Bunnular Advice from a Farm Boy

“Being an old farm boy… and having raised rabbits for years when I was still back on the farm… I wish people knew that if they handle baby rabbits… the mom’s will often reject or kill them. The smell from the person’s hands often changes the identity markers for the mother.


My father… used to keep a bottle of Imitation Vanilla in the Rabbit house (about 200does.) When one mother would have a lot (up to 12) and another had only a couple… he’d rub the Imitation Vanilla on his hands… rub all the bunnies… rub the momma’s nose… The vast majority of the time, she’d take them. By the time the Vanilla wore off… they smelled like her. Probably more info that you needed.


Keep up the good work on the site. I just don’t know how you could approach this subject and save folks some heartache.

Good luck,

“baby rabbits in hands” and “baby bunny” by amyhrer.



  1. bunny flavored ice-cream. mmmmm.

  2. I know some chinchilla owners use this trick when introducing new chins to each other, so it makes sense that it could be used in this fashion as well.


  3. Zaferina says:

    Rubbing bunnies in yummy smells sounds fun.

  4. Ohhh, and then their little ears will be so tasty!

  5. Yay for good advice! save the bun buns!

  6. balamuthia says:

    Cute fuzzies!

    That’s beautiful advice- so often what people don’t get is that the best way to protect nature is to *leave it alone*!

  7. That second pic – I love him! Vanilla scented baby buns sounds so cute!

    Thanks, Farm Boy, for the info.

  8. I love wee buns! I love vanilla too.

  9. manynote says:

    Dunno if it’s true of bunnies, but it doesn’t seem to be true of birds according to this site, and in their bunny section they don’t mention this either.


  10. “As you wish.”

  11. 5^^now8ing says:

    A baby bun fell in our daylight window once, and I was gonna pick him up and put him back up on the ground, but I couldn’t catch him, so I got a box and got him to hop into it and put the box outside on its side. He stayed there a long time and was finally gone later — hopefully I inadvertantly did the right thing.

  12. snoopysnake says:

    There was an entire episode of “Leave it to Beaver” about this problem. The Beaver (Jerry Mathers) had a pet rabbit he named Henry. His mom June noticed that Henry was pregnant and should instead be called Henrietta! The babies arrived soon and before Ward could warn his son not to handle the rabbits for the reason described above, Beaver had already picked one up. Gus the Fireman told Beav about the vanilla trick (and also talcum powder) and the trick worked. Of course, Beaver still had to ‘fess up to his parents.

  13. Christabel says:

    Vanilla-scented baby bunnies sound way too tempting to stuff in my mouth. 😉

  14. Uh, pretty sure this isn’t true.

  15. chameleonpixie says:

    This is a common misconception about birds that is not true. Bird parents recognize their children by sight, and not smell.

    [Added Snopes link, which is specifically about birds… – Ed.]

  16. Pussytoes says:

    The last picture has melted my very soul.

  17. Mary (the first) says:

    I’m glad I’m not the only one whose first thought was “that vanilla flavored bun is going right into my mouf! ” Thanks, Andy. .

  18. pistache268 says:

    This is insanely, ridiculously, illegally, off-the-wall cute.

    I am officially KO’d.

  19. balamuthia says:

    It’s not true for birds, as chameleonpixie mentioned, but it works famously for other animals. i don’t know first hand about vanilla, but my mom used to do the talc trick with other animals and I saw it work first hand.

    There again, the best thing to do is simply leave baby animals alone. Most of the time what we assume is “abandonment” isn’t.

  20. This just isn’t true. The mother rabbit doesn’t care at all if there is human smell on the baby. Handling might stress out a baby rabbit though.

    Lots of good info here:

  21. Space Peaches says:

    Hmm, I’m pretty sure I read it’s a myth about the scent thing. It is, however, advised that you wash your hands so you don’t pass any diseases to your pet rabbits.

  22. Caitlin says:

    ooohhh, I’ll take two scoops!! Nah, make that four. Imitation Vanilla Bunneh is so slimming.

  23. justmeandthevoices says:

    OMG! Those bunbuns are sooooo sweet!!!

  24. zeldapie says:

    Zackly, balamuthia. “Simply leave baby animals alone” is great advice! We get lots of “kidnapped” bunnies each year at the wildlife rehab center, and they would’ve been better off with mama rabbit. It’s a matter of educating the general public, I guess – mamas only visit the nest a couple times to feed the bebehs, in the morning and at night. Put twigs over the nest if you think the bunnies are abandoned. If they twigs have moved overnight, mama has come by to feed them and they’ll be fine.

    That being said, those pictures are wonderful – such sweet floofums!!!

  25. Whoa, that is actually a really good idea. One of my friends works at the SF zoo and they’ve had problems with mothers rejecting babies, so that might help. Thank you, Andy.

  26. Thats not true about mommy bunnies. I breed angoras, and the only time they reject them is when they are injured or unhealthy. They know how many babies they have and they take them back after you handle them. They do however get very stressed if you come messing around the nest, and their anxious behavior can cause them to step on their babies and possibly injure them. Mommy bunnies have very concentrated milk and so only have to nurse once or twice a day. If you (or like in my case your dog) find a bunny nest and happen to disturb it, the babies are way better off if you put them back rather than try to raise them. Having bottle fed baby bunnies (mommy bunny built her nest in my dogs fenced in yard and did not survive) its very difficult as you have to feed them every few hours day and night since puppy milk is the closest substitute and is not nearly as strong.

  27. Squee! So cute! However, the whole scent thing? Not true. From http://www.rabbit.org/care/newborn.html ….

    # You can handle the babies even if the mother doesn’t know you. Domestic rabbits are not that concerned over human smells.

    # Rabbits are not prone to cannibalism, as many people think. Cannibalism is an occasional result of a stillborn litter, and this is nature’s way of cleaning up the “mistake.” The activity and noisy squeaking of healthy babies trigger the “maternal instincts.” Only rarely does a mother rabbit truly abandon or ignore her babies.

  28. Well, we want the teeney-weeney bebbeh bun-buns to grow up to become large, healthy, disapproving rabbits….. so I guess weez shuud jest let the bebbehs alone……. 🙂

  29. chicky82 says:

    You can do this when introducing new ratties to a group, you rub the vanilla on the ratties and put them some place neutral like a bathtub and let them get used to each other. this story reminded me of marshmallow peeps. Yum! 😀

  30. Watch out for the combine!

  31. Thank-You for the good tip. We have bunny nests underground. Occ I find a lost bunny in a bush and want to get in back to the hole. I did know touching them was bad. I’ve used some kitchen untensils before so I didnt touch. Seems to have worked.

  32. MzMadge says:

    I’m assuming this refers to bunnys in the wild, in which case, the momma WON’T accept the baby back. I found one injured by a cat in the yard. (Turns out cat-bites are almost always lethal to bunnys) It had been there over night, so I was pretty sure the mum wasn’t coming back. I brought him to 2 vets. The first wouldn’t treat him, but the second finally agreed after I burst into tears and begged. They treated him for dehydration and a tear on the leg. They told me to take him to a wildlife shelter, but I was attached at that point, and convinced I could nurse him. He died, hours later, huddled in the crook of my neck, and I wish now that I HAD taken him to the wildlife center. They know best how to treat them, and i might have gone on not knowing whether he’d lived or died, which would be preferable to the grief I experienced after he was gone. So leave those baby bunnies alone! Or take them to the wildlife center if they’re injured!!

  33. I remembered that this “rejected by mom” business was not true of birds and did a quick confirm:


    So, I did a quick check for animals in general. First hit says this is not true for various mammals either


  34. Mike D. says:

    did not know about the whole “scent-parental rejection” thing. awful if true and smarter folk than i say it is, so…

    dont think i could live with myself if, after snorgling a bun, the little fluffbeast was rejected by its mutha. i guess that means we gotta be careful thinking that aminuls are people. One’s snorglefest could be another’s death sentence. yikes.

  35. Dobermama says:

    My old gentle male dobe discovered a nest of baby bunnies at the base of a tree, and snorfed all the soft nest-linings away from them. This was inside our fenced backyard. I called the vet, who referred me to a local wildlife center. The lady there had me put them in a ventilated shoebox with a warm, clean dishtowel, and bring them to the vet for her to pick up. I couldn’t leave them where they were, because of the dog. I don’t know for sure what happened to them, but I bet they didn’t make it. 😦 I don’t know what that mother rabbit was thinking, bulding her nest in a doberman’s backyard.

  36. Notice the white kiss-dots on all the tiny heads!

  37. Milly is right. A mother rabbit will NOT reject her buns just by a human scent being on them. However, still just LEAVE THEM ALONE! Rabbits have gotten along forever without the help of humans and can continue to do so.

  38. Space Cowgirl says:

    Really? And what were you farming bunnies for, cotton candy and rainbows?

  39. Well obviously, the answer is to pick them up with kitchen tongs!

    Dang it, now I’m craving vanilla scented bunny ears.


  40. Vanilla bunnies! Those little babies are so stinkin’ adorable! Good advice too.

  41. berthaservant says:

    Everything on the internet is both true and not true, apparently. Anyone who has any experience with anything is an expert on everything.

    Everytime we get a bebbeh rabbit in a hand pic, a lot of people weigh in and warn us that it’s not cool to do it. And then two or three people say “Oh no, that’s an old wives’ tale.” Why would people make this up? What purpose would that serve? Why would this farm boy who has very specific experience lie about this?

    Just because you once handled a bunneh that didn’t get rejected, that does not make it universally true, particularly (I would think) for bunnehs bred/raised in captivity, where the adult bunnehs themselves are often being handled by humans and used to their scent.

    At least that’s the way I smell it.

  42. For those who want an athoratative site
    here is the house rabbit Society with what they recommend for all baby bunny finds


  43. These baby bun buns are absolutely adorable! Near my family’s cabin we have taken care of a few baby bunnies. Once we found two that were found with a mama bun who had been run over by a car. We nursed them, weaned them, and “Flopsy and Mopsy” were released back into the wild!

    Good advice in general, though. I want the little baby bunnies!

  44. I kiss the little white spots on their heads. I splode.

  45. Woods Walker says:

    Also rubbing ones hands on the mother rabbit before handling the baby rabbits will prevent them from being abandoned. The mother rabbit will smell her own Oder on the little ones. -Woods Walker

  46. I have asked the vets at the Tufts Wildlife Clinic, and it is not true that if you handle the bunny once, it is rejected forever (at least with our local cottontail species). It may have already been rejected by the mom, for being sick or injured, which can be really hard for a person to tell, even a vet. However, if you keep it for more than 24 hours and then put it back, regardless of whether you touched it with your hands, it may be rejected, or mom may have moved the nest and left it for lost. But you can get tularemia from touching wild bunnies, and they are extremely hard to care for successfully, so don’t touch them anyway! If you must, to rescue them from a mower or a dog or something, use a box, a towel, a tool, gardening gloves, whatever. Go ahead and rub vanilla on your hands, though, that sounds nice.

  47. This is true about wild bunnies. We have them all over our neighbourhood. One spring we found three baby bunnies under our spruce tree, and unfortunately we didn’t know this, so we moved them. The momma didn’t come and take them back. ):

  48. chanpon says:

    Oh, finally bunbuns that are bite-size. Perfect when you want a mouf-ful.

  49. I saw something similar on TV, where an animal shelter had some orphaned possum babies, and wanted to put them with another mama possum who had her own babies. Their technique was to rub everyone with Vicks Vaporub instead of vanilla!

  50. OH MzMadge,

    that’s truely sad, I’m sorry.

  51. DumBunny says:

    I’ve never heard of the vinilla trick, but I do know you don’t handle any wild animal.

  52. i wish i had a bunny!

  53. berthaservant: That’s true about the internet in general, that’s why you look for expert sources. As to why people would make stuff up? They didn’t really. Somebody a long time ago picked up a rabbit, the mother rejected it, and they came up with a theory about scents. One that was wrong, but it was an honest attempt, but the theory spread anyway.

    Here are some links on what to do if you find an “orphan” rabbit from people who really know their rabbits:

    Note there is no mention of the human scent myth anywhere, in fact they even mention you can pick up a baby to see if it’s being fed.

  54. True. People see how cute these wild animals are and yes God DID make them overwhelmingly adorable. We MUST remember – they ARE wild animals – with parasites and consequences for inserting ourselves into their lives. We must all be careful. This vanilla thing is a fix for the majority of the time – but often – it’s better to let nature care for nature.

  55. Very cute! Although the info is not quite right. The mother will not reject them if they are simply handled. It is not that they smell like humans, it is that all the babies no longer smell the same. Touch all the babies if you handle one and the mother will not reject them. I used to work with wildlife rehabilitators (and am a vet tech).

    They will also reject babies if they are colder than the others, which is a very common reason why rodents/cats/dogs will reject young. The vanilla solution would technically work, since it would make them smell the same, but you are not covering up the human smell by doing so. Also rabbit digestive tracts are very sensitive and I wouldn’t trust the lotion. Babies are regularly groomed, and it would be licked off immediately upon the mother’s return. Most wildlife sites will recommend the same thing: handle them all so they smell the same.

    Oh yes, same with baby birds. There is no concern with giving fledglings a hand away from a cat or some other dangerous situation. It will not cause the mother to reject them.

    That being said, I would definitely avoid disturbing any babies you might find.

  56. I will hug him and squeeze him and love him and pet him, and I will call him George.

  57. I’m all for making adorable animals even more adorable by adding a yummy scent. Vanilla-scented buns it is!

  58. marthava says:

    What kind of buns iz dem? I never saw wild buns with a color pattern like that before.

  59. cubbybutt says:

    whoa. those buns are friggin cute.

  60. puddlepeppers says:

    Second picture is like a gift.

  61. Nichole says:

    Just wanted to chime in on this old wives tale. It’s true that this is what was popular amongst rabbit breeders back in the day as this is what my gramma taught me when I started raising them. However it’s just not necessary. As someone else pointed out, handle them all. I never had a problem with rejection with my does and handled them every day from day 1.

    But the best advice is to just leave them alone.

  62. crazyweinerdoglady says:

    bunny 🙂

  63. puddlepeppers says:

    Thanks for the farm boy advice. I’d rather know, so that I can leave a natural
    situation alone. Your friend, Puddles.

  64. i did NOT just see that. A Bun-Nugget.

  65. I don’t have experience with rabbits but it’s true for mice. Way back when I was in high school, we bred a pair of mice and were supposed to weigh the babies to make a graph of their growth. One day we forgot about the line in the textbook that said to pick them up with gloves or a spoon to avoid getting “people smell” on them. The mother ate five out of seven afterward. >_<

    When I think about all the animal welfare guidelines that my colleagues and I have to adhere to as scientists, in retrospect it seems absurd to tell a bunch of stupid high school kids mess around with mouse breeding in order to "discover" something that's already well known.

  66. Also (sorry for double-posting, this just occurred to me) it seems likely that does that are used to people and handled frequently wouldn’t be bothered by human scent on their kits, whereas wild rabbits or domestic rabbits that are being raised for meat and not handled much, would be. This could explain why different people have had different experiences with their baby buns.

    [No worries, double-posting is different. – Ed.]

    [No worries, double-posting is different. – Ed.]

  67. wuyizidi says:

    I just like how in the second pic the hairs are all short and pointed at different directions. Is that what all the cool kids are into these days?

  68. procrasTIINAtions says:

    Thanks for the advice!! There was a baby bunny on my lawn that was lying there from 7pm to 12am, without his mum. I was going to pick him up, but your blog stopped me. And the mother found him just now. 🙂

  69. I haven’t tried the vanilla trick, but when I brought little Pochino home, it took a while for my little Pallina to warm up to him. (Bunnies get turfy when a new bun comes into their territory and they have to go through a bonding ritual), so one of the handy tricks my vet suggested to get them to bond was to encourage grooming behavior. This is going to sound completely ridiculous, but it worked: he had me smear a little dab of mashed banana on the top of each of their cute heads, between their cute little ears, and they were so tempted by the bananas, that they forgot their turfiness. Pretty soon they were licking each other’s heads and voila! They’ve been best friends and inseparable ever since! (Smooching all the time, even without bananas slathered on their ears!) 🙂

  70. Jessica says:

    Yeah, I believe that the old wives tale about human scent causing orphaned bunnies was probably just either an assumed explanation after observation or something just made up so people don’t go around playing with baby wildlife, which is a good idea. Frankly, I wouldn’t mind people still believing that was true because like I said, it keeps people from interrupting nature! Mamma bunnies are not that dumb, native cottontails like to make their burrowed nests around the ornamental trees in my front yard that I mow around and often I’ll find that my landscaping alterations has displaced a lot of brush and grass over the locations of their nests, but they always manage, there’s always little babies running out of the bushes when I’m out there. Lawn mower gasoline is a much stronger scent than the human hand I would think.

  71. I heard this was a myth…

  72. cassandra says:

    my head just almost exploded from the amount of cuteness. I bet those lil’ bunnies are soft and smell like outside. so cute. but I couldn’t have a rabbit because it gets really hot where I live and also I have four kitties.

  73. SixFootJen says:

    (Can’t believe no one has attacked Farm Boy for having been a rabbit farmer on a farm with 200 does… where are the nuffers demanding to know whether it was for their fur or their meat? Sigh… I hardly ever read the comments any more, because the whole time, I’m bracing for the self-righteous indignation and sniping…)

  74. i want to nom on some vanilla flavored bunny ears STAT!

  75. Squeeeeeeeeee! They are so cute!

    If the animule does not seem injured, in direct danger, or you *know* that its mother is dead, just leave it alone (scent or no scent). Bask in its cuteness from a distance-momimule and baby knows what to do much better than you do.

  76. katiedid says:

    awww.. Their fur reminds me of the baby squirrels my mom and I used to raise in NC after the hurricanes. They would get knocked out of the nests and the mothers would either die (from the hurricanes) or would just leave them there. So we took them in. We fed them whole milk or kitten milk with egg yoke.. Man that stuff smelled horrible after it got on them.. I remember feeding them every couple of hours.. It was a lot of work, but worth it. I think in total we raised about half a dozen.. They never really became attached to us after that except one that we rescued from a dog… That little guy ended up living in the tree next to our house.. ahh… no more reminiscing for me 😀

  77. Yes, if you’d like to handle baby bunnies, become a volunteer at your local wildlife rehabilitation center! Then you can touch babies while still doing some good for the little buggers.

  78. Well, however these little furry bunlets are being raised, I think we should all pay attention because as near as I can tell, they do not disapprove!

  79. Guido – Hysterical! Love it!

    I’m going to remember that line and use it myself.


  80. Carlisa says:

    i will not nuff….nothing will make me nuff…I will have nuffin to do wif nuffin at nuffin…
    *takes a deep bref*

  81. Space Cowgirl says:

    Actually, SixFootJen, I did…I guess I’m just too subtle.

  82. Agent 99 says:

    We recently saved baby bunnies from a “lawnmower” episode – don’t worry, all bebes were safe and sound. We had to handle a few of the bunnies due to the urgent situation at hand. I am happy to report that the mom bunny continued to come every night and nurse her babies (we watched) and did not reject them. Maybe we just got lucky. Thanks for the helpful tip though, it was kind of you to share your bunny expertise!!!

  83. NOT TRUE! maybe the vanilla thing works to get a momma to accept other babies – but a momma will still accept her own( though she might be annoyed that they smell like hooman!) Momma rabbits only hang around the nest for a short period each day so “abandoned” buns are usually not really abandoned. They can also die of shock – so that is another reason not to touch them. Poor wild bun buns – no wonder they breed so much! But the picks ARE amazing!

  84. It is true. My grampa used to raise rabbits and one day after I had played with the tiny babies in the hutch, I came back and saw that mama had eaten them all, leaving just the heads. Yuck and trauma. Seriously, hands off tiny buns.

  85. Catsquatch says:


    I nominate this submission for POST OF THE YEAR.

    Not only was it amazingly cute, it shared information that will save the lives of many bunnies from now on.

    Kudos to the sender inner on this one!

  86. I always suspected that was not true about birds — avians as a kingdom don’t really have much in the way of smell. It’s not a very useful skill when you’re up in the air; eyesight is much more important to look down through long expanses of air (or up) and see what’s stirring!

  87. Starlinguk says:

    Sorry if I’m repeating anyone here, but we’re talking about two things here:

    It’s true that even if you handle a bebeh bunny, the mum will take it back. Your scent won’t put it off. So the “mum won’t take it back” thang is a myth. But leaving it well alone is a good idea anyway (unless bunneh is in a place where it could get hurt)

    However, the vanilla-scented method, DOES work if you want another bunneh to adopt another bunneh’s bebeh. Works on sheep too.

    /intelligent post

    Squee! Snowflake! Look at that widdoo white spot on its head! *splodes*

  88. Great info everyone. I thought I had read somewhere that this wasn’t true at all (about the handling thing and mothers rejecting)….
    Those are frackin adorable baby buns though!!!! The little white tufts of hair…. SQUEEEEEE

  89. @pyrit-Nice PB reference!

  90. essensual says:

    Teddy bear buns! I never find them in my back yard…must move immediately.

  91. Supabroad says:

    I am really glad your senderinner addressed this. A few months back someone sent in shots of a baby deer that had been discovered, handled and “saved” to reunite with its mother and I thought OMG…NO!

  92. I should get a pet rabit

  93. this is not true! ask any wildlife rehab person. baby bunnies handled by people will be accepted back by the mother. so will baby birds.

  94. janet2buns says:

    @Nicki 9:49 : The banana thing is a common trick used while bonding rabbits. No need to apologize for sounding “completely ridiculous”.

  95. Stephanie says:

    Wow, that is completely untrue. Rabbits will not reject their kits for being handled by a human. It does not change their scent markers whatsoever. I believe people may think this because mother rabbits can sense when there is something wrong with their young. If the kit is not going to make it, she is not going to coddle it. I think some people will handle these kits, trying to help, put them back, and then when it dies, they claim the mother killed or refused to take care of it because it didn’t smell like her. Mother rabbits will not try to “save” an already dying kit. Instead she will take care of the ones she knows are healthy.

    I have been around rabbits my entire life, including fostering many of them. I have had surprise litters pop up, and none have been rejected after I had to move them to a safer location. I don’t recommend handling them a lot, but only because they’re babies and need to be in their warm nests with their mamas.

  96. doesn’t mean the other way around either, berthaservant. They won’t reject them 100% of the time, but the not-wholly-true story is useful because it encourages other people to leave them alone.

  97. 1st… thanks to C.O. for posting this. As for those that say it’s not true… all I have is about 15years of experience with it. My father… about 25yrs more than that. Granted, all that experience is with domesticated rabbits and ended about 30yrs ago. We had an entire Chicken House full of large rabbit cages. At least 200 does. Yes, we raised them for food and profit at that time. Haven’t eaten one in a long time. Chickens are much uglier and more annoying! 🙂

    I’ve been at several social events where children find a nest and bring them in. I’ve taken it on myself to raise them and turn them loose. Even with good food/water and minimal handling… I’ve only got approx 60% success rate.

    It is very difficult to compare birds to rabbits. (Apples vs. Oranges etal.)

    Again, it’s best to just leave wild babies of any kind alone. Ok…after snapping 100pics or so to send in to C.O.!


  98. Hmm. But buns this big do not suffer from being rejected by their mother. Not sure about bunnies but Rodents like Hamsters should not be handled for the first 3 weeks of their lives to prevent cannibalism. Not sure if bunnies cannibalise. =/

    Cute bunnies btw. Lovely short ears. XD

  99. Subhangi says:

    Great advice!

  100. BUN BUN BUN

  101. Pussytoes says:

    I’m avoiding my entire front yard right now because Mommy Robin has a nest of three eggs right in my flower-filled window box! I’ve even avoided putting screens on the window lest I disturb her!

  102. OMG, my head is going to explode from the cuteness of these buns. I waaaaannnnnnttttttttt one….

  103. yes hamsters will do this too so it is important not to touch hams that are still lil.

  104. SO CUTE!!!! my grandma’s rabbit had babies like this!!! I WANT NO NEED 1!!!!! ❤