CottonTails Rabbit & Guinea Pig Rescue > More > A HARE IN THE HOUSE – the successful hand-rearing of a Brown Hare

A HARE IN THE HOUSE – the successful hand-rearing of a Brown Hare

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It all started with a phone call, as these things often do.  It was the 2nd of September, and as I was checking the calls left on the answer machine, I came across a message that sounded urgent.  It appeared that the callers’ partner was a pilot of a small plane that was kept in an airfield, the runway of which was basically a field with the grass kept short by an industrial-sized lawn mower.   That day, the mower had accidentally run over a group of baby rabbits (or hares, the lady was not sure which), and she did not know what to do.  Apparently the mower had struck 4 babies, two of which were killed almost instantly, one ran away (perhaps injured, perhaps not) and one stayed put in sheer terror, and it was this one that ended up in a box in the lady’s kitchen.  She went to a local pet shop to find out what she should do with it, and was advised to contact me here at CottonTails®.

By this stage it was getting late, so I suggested that the lady put baby and box (lined with pulled grass) somewhere quiet and warm overnight and to bring it to me in the morning if it was still alive.  To be honest I was not expecting the door bell to ring, as most cases like this sadly pass away from shock within hours.  I was also expecting a young rabbit, as I have only once had a brown hare come into the rescue in almost 20 years of running CottonTails®, and that was handed in from someone who had accidentally hit it with their car.  That one lasted about 20 minutes, and there was nothing I could do.

The next morning arrived and, to my surprise the lady did indeed turn up with the rabbit/hare in the boot of the car.  I decided to examine it there as a precaution before bringing it in, just in case it was a rabbit with myxomatosis, but when I cautiously opened the box it was apparently immediately I was dealing with a hare after all, a tiny little leveret cowering in the corner!

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I was aware that the leveret had not had any food for over 36 hours, so the first thing I had to do was prepare some kitten milk for him.  I decided to use Beaphar Kitty Milk (made up at a concentration of 1 flat scoop to 15mls cooled boiled water) and add in the probiotic Avipro Plus (1 flat scoop to 100mls milk).  I have hand-reared many baby rabbits over the years, so was not surprised that the leveret only took a small amount during this first feed.

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I settled him down in a small inside cage with a towel draped over the top to give him some security, and placed him in the kitchen where he was warm.  Leverets are born fully furred with their eyes open so don’t really need heated pads, unlike rabbits that are born naked and blind and rely on mum’s pulled fur and their siblings to keep them warm.  He weighed 128grams, and fitted easily into the palm of my hand.

Every couple of hours or so I encouraged him to take a bit more milk, and by the end of the day I was reasonably happy with how things were going.  He seemed content but wary and ready to run if necessary!

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Things continued like this for a couple of days, and by day 3 (6 days old) he was feeding well enough to cut the feeds down to 4 times a day.  From the start he was bedded on fresh hay, with grass and other vegetation available at all times.  On days where the weather was good, I started to put him out in a secure run on the lawn in the garden for a couple of hours, which he thoroughly enjoyed.   By this stage he was living in a very large inside cage with a plastic house that he liked to sit in, and he could frequently be heard to be “drumming” with great enthusiasm with his front paws in an attempt to make a comfortable patch in which to spend the day.  When a wild hare rests, it will usually scrape away the vegetation and then lie down on the bare earth, making a shallow depression known as a form.

I weighed Bambi again at 7 days old and he was 188 grams, a good steady increase from when he first arrived.  I started a new routine to let him have some extra exercise in the evening, and filmed him running around the living room – it was plain to see how happy and relaxed he was by the cheeky way he explored and investigated everything.

By 13 days old he weighed 269 grams and I was starting to hope the way forward was clear.  How wrong I was.  When he was 14 days old he started to show the first signs of gut stasis, and believe me, this is just as serious a condition in hares as it is for rabbits.  I started treatment immediately but there was something I had not taken into account – the problem of injecting a wild leveret.  Although very young baby rabbits (domestic or wild) resent having an injection, their behaviour is completely and utterly different from that displayed by a leveret.  Even trying to find the right spot to administer the medication resulted in total panic, and the injection itself was almost impossible as he tried everything he could to get away.  Even trying to safely wrap him to restrain his movements did not help his terror.  I placed an order with the vet for the oral variety of the gut stimulant metaclopromide, and in the meantime continued with pain relief, metaclopromide injection, gentle massage and a heated pad.

Worryingly, he then developed bloat (a common complication of gut stasis) off and on for the next 3 days, with his abdomen swollen and hard and him clearly in pain, but with frequent medication and hands-on tender loving care he was holding his own.  At 17 days old the oral meds finally arrived, and by mid-morning he seemed brighter and started to eat some grass, passing some tiny droppings covered with mucus. However, by midday, he had collapsed.

I worked relentlessly with him all afternoon and feared the worst, but by late evening he appeared to be more comfortable and spent a reasonable night.  The following day, however, the gut stasis symptoms returned with a vengeance, and I was convinced he was about to die.  I stepped up his medication and sat with him on my knee for a long time, gently running a heated massage gadget on his abdomen up and down, up and down, until his muscles relaxed and the medication started to ease his pain.  By evening he seemed better, but had developed significant lameness in his left hind leg and he couldn’t put any weight on it.   This I just couldn’t understand, as I knew he had had no accident, fall or twist that could have caused any injury.  On examination it was clear that nothing was broken and he had full mobility, but just would not put his foot to the floor when moving around.

The next few days showed a continuation with his recovery, and in the meantime I had carried out some research on his symptoms and it appeared that he possibly had “Brown Hare Syndrome”, a usually fatal condition but one that leverets don’t often get as they have some immunity from their mum’s milk, something of course he had not had.

He was by then 25 days old and I was just starting to think positively again for his future  when he suddenly collapsed flat on the floor, paws out sideways, heaving quickly and vigorously in his attempt to breath, and very, very distressed.  His membranes had turned blue and it was clear he was about to die.  It was one of those situations where you know you have nothing to lose by trying anything you can think of, so I started immediately with additional medication – anything that I felt may help – and placed him gently on his heated pad on the hay to let nature take its course.

To my utter amazement and joy, within 6 hours he was fully recovered!  I think it is likely he had had some kind of heart attack, possibly linked to his previous illness, so it was a minor miracle that he pulled through.  He certainly was proving to be a tough little character!

By this time it was clear we had missed the boat as far as releasing the hare was concerned as by then the weather was getting cold and due to his illness he had not been hardened off outside as would have been necessary by this stage if release was to be a viable option.  Not only that, due to all the handling and attention necessary to save his life, he was a bit too tame to make this feasible, at least in the short term.  It was decided, therefore, that I had better set him up in accommodation that would suit him for the winter and, with my husbands’ blessing, I erected a huge dog pen with a large run attached and positioned it in the kitchen by the window.  Although our kitchen/dining room is big, this set up took up a rather large chunk!


The hare was by this stage 26 days old, and was not impressed with this sudden change in environment, but after sulking for an hour or two he emerged from his “box”, a large hooded cat litter tray, to tentatively explore his new home.  Within minutes he was kicking up his heels and having a great time, checking every corner in case he had missed something important.

Despite pressure from the family, I finally gave in and allowed a name to be chosen for the hare.  I had refused to do this beforehand as I was concerned he was not going to make it, but the proof of his resilience was there in front of me and it just had to be done.  I spent a while looking at him stretching his long elegant fawn-like limbs and the name came to me straight away:  “Bambi”!   So Bambi it was.


Within a few days I had established a routine with his day-to-day maintenance of cleaning and feeding, and he was still enjoying three feeds of milk a day, 100mls at a time which is quite a volume for a small creature but it was the highlight of his day.  I very gradually increased his vegetables so he was having a large pile of spring greens, celery and broccoli every day, in addition to copious amounts of hay and of course his bottle feeds.

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By the time he was about 2 months old I started to introduce an eggcup full of dried food once a day, and chose Burgess Light as it was high in fibre and low in protein, a good combination which I have found works very well with rabbits with delicate digestive systems.  I soon had proof of something I was sure would be happening but had failed to see it myself – that of the process of coprophagy.  This process common in rabbits, guinea pigs and other species is where the food goes around the digestive tract twice so the animal is able to digest every bit of nutrition properly by ingesting a soft type of droppings directly from the anus, chewing and swallowing them with clearly great enjoyment. I happened to being taking some photos of Bambi at the time so struck lucky, and the photos below illustrate the point nicely.  If you look carefully at the lower photo you will just see the caecotroph about to be enthusiastically consumed!


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If his release had been on the agenda, he would not have been given any dried food as it is vital for rabbits or hares that are to be released only to be given food that they would be able to find for themselves in the wild, but in the circumstances this was not going to happen for several months at least.

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Soon he was actively seeking out the pellets, and it was apparent they were very much enjoyed.  So much so, a rattle of the food box provoked a rapid response with Bambi waiting impatiently at the side of the run.

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Soon he was actively seeking out the pellets, and it was apparent they were very much enjoyed.  So much so, a rattle of the food box provoked a rapid response with Bambi waiting impatiently at the side of the run.

As he was getting a big boy by now I thought I had better start to cut back his milk feeds, and reduced them to two a day by the time he was 4 months old, and once a day by 5 months old despite Bambi’s antics at night trying to persuade me to give him more!  By this stage he was taller than the run sides when stood up on his hind legs, and looked rather like a demented kangaroo when taking his bottle.

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I got him down to 30mls once a day, and he stayed at this level for another month until I finally decided enough was enough and withdrew his night time feed completely.  It took a few days for him to accept that this was how things were going to be, and I almost caved in to his persuasive tactics, but knew it was in his interests to get him weaned properly.  I replaced the milk feed with some grass and vegetables, so he still had something to look forward to, but you could tell he was not that impressed!

Although I realized that Bambi was going to be with us right through the winter, I hadn’t thought about where we were going to put the Christmas Tree, as it usually took pride of place exactly in the middle of where the run now stood.  Intense family discussion took place and it was decided to move the furniture around to make a new place for the tree, so Bambi’s pen was able to stay where it was.  This hare was starting to rule the roost!  During the tree decorating process he watched from his box with great interest, but to be honest I think he thought we were all totally potty, and maybe he was right.

By this stage, Bambi had become very relaxed with life, spending a lot of time sprawled out in his litter box that was fastened tightly to the top of his “house” to stop it moving when he leaped into it at great speed, a frequent occurrence.

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I came down one morning between Christmas and New Year and opened the curtains to find I was staring at Bambi staring at me, on the wrong side of the run fence!  It appeared that he had somehow managed to climb up in the corner and over the top but then had landed in the curtains, and the way the run was set up he was not able to squeeze between them and the patio doors so had to sit there until rescued.  I opened up the run and he gratefully ran straight back in, pleased to be back home again.  He did not attempt this manoeuvre again for a few weeks as I think it had scared him, but in early February he started to get a bit restless and started leaping over the top on a regular basis.  Once again a family discussion took place, and it was decided for his safety to move him out into the large aviary outside as soon as the weather turned a bit milder.  Within a week he was safely settled in his new home, a 12 foot by 8 foot aviary with flight and inside area.

Although we placed his “house” in the aviary with him, he rejected it right from the start, and took to lying low in the dark area during the day and coming out from dusk onwards.  After a week or so, however, he decided he would prefer to snuggle down in a corner of the open part of the aviary on a bed of hay, and here he would stay all day (apart from feeding time) until dusk where again he would become active, mimicking the pattern he would have shown if he was wild.

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Bambi shares the aviary with several birds, and all have accepted each other very well, even grazing together when a big pile of fresh grass and dandelions are placed on the floor.  The only slight problem is that Bambi has developed a talent as a sneak thief, snaking his way inside the quail house to steal their seed!  No matter what I did to make it difficult for him, he could often be seen with just his back legs and bottom sticking out of the feeder whilst he slithered his way through the tiny doorway to eat his fill.  I have now changed the design of the quail feeding house and make sure there is only just enough to feed the quail for 24 hours and Bambi now seems to think there is not enough of a reward to take all the trouble to get his now very reduced snack.

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I have not ruled out releasing Bambi is he starts to become restless and unhappy, but for now he seems happy and content, even letting us stroke him for a short while whilst he has his evening meal of grass, dandelions and some pellets.  It is always on his terms, however, and he is very quick indeed to tell you off if you hang around for too long by either drumming on your legs with his front paws or even biting, but it is more a hard nip than a very aggressive bite, more a warning than an actual attack.

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I feel very privileged to have had this adventure with Bambi, and I have learnt a huge amount in the process.  It is strange that although Bambi looks very like a rabbit in many ways, he is in reality totally different.  Hares do not burrow and rarely nibble on non-food items so from that point of view are a pleasant change compared to the destructive behaviour of a rabbit, especially in the house.  Being solitary creatures, they do not seem to need the attention of another hare, unlike rabbits who love living in compatible pairs or groups and enjoy being groomed by their companions.   One thing is for sure, having a hare in the house has been quite an experience!

The film below was taken in May 2013 when Bambi was 8 months old.

Some facts about Hares:

  • Scientific name: Lepus europaeus
  • Female = a Jill, male = Jack
  • The European hare is the fastest land mammal in the UK.
  • Hares can have between 2 – 4 litters of young a year, usually between February and September. The young are born in the open, with a full coat of fur and open eyes.
  • The young hares are known as leverets and each one in a litter will be left in a separate form of its own.
  • They are able to leave their birth place very soon after they have been born.
  • Hares protect themselves in their forms by lying as still as a statue, tucked in close to the ground with their ears pressed flat along their backs
  • A hare will not move until the last minute before it is discovered, as its best defence lies in stillness and camouflage.
  • Hares can run incredibly fast, up to 35 miles per hour, although this is saved for escape and they generally lope along at a much more leisurely pace.
  • In March and April, hares can often be seen leaping about and having wild chases with each other. They will sometimes also have ‘boxing matches’, standing up on their hind legs, face to face and box with each other. This peculiar spring behaviour is where the expression ‘Mad as a March Hare’ comes from, as usually involves unreceptive females fending off amorous males.
  • Hares are herbivores, eating grass and other plants.
  • The leverets may be eaten by predators such as foxes, buzzards and owls, but the adults are generally quick enough to escape most enemies.
  • Leverets are particularly vulnerable to cutting machinery in grass fields.
  • Baby hares or leverets receive very little care from their mother so the babies lie very still in their nests called scrapes or ‘forms’ to avoid being seen by predators.
  • For about the first month of their lives, the leverets come together at sunset to be fed by their mother. Hare milk is very high in fat and nutrients so that baby hares only need to be fed once a day. After about a month they have to learn to take care of themselves.
  • The Easter Rabbit or Easter Bunny as people sometimes call him is actually an Easter Hare! In places in northwest Europe, like Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium and some other European mainland countries, he is still called the Easter Hare rather than the Easter Bunny.

Update:  9th July 2013 (10 months old):

Up until yesterday, Bambi has been doing very well and seemed happy and content.  However, I have spent a lot of time today battling to save him.  He has not been himself for a few days but was not showing any definite signs of anything specific, I just noticed he was not as keen to come forward for his usual goodies.  If he had been a rabbit I would have started gut stasis treatment as a precaution, but being a wild hare it is a totally different situation as any manhandling can cause severe stress which can be fatal.  Last night he was nibbling on some dandelions and grass so I felt a bit happier, but this morning it was clear he was in pain so I decided I had to act regardless of the risk, so gently scooped him up in a large bath towel and hung on for dear life as it was like holding on to a kangaroo!  Hares feel very different from rabbits, as they are not at all soft and cuddly but are hard and leggy.

It took a good minute or two for him to stop struggling, and then I managed to get a dose of Metacam into him (which I think he quite liked) before offering him a syringe of recovery mix with added probiotic and rehydration therapy.  Much to my surprise he took several syringes of this, and then I had to stop and get his gut stimulant injection over with, which went down like a lead balloon as you can imagine.  However, he seemed to forgive me as he took some more recovery mixture and then I gently let him go on to the aviary floor again.  He seemed brighter so I left him to it.  After a few hours I checked on him again, only to find he had gone rapidly downhill.  A repeat of the morning antics transpired, and once again he rallied, enjoying a bit more recovery mixture and some grass.  I have just come back up this evening from the aviary, and I am pleased to report he seems much more relaxed but I know we are not out of the woods yet.  I am desperately hoping that he pulls through, as he has become a member of the family and we all love him dearly.  Funnily enough he has made friends with our last remaining chinese quail, and the pair are often seen nose to beak, or snuggling against each other contentedly.  Bless!

10th July

Bambi seemed bright this morning and when I went into the aviary he was tucking into some green veg, which was a good sign.  I decided not to catch him but to observe how things went, but within a couple of hours it was clear he was not right so had to get the bath towel out again and administer the medications once again.  He enjoyed several syringes of recovery mix too, which was reassuring.  He seems reasonably relaxed at the moment, and I have switched on the cooling fan to send air through the aviary as it is extremely hot again today.

13th July

I am glad to report that Bambi has pulled through and is back to his old self again.  I just hope he is not going to make a habit of this!  I have included below some photos I took today, including a couple with the quail who is never far from Bambi’s side.

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The film below was taken about a week before our little quail, Bambi’s dear friend, passed away due to old age.  I found her still snuggled in between Bambi’s paws, her favourite place, and I take comfort from the knowledge she was warm, safe and content when she died.  I know we shall all miss her as she was a plucky little bird, a real little character.

Attempt to bond Bambi with a Belgian Hare neutered female

I was well aware of the vast differences between hares and rabbits, but as Bambi seemed to enjoy the little quail’s company I thought it may be worth trying him with a neutered female Belgian Hare, which despite the name is actually a type of rabbit.  She looked and behaved more like a hare than a bunny, but I knew the social and behavioural differences meant I was trying to match two totally different species, so did not have much hope of success.  I filmed the process, and have included the film below – it makes interesting watching, especially as a comparison between hares and rabbits.


July 2014 – Bambi is just under 2 years old now, and in the last couple of months has started making a snorting sound from time to time, usually if he is annoyed about something or if excited.  I managed to capture this on film, and the clip is below.

April 2015 – A short piece of film taken at supper time!

Here is some film I took using my iphone, filmed on 27th June 2015.

Here are some photos I took at the same time:

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The film above was taken on Christmas day (2015) as I could not resist taking some footage of Bambi enjoying his festive breakfast!  He is now over 3 years old.

The film below was taken in September 2016, and Bambi is now over 4 years old.

I took this photo below earlier this year (2017) with Bambi being 5 years old, as the sun was catching his beautiful fur which made it shine like gold.  I think it is the pattern and colouring of the fur on their backs that can give them that golden shine when running in fields in the sunshine.

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October 2017:  Bambi is now 5 years old and I took the following film just to show how keen he still is to have his daily treat!

Here is a short film of Bambi, taken on 14th March 2018, with Bambi just over five and a half years old.  Apologies for the poor light but I filmed him enjoying his supper last night just as it was starting to get dark.  He is very settled these days and has accepted his new friends – 4 of my elderly pigeons that were being attacked by crows so they are now confined to the aviary for their own safety.  I have never seen crows be so vicious with pigeons, they obviously worked out they were old and doddery and easy pickings, but it does not mean I have to agree with nature which is why they are confined to barracks!

This film below was taken in June 2018 and is an interesting study on hare behaviour when faced with a pushy pigeon …

Here is a short film of Bambi waiting eagerly for his breakfast – filmed in June 2019.  He is almost 7 years old (born September 2012).

Here is a film of Bambi and friends, taken at the start of April 2020.

This film and photo were taken in 2022, and Bambi is now in his 10th year!  He is showing no signs of age, although has perhaps mellowed a bit as he is not so inclined to box me in the knees!