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7 Reasons Why Baby Rabbits Can’t Drink Cow Milk

Can Baby Rabbits Drink Cow Milk

Do you have a baby bunny at home with no mother?

If so, it’s only right to feed them milk as they need it to survive.

However, when you take a look at your fridge…

The only thing you see is cow milk.

And you know that baby bunnies have delicate tummies.

So you might be thinking,

“Is it safe for baby rabbits to drink?

And are there more better options?”

Continue reading to find out:

  • Whether baby rabbits can drink cow milk or not.
  • 7 reasons why cow milk isn’t as good as their mother’s milk.
  • The better substitute between fresh goat milk and baby formula.
  • The types of milk that are safe to be consumed by young bunnies.
  • And a lot more…

Can baby rabbits drink cow milk?

Baby rabbits can’t drink cow milk because they can’t digest it. They have sensitive tummies so it causes diarrhea or dehydration. Plus, they can’t vomit if they feel sick. It’s also high in lactose and it’s not easy to break down. And it may contain harmful substances too, like pus and antibiotics.

7 reasons why baby rabbits can’t drink cow milk

#1: It’s high in lactose

Did you know that rabbits are lactose intolerant?

If you’re also like this or if you know somebody who has the same problem…

I’m sure you know what’ll happen to them after consuming cow milk.

They’ll experience diarrhea. And they may also have ‘stasis’ or the slowing down of stomach contractions.

“Why’s that?”

Vets say that adult bunnies lack lactobacillus in their cecum and intestines.

It’s a good bacteria that helps break down lactose or the sugar in the milk.

And this is why they’ll experience such discomfort if they consume cow milk regularly.

“What about baby rabbits?”

Baby bunnies aren’t lactose intolerant yet.

But wait, this doesn’t mean they can tolerate cow milk well.

They have sensitive and delicate stomachs. So the risks of diarrhea and bellyaches are even higher.

Plus, cow milk has a nearly 5% lactose content. 

While lactose is almost absent in rabbit milk. Having only less than 0.0044 lb (2 g) per 0.22 lb (100 g).

This is what baby bunnies normally consume until they’re 6 to 8 weeks old. 

So they won’t do well in milk with high lactose content. This is because it’ll upset their stomach.

Also, since they’re still young, diarrhea might progress to dehydration. And this can be fatal to small baby animals.

#2: It may carry potentially harmful pus

Baby Rabbits Can't Drink Cow Milk Because It May Carry Potentially Harmful Pus

Next, have you heard about the news circulating that there’s pus in cow milk?

Well, don’t panic yet.

Let me explain first how people lead to this conclusion.

First, there are somatic cells in an animal’s and human breast milk.

“What are they?”

These refer to any cell that isn’t reproductive like egg and sperm cells. And their presence is normal in milk.

In fact, their counts are being used to specify a milk’s quality.

Say, the greater the somatic cells are, the more likely a cow has an infection.

However, somatic cells and pus aren’t the same. 

They’re 2 different things. Although they’re linked to each other.


According to Dr. Michael Greger, many dairy cows suffer from mastitis.

It’s the swelling of the breast tissue due to an infection. 

And if a cow’s milk has more than 1 million somatic cell counts per teaspoon…

This usually means they’re infected.

Now, if a cow has mastitis, Dr. Greger says that more than 90% of their somatic cells are neutrophils

These are white blood cells that form pus. So there’s the connection.

If the milk came from an unhealthy cow and it has high somatic cell counts, pus is likely to form.

Well, most dairy products that we buy are usually trusted and safe. 

But still, there’s uncertainty in some items.

And as much as we don’t like pus in our mouths…

You don’t also want it to be ingested by a baby bunny. As their body’s immune system isn’t matured yet.

Reading tip: Why do baby rabbits die suddenly?

#3: It has synthetic growth hormones

An average dairy cow is said to be capable of producing more than 7.5 gals (28.39 L) of milk in a day.

This data was only from the US. So imagine how much milk is made every day all over the world.

But you might wonder,

“How do cows produce milk all the time?”

Like humans and other mammals, cows can only produce milk after giving birth.

This is why dairy cows are constantly impregnated.

Now, to trigger milk production, they have bovine growth hormones or BGH to do the job. 

And these are naturally produced in their pituitary glands. So growth hormones are commonly found in cow milk.


If farmers want to increase the production of milk, there’s a man-made version that can help them.

It’s called recombinant bovine growth hormone, a.k.a. rBGH.

But aside from the greater volume of milk, it also has several side effects to cows, such as:

  • Feet problems.
  • Higher chances of mastitis.
  • Allergic reactions in the injection site.

“What about in humans and animals?”

In humans, consuming milk from a cow injected by rBGH is said to be linked to cancer.

Although there’s still no specific study to prove this claim yet.

But one research suggests that rBGH might cause allergic reactions.

#4: It might have steroid hormones

Apart from growth hormones, these are also naturally found in cow milk. 

And based on experts, FDA allows 6 certain steroid hormones in dairy products:

  • Zeranol.
  • Estradiol.
  • Testosterone.
  • Progesterone.
  • Trenbolone acetate.
  • Melengesterol acetate.

“What do they do?”

These hormones are used in the production because they:

  • Increase milk production.
  • Speed up and shorten waiting time.
  • Raise profitability of dairy and meat products.
  • Lessen the amount of feeds consumed by an animal.

But like synthetic growth hormones…

They also have some consequences.

“What are those?”

A study says that steroid hormones may cause cancers in humans. Like prostate and breast.

This is also claimed by another researcher. And it also suggests that these hormones might be the reason for acne.

The latter study explains that this could be due to an insulin-like growth factor, a.k.a. IGF-1.

#5: It doesn’t have much nutritional value

Doesn't Have Much Nutritional Value

For a baby cow, this milk might provide all the nutrients they need.

But for a young bunny?

Well, of course, nothing beats a mother rabbit’s milk.

Bunnies have a different set of needs. Plus, they grow up at lightning speed. 

So those that are close to their mom’s milk will be the only substitutes for it. 

(We’ll get to this later on!)

Rabbit milk vs Cow milk

A study made by World Rabbit Science says that rabbit milk has more vitamin A than cow milk. As well as other water-soluble vitamins.

One research also shows that rabbit milk is 3 to 4 times greater than cow milk in terms of fats and protein.

Young bunnies need these to survive. 

And cow milk may not be able to provide enough for them.

See this detailed table below:

NutrientRabbit milkCow milk
Protein (g/100 g)12.33.0 – 4.0
Fat (g/100 g)12.93.5 – 5.0
Lactose (g/100 g)1.74.5 – 5.0
Energy (MJ/kg)8.42.7- 3.2

Rabbit milk is greater in all areas than cow milk – except for lactose.

So experts believe that this is the reason why mother bunnies only feed their babies once. And why they sit in one place while guarding the nest.

Their milk is overloaded with calories and nutrients.

It’s enough to last a day. So they don’t have to worry about their babies getting hungry while they’re out.

#6: It may contain antibiotic residues

These are said to be first detected in the milk way back 1960s.

They’re excess antibiotics formed in animal tissues. And they can also be found in cow milk.

“What may have caused this?”

According to a study, antibiotic residues in milk are due to:

  • Incorrect dosage.
  • Improper cleaning of tools.
  • Inappropriate use of antibiotics.
  • Treatment of infections (e.g., mastitis).
  • Lack of strict monitoring and detection facilities.

Now, antibiotics may cure a cow’s illness.

But if they’re too much, they can also pose hazards to our health.

And they’re as follows:

  • Cancers.
  • Allergic reactions.
  • Alterations to DNA.
  • Resistance to antibiotics.
  • Destruction of microbes in the intestines.

This is why the FDA has an ordinance which states that:

“Milk that is unsaleable or unfit for human consumption following treatment of the animal with veterinary products, i.e. antibiotics, which have withhold requirements, or treatment with medicines or insecticides not approved for use on dairy animals by FDA or the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).”

So if these are considered harmful to us…

What more to a small delicate bunny?

#7: Rabbits can’t vomit

Lastly, rabbits aren’t capable of throwing up.

So if they ingest some harmful substances like the things I mentioned above and get sick…

They won’t be able to let them out.

And this 

“Why can’t rabbits vomit?”

First, experts say that bunnies lack gag reflexes.

This type of reflex is observed in almost all mammals.

But they found that it’s absent in Rodentia (rodents). As well as Lagomorpha where rabbits and hares are included.

Another reason is that bunnies have strong sphincters.

These are like gates inside the body. Because they’re muscles that allow the entry and exit of:

  • Fluids
  • Urine.
  • Fecal matter.

But rabbits’ sphincters are exceptionally thick and strong.

So once a liquid passes through their esophagus, they’ll act as a stopper. And there would be no way up.

Do baby rabbits need milk?

Baby rabbits need milk. It’ll be their only source of energy and nutrients in their first 3 weeks of life. So drinking it will help them survive. Then after being introduced to solid food, young bunnies still need milk in their diet. This is because it’s important for their growth and development.

Now, young bunnies shouldn’t drink just any milk.

The best option for them is to be fed by their mothers.

But if it’s abandoned or orphaned…

What milk can baby rabbits drink?

Aside from their mother’s milk, baby rabbits can only drink formulas made of goat milk. As well as rabbit or kitten milk replacer. These are gentler to their stomachs than cow milk. Plus, these can also give them the nutrients they need to survive. Like proteins, fats, vitamins, and good microbes. 

Want to know how to make a formula for baby rabbits?

Check out this article: How To Take Care Of Baby Rabbits? 11 Vital Tips

People also ask:

Can baby rabbits drink baby formula?

Baby rabbits can’t drink baby formula. Besides the fact that it’s created for humans, most of this is also made from cow milk. So it’s high in lactose and bunnies can’t digest this well.

To mimic breast milk, they use cow milk as a base. This is because most human babies do well with it.

However, baby bunnies are a different case.

They’ll experience diarrhea once they consume this. And this could lead to dehydration and worse, death.

Can baby rabbits drink goat milk?

Baby rabbits can drink goat milk. This is because compared to cow milk, it’s lower in lactose and sugar. So it’s gentler in a young bunny’s stomach and less likely to cause reactions.

Let’s talk about their lactose content first.

A study shows that cow milk has 4.90% lactose which is close to 5%. And human breast milk has 6.98%.

While goat milk only has a 4.20% lactose content. 

Based from USDA, goat milk has slightly less sugar (11 g per 1 cup or 244 g) than cow milk (12 g per 1 cup of 244 g).

This may not be much of a difference. But the one with fewer carbohydrates is always a better option for baby rabbits as too much can upset their stomach. 

Also, there are other benefits of goat milk that you can’t find in cow milk:

  • It improves the absorption of essential nutrients. Research found that this is the case in us, humans. While cow milk does the opposite as it blocks the taking in of minerals like copper and iron.
  • It helps sustain the good bacteria in the tummy. Doctors say that this is due to prebiotic carbohydrates. These are fermented by microbes in the colon. So they aid in keeping a healthy gut. 

I hope this helped you in your milk dilemma.

And also, good luck with hand-feeding!