Hand-rearing and Supplementation of Small Mammals
Chris Strike VN,CGLI



Other Articles in the Series


Young rodents or Rabbits may require hand-rearing if abandoned or attacked by their mother, if the mother dies shortly after birth, or if litters are too large for the mother to rear without help, (e.g. more than two Chinchilla kits) in the latter case the young can be "topped up" and returned to the nest.
If other lactating females , with young of similar age , are available fostering can be attempted. Chipmunk females seem to readily accept young which are not their own, as do most Guinea pig sows. Caution and supervision are required with other species and placing the scent of the nest on the fostered young will help acceptance.
Substitute milks can be : Goats milk, just as it is; canned evaporated milk diluted 50:50 with pre-boiled water; dried skimmed milk powder mixed double strength with pre-boiled water; Lactol or other cat / dog milk substitutes. Begin all rearing by introducing the milk mix in diluted form for the first feed and give only a small quantity until the reaction of the digestive system is judged. Whatever formula is used once it is found compatible DO NOT CHANGE as this will cause digestive upsets.
Milk substitutes should be mixed at body temperature plus 2 C to allow for cooling in the container and then tested on the wrist before feeding. Use syringes with small cannulae or string "wicks" for small rodents, advancing to cat feeding bottles and small teats for Rabbits etc.
Recommended amounts are as follows: (individuals vary greatly......Never Overload !)

SpeciesBlind, Hairless/
2-4 weeksUp to weaning age
Mice and Dwarf
2 to 3 drops every
half hour
Up to 0.5ml
every hour
Up to 1ml plus solids
Rat, Gerbil
1ml 12 times daily2ml x 8 feeds3ml x 6-8 feeds plus solids
RabbitsUsually fed only twice daily by doe, but need more frequent feeds hand-reared. 2-4ml or to Capacity every 2-4hrs.6-8ml x 4 feeds plus hay
and Guinea pigs

2ml every 2 hours4-6ml x 6 feedsFeed to capacity plus hay ad lib and solids
(born fully furred, with eyes open)can take semi-solids very early, but still need milk.

Young animals at weaning can be offered cereals (Weetabix, Farex etc.) and brown bread soaked in milk mixture, plus small quantities of greens; slowly increasing the amount as their caecal bacteria increase in numbers to break down the cellulose. They would naturally seed their gut with bacteria from their mothers faecal pellets, encountered in the nest whilst small. If cellulose material is given in too large a quantity before gut flora have increased to cope, this material decomposes and ferments, causing toxicity and enteritis which is often fatal.


1. The Biology and Medicine of Rabbits and Rodents. Harkness and Wagner.
2. Keeping Small Rodents. Chris Henwood.
3. Manual of Exotic Pets. BSAVA.
4. Pet Care Manual. Pet Trade and Industry Association.

Other articles in this series by Chris Strike VN, CGLI
Feeding Small Animals
Nursing Small Animals

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Received March 1996