Baby animals are adorable — but leave ’em alone, OK?

A possum family

By Blandford Nature Center and Victoria Mullen


Aw, isn’t that baby animal just adorable? Maybe you’re tempted to scoop him up and turn him into a pet — after all, he must be starving, because mom isn’t around, right?


Not necessarily. In fact, if you intervene, you could make things a lot worse.

Baby mammals

Mammal babies are usually born naked with their eyes shut and require a lot of care from their parents. People are often tempted to take in mammal babies and try to raise the babies themselves. This is a bad idea. Not only is it illegal to do so without the proper permits, but it is dangerous for the animal and yourself for multiple reasons:


Misfeeding or Dietary troubles

People will try to feed mammal babies, and they will often end up having the babies choke to death on the food. Many people are under the misguided impression that since it is a baby animal, they should get milk from the store and feed that to it; however, only humans and cows can digest cows’ milk! Baby animals are lactose intolerant, which means that drinking milk will cause diarrhea, which may result in death (due to dehydration and lack of nutrition).


Mammals can carry a variety of diseases.

For example, raccoons can carry distemper, rabies, and a roundworm parasite that can be transmitted to other mammals, including humans. The parasite finds its way into the body and can burrow into the brain.


Squirrel siblings

Another problem is that of imprinting.

People who don’t know how to properly rehabilitate animals will end up with imprinted babies — even skilled rehabbers can have problems with imprinting babies. So, when the cute baby mammal turns into a mean adult mammal, and you try to release it, it can come right back and not be afraid of you, other humans, or people’s dogs and cats. Imprinting makes it easier for these animals to be hunted or injured, and there have been attacks on people by imprinted animals, particularly children.

About bunnies

Baby rabbits are often found in backyards. Rabbits will make nests in shallow depressions in the ground, in grassy areas. These areas are often near edges of forest, by fences, and under shrubs. Before you mow the lawn or rototill your garden, you should check the area for rabbit nests, and if you find one, just work around it and wait a few weeks; the babies will be ready to leave and get out of your way.


Bunnies are born with their eyes closed and no fur. Their ears are close to their head. Bunnies are on their own when they are around 5 inches long and furry, with their eyes open and ears up. They may still hang out with each other near the nest for awhile before going their separate ways. You don’t want to bring these older bunnies to a wildlife rehabber, since they don’t need help, and bunnies tend to become stressed out very easily and could die from just the transport to a rehab center. It’s a good idea to make sure they need help before trying to help them, or you could do more harm than good.


Baby bunnies

If you find a nest with bunnies inside that are too young to be on their own, unless they look injured, leave them alone. The mother will come back, but not until dusk and dawn. So, you won’t see her coming back to the nest. If you’re worried that the mother isn’t coming back to the nest, put flour around the nest and place some twigs in an X formation over the nest, and check back the next morning. If the flour and/or twigs have been disturbed, the mother hasn’t abandoned her babies. If you happen to touch one of the babies, just put it back and gently touch the others so they all smell the same. The mother will still accept them, just make sure you don’t handle them much.


It is not a good idea to move a rabbit nest, but if you can’t wait a week or two for them to leave, or if you have already disturbed the nest, you can try to move it. You should move it to an area as close as possible to the original location, in an area that has some longish grass, possibly under a shrub. Put the fur that was in the old nest in the new one, and cover the bunnies with dry grass. Again wait till the morning to see if the nest was visited by the mother, using flour and twigs.


For info on other baby animals, go here.