Help! My Rabbit Just had Babies
What to Expect the First Week
The first week with a rabbit after kindling (giving birth) is an exciting time. There are a few things you can expect and be prepared for.
Whether you knew the big event was on the way or not, you can still help your doe succeed at motherhood.
The first thing I should warn you about is that Rabbits are terrible mothers. I’m not being mean or biased. It’s true. They have earned the reputation honestly. I have owned rabbits since 2015, and these few short years we have had some horrible mothers on our homestead.
First-time rabbit moms are pretty clueless. We keep many animals at our place, and none of them are as inept at mothering as the new rabbit mommies.
If your rabbit rejects her litter or even eats them, this is (shockingly) somewhat normal. At least, that’s what I’ve been told. It still makes me mad. What animal eat’s their young? For more on rabbit-cannibals go here.
To help your doe succeed in motherhood (and lessen the chances she will eat her babies) here are a few tips to get you off on the right foot.
ONE: Living Arrangements
If there is another rabbit or (gasp) the buck is still in the same cage, you will need to find a new place for them. A doe needs her own space to raise her little family. The buck can hurt the kits.
FUN FACT: If the buck is still in the cage with the doe when she gives birth, she is probably already bred. Rabbits are one of the only animals that can get pregnant while they are pregnant. Yup. 5 days ago actually. Mark your calendar, in 25 days you should have another litter.
Once you have the other rabbits out of the cage you will need to create a nest for your doe. It is best to have a hutch that has a nesting area in addition to an open living space.
You can see that our hutch has an open side (left side) where there is plenty of room. This is also where we have the food and water. On the right side is the nest. This side has all boarded walls. There is an opening connecting the two sides so mama-bunny can move from side to side.
There is a sliding door on the front of the nesting side so I can access the kits. There is ventilation at the top. The floor on both sides of this hutch is made of rat wire but I have a removable board that I insert on the nesting side when there are young kits.
If you do not have a hutch with a nesting side, a nesting box can be used.
If your kits were born before you had a nest or nesting box – you will need to relocate them to the nest.
To move the kits to the nesting area:
- Fill the nest with hay or straw
- Wash & dry your hands
- Rub the mama-bunny (to pick up her scent)
- Fill the nest with the fur the mama-bunny pulled out
- Carefully move the kits one at a time and place them in the nest
- Show the doe where her babies are
If you know there is a litter coming – you can get the nest ready before the big event.
You actually don’t need to do anything except shove a handful of straw or hay (or paper shreddings) into the hutch.
Your mama-bunny will build the nest all by herself.
Once the babies arrive you probably won’t see anything. There will be a pile of bunny hair on top of the nest and if you watch it closely, it will probably be moving. The baby bunnies are under the fluff, safe and warm.
Try to leave them alone as much as possible and let your doe take care of them. She will stand over them and feed them. She will clean their private parts to encourage them to go potty and take good care of them.
For the first week, I don’t even try to count the litter. I let the mama do her thing and only get involved if I need to.
FOUR: Fallen Kits
After a day or two, you may notice a few kits are falling out of the nest. This is perfectly normal and it doesn’t mean that they have been rejected. It usually happens after the mama is finished feeding them and hops out of the nest. If one of the babies is still attached trying to finish his meal, he can be dragged out along with her.
When you find a kit outside the nest, simply reunite him with his littermates.
FIVE: Kits Everywhere
About day 5 it seems like that no one is interested in staying in the nest anymore. I tend to find more tiny bunnies wriggling around outside of the nest than in it.
If you have a hutch with a nesting ‘area’ or ‘section’ the kits are more likely to stay together where they belong. When the babies are living in a pile of hay and fluff they can easily roll around and fall out.
To reduce the probability of kits traveling outside their nest, insert a small ledge where the nesting area meets the outdoor section of the bunny hutch. This has worked wonders for us.
This can be tough because the little guys don’t have their eyes open yet, however they are starting to squirm around.
At this point, it is a good idea to check on the kits a few times a day and try to keep them somewhat together. The babies are more likely to get fed and well cared for by the doe if they are contained in one location.
It is especially important to check on the baby bunnies right before going to bed at night. I often find one lone kit on the grate away from the nest at the end of the day. Leaving him alone for the night at such a young age can end in disaster.
SIX: Keep Them Warm
If the weather is going to be cold, you need to keep the newborn kits warm. This can be accomplished in several ways.
OPTION 1- For Outdoor Rabbits
My bunny hutches are outdoors. We do not have a safe way to use heat lamps to keep our kits warm. When it is going to get too chilly, I put the doe in the ‘nesting’ area with her kits for the night and close the door so she can’t get out. This will give the kits access to their mama for snacks and heat.
It also ensures I won’t wake up to find 3 kits outside of the nesting box, on the metal grate, dead.
First thing in the morning I open the door so the doe can freely move from the nesting side of the hutch to the open side.
OPTION 2 – Move the hutch in a barn or building.
If you have the ability to move your bunny hutch to a building this will go along way to keeping everyone snug and warm.
OPTION 3 – Heat Lamp.
If you have access to electricity and a safe way to use a heat lamp it can be a great solution for keeping the kits warm in cooler temperatures.
SEVEN: Food & Water
Be sure your doe has plenty to eat and drink right after kindling. We provide pellets and dry alphafa hay. I like to provide both for her to snack on. The pellets are an easy way for her to gobble up lots of calories. The hay is better for her (than the pellets) and provides backup meals if she happens to eat all the pellets.
You may need to add a second water bottle to the bunny hutch. Your doe will be feeding a small army (our last litter contained 10 kits) and she will need plenty to eat and drink.
EIGHT: Are They Eating?
I am always worried that my kits are not getting enough to eat. This is a logical conclusion.
- You will probably not see your doe feed the babies. Most does are very private about this and only very laid back mamas will feed their young with an audience.
- It doesn’t happen very often. When I found out how often a mother rabbit feeds her babies I was horrified. I have read that they only feed them a couple times a day, but I have witnessed more feeding times than that with our rabbits. Either way, I can confirm that they do not feed their babies very often. Rabbit milk is very rich and it doesn’t take much to fill the little guys up.
If you are worried that the kits aren’t eating, take a close look at their bellies. Their stomachs should be round and full. If one of the bellies looks wrinkly (like the skin on an old man) it is empty & needs a snack.
As long as the babies all have round bellies (not wrinkly) they are probably fine.
I have been known to hold my doe and slide a couple of struggling kits under her for a snack. My doe is pretty laid back and cooperative. In our last litter, the runt actually survived. Our doe did not reject it (this is common) and he beat the odds. He was
1/4 the size of his litter mates and struggled through the first 2 weeks of life.
Several times a day I would find him isolated, outside the nest and as cold as ice. In addition to him struggling to stay huddled with his siblings, he was not growing at the same pace. While the other 9 kits would be happily snoozing with fat, round tummies, the runt was scrawny and lethargic.
I could tell by looking at him that he was not getting the same groceries as the rest of the litter. He was not growing fur like his littermates and his stomach was wrinkly like an old person and empty.
Bottle-feeding a newborn kit is not on my list of favorite things to do, so I decided I’d get him fed another way.
Each day I would separate all the other kits so my little runt could have his mama all to himself. I held her still so he could climb under and fill his little belly. This was my routine for weeks. I noticed a change in his personality in 2 days. He was more active. He was relaxed. His fur came in and he filled out.
He is still a quarter of the size of all his brothers and sisters, but he is alive and well. He has started eating pellets and hopping all over the place.
I am not a rabbit expert, but if you would like to know everything I know about keeping rabbits you should get the Bunny Handbook (here). It is a great resource for anyone just starting with rabbits.
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If you suspect problems with your rabbits or the kits be sure to contact your vet.