Rabbit Pregnancy, Birth, and Baby Care
Rabbits are prolific breeders. If you have both males and females and they haven’t been neutered, they can start to reproduce at ages as young as 4 to 6 months! Keep reading to learn everything you need to know if your rabbit is expecting.
This article was written by a FirstVet vet
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Rabbit litters can range in size from 2 up to 12 baby rabbits, called kits. The smaller breeds tend to have smaller litters and the larger breeds will often have more kits per litter. Rabbits can get pregnant again as soon as they’re done nursing, so you may end up with more rabbits than you know what to do with! Check out our article on the benefits of spaying/neutering your rabbit.
Female rabbits, called does, reach sexual maturity around 6 months of age, but some will develop faster and can get pregnant as young as 4 months old. Larger and giant breeds reach sexual maturity later, up to 12 months or so of age.
The female will let the male know she is interested in breeding by lowering and flattening her back (lordosis), raising the pelvis, and showing the male her vulva area. They may be acting more hyper and will tense when touched in preparation for being mounted. The vulva itself will often enlarge and may develop a purple coloration. Temperature and daylight cycle often affect reproduction, and rabbits are more likely to get pregnant in the spring. However, this is not always the case in indoor rabbits where we control the temperature and lights.
The average gestational period, the time the rabbits are pregnant, is typically 30-32 days. Rabbits can resorb fetuses if needed and this typically occurs at 11-21 days post-conception.
Diet During Pregnancy and Nursing
The does should have access to good nutrition before, during, and after their pregnancy. Continue to offer timothy hay and start adding in alfalfa hay and pellets. Check out our article on rabbit nutrition for more information.
Birthing and Pre-Parturition Changes
You may notice your female rabbit building a nest a few days or even the day she is going to give birth. The nest is typically made of hay, straw, and fur. The doe will pull fur from her belly, sides, and dewlap to use in the nest. You may notice the fur gets loose or pulls out easier up to 5 days before she gives birth. Be sure to provide a quiet area and ideally a covered box for your doe to make her nest in.
Most rabbits will give birth in the early morning hours. The actual birth takes about 30 minutes in total. The doe will clean the kits, eat the placenta, and sever the umbilical cord on her own in most cases. She may continue to ingest afterbirth material for up to 5 days post parturition.
Female rabbits nurse once daily, usually overnight, and the nursing period lasts for about 5 minutes in total. Does have 4 mammary glands, but may have more nipples in order to feed all their kits. The kits can drink up to 20% of their body weight at each feeding!
The Baby Bunnies (Kits)
The kits will bury themselves deep in the nest after feeding and you may not see the kits much at all initially. The kits will start eating the nesting at about 1 week of age and will have eaten the majority of it by 2 weeks of age. By 2.5 to 3 weeks of age, the kits will be out exploring more and starting to eat more hay.
By 4 weeks, they are on their own! Be sure the kits have access to water by 3 weeks of age and water should always be available to the doe. You may need to place a water bottle lower down on the enclosure for the kits to access.
The kits will start ingesting their mom’s fecal material at about 1.5 weeks of age. This is important to get the good bacteria they need into their GI tracts.
Kit’s ears will be functional about 7 days after birth and their eyes open 10 days after birth.
What if I don’t see the kits nursing?
Remember, kits typically only eat once every 24 hours for 3 to 5 minutes and this usually occurs overnight between 8 pm-6 am. This is not a time most people are up observing their bunnies. Does may not be the best moms on their first litter, so if you can, monitor the weight of the kits daily (again, this may be hard if they are buried in the nest and only come out to try and eat once a day). Consider placing a camera near the nest and use that to monitor activity and nursing so you can give the new family the privacy and peace they need.
There are recipes for rabbit milk replacer and most use a base of a cat or dog milk replacer and add in additional ingredients to more closely resemble rabbit milk. Be sure to consult with us or your regular vet about the need to supplement feeding, appropriate recipes, and instructions for tube or syringe feeding.
Baby bunnies found in the wild are rarely “abandoned”. The mom is just out foraging and keeping her nest location hidden by not hovering over it all day. Leave baby bunnies in the wild alone. Rabbits can become very upset if their young smells like another animal and may attack and kill the baby.
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