If you are rescuing an injured or orphaned rabbit, do not pet it. Rabbits may appear to be calm and enjoying the attention but they are actually terrified! Rabbits are high-stress animals and this extra attention can cause them to have heart failure. Put them into a dark and quiet place, away from the smells and sounds of your own pets. It is imperative that young rabbits are left alone unless there is obvious abandonment or injury.
People often encounter nests of baby rabbits when raking or mowing their lawn. Eastern Cottontails commonly nest in urban areas, in a shallow depression in the ground, lined with fur. If the nest has not been damaged, or the babies are not injured, leave them alone.
People are often concerned because they have not seen a parent anywhere near the nest. This is normal. Mothers only feed their babies twice a day, usually at dawn and dusk. She will stay away from the nest the rest of the time so as not to attract predators (newborns do not have scent and are quite safe from predators).
It is important that you do not touch the babies. Unlike birds, mammals can smell human scent. If you are not convinced that a parent is around, you can place two pieces of wool in a crisscross over the top of the nest. If the wool is undisturbed the next morning, the babies were not fed during the night. This should only be done if you have a strong reason (dead adult nearby) to suspect that the babies are not being fed. A healthy infant rabbit’s chances of survival are greatly reduced if introduced into captivity. They are easily stressed and often won’t eat when taken into care. If babies are indeed alone and unfed, carefully place the whole nest in a small, covered box and bring to a rehabilitation centre. Do not pet them! You may actually scare them to death. Also, do not feed them – especially cow’s milk!
Baby rabbits are fully furred within a week and their eyes are starting to open. They are weaned and independent when they are three to four weeks of age (only the size of a softball!)