Because this is a wiki dedicated to general pet rabbit care, we believe all pet rabbits should be spayed and neutered and not given the opportunity to make more babies. With the amount of rabbits available for adoption in local shelters and rabbit rescues, we do not encourage the casual breeding of rabbits without obtaining the healthiest of stock available from reputable breeders as well as a responsible plan for the babies that does not encourage dumping intact unwanted rabbits in the streets or in the shelters. See Breeding for more details.
However, in the event of an accidental pregnancy because you placed two intact rabbits together of the opposite sex out of ignorance or on accident, we will provide the following helpful information to deal with the situation.
Detecting a pregnancy
If your rabbit is nesting and has pulled out fur, expect babies within the next week unless it is a false pregnancy.
The links below contain more information about how to detect a rabbit pregnancy.
- Pet Rabbits, How to Care for Pregnant and Baby Rabbits
The following pages are from rabbit breeding sites. Please do not take this referral as condoning rabbit breeding for the common house rabbit owner. We provide these links purely for information.
Discovering a pregnancy
The domestic rabbit gestation period is generally 30-32 days. About 98 percent of normal litters will be kindled between 30 and 33 days after breeding but a small percentage may kindle as early as 29 days or as late as 35 days. Gestation lengths are generally longer with smaller litters. You can start counting the days from the first observed or suspected mating.
Taking care of a pregnant rabbit and her litter
Dandelion greens, dill, and borage are believed to help a doe produce more milk for a large litter.
Nestbox. The nestbox should be about 12x14 inches, and the bottom should have a couple of drain holes. The sides can be about 8 inches high, but the front should be no more than 4 inches where the mother rabbit will enter and exit. A cardboard box may do temporarily but will get soggy and need to be replaced.
Bedding. Line the nestbox with a 3-inch layer of clean hay, straw, or shredded paper.
Fur-lined hollow. Make a small bowl-shaped hollow in the middle of the bedding in the nestbox and fill it with fur from the mother rabbit. If she has not pulled any out herself, either try gently pulling it out of her dewlap or clipping some off.
Babies. Place the babies in the hollow you made. They will burrow to the bottom and remain there until the mother rabbit stands over them to nurse.
The nestbox should be provided at around 28 days of gestation. Nest-building behavior from the pregnant rabbit will involve burrowing and pulling of fur from the dewlap, flanks, and belly to line the nest and expose the nipples.
The birthing, or parturition, usually occurs in the early morning during their normal resting period. Even in large litters, parturition will take only 10 or 15 minutes. Uncommonly, some births may span 1 to 2 days and still result in the birth of normal kits. The rabbit kits will be born hairless with ears and eyes closed. A mother will sometimes lick the babies as they are born and quickly eat their placentas.
Some problems that can arise during the birthing process:
- Cannibilism of the young may occur due to accident, inexperience (first time does), or in response to environmental pressures such as over-crowding. Cannibalism may occur by other female rabbits, reverting to their natural survival instincts to cannibalize kits that do not belong to them, to ensure survival of their own line.
- Obstructed labor, also known as dystocia, is uncommon but associated with over-sized or mis-positioned fetuses. Obesity or malnutrition of the mother may also predispose to this condition.
- Uterine prolapse is also an uncommon condition but has been associated with dystocia. The prolapsed uterus rapidly becomes engorged with blood, and contaminated with foreign material. A spay, after first pulling the uterus back into the abdomen, is curative.
After the babies are born, a mother rabbit will leave the nest and return once every 24 hours at night for 3 to 4 minutes to allow the babies to nurse. Only rarely does the mother rabbit immediately nurse the babies after they are born. Usually the first nursing will occur the night after the kindling. The preferred mealtime is between midnight and 5 am.
When she arrives, the mother rabbit will immediately hunch over the young in a nursing posture. She will not lie down like a cat does to nurse. The babies will rear up, find a nipple, and suckle rapidly. Typically, significant amounts of milk are obtained only during the second minute of nursing -- a baby can gain up to a third of its body weight in this short session.
When the time is up, the mother rabbit may lick the babies to stimulate urination and defecation, then jump away, defecate a few hard feces, and leaves the nest, even if some babies may not have received any milk at all due to competition.
See the following links for more information. Also check out Baby Domestic Rabbits.
- Dana Krempels, Ph.D., Surprise Litter of Babies! What to do now?
- House Rabbit Society, Sandi Koi, Domestic Baby Bunnies and Their Mom
- MediRabbit, Offspring feeding time
- The Merck Manual for Pet Health, Breeding and Reproduction of Rabbits
- Harcourt-Brown, F. (2001). Textbook of Rabbit Medicine. (1st ed.).
- Keeble, E & Meredith, A. (2006). Rabbit Medicine & Surgery: Self-Assessment Color Review.
- Meredith, A & Redrobe, S. (2001). BSAVA Manual of Exotic Pets. (4th ed.).
- Mcnitt, J.I et al. (2013). Rabbit Production. (9th ed.).
- Rabbits United, Abortion in rabbits
- Homesteading Today, Milk.
- Lumpkin, S & Seidensticker, J. (2011). Rabbits: The Animal Answer Guide.
- Richardson, V.C.G. (2000). Rabbits: Health, Husbandry and Diseases.
- House Rabbit Society, Newborn Baby Bunny Facts