Rabbit Pregnancy and Breeding – A Guide

Rabbit Pregnancy – All you need to know

It’s important to understand the basic principles about rabbit reproduction so your rabbit produces healthy young. Whether you want to learn about breeding rabbits or have an unplanned rabbit pregnancy, check out this article for everything you need to know.

Breeding basics

A male rabbit is a buck, the female a doe. Unless sterilized, rabbits are usually fertile from age 3.5 months upwards. Their young are known as kits and the term kindle is used for giving birth. A female rabbit’s reproductive organs are bipartile. They have two uterine horns linked to two cervixes – these link to the birth canal. Notably, the rabbit doesn’t experience oestrus. In basic terms, whenever intact opposite-sex rabbits are put together, there’s a strong chance pregnancy will result. As rabbits age, they can become less fertile – anywhere from three years onward. When the doe and buck mate, the process is quick, usually less than a minute.

The rabbit gestation period usually lasts for 31 days but does vary. It’s been known for rabbits to give birth up to 40 days after insemination. Check with a vet if gestation goes beyond 35+ days in case the rabbit need help to deliver the kits. It could be a false pregnancy but more on that later. Litters range from 1 to 14 with an average of 5-6 baby rabbits.

Rabbit gestation

Let’s take a look at the signs and methods to check if your bunny is pregnant.

Disposition

You may notice changes in your rabbit within a week. For example, your rabbit might not be as friendly as you’re used to. Of course, if you already had a grumpy rabbit it’s not as easy to tell! Generally, a doe’s disposition can become moody and a bit snarly – it’s normal and due to hormonal fluctuations.

Palpation

After 10 to 12 days you can palpate – examine! -your rabbit’s abdomen. This might sound a bit daunting but it’s the best way to establish if your rabbit is expecting short of doing a rabbit pregnancy test [aka blood test!]. Here’s what to do step by step.

  • Bearing in mind she might be a little grumpy, pick up your rabbit and place her on a firm, comfortable surface. A tabletop is fine. Her head is closest to you.
  • Put a hand on her rump to gently secure her, and use your other hand [palm upward] to reach under her abdomen.
  • She has 2 uterine horns so you need to check both sides of her tummy. Very carefully, apply gentle pressure with your fingertips and thumb to each side. This is palpating. You are looking for grape-size bumps aka tiny kits.
  • Make sure you palpate the sides of the abdomen. The center of the abdomen holds faecal pellets queued for potty-time but can feel like little bumps.
examining a rabbit palpating
Use a comfortable surface to check to see f your rabbit is palpating

Other signs

A pregnant rabbit will gain weight, usually into the second/third week. The layer of fat around her neck, known as the dewlap, will increase. You may notice her pulling at her fur in this area – she is likely using the extra fur to make a soft nest. She may also start scratching and digging in the corner of her hutch/cage or in the corner of the room if she’s free-roaming. She’ll use her teeth and claws to do this, so mind that expensive carpet! Keep an eye out for the hay moustache, often in the final week – your rabbit is gathering large quantities of grass hay in her mouth and seeking a suitable nesting site. You might even see little kicking movements to the side of her tummy.

A cosy home

She’s going to need plenty of space to welcome her kits. Be mindful that rabbits can have up to 14 in a litter! In addition to her usual space, you’ll need to provide a secure nesting area. This can be something as simple as a cat litter tray. Fill it with lots of grass hay – it can be easily cleaned before the birth and once the kits are moving around. Importantly, the nesting area must be within her usual enclosure/area with no disturbance or stress. Keep external stimuli to a minimum – if the doe is disturbed, she might reject the kits.

Diet

Your rabbit’s appetite will increase so provide extra portions of her normal diet – for extra nutrients, gradually introduce alfalfa hay during her gestation. You could also give her a daily teaspoon of black sunflower seeds to provide extra fats. Replenish food daily and provide lots of clean water.

rabbit with food
Your pregnant rabbit’s appetite will increase

Birth/Kindle and Kit Care

Your rabbit will kindle late in the evening/early morning – it takes about 15 minutes. Mum will know what to do, so it’s important to give her privacy. In a calm, safe environment, your rabbit will feed her litter once or twice a day with her fat-rich milk. A healthy kit should gain weight at about a 1/4 ounce per day – it’s possible to check them early morning, with a round tummy a good sign. If you think a kit isn’t thriving, be prepared to intervene. The kit will require bottle feeding using a special formula – your vet can advise you on this. If the kit does well, try reintroducing it to the litter as the doe may be producing more milk at this stage. Newborn rabbits are blind and fur-less. After a week or so, their eyes open and fur begins to grow – they’re weaned after 3 or 4 weeks.

False Pregnancy

Some rabbits will display behaviors like nesting and grumpiness but these symptoms usually pass after 2 or 3 weeks. It’s a good idea to provide her with a nesting area…to be on the safe side!

Prevention

The simplest method is to keep opposite sexes separate or have your rabbits fixed – spayed/neutered. Consult with your vet for the best options.

Rabbit being placed in cage
separation is an effective means of prevention

Finally

Other than during labor, rabbits shouldn’t bleed through the gestation period – or during a false pregnancy. If this happens, consult a vet.

Pregnant rabbits should have their own enclosure rather than sharing. However, there are exceptions – if same-sex pairs are specially bonded, for instance. You would need to provide a lot of space to accommodate them and the kits.

Other than during labor, rabbits shouldn’t bleed through the gestation period – or during a false pregnancy. If this happens, consult a vet.

Pregnant rabbits should have their own enclosure rather than sharing. However, there are exceptions – if same-sex pairs are specially bonded, for instance. You would need to provide a lot of space to accommodate them and the kits.

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