a day for 3 days after their eyes opened and
shortly after I got the litter of 5 where 4 survived.
I used that technique for the rest of the year and
had about a 33% success rate, which wasn't good, but not horrible
considering I only took in eyes closed bunnies. My 3rd year of
rehabbing, I decided to try using the probiotics instead of the
cecotropes because my domestic bunny was getting older and not
donating (that is what I call it :) ) all the time. Plus it was
gross to mix it into the formula and I didn't have my own rehabbing
space at the time and was heating it in the microwave and storing it
in the fridge in the kitchen, so my mom wasn't too keen on that.
I used LA 200 made by Fox Valley and it worked sort of. Some of the
older eyes closed bunnies survived on it and even a couple 3-4 day
olds, but my success rate dropped to 25% and they just seemed to be
lacking something. So, I decided to go back to the other technique.
I would take a big chunk of the cecotropes and mix it into a tiny bit
of formula to make a very thick cecotrope/formula mix (I call it
chocolate milk :) ) and gave each bunny 1 cc of the mixture. I did
this once a day for 3 days starting the day the last bunny opened his
eyes. After the three days, I would start them on clover, dandelion,
plantain, oats, and timothy hay. This technique seemed to work well
and my success rate went up gradually over the next two years to
about 60% success. I was happy with this but still saw a lot of room
for improvement. It was by chance that I came across what I think is
the life savor for the tiny tiny little guys. I got in a tiny little
gray guy as I call them in the fall of 2007.
He was about 2-3 days old and came with 5 other bunnies who were all
6-7 days old, just a couple days from opening their eyes. I had
always thought that giving the babies the cecotropes too soon could
cause gut issues, but the other guys were ready to get it and I
didn't want to make them wait for nearly a week to get it in case
there was a time frame after their eyes open that they needed it. I
was at a loss with the tiny little gray guys at this point anyway (I
had taken in over 10 over the years and none survived), so I decided
to give the tiny little guy the cecotropes with the other guys and
started doing alternate days cecotropes and LA 200 (because it takes
forever to hand feed the "chocolate milk" to them).
This worked well and all of the little guys survived. I overwintered
the tiny little guy and he made it until release the following May.
He was big and happy and healthy. So, the mystery of the tiny tinies
had been solved.
Now that I give the cecotropes from day 1, my success rate has
increased to about 75% living to be released. I am quite happy with
that, but still don't feel I fully understand the cottontail. They
are unusual little tykes and I don't know we will ever quite know
what happens with them.
I think stress and a sensitive stomach come together and are just too
much for some. I find the way they interact to be quite interesting too.
You will get some that are the best of buddies and are always together
and if something happens to one, I have seen the other die of
complete shock about a minute after his buddy goes. Then there are
the ones that are loners. Fine with the others but not with any real
buddies that they play with, just kindof hang out by themselves but
peaceful. Then their are the ones with attitude that end up having
to be separated because they beat the living daylights out of every
other bunny, even siblings. Some are friendly to me, others will
kick and bite me, freak out when they see me. You just never know what you will get.
The other thing that I think effects bunnies in captivity is the stress. I have seen bunnies freak out and die, usually ones that come in
older, but not always. You can just see it in their eyes. I used to
hand feed my bunnies and the would struggle and not want to eat. I
did my internship when I was in college and after taking in the first
few bunnies and struggling to feed them all summer long, I realized
there was no way I could continue rehabbing and go to school in the
fall or rehab and work with how long it was taking me to feed each
bunny. They got some little guys in one day and I refused to take
them because I didn't have time.
They didn't have anyone else to take them and asked if I knew how to
tube feed. I didn't but the head of the center gave me a quick 5
minute lesson in tube feeding. That made my life so much easier and
I have never had any issues with tubing bunnies. The only time they
are difficult to tube is if they are dehydrated, then it is like
their esophagus narrows or something and the tube won't go down.
After they are rehydrated it is easy though, and I never have any
issues. I now tube all my bunnies, it takes just 3 minutes to tube
and pittle (stimulate them to pee) each bunny, which is so quick and
easy and allows me to rehab about 100 bunnies a year.
Something else I have done to reduce the stress is put green
pillowcases over their aquariums when they open their eyes. This
seems to calm them because they can explore their area, but don't see
out to places where they can't explore (I think seeing places and
realizing they are trapped and can't go where they want to stresses
them out) and they don't see me walking around and feeding everyone
else. When they are older and move to a bigger cage, I use a light
blue sheet and put that over their cage.
green is for the grass which is about all the little eyes just opened
bunnies would see in the wild and then the light blue is like the sky
which is what the older guys would see. This seems to calm them and
has worked quite well for me.
As for amounts that I feed and formula... I feed 10% of their body
weight (only up to 6 cc's though, anyone over 60 grams just gets 6 cc's
because they are usually about ready to start on greens and I don't
want to overfill them if they have eaten some greens) 3 times a day.
They go down to 2 times a day formula feedings when they are 70
grams, then 1 time a day when they are 80 grams, and I wean at 90
grams. This has worked well for me."