You’re going to be a Grandma!
Ok, not exactly, but if your rabbit is pregnant and if it’s been confirmed either through one of the methods described in our post here you’re bound to be super excited about the arrival of those beautiful little kits!
There’s no doubt that you haven’t got long to wait until the happy arrival, after all a rabbits gestation period is usually just 31-33 days!
Your female is probably being pretty antisocial as she frantically prepares her nest ready for her babies. She may currently be acting a little out of character with you but don’t take it to heart, it’s nothing personal, her hormones are all over the place. Pregnant rabbits need a lot of care and support to make it to term successfully and luckily there’s plenty you can do to help ensure her pregnancy goes smoothly (and with the least stress possible!).
So here are some of the main points to think about…..
Give Her Some Space
There’s no getting away from it, now your doe is pregnant she needs room so the first very important thing to do as soon as you know that your doe is pregnant is to separate her from any other rabbits.
Of course it’s difficult to split up a bonded pair. If they are house rabbits you’ve probably routinely observed them grooming and showing their affection for each other, playfully chasing each other around or generally spending every waking moment they can in each other’s company.
However your doe is going to be agitated enough even without anyone encroaching on her territory, if she’s bonded to a male bunny the last thing she needs is him using her newly prepared nest as his litter area.
Aside from space, removal of any males is also important due to you females anatomy. A buck will follow their natural mating instincts and will likely continue to try to hump her regardless of whether she is pregnant or not.
Doe’s are capable of carrying two litters (being impregnated twice) so it’s not uncommon to have separate litters from the same doe two weeks apart! However, while they are capable of doing so, carrying two litters can be dangerous for them.
With the largest single rabbit litter ever recorded being 24 kits, it’s easy to see how rabbits get their reputation as prolific breeders and realise that even a relatively small litter (the average litter is actually around 6) can be quite a handful! (especially for mum who will need to provide all that milk).
As much as we love rabbits (we’d love the world to be a rabbit utopia!) unless you are breeding for meat (something we would never advocate) careless rabbit breeding should be avoided.
Selling baby bunnies while not difficult given how cute they are sometimes leads to rabbits sold in pet stores to unsuitable owners (often just trying to keep a child happy!).
These poor bunnies are abandoned after the novelty wears off, confined to a rotten life in a tiny hutch before dying a premature death or being given up to shelters as adult rabbits.
You have probably heard us mention several times (all over this site) that there are enough rabbits in shelters all around the World looking for a loving home, so please consider this if you’re making a decision to breed your rabbit.
Depending on the pairs current living arrangements and location separating them up may be as simple as moving the doe in to a large puppy pen or splitting a hutch in two however you should ensure that all rabbits still have sufficient space to exercise and move around. (The doe needs at least an hours exercise every day, preferably unlimited if you have the space!).
If they are usually in very close proximity separation via a puppy pen or similar is ideal as it still allows them to interact with other, it will also mean they will maintain that strong bond, (that got them in this situation in the first place!).
In short removing the male to prevent a double pregnancy situation is therefore for your doe’s own good (and the good of all rabbit kind!) at least until her pregnancy is over.
In order to birth healthy kits, the next thing you can do for your doe is to ensure she has a healthy diet. As she is pregnant she will naturally need more nutrients. Failure to provide this to your doe during pregnancy can result in foetal reabsorption.
This occurs due to a poor or insufficient diet during a multi gestation pregnancy and may happen when one or more of the developing foetuses dies in the uterus, this can then be partially or completely reabsorbed as a means of making up for the nutritional deficiency.
While it’s important to give your doe the right nutrition diet changes should be introduced slowly. Rapid changes can be dangerous because they can affect the rabbit’s intestinal environment and the delicate flora that help the rabbit to digest her food can end up being toxic.
Rabbits often decide a preference to one particular type of food or vegetable so as owners we often buy what we know they are sure to like. However if you aren’t already doing so you need to ensure she is getting all the extra nutrients she needs for pregnancy.
If she is already happy and healthy just keep diet changes slight and pay attention to foods which may give her uncomfortable trapped wind (for our own rabbits this seems to be broccoli).
If you are making major diet changes as a result of trying to do your best for your doe during her pregnancy choose nutritious leafy greens such as curly kale, Cavelo Nero cabbage or spinach leaves supplemented with unlimited amounts of good quality timothy and alfalfa hay, pellets (alfalfa pellets are best during pregnancy) and of course an unlimited supply of fresh water and you’ll be well on your way to ensuring a healthy mum and babies.
Other good foods include carrots (in moderation), celery, cucumber and herbs like basil and parsley will provide enough variety to keep both her appetite and her unborn kits healthy (cut back on the herbs after the babies arrive as they may make her milk taste funny) and avoid lettuce as some types contain lactucarium, a chemical that can be harmful to your bunny’s health.
Provide a Nest Box
Your pregnant doe will eventually start making a nest. This usually occurs around 3 weeks in to a pregnancy however it could be anytime between 2 weeks after conception right up until a day or two before the birth of the kits (if she decides to leave it very late).
She should of course take care of this herself without too much help, however if your keen to keep the nest in a particular spot or quiet area you may help out by providing her with a nesting box.
Rabbits are quite helpless as babies. Other than the natural instinct to suckle, they are born hairless, blind and unable to regulate their own temperature (though fur and markings will start to show around day 3 and eyes will open at around 10 days). In contrast a leveret (a baby hare) is covered in hair at birth is able to survive away from its mum just an hour afterwards.
Rabbit mothers need to be much more protective of their young than hares. Mum will be covering them with hair pulled from her own stomach (and for wild rabbits, foliage) whenever she leaves the nest in order to hide them from potential predators and ensure they are sufficiently warm.
A nest box is useful as it allows you to ‘monitor’ the condition of the kits in one place. Encourage your doe to use the nesting box by providing hay and nesting materials. All being well the nest box will be the most comfortable place for her to give birth and look after the young.
If you plan on breeding your doe in the future collect malted or fur gathered during grooming sessions from her in a polythene bag. Sometimes a doe will not have enough fur to cover the kits and provided this fur is from mum it can be used to keep the nest warm, just ensure you leave enough ventilation through the fur for the kits to be able to breathe.
If you usually use a water bowl it is possible for kits to wander off and unfortunately drown in a water bowl. When setting up the cage/nesting area for a pregnant doe switch the bowl to a much safer water bottle to ensure no unnecessary accidents. The added advantage of a nest box is that it will allow you to also keep the kits confined to the one area of the cage.
A nest box should be big enough for the doe to be able to turn around inside without having to get out to do so. You can build a nest box yourself fairly easily (we’ll be providing plans to make a nesting box in a future post which we will link here!) If you’re not confident that you can build this yourself we’ll also review some alternatives and link them here.
Once the nest box is in place, fill it with a thin layer of shavings plus hay. Leave it for a while and your rabbit will hopefully prepare this exactly how she wants it.
Responsible rabbit owners and breeders should of course know what to expect when the rabbit goes into labour so that they can deal with any problems if they arise we’ll go into these later in this article, however birth problems are very rare in rabbits.
Rabbit labour (known as kindling) usually starts late at night or early morning with the kits appearing quickly within half an hour or so, however in rare cases it can sometimes take a couple of days before all kits are born.
Depending on if it was a planned breeding or if you have had a vet confirm the rabbits condition for you, you have a good idea of the expected due date. As this approaches it’s important to ensure that she has peace and quiet.
The area of her cage/pen and nest box should be kept at a comfortable temperature and noise from nearby televisions, stereos, children etc. should be considered if it may distract her. If you have other pets such as dogs and cats ensure they are kept out of the rabbit’s vicinity (even if she is usually fine with them) so that she is not nervous or accidentally startled during the process of giving birth. She may do harm her kits if she is.
She needs to feel completely at ease during kindling so that she can take care of the kits when they arrive. She will clean the babies and eat the placenta before jumping out. Some does will not nurse the kits until the next evening which will give you time to take a quick look and remove any dead kits. Always ensure your hands are cleaned thoroughly with an un fragranced hand wash before touching the nest especially if you own multiple rabbits as even though rabbits are generally good mums who will not harm the kits just because you have touched them, the smell of an un bonded or rival bunny may alarm her into aggressive behaviour.
In an ideal situation it would be best not to disturb the babies until they open their eyes but there are obviously some situations where handling the kits is necessary (such as in order to clean a smelly nesting box). For more information see our article on how to look after new born below.
We hope this article has given you some ideas of how you can support your doe through her pregnancy. If you would like information on any other aspect of a rabbit’s pregnancy or what to expect after, see our other articles on this subject linked below.
Or if you have any further questions on rabbit care or feel free to leave a comment!