Sometimes accidents happen. You thought you had two male rabbits as a bonded pair, but Oops! Turns out one of them was a female rabbit, and now she’s pregnant. You want to make sure that you do what you can to make sure your sweet bunny is comfortable and healthy during her pregnancy and afterward.
Rabbits have a gestation period of about 31 days. During the early stages of pregnancy, you probably won’t notice many differences in your rabbit. However, as the pregnancy progresses, your rabbit will likely exhibit some territorial and nesting behavior. You may also notice some physical changes in your rabbit during this time period.
If your rabbit has not been spayed and you’re worried that she may be pregnant, there are a number of behavioral signs you can check to determine if your rabbit is getting ready to have babies. Unspayed females will sometimes have false pregnancies also. So you may notice some of these behaviors in your rabbit even if it’s impossible for them to be pregnant.
It’s also important to make sure your rabbit is caring for her new babies, so that you know when you will need to seek emergency veterinary advice.
When can a rabbit become pregnant?
Rabbits can become pregnant as soon as they reach the age of maturity. For female rabbits, this will usually happen between four to six months. At this point you will need to make sure they are separated from any males until your rabbit has been spayed so you can prevent any unwanted litters.
Rabbits can also become pregnant again directly after having a litter, and they can become pregnant at any time of year. Rabbits are not restricted by going into heat like many other species of animals and, instead, ovulate after mating. So if their mating is left unchecked, a pair of rabbits could potentially have 12 litters of 1-14 baby bunnies in a year. That’s a lot of baby bunnies!
What gender is my rabbit?
Sometimes a pregnant rabbit or a litter of baby bunnies can come as a surprise. Sure you had two rabbits living together, but you thought they were the same gender. As it turns out, rabbits can be very difficult to sex correctly. Even practiced professionals will sometimes have trouble telling the difference in young rabbits. Sometimes a male rabbit’s testicles will take longer than usual to drop, and sometimes a young female rabbit’s scent glands will look like emerging testicles.
To make matters more confusing, mounting is not always a sexual behavior for rabbits. It is also a dominance behavior. So if you notice one rabbit mounting another, it doesn’t automatically mean that one is male and the other female. It could be that the top bun is asserting his position over the other.
How do you know if your rabbit is pregnant?
During the first couple weeks of pregnancy there are very few signs to let you know what’s going on. However, as the pregnancy progresses you will notice more and more symptoms that can clue you in to your rabbit’s condition. Pay attention to your rabbit’s body language and behaviors so you will be able to properly care for your pregnant rabbit.
How to know if your rabbit is pregnant:
- More aggressive and territorial: Sometimes female rabbits will start to become more aggressive and territorial only a few days after they’ve become impregnated. If your rabbit suddenly starts swiping and growling at you, or has become an overall grumpy rabbit, this is a sign she is pregnant.
- Feel the rabbit’s torso: The most sure way to know if a rabbit is pregnant is by gently feeling their belly after 10-14 days. Place your hand underneath their belly and lift up to gently feel for any small grape-sized lumps.
- Digging: Some rabbits will start to try to dig intensely into the corners of their enclosure a couple of weeks into the pregnancy. This comes from their wild burrowing instincts to dig a new nest for their babies.
- Nesting behaviors and fur pulling: Towards the end of their pregnancy (sometimes even on the last day), rabbits will usually start to get frantic about building a nest. They’ll gather hay in their mouth to move to a nesting location, and they’ll pluck fur from their dewlap and their chest to line their nest.
- Baby bunny kicking: In the final days of the pregnancy, you may notice little jumps in the mother rabbit’s sides as the little babies move around in her tummy.
Sometimes unspayed female rabbits will have false pregnancies. Even if it’s impossible for a rabbit to be pregnant, their bodies are convinced that they are because the rabbit ovulated. This can happen if they’ve been mounted by a female rabbit or a neutered male rabbit. It can also occur if the rabbit is in a particularly stressful situation. When a rabbit is having a false pregnancy, they will become moody and exhibit nesting behaviors even though there are no babies on the way.
How to care for a pregnant rabbit
For the most part, a pregnant rabbit will be able to take care of herself. You’ll just need to be careful for her more aggressive attitude as she prepares to take care of her new babies. However, there are a few things you can do to help her stay comfortable and have a successful pregnancy.
- Remove the male rabbit: If your rabbits are housed together as a pair, then you will want to keep them separate for a little while. The male’s presence can be stressful for a new mom. Additionally, if he’s around when she gives birth, he could cause another pregnancy right away. This would actually be a good time to get the male rabbit neutered so he can’t impregnate any other rabbits.
- Give your rabbit space and materials for nesting: Give your rabbit a large box along with large amounts of hay so she can make a nest to her liking. You’ll want a box that is big enough to fit the mother rabbit entirely, but not much bigger. You want the babies to stay put once they are born and not wander off.
- Provide more food: The mother rabbit is eating for more than one now, so she’ll have a bigger appetite. Increase the amount of fresh veggies and pellets you give your rabbit and mix in some alfalfa hay with the usual unlimited timothy hay.
- Avoid stressing the rabbit: As much as possible, keep your rabbit in a quiet and calm environment. You want to help your rabbit stay stress free so they can have a successful pregnancy.
- Handle with care: Avoid handling your rabbit if you don’t have to. When you do need to hold your rabbit, be extra gentle and careful, to avoid hurting her.
- Daily exercise: You want to continue to make sure your rabbit gets regular time out to exercise. Movement will help keep her blood flowing and will get nutrients to her growing babies.
Caring for newborn bunnies
Once your rabbit gives birth to her litter of kittens (baby bunnies are called kittens), you’ll want to keep an eye on them and make sure the mother is taking care of the babies. This is especially true if you have a young rabbit mother. Young rabbits are more likely to be confused and abandon their babies. Their bodies also might not develop correctly, causing them to not lactate.
What to do when the baby bunnies are born
Usually rabbits give birth in the morning. During the first day, you want to leave the babies alone unless they fall out of the nest. Don’t worry if the mother doesn’t seem to be spending much time with the babies, she will often only feed them once or twice a day.
If the babies were a surprise, you may need to help the mother prepare a nest box. You can place a warm water bottle near the babies to keep them warm until they are ready to be moved to the nest. Don’t put the warm water bottle directly against the baby rabbits because it can be too hot for them. Meanwhile get a nesting box for your mother rabbit to use, and give her plenty of hay to prepare the nest. Once the babies are warmed up, you can move them over to the new nest box.
As best you can keep the kittens and their mother in a calm, stress-free environment. This will prevent the mother rabbit from becoming too stressed to feed her babies. They should remain together for 8 weeks, until the babies are weaned from their mother and eating solid food. You should avoid handling the babies as much as possible until they are able to leave the nest on their own.
How to be sure the baby bunnies are being fed
On the second morning after the babies are born, check on them to be sure they are being fed. Usually mother rabbits will feed their babies around dawn, so baby bunnies that have been fed will have a plump tummy in the morning and the nest should be warm.
If the babies haven’t been fed, they will have wrinkled skin and sunken stomachs. It’s more likely that they haven’t been fed properly if the babies are spread across the the nest instead of huddled together. They are also more at risk of becoming too cold.
If the babies are not being fed, check to see if the mother is lactating. Young mothers are more likely to have trouble giving milk to their babies. Hold your rabbit with her belly up, and gently put some pressure against her nipples. A clear or milky fluid should be released.
If the mother is not lactating, bring her to your rabbit savvy vet immediately. Your vet will be able to provide instructions and medication to help your rabbit lactate and feed her babies.
What to do if the mother abandons the babies
Very rarely, it will happen that a mother rabbit abandons her litter. In these cases you will have to attempt to feed the baby bunnies yourself. There are no direct replacements you can buy for rabbit milk, so the best alternatives you can use are kitten formula or goat’s milk. Milk replacer for puppies is also an option if you can’t find one of the former. You will need to syringe feed your babies 2 times per day.
If this happens, it is always a good idea to contact your vet for advice. You may be able to see if there are any practiced professionals that are able to help you take care of your abandoned bunnies as well. Sadly, if a rabbit is orphaned there are high chances that they will not survive. Baby rabbits have a very delicate digestion, and it’s just too easy for something to go wrong.
The House Rabbit Society offers some advice to care for an orphaned or abandoned rabbits:
|Age of Baby Bunny||Amount to Feed|
|Newborn||2.5 mL each feeding|
|1 Week Old||6-7 mL each feeding|
|2 Weeks Old||12-13 mL each feeding|
|3-6 Weeks Old||15 mL each feeding|
Once the orphaned rabbit opens their eyes, around the 10 day mark, they’ll start to move around on their own. At this point you can start giving them formula in a bowl rather than syringe feeding them. The orphaned rabbit should only be given the milk substitute until they are about 6-8 weeks old. Then they should be transitioned to water.
Why it’s important to spay or neuter your rabbit
Now that we’ve got that crisis out of the way, it’s time to talk about getting your rabbit spayed (for female rabbits) or neutered (for male rabbits). Not only does getting a rabbit fixed prevent unwanted rabbit litters, it also prevents a number of health problems in rabbits and solves some rabbit behavioral issues.
Female rabbits, in particular, need to be spayed if they want to live a long life. There is a 50% to 80% chance (depending on breed) that a female rabbit will develop uterine cancer by the time she is six years old. With a lifespan of 10 years, that means the chances of your rabbit reaching old age are very slim.
Aggressive and territorial behaviors are also reduced by getting a rabbit fixed. They are less likely to spray urine, scatter poops, or act out aggressively and bite. By getting your rabbit spayed or neutered, you will have a calm, happy, and healthy bunny in your home.
As rabbits reach adulthood, you will need to adjust their diet to include less alfalfa hay and less pellets. You will also be able to introduce more types of leafy greens to your rabbit as their digestive system becomes more robust.
Senior rabbits require some extra TLC. As you might expect, rabbits start to slow down as they age. It’s common for rabbits to develop health problems as they get older, such as arthritis and cataracts, and you may need to make some adjustments to their diet.
- Koi, Sandi. “Domestic Baby Bunnies and Their Mom.” House Rabbit Society. https://rabbit.org/care/babies.html.
- Krempels, Dana Ph.D. “Spay or Neuter my Rabbit?” University of Miami: Department of Biology, Aug. 2009, www.bio.miami.edu/hare/spay.html.
- “Medical Bibliography.” House Rabbit Society, https://rabbit.org/care/bibliography.html.
- Pinoli, Nancy. “Why We Shouldn’t Breed Rabbits.” House Rabbit Society. https://rabbit.org/adoption/why-not-to-breed.html.
- Praag, Esther van Ph.D. “Pseudopregnancy: Hay Gathering and Fur Plucking Behavior.” MediRabbit. http://www.medirabbit.com/EN/Uro_gen_diseases/Pseu_preg/pseudo_en.htm.