In a group of animals, generally a litter of animals, we call the “runt” the member who is smaller and weaker than the others. This gives it a survival disadvantage and extra care can be taken to ensure the survival of a runt animal.
As the phrase goes, rabbits breed… Like rabbits. Because of this, many rabbit owners have experienced the birth of a new litter. And in any litter, there is an off chance that it contains a runt, which, given the correct techniques we can give the best chance of survival. While there are resources on the web to aid you with such techniques, most of the resources are forum posts that would take ages to search through – and so here I am, compiling all the information you need into one blog post – “How To Take Care Of A Runt Bunny”.
Ensuring Your Rabbit is a Runt
Before we can even start thinking about how to ensure the runt bunny has the best chance of survival – we need to identify for certain that it is a runt. When determining if your rabbit is a runt, you need to decide if there is a possibility that it is what we call a “peanut” – a rabbit that has two dwarf genes.
What is a peanut?
The Rabbit Dwarf Gene
Some rabbit breeds are dwarf breeds, which mean they contain a dwarf gene. This makes them genetically predisposed to be smaller. JustRabbits.com has a great article detailing which rabbit breeds contain a dwarf gene – just remember, some rabbits that are not on this list will still have the gene.
Biologically, a baby rabbit will receive two genes – one from the father and one from the mother. The dwarf gene works as a simple dominant gene, so that the presence of just one dwarfing gene will produce a dwarf rabbit. The gene in question can either be a dwarf gene or a non-dwarf gene. If the baby rabbit receives two non-dwarf genes, it is considered a “normal” rabbit. If it receives one normal gene and one dwarf gene, the offspring will be a true dwarf rabbit. And finally, if the rabbit receives two dwarf genes, it is called a “peanut” and will almost always die within a few weeks.
Characteristics of a Peanut Rabbit
YouTube User “Hook’s Hollands – Ohio Holland Lops” published a very detailed video in 2016 showing their peanut rabbit. I’d highly recommend watching it if you are unsure as to what a peanut rabbit looks like. Based on the video’s description, the runt shown in the video passed the day after the video was taken.
Often, a peanut bunny will be called a “double-dwarf”, due to its gene structure. The double-dwarf gene results in a seriously deformed baby that cannot thrive, and thus has a next to nothing chance of survival past a few weeks. They are generally one-third to one-half the size of the rest of their litter, and they will struggle to move around as they are weak and often malnourished. By the time they are a few days old, their siblings will often double their birth weight.
As expected, peanut bunnies will usually be small and skinny and have a “peanut shape”, with bulging nose, eyes and bottom.
- If breeding two normal (non-dwarf rabbits), 100% of the litter will be normal rabbits.
- If breeding a normal rabbit and a dwarf rabbit, 50% of the babies should statistically be dwarfs, and 50% should be normal.
- If breeding two dwarfs, 25% of the litter should be normal, 50% should be dwarves, and 25% should be peanuts.
Remember, these are all just chances – theoretically, the only two things we can be sure of are that two normal rabbits will have normal kits, and peanuts are only going to occur when both the mother and father have the dwarfing gene.
What is a runt?
As opposed to a peanut, a runt may not even contain a single dwarfing gene. They are simply the member of the litter that is smallest and weaker than the others. It may have not had enough room to grow in the womb, or didn’t get enough milk as a baby.
If you are wondering what a runt tends to look like, a quick Google Image search will do the trick.
Is My Rabbit a Runt or a Peanut?
To be technical, a peanut is a runt, but a runt does not necessarily have to be a peanut. A smaller sized bunny does not necessarily imply that it is a peanut.
Generally, a peanut will have extremely small ears, and a head that is disproportionately large for its body. In comparison, a runt bunny will often appear as a smaller “version” of their siblings.
This said, peanut bunnies may not always have large heads – sometimes it can be so hard to tell, and if you are unsure try and keep the runt or peanut from weaning as long as possible so they can get lots of nutrients from their mother. If you are unsure, it is worth analysing the chances that an offspring will be a peanut (see Peanut Probabilities above).
What To Feed A Runt Bunny
When feeding your runt bunny, it is most important to ensure they are getting enough milk every day. Due to their small size, they often cannot compete against their larger siblings for their mother’s milk, and so it is a good idea to give the runt some alone time with the mother for a few extra feedings each day. You may find it easy to hold the mother bunny in your lap and place the runt bunny underneath her belly.
Another alternative is to use a milk formula – there are plenty of rabbit formula recipes available online. You should feed the runt bunny 3 or 4 times each day with a small syringe, bottle or eyedropper. If using formula however, please remember that the mortality of hand-fed baby rabbits is higher, even if they are in perfect health. No formula truly compares to the naturally produced milk of the mother.
Watching Over The Runt Rabbit
Over time, I would highly recommend comparing the runt’s belly to their siblings. If their belly appears round like that of their siblings, it is probably being fed enough. In contrast, if their belly is sunken or wrinkly, it is probably not eating enough, and the bunny will die in a few days if their eating habits are not changed.
If your bunny appears underfed, make sure it is getting extra feeds from the mother (see above).
Once the runt reaches around 8 weeks of age, you can start feeding them alfalfa, which is high in protein and calcium. Doing this until they are six months old will support their growth and development immensely.
How To Care For A Runt Bunny
After feeding a runt bunny, I would highly encourage you to stimulate them with a moist, warm cotton ball so that they pee and poop after you feed them, at least until their eyes first open. As a side note – keep any older male rabbits away from the mother bunny, as she can actually become pregnant nearly immediately after giving birth to her babies. This poses a great risk to the mother and her kits; and in particular the runt bunny, who often needs extra attention.
Rabbit owners are often inclined to separate the runt bunny from the rest of the litter to ensure that it has its own separate food and water without having to compete for it. This is not a bad idea, but if you decide to do this, please ensure that the runt bunny stays warm. If you’re in a cold climate, the runt may freeze. Rabbits need the rest of their litters to stay warm and snuggly when they are young!
To conclude, once you have determined that your runt rabbit is not a peanut, it will require the same things the rest of its siblings need. Because the runt needs to compete for these things, however, it is important for you to give it extra attention to ensure it has the highest chance of survival.
If you’re a bunny owner yourself, I’m keen to hear about how you’ve taken care of your runt bunnies. Leave a comment below and let me know!