How can you tell if your rabbit is pregnant? Find out more about the process of rabbit pregnancy, and get practical tips and advice.
You will probably be familiar with the expression ‘to breed like rabbits’, which refers to rabbits’ infamous ability to produce large numbers of young – but how much do you know about rabbit pregnancy? Read on to find out...
When can rabbits mate?
Female rabbits (does) can become pregnant when they are 12 weeks old and can continue to have babies up to the age of four years. Unlike most animals, rabbits can conceive at any time of year and, for this reason, if you own unneutered bucks and does, you may want to keep them separate to avoid unwanted pregnancy or consider neutering your rabbits.
Rabbit pregnancy signs
You can tell if your rabbit is pregnant in several ways:
- Nest building – does instinctively build a nest using hay or straw when they are pregnant
- Fur pulling – soon-to-be mothers pull their own fur out to use as a blanket to keep the babies warm
- Aggressive behaviour – your rabbit may growl defensively, or refuse to be petted or stroked
If you think your rabbit might be pregnant, we recommend taking them to the vet, who will be able to confirm or deny any suspicions.
Preparing for the new arrivals
During pregnancy, the mother rabbit will need lots of clean water and nutritious food, including dark leafy greens, alfalfa hay and rabbit pellets.
Rabbits sometimes dig a burrow in which to give birth – if you want to avoid this happening, make sure that your rabbit has a proper nest box and plenty of privacy to make sure she is as relaxed as possible.
A rabbit’s gestation period is typically between 31 and 33 days.
When a doe gives birth, it is called kindling. Kindling takes around 15 minutes and usually occurs in the early hours of the morning. The process of giving birth is instinctive and obstruction is virtually unheard of.
After checking on the babies, try to leave the nest alone for the first few days – disturbing a mother rabbit can cause her distress, and she may stop feeding her young.
If you have any concerns, contact your vet.
Baby rabbits are called kits, and there can be up to 14 kits in a litter, with six being the average number. They are born hairless, blind and deaf, but, after 10 days, they will begin to develop features.
The doe will nurse her kits twice a day at dawn and dusk, which only takes around five minutes due to the rich quality of the mother’s milk.
Kits are usually fully weaned when they are between four to six weeks old. You should continue to keep a female rabbit separate from males during this time, as female rabbits can be re-impregnated hours after they have given birth. This means that one doe could produce up to 13 litters a year, but this isn’t ideal for her health – a safe average is eight to ten litters a year.
Space for the doe
It is a good idea to provide an area in the doe’s enclosure for her to get away from the kits. Unlike cats or dogs, does instinctively don’t want to be near their kits. This is because they don’t want to draw the attention of predators to the existence of kits in the nest. So create a comfortable area for the doe that is away from the kits, but is constantly available to her and gives her the choice to go back to the kits whenever she wants. A shoebox could be suitable to create this area if it’s the right size for the doe to fit inside.
Rehoming the infants
The kits can leave their mother at around eight weeks after their birth, at which stage you can look at rehoming them.
When looking for their new homes, check that potential owners have clean, spacious accommodation and that a responsible adult will be on hand to feed them a healthy diet and be able to cover any medical costs, including vaccinations and neutering.
False rabbit pregnancies
Occasionally, rabbits experience a false pregnancy. In cases like this, the doe may exhibit typical rabbit pregnancy behaviours, such as nest building. The best way to know for sure whether your doe is pregnant is to take her to a vet.
Many unwanted rabbits end up at rescue centres. So it is important to consider getting your rabbits neutered. Neutering will make it possible for you to keep a male/female pair together while avoiding rabbit pregnancy.