Having a pregnant rabbit can happen in two situations; firstly, if you yourself have an intact male rabbit and an intact female rabbit, or if you’ve recently bought an intact female rabbit from an environment where there was an intact male rabbit. Whether you intended for your rabbit’s pregnancy or not, it’s always a good idea to know the signs.
If a female rabbit is not neutered, she can become fully sexually mature by as young as 3 and a half months old; which means she can start producing offspring from this age. The gestation period for rabbits is fairly short. Generally, a rabbit should give birth around 1 month after becoming pregnant (31 to 33 days).
If your rabbit has not given birth more than 35 days after conception, you should contact your vet. If this is the case, then your rabbit could be struggling to give birth naturally, and may require a surgical birth.
When do rabbits start nesting?
How maternal a rabbit is can differ, just like it does with humans. If your rabbit is particularly maternal, she will be very eager for her babies to arrive. In this case, she could start nesting around 3 weeks before giving birth, very shortly after conception. In most cases, however, rabbits would typically begin nesting around 1 week before giving birth.
The first sign of pregnancy in rabbits is behavioural changes. Again, similarly to humans, rabbits can experience ‘mood swings’ during pregnancy. Some of the most common signs of mood swings in rabbits include;
- Aggressive behaviour
- Unsociable with humans/not wanting to be handled
- Increased appetite
- Grumpy or uninterested
Don’t worry though, any mood changes that your rabbit experiences will go away after she has given birth to her kit.
Next, you may start to notice some weight gain. If your rabbit appears to be larger than usual, and you don’t think it’s been caused by food, then gently pick her up and have a feel of her belly. After around 10 days of pregnancy, you should be able to feel the small bumps of where the baby rabbits are growing.
Nonetheless, the most obvious sign that your rabbit is pregnant, is that she will begin to make a nest. Instinctively, rabbits provide themselves with a comfortable spot to give birth, and a comfortable spot for their babies to be born into.
This is done by gathering up bedding and hay and pilling all into the same corner. She may use her mouth or her feet to stack the pile. She will typically spend her last week of pregnancy perfecting her nest.
Sometimes, before rabbits make a nest, they may try to burrow a hole for their babies. If you notice your rabbit doing this, just provide her with more hay and bedding to make a suitable nest with instead.
How do you know when a rabbit is about to give birth?
Around 2 days before your rabbit gives birth, she may start to pull her fur out using her teeth, and place it on the nest. This can be disturbing to watch, especially if you weren’t expecting it. However, it is completely normal. Rabbits do this to provide extra comfort to their kits as their fur has her scent; plus, it’s soft to lie on.
Right before giving birth, some rabbits will also remove fur from around the nipples to give the babies easier access to milk.
Rabbits will generally give birth at night or in the early hours of the morning, so chances are that you won’t actually witness it. At this stage in your rabbit’s gestation, it’s important to not intrude or interrupt, but just make sure she feels safe and comfortable in her surroundings.
How many babies do rabbits have in their first litter?
Rabbits can have up to 15 babies at a time. In her first litter, you should expect anything between 1 and 14 babies; although, the average is 6. Not all of the babies will survive in a mother’s first kit. Some may be stillborn, and the runts may die after birth.
Instinctively, a mother rabbit prioritises survival over nurture. If a mother feels that she cannot care for her entire kit, she will only care for the strong ones, and may neglect the weaker ones. This is especially common with her first pregnancy.
If you feel that this is happening, ensure that all the baby rabbits are put back into the nest, if the mother ever leaves them out, to prevent them from getting cold. Keep an eye on their weight and nutrition, and if need be, feed the runts ‘kitten milk replacer’, which can be bought from pet stores.
How long does it take for a rabbit to give birth?
Labour in rabbits is known as ‘kindling’. Much like their gestation period, their labour period is also very short. It can last from anywhere between 10 minutes and 1 hour.
The first stage of rabbit labour is the dilation and contraction of the cervix, which ends with the rupture of the membrane. Then, the second and third stages are the expulsion of the fetus and placenta. These stages happen more or less simultaneously, and shouldn’t take more than around 30 minutes.
Rabbits will very rarely require human help whilst giving birth, and the process should come instinctively and naturally to them. However, if your rabbit does appear to be struggling, contact your vet for assistance.
It is important to know how to care for your pregnant rabbit, but also how to care for the babies. You should ensure that you have the space and supplies that the kit and their mother require.
A rabbit will not usually need human assistance to look after or care for her babies, however, it is important to keep an eye out for signs that the mother might be neglecting part of her kit. The female rabbit’s gestation period and labour period normally comes naturally, and often human interruptions will only cause added distress.
Providing the mother rabbit with a nutritious diet and comfortable bedding will help her feel safe and comfortable during her pregnancy.