There’s no denying, a baby rabbit is the cutest thing on earth, and wanting to create as many of the little fluffs as possible is very appealing, but…
Why do people breed rabbits?
The practice of breeding rabbits is called Cuniculture and is an agricultural practice of breeding and raising rabbits; usually for their meat, fur, or wool. Rabbit farming varies all over the world, and while it is on the decline in some nations, in others it is expanding.
Where Do I Start?
If you are new to breeding rabbits or need information, you should be able to find answers on this page.
Someone reading this may be able to shed a light on your situation or even delight in your story.
Topics on this page, include:
- Cuniculture – Why do people breed rabbits?
- Breeding vs Rescue – Can we justify breeding?
- A Personal View – We all have one, this is mine…
- Breeding Basics – Accidents can happen!
- Pregnant or Not? – How to check for a pregnant rabbit
- Eating for Eight? – Pregnant doe diet & nutrition
- Bedding & Nesting – What to use & how
- Babies (Kits) – What to expect with baby rabbits
- Mother & Baby – Aftercare tips and help
- Tips for Kits – Finding new homes for baby kits
Some people, called rabbit fanciers, practice cuniculture predominantly to show their rabbits at exhibitions and competitions. They are members of governing associations and councils and breed to a certain set of standards.
There are some specialized breeders that run breeding programs to improve the overall look and nature of a certain breed. This is because other inexperienced breeders have, over time, spoiled the true original standard causing overall quality and type to be diluted and destroyed.
There are also breeders that run programs in order to take a breed off the endangered list or bring it back from extinction by following an original breeding program documented in history books. Cuniculture is a very different practice to that of owning one or a small group of rabbits as companion animals. These rabbits are domestic pets and are not selectively bred and they don’t exist to reproduce.
Breeding Vs Rescue
When there are rabbits in desperate need of homes right now, should the breeding of rabbits continue?
What do you think?
I’m all for saving ‘rescue bunnies’ first and foremost and I can’t think why you should be breeding rabbits at all when there are thousands that need loving homes right now.
On the Other Paw…
There are many rabbit breeders all over the world doing wonderful work to perfect a certain breed. Where genetics have been lost, diluted or destroyed, they are returning the breed to a ‘true’ standard.
This benefits future generations and ensures that illness, disease and genetic deformities are reduced and eventually removed.
Good breeders also ensure that they handle their rabbits and develop a breeding program that includes ‘playtime’ and interaction – developing the bond that humans and rabbits have with each other on a ‘domestic pet’ level. The more ‘domesticated’ the breed, the friendlier and more suitable they are as companion pets.
Certain breeds have had such good breeding backgrounds that their ‘personalities’ really shine through. Then there are other breeds renowned for their nippy, feisty traits and characteristics. The Netherland dwarf, for example, is well documented as being a nippy, moody breed, but there are some incredible breeders out there that have eliminated this rogue personality from their genetic makeup. Their reward for such dedication and devotion is their obvious success.
Of course, there are breeders that breed rabbits for other reasons, such as food for humans and predator pets, for experimentation labs, for fur/wool and the clothing industry – are these reasons valid? Do we need these type of breeding programs? Can we live without them? What do you think?
A Personal View
PET SHOP WARNING
Rabbits with genetic disorders, especially gut problems often originate from pet shops. Babies are taken from their mother way too early and are not given the chance to develop properly or gain the nutrition they need for a healthy digestive and immune system they would get from their mother’s natural milk.
Often pet shop rabbits are breeders rejects and will probably carry a genetic disorder or imperfection but that will not be noticeable.
The more people that refuse to buy animals from pet shops, the fewer breeders will breed and hopefully, we can stop the cycle.
So, with all that said, there is a time when a little accident can happen. Some bunny owners have found themselves with more rabbits than they expected because they didn’t know some basic facts about bunnies:
- Most rabbits can start breeding at only 4 months old
- A doe is in a constant state of ‘ovulation’ readiness
- A rabbit’s pregnancy can last from 28 to 33 days
- One buck can ‘service’ up to 60+ does
- A bucks sperm count does not decrease after mating
- Don’t always ‘trust’ the sexing of a pet shop member of staff or that of an inexperienced breeder. The assumption of sex is the most common reason rabbit owners wake up to find more than their normal quota of rabbits!
I will detail a few more important points to remember if you find yourself with a pregnant rabbit.
Health & Behavior Facts:
Unspayed female rabbits have up to a 90% chance of developing ovarian cancer.
Unaltered males are more aggressive and will spray to mark their territory.
Both are almost impossible to litter train.
How to Check if Your Rabbit is Pregnant
A normal rabbit pregnancy can run for 31 to 33 days.
Smaller litters of 4 kits or fewer will be longer than a doe with over 4 kits.
Birthing should not go beyond 32 days. Expect a litter of dead kits by day 34.
Pregnancy can be detected between 10 to 14 days after mating, with 12 days being optimal; between these days, the fetuses will grow rapidly. They should soon be detectable with your fingertips and feel approximately the size of a grape.
Be gentle when feeling for them! Know that false pregnancy is common in rabbits, so even if you find all the signs, you are probably best checking in with your vet.
These are some other signs that your rabbit is pregnant:
- In the third week, your doe may show increased abdomen size. You may also see a slight movement.
- She has mood swings and is easily annoyed. She may also not want to be held or stroked. Your doe may growl at you or act differently towards you. She may start laying on her side due to the discomfort of the kits swelling in her abdomen.
- When there are around two to three days left she will start nesting. This typically comprises her pulling out her fur.
- Note that none of these signs alone suffice to diagnose pregnancy. Rabbits have false pregnancies because of hormonal fluctuations. But at the same time, many pregnant does show no signs of pregnancy until a few minutes before they are ready to kindle.
Pregnant Doe Diet and Nutrition
Your doe will need special changes to her diet to ensure that she is getting adequate nutrition; a doe with nutritional deficiencies may abort or reabsorb the fetuses.
Because of her carrying more weight, she will need extra nutrition to her eating habits. Provide her with high-quality food along with fresh, clean unlimited amounts of water.
- Slowly change her diet (rabbits should always experience gradual dietary changes) to include foods like carrots, celery, cucumber, lettuce, rabbit pellets, stacks of hay, tomatoes, parsley. A diet of alfalfa hay instead of grass hay should be instituted, and offering more rabbit pellets than normal. Ensure access to clean water at all times.
- As she is pregnant, her body will demand more. Mix up the vegetables above into a salad with a bowl of water.
- A couple of days before delivery cut back on food but no water. Doing so will mean that your doe will have less chance of experiencing medical problems such as mastitis and ketosis. Cut the diet down to fifty percent of normal amount two days before the expected birth date.
- Once over, gradually go back to her normal diet and she should be back to normal in within a couple of weeks of kindling.
Look Out For:
Pregnancy toxemia – Which occurs in a doe that has not received adequate nutrition during pregnancy (or even false pregnancy). It is important to ensure that your doe gets a high energy diet, and she doesn’t go any time without food or that she overeats.
Toxemia can occur either late in pregnancy or after delivery and occurs mostly in Dutch, Polish, and English rabbit breeds.
The symptoms include acting depressed, weakness, lack of coordination, and convulsions. If left untreated, a doe can die. If these symptoms are present treatment would be an IV drip and a dextrose solution.
Bedding and Nesting For Pregnant Rabbit
A nest box should be provided for your doe to give birth and take care of her young. The nest box is essential because the kits are born naked, blind, and deaf and have no ability to regulate their own temperature until day seven.
Nest boxes should at least 4 inches (10cm) wider and longer than the doe. The nest box should be given to your doe 26 days into her gestation period.
- Your doe will pick fur from her own body (dewlap, belly, and thighs) for her nest box, but you can help her by providing her with straw and paper.
- If you build your own nesting box, use clean wood, but never use plywood or particleboard, as these products contain high concentrations of formaldehyde, which is toxic and can cause not only epithelial respiratory drying but also permanent respiratory passage and neurologic damage.
Look Out For:
Mastitis – An inflammation of the mammary glands (found on the belly). When a doe is about to deliver, the glands fill with milk ready for feeding the kits. Mastitis occurs if bacteria gets into the milk duct and travels into the mammary gland. This can occur because of a poorly formed gland (talk to your vet about checking your doe’s glands prior to birth), or because she is in an unhygienic environment (ensure that her bedding, her nest, her housing, etc. are impeccably clean and non-abrasive).
The real tragedy is that an infected gland that is not caught in time will pass infected milk on to the kits and they will die.
Check the doe every day post-birth to see any signs of swelling or redness, indicators of mastitis; if the mammary glands are blue, then the infection is very severe. Other signs include refusing to drink and eat, running a fever, and appearing depressed.
What To Expect With Baby Rabbits
When a doe gives birth, it is called kindling.
You should have a good idea of your rabbit’s gestation period because you know from breeding timing, or you have consulted with your vet and got an agreed date of expected delivery.
Some things to know of when your doe is giving birth include:
- Kindling usually occurs in the morning.
- Most rabbit births occur quickly, born head or feet first. However, some labor can continue for a day or two, before all kits have arrived.
- Dystocia, or a problem giving birth, is not usual with rabbits, so you probably won’t need to help her give birth.
- Avoid causing her any undue stress from excitement or threats of harm to her or her kits.
- Make sure the birthing area is quiet and free of anything that could make her nervous, such as noise, other pets, unusual lights, too much heat or cold.
Look Out For:
Killing the Young – Some does will kill and eat their young. There are several reasons for this so it’s best to avoid any situation that increases the risk of it happening at all; ensure that the nesting area is clean and warm at all times, remove kits that do not nurse, and keep other pets (especially dogs) away from the nest to reduce the doe’s nervousness.
Mother and Baby Aftercare
Notes to Remember:
Kits will nurse at least until about 4 to 5 weeks, at which point they are weaned by the doe slowing down her milk production.
Kits with a sunken stomach are not getting enough milk; a full stomach is a sign of proper feeding.
Do not touch newborn rabbits as any human scent may cause the dam to eat them out of fear or rejection. It is also very stressful for a human to handle the kit while it’s in the nest box. The only time you should handle a kit is if it falls out of the nest, as the mother won’t try to put it back in.
Use disposable gloves to prevent transferring your scent and rub the kit with some of her fur once you place it back into the nesting box.
Once all kits are born, check to see if everything is fine. Make sure they are healthy, breathing and drinking their mother’s milk. A litter can contain up to a dozen kits. Once born, the dam will nurse them, but not continuously. Provide her with continuous freshwater as it’s vital for a nursing rabbit.
- It can be fun having newborn rabbits but do not disturb the dam or the kits. Disturbing them can stress and frighten them.
- Wait a couple hours, then offer your doe a favorite treat to keep her occupied while you check the kits. Remove any dead kits, as they can rot and infect the healthy ones. Once done, cover them back up with nesting material and leave them be.
- If you find that there are more kits than the nipples (8 to 10 nipples), they can be fostered in the first three days to a doe with a smaller litter. Just be sure to cover them with the fur from the new doe to get them accepted, and try moving the stronger, larger kits to increase the success of the transfer. Unfortunately, raising kits by hand has a high death rate.
- Does will nurse only once to twice daily, with each kit getting about three minutes of feeding time.
Finding Homes For Baby Rabbits
Whether the breeding was intentional, it’s important to find good homes for the rabbit babies. If the pregnancy was accidental, take all precautions to prevent impregnation again.
Tips For Kits
No matter how you have them, intentionally or otherwise, finding good, proper and decent homes for your baby rabbits is vital.
Some people buy baby rabbits to use as bait, live food and even training encouragements for their predatory pets. They have even been bought for use in experiments. The following advice is for those of you who want to ensure your kits go to safe homes.
Advice on Advertising
Posters and flyers – Put posters up in your local vet offices. Most pet stores that do not sell live pets will also let you post flyers and posters. You may be able to arrange some kind of commission in both cases.
Advertise on the local supermarket and newsagent bulletin boards etc, they may charge a small amount but the passing ‘traffic’ will get those calls coming in. Just make sure you have a list of ‘vetting’ questions by the phone when anyone calls to enquire.
The following tips and advice may help put your mind at rest about where your babies give you some valuable knowledge towards giving your bunnies the best start in life…
- First off, get your does spayed and your bucks neutered to prevent any future “surprise” pregnancies.
- Create an Adoption Contract, with your necessary concerns addressed within it. Make sure any buyers understand it and sign it. This may deter any buyer with an ulterior motive.
- Keep the price up high enough to discourage people who want rabbits for snake food and other undesirable reasons. Pets attract higher prices than food.
- Local rescue centers and animal shelters are a great place to ‘advertise’ your babies for adoption. Most good shelters have a website which they can list your bunnies on as available and seeking homes. In this scenario, your house would be the ‘foster home’ where people would come to view and choose the babies. This method is great because the rescue center will already have a tried and tested procedure in place for finding suitable new owners. New owners will have to pay a fee which, depending on your arrangement with the shelter/center, will include your charge, medical treatment, injections etc and neutering surgery, etc. It may even include a donation to the shelter. Keeping this price high ensures only pet-loving people at the outset.
- Whichever route you go… it is also your responsibility to ensure they will be spayed/neutered. An adoption contract stating the babies will be altered should be a requirement. If this does not happen, are you willing to legally enforce the contract and take possession of the babies? You could also pay for the surgery yourself, and ask for a higher adoption fee where part of it is refunded upon proof of surgery, or have an arrangement with a rescue center.
- If rebreeding for show, as pets, or other purposes, it is best to wait 35 to 42 days after the birth of the initial litter, to give your doe time to recuperate and care for her current litter.