Rabbits can be hard to sex to inexperienced people, and it can be harder if the rabbit is young. Sometimes Pet shops mis-sex litters or the males and females are kept together too long and the result is baby rabbits. But what should you do if your rabbit has an unexpected litter?
- Male rabbit = buck
- Female rabbit = doe
- Baby rabbits = kits
What are the signs my rabbit is pregnant?
Some rabbits show very little, if any symptoms of an impending pregnancy so you may just find a litter of babies one day. Signs that your rabbit may be pregnant are;
- Nest building – this isn’t always a reliable sign of pregnancy as most entire rabbits will nest at some point, but a pregnant rabbit will also build a nest close to the time of giving birth. She will pick up the bedding and hay in her hutch and will also pull out the fur from her belly and dewlap (the flabby skin around her neck) to make it nice and comfy for the babies. Some rabbits dig in a corner to flatten the area for the babies. If you are unsure if your rabbit it pregnant or having a phantom pregnancy, it’s best not to touch the nest.
- Change in temperament – An expecting mother will want to do all she can to protect her nest and babies, and some pregnant rabbits will become aggressive and territorial. They could lunge and even bite (Note – this behaviour is also seen in entire female rabbits, which is why neutering is a good idea).
- Change in body shape – Although rabbits don’t show pregnancy in the same way a human does, she will get bigger and gain weight (although weight gain is very small and only really changes towards the end. However unless you knew her pre-pregnancy weight, this won’t be of any use). Rabbits are a prey species and carry their babies high to allow them to escape predators if needed. A vet would be able to palpate her abdomen to feel for babies if you are unsure, don’t do this yourself if you are inexperienced as you could hurt the foetuses.
Note – If you think your rabbit is pregnant and she is in with another rabbit, you must remove the other rabbit. Should her companion be male, he could mate her again as soon as the babies are born. A female companion should also be taken out. If possible, keep the other rabbit housed as close to her as rabbits form strong bonds and once the babies are weaned, the adults could be neutered and bonded back together.
How long is a rabbit pregnancy?
Rabbits can give birth between 28 – 32 days, so if you know when she was mated, you should have a good idea of when the babies are due.
How many babies can a rabbit have?
Litter size can vary from 1-14, with 6 kits being the average number.
Where should I keep my rabbit and her litter?
If she lives outside, as long as the hutch is in a secluded, sheltered spot in the garden she would be fine there. If it is a cold time of year, give her lots of straw to build her nest with and keep her warm. You can also get covers for the hutch to keep her and the young warm and dry. Alternatively, in warm weather, make sure the hutch is in the shade, and still provide straw for nest building.
If she is a house rabbit and kept in an indoor cage, put the cage in a quiet area of the house and cover half the cage with a blanket to make it nice and dark for her. Keep other pets like dogs and cats away from her and the young, even if they were friends before the babies arrived.
What do baby rabbits look like?
Newborn rabbits look nothing like the cute fluffy baby bunnies you see in Pet Shops or farms. The babies are born bald, blind and deaf and are completely defenceless. It’s really important not to touch the nest or the babies as your scent near the babies could cause the doe to kill her babies. You can carefully lift the top of the nest off with a spoon to check the babies are alive (remove any babies who have died with gloves), however, if mum gets upset, leave them to it.
What should I feed my rabbit and the babies?
The babies will feed off mum until they are around 6 weeks (but may begin nibbling on mum’s food sooner) and mum should be offered more food to provide her with the correct amount of calories to produce milk for the kits.
Give her fresh greens, good quality hay, forage and good quality pellets. Offer junior pellets as they are more nutritious for the mother and the babies can eat them too. Junior pellets are much smaller than adult pellets, so they are better for little mouths!
Help! The mother rabbit is ignoring her babies!
A doe will only see to her babies a couple of times a day, usually first thing in the morning and last thing at night so it may appear to us that she is ignoring them. If she tended to the babies all the time, it would alert predators to the nest so don’t panic if you never see the mum with the babies. As long as the babies are warm and wiggling, leave them well alone!
Help! One of the babies has crawled out of the nest! What should I do?
The babies generally don’t leave the nest until they are 3 weeks old and have fur, however, when the babies attach to feed, should the doe move away from the nest a baby may still be attached and end up in the other side of the hutch. If this happens, keep an eye on them and the doe may take the baby back to the nest, however, if it is cold or raining and you are worried the baby will get cold, put gloves on and carefully scoop the baby up in bedding (if you can) and put it back in the nest.
When can I handle the babies?
When the babies start leaving the nest, you can begin handling them. This is important to get them used to people and to become good pets. Be very careful when handling the kits as they won’t be used to humans and could be jumpy. Scoop them up in your hands and keep your hands in the hutch, close to the ground so if they did wriggle free, they wouldn’t fall far. Keep handling sessions short and close to mum, to begin with.
When can the babies leave their mum?
Babies can be split from their mum at 8 weeks old. It’s best to split the litter into males and females to avoid any more unwanted babies. If you are unsure of how to sex the babies, your vet will be able to help.