A concerned friend recently told me how their unfixed male and female rabbits had been living in close proximity and lately, the female had been acting a little strange. They asked me ‘how can I tell for sure if my rabbit is pregnant?’ Having never really thought about this subject before, I decided to do some research, here’s what I found out.
Visiting a vet for an ultrasound is the most accurate way of finding out if a rabbit is pregnant. A pregnant rabbit may be more aggressive than usual and exhibit behavior such as pulling fur in order to make a nest.
That’s the short answer, but what if an ultrasound isn’t an option? I know owning rabbits can be expensive and I wanted to save my friend some money. I started researching other signs that may also show if a rabbit is about to have a litter so if you’re in the same situation perhaps this will help you too!
Other Ways to Tell if a Rabbit is Pregnant
Aside from ultrasound, there are a few ways of telling if a rabbit could be expecting a litter which we’ll talk about here.
Rabbits are affected by hormones during pregnancy just like humans and female rabbits can start acting up as soon as a few days into the pregnancy. Here I’ve listed all the ways I found to determine pregnancy, there are also some behavioral tell-tale signs that pregnancy hormones may be a factor.
Remember, due to the individual characters of rabbits, behavior signals can be unreliable and should only be considered if they are completely at odds with the pet’s usual personality.
7 Signs That a Rabbit Might Be Pregnant
|Strange behavior/acting out of character||Rabbits are instinctively nervous pets at the best of times and this survival instinct is heightened further in pregnant rabbits. A pregnant rabbit can often be seen to be less keen to come near you and may start moving away or running to the back of her enclosure as soon as you open the door.|
Pregnant rabbits may also grunt or growl at you when you go near, some will even lunge forward and go into all-out attack mode if they feel that you may be threatening them.
This alone does not indicate a definite pregnancy, as some rabbits i.e. those not given sufficient human contact may be vicious regardless of pregnancy.
Rest assured that any uncharacteristically antisocial behavior will subside soon after her pregnancy comes to an end.
|Nesting and fur pulling||Newborn rabbits, also known as kits are hairless and so a nest is essential for their warmth.|
If your rabbit is pregnant then you may also see her attempting to burrow at the corners of her cage, at around 3 weeks into the pregnancy she will also start building a nest so you may see her carrying around mouthfuls of straw to use.
She will line that nest with fur pulled from her stomach or dewlap in order to make it cozy for the kits.
|Weight gain||An accurate weight record can also be a good way to determine pregnancy and though most of us are unlikely to be this organized when it comes to our pets, keeping a weight record of a rabbit is a good idea, not just for pregnancy detection but also in terms of overall health and preventing obesity in rabbits.|
A female will only put on a slight amount of weight during pregnancy but you will be able to see a difference provided you use an accurate digital scale. If you suspect contact with a male, weigh the female immediately and then again a couple of weeks later.
An increase could of course indicate she is expecting kits, but be aware that your doe’s weight will not change significantly after the first couple of weeks of pregnancy.
|Kicking||Rabbits have powerful legs and even developing fetuses will already be using these legs as they tussle for space within their mother’s womb!|
During the final week of a rabbits pregnancy, keep your eye out for kicks, you’d definitely know them when you see them (very exciting!) and of course, a very sure sign that your rabbit is expecting.
|Babies in a nest||Not so much of a sign but more of a certainty – babies in a nest! if you’ve found babies in a nest and you haven’t picked up on anything that may have suggested a pregnancy thus far it’s probably safe to say that you are not paying your rabbit enough attention!|
That said, don’t be too hard on yourself, just like with illness, rabbits are masters at disguising anything that a potential predator might perceive would make them an easy lunch.
This combined with a very short gestation period and the fact that a rabbit doesn’t put on a large amount of weight during pregnancy means pregnancy can quite easily go unnoticed until the last minute or even missed completely.
Rabbit Pregnancy Detection Through Palpation
Palpating involves feeling a rabbits abdomen for the developing fetuses however it’s a procedure that takes some skill and practice and is by no means the most reliable way of confirming a pregnancy due to a fairly small window of opportunity.
Palpate too soon and you may not feel anything while palpating too late will run the risk of damaging the fetuses.
Palpation should be carried out between days 10 and 12 and no later than 14 days after she has seen or assumed to have bred. The rabbit’s welfare should be considered throughout.
Place the rabbit in front of and facing you and gently hold her ears, you may also gently hold a fold or scruff of skin between the rabbits shoulder blades in your hand too (providing she has enough to spare), this will keep the upper part of the rabbits body secure.
Run your other hand underneath the rabbits belly before cradling between her back legs and pelvis.
While keeping hold of you’re her as described, slide your hand up and down her abdomen and gently and feel for pea-sized lumps. If she is expecting kits these will be the developing fetuses. Be extremely careful not to squeeze and avoid too much pressure.
You may also feel rabbit droppings while palpating, which will be lined up along the middle of the abdomen and will feel harder than the fetuses (this is where practice and experience plays an important part). If you cannot feel anything do not aggravate the rabbit by continuing to search.
Make sure that she is not showing any signs of discomfort and stop immediately if she does. After palpating if you are still in any doubt have a vet check her out.
In our opinion palpating should only ever really be attempted by serious rabbit breeders or veterinarians. While it is a perfectly valid way of determining a pregnancy, as rabbit owners with the health and wellbeing of all rabbits being our primary concern, we don’t recommend this as the best way.
due to the risk of damage to the developing fetuses (especially for an inexperienced pair of hands).
For a less experienced owner having the rabbit palpated or an ultrasound carried out by a rabbit-savvy veterinarian is a much safer option to ensure the continued wellbeing of your rabbit and her potential kits.
Rabbit Breeding Cycles
Owning a rabbit is a constant education and in order to get the best out of a rabbit it helps to learn a bit about them (we’re hoping that’s the reason you have found our site).
As a rabbit owner, knowing a bit about rabbits and their anatomy can even save their lives, at the very least, it will definitely help you become a better rabbit parent.
Knowing some information about rabbits and their breeding cycle can also help you to determine if it’s time to take the animal for a check-up with a qualified vet.
In general terms, most small to medium rabbit breeds will reach sexual maturity between 3 and 5 months. Giant breeds usually take a little longer (anytime between 6 and 9 months).
Rather than going into heat (or season), a female rabbits body prepares for conception within 8 hours of meeting a male rabbit, this is known as induced ovulation, this rapid breeding cycle along with being able to breed all year round is why rabbits are known as such prolific breeders.
If you have left a sexually mature unneutered or spayed male and female pair alone for even a short period of time, pregnancy is a real possibility.
While fertility in male rabbits does decrease during extremes in winter or summer, females (while most likely to conceive in mild weather) are physically capable of conceiving all year round.
False Pregnancies in rabbits
False otherwise known as phantom pregnancies are common in female rabbits so even if she seems to show some of the initial signs of pregnancy, an examination from a qualified vet (or waiting for the entire duration of the assumed pregnancy!) will be the only way to determine for sure.
A rabbit has a gestation period between 31 and 33 days, so anything beyond that may indicate a false pregnancy. A rabbit is also unlikely to become pregnant over 4 years of age.
How to Help With a Rabbit Pregnancy
A female rabbit is instinctively able to build a nest without any help however you can help her out in a few simple ways. First, ensure she has enough straw available.
If she has shown any of the other signs of pregnancy prior to the nesting period and you are currently keeping her in an environment prone to disturbance it’s also considerate to provide your rabbit with a suitable nesting box and move her to an area where she may have more peace and quiet.
You can even go the extra mile by filling the nesting box with the materials she needs.
Of course, while nesting does show that your rabbit is displaying her maternal instinct, this is still not a guarantee that she will have a litter. That said, it doesn’t hurt to be considerate and to provide her with everything she needs. She will surely appreciate it (even if she does seem a little grumpy at the moment!).
If you have your own pregnant rabbit and you want to find out how you can help her either before or following her pregnancy you may like to read our posts detailing how to look after a pregnant rabbit and rabbit pregnancy aftercare.
Pregnancy in Rabbits thesprucepets.com
A Guide to Rabbit Pregnancy petplan.co.uk
The Pregnant Rabbit raising-rabbits.com