Rabbits have incredibly short pregnancies that last 31 to 33 days, and their litters are generally made up of about five to eight baby rabbits, known as kits. Mothers can get pregnant again mere hours after giving birth! If you find yourself with a pregnant rabbit, you will need to know what to expect and how to care for her and her baby bunnies, so let’s take a look.
Signs of a Pregnant Rabbit
Rabbits are social animals, and many owners will get two rabbits to keep one another company. You’ll have to think carefully about the rabbits you adopt, especially if they haven’t been neutered; rabbits of the same sex tend to fight when they reach puberty, while those of the opposite sex will mate.
Signs of a pregnant rabbit aren’t always obvious; it’s normal for owners not to realize until a couple of days before she gives birth, so don’t feel guilty if that’s you. The rabbit will build a nest to prepare, and she will sometimes pull out her own fur to line the nest, which can be alarming if you’re unfamiliar with it.
If your rabbit is nesting, she will likely give birth within 2-3 days, sometimes even only a few hours, and as most rabbits give birth in the early hours of the morning, expect to wake up to a surprise litter of kits!
You should remove the male after she has given birth but keep him close so they can still smell and see each other. This will stop her from getting pregnant again and ensure their bond isn’t broken.
What Are the Signs to Look Out for if You’re Breeding Your Rabbits?
You’re in a different situation if you’re trying to get your paired rabbits to mate. Instead of subtle signs passing you by, you’ll be on the lookout for clues. So, what should you keep an eye out for?
Rabbits that aren’t neutered are referred to as “intact,” and they are considered to be sexually mature when they’re as young as 3 ½ to 4 months if they’re a small breed, 4 to 4.5 months in medium to large breeds, and 6 to 9 months in giant breeds. So, if you have a female and male rabbit around these ages, you’ll want to monitor for signs of pregnancy. The most common signs are the building of a nest and burrowing (digging), development of mammary glands and nipples, pulling out fur, and aggressive, territorial behavior.
If you think your rabbit is pregnant, contact your vet who can confirm this by gently feeling the rabbit’s belly and performing an ultrasound examination or X-rays, which can confirm pregnancy as early as 11 to 12 days. Marble-shaped fetuses can be felt between 12-14 days of pregnancy, but we suggest you do not attempt this, as if too much or inadequate pressure is applied, fetuses or the mother could be injured, and it requires a skill and experience that only your vet has. Also, after 14-16 days of pregnancy, distinguishing between fetuses and digestive organs is difficult.
In most cases, rabbits give birth (kindling) naturally without any intervention, so it will be a waiting game for you and the expectant father.
What if the Mother Shows Signs of False Pregnancy?
If a rabbit experiences a false pregnancy (also called pseudopregnancy), her body will show signs of being pregnant despite not being mated by an intact male; she might act moodier than usual, exhibit nesting behaviors, pull out her fur, have enlarged mammary glands and nipples and even produce milk, or sometimes develop signs of gut stasis, a common disorder in rabbits. Gut stasis is the slowing of the passage of food through the digestive tract and will require veterinary attention.
False pregnancy usually tends to last 15 to 18 days. However, once it’s over, the rabbit’s behavior should return to normal as if nothing happened. But if it does not, or your rabbit is exhibiting signs of gut stasis, it is advisable to contact your vet straight away, as gut stasis in some cases can be severe and even life-threatening for your bunny.
How to Care for the Mother Rabbit
While the average litter size can be around five to eight kits, some are as large as 15, so you must set up space for this big family. Even if you have homes in mind for them, you will still need the extra space initially since baby rabbits can’t generally be sold until they are at least 8 weeks old.
A good option for a nest box is a new litter box filled with bedding or hay. Whatever you pick, use a container that’s easy to clean, as your mother rabbit may use it as a toilet before the kits are born. You should place this nest box inside the rabbit enclosure.
During the pregnancy, you must provide nutritious food like alfalfa hay, leafy greens, rabbit pellets, and plenty of clean water. While the gestation period for a rabbit is generally between 31 and 33 days, she might be pregnant for longer; the longer the pregnancy, the higher the risk the kits won’t survive, so if you are worried about a lack of nesting signs, an unusually long pregnancy, or your bunny just isn’t quite right, take her to the veterinarian for a check-up as she might need a C-section or induction of labor.
Once you have checked on the mother and babies, it’s best to leave them alone for a few days. Disturbing the nest might cause the doe distress, which could result in her not feeding her young.
How to Care for Baby Rabbits
The way rabbits raise their young can seem rather strange to us because the mother rabbit will stay away from her babies most of the day. She will return for a few minutes to feed her kits, generally in the evening. While this doesn’t seem like a long time, the mother’s milk is incredibly rich, and in a single feeding, they can drink 20% of their body weight!
You can check on the nest each day for any problems, but avoid handling the kits until they’re about 10 days old. If you have to handle a baby, for example, if it’s fallen, stroke the mother first before handling the baby and putting them back in the nest. This will transfer some of her scent to the baby, making it less likely to be rejected by its mother.
If you have any questions or suspect the mother is rejecting one or more of her kits, contact the vet immediately since hand-rearing an orphaned baby is tricky.
Good quality hay, as the most important part of any rabbit’s diet, can be introduced from 10 days of age and be a constantly available food source. When the kits are about five weeks old and are eating hay well, they can then be gradually introduced to small amounts of nuggets and greens, one type at a time, to avoid upsetting the young rabbits’ digestive systems.
The Best Way to Prevent Pregnancy
Apart from keeping your intact male and female rabbit away from one another, the accident-proof way to prevent pregnancy is to have the bunnies fixed. Spaying a female also decreases her chances of developing uterine adenocarcinoma (cancer). It’s been found that at least 80% of intact females suffer from this condition. There is also the option to castrate the male, which will prevent them from spraying and exhibiting undesirable behaviors like fighting.
Rabbits are pregnant for around a month, but sometimes it isn’t apparent when females are pregnant, and the signs might slip past you. The most obvious sign is the nest building, so be on the lookout for it. Caring for the mother and her babies isn’t as difficult as you might imagine, and the mother is relatively self-sufficient in most cases. However, you will need to be prepared, as litters can be large, and rabbits can start making new bunnies immediately! If you are ever concerned or need guidance, your vet is an excellent resource to ensure the pregnancy is on track and the doe and kits are healthy.
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