Preparing for the Birth
of Baby Rabbits
Welcoming baby rabbits into the world is exciting. But don’t overlook the
importance of the weeks and months preceding the big day. By making
preparations in advance, you can increase the likelihood of having a
healthy doe and a healthy litter of kits.
To give kits the best possible chance to survive and thrive, check before
breeding to make sure the doe is in good health. If you notice any of the
following with your doe, it’s best to postpone breeding until these
conditions are resolved:
- Overweight or underweight
- Infection of the genitals or mammary glands
- Weepy eye (may indicate a respiratory infection)
- Matting inside the front paws (snuffles/nasal discharge may indicate
possible Pastuerella or Bordetella)
- Sore hocks or bleeding footpads
Breeding a doe that’s already in questionable health does not bode well
for her offspring. Always deal with health issues before attempting to
Once your doe is expecting, you’ll think of a million things you wish you
had done in preparation. So here are some things to consider in advance:
- Cage—Once your doe has mated, this is no time
to turn her world upside down. Changing her to a new cage at this
sensitive time can cause her needless stress, so plan ahead. If you’re
thinking of breeding, now’s the time to switch your mother-to-be to a
cage that is weather appropriate and can accommodate a nesting box.
Place it in a low traffic area that is draft-free.
- Consistency—Again, don’t turn her world upside
down during pregnancy. Maintain her normal lighting and feeding
schedule and keep feeding the usual amount of a nutritious feed.
- Nest Box—On the 28th day of gestation,
introduce a clean nest box to the corner of her cage furthest from
where she does her “business” (don’t introduce the box too early or
she may use it as a litter box). Nest boxes can be made of wood,
plastic, wire or metal. If using wood, beware of splinters. Remember
that in environments with low humidity, plastic boxes can generate
static electricity. A wire nest with a replaceable cardboard insert is
another option. If using a metal nest box, insert a three-quarter-inch
plywood board in the bottom to keep kits from coming in direct contact
with the metal, which could allow them to become too cold or too hot.
Plan on leaving the nest box in the cage for two weeks.
- Bedding—Straw, wood shavings, heat-treated
bed-a-chips and shredded paper or corncobs are all good options. Check
bedding regularly to make sure it’s dry and ready for the forthcoming
One way to tell that a doe is getting ready to “kindle,” or give birth, is
that she will begin to pull fur from her underside. She’ll use this fur to
line the nest and to help keep her tiny, hairless babies warm after
they’re born. Once she begins pulling fur, do not disturb the nest box.
Allow her to satisfy the instinct to create a safe space for her babies.
Remember, a doe’s body is performing a task of phenomenal proportions
during gestation—she’s literally creating new rabbits from the ground up,
and that requires adequate protein to build muscles and organs, as well as
vitamins and minerals to create strong bones and teeth. It’s crucial that
she get optimal nutrition so that she doesn’t deplete her own nutritional
stores to provide for her babies. A good choice of feed for a breeding doe
is Purina Mills® Advanced Nutrition Professional Formula with 18% protein.
This will give her the nutrition she requires during this demanding stage
of her life.
Towards the end of the gestational period, should you notice that your doe
isn’t finishing her rations, don’t panic. This is normal and another
indication that birth is imminent. If she’s carrying a large litter, she
may not have enough stomach capacity to eat like she normally does. Once
she gives birth, remove any old food remnants and start providing feed
according to directions for a doe and litter.
Feed requirements can vary depending on weather conditions and the needs
of individual rabbits and the number of reproduction cycles scheduled per
year. For instance, a New Zealand resting doe might require six ounces per
day on a 14-day rebreed schedule. A Mini Rex or Dutch rabbit on a 42-day
rebreed schedule might require three ounce per day, while a Netherland
Dwarf on the same schedule might require only two ounces per day.
While no one can guarantee a foolproof gestation and delivery, you can
greatly increase your chances of having a healthy doe and kits by
following these simple suggestions and preparing in advance.