In case you are interested in buying your pet some useful accessories, we suggest looking for a high-quality rabbit brush. Rabbits are great creatures and many owners prefer keeping them as pets. However, caring for an animal is one thing, but how much do you know about his or her species?
In this article, we would like to explain how rabbits take care of their babies. It may be important to know, especially if you are a rabbit owner and may need to hand rear young bunnies.
To make things easier to understand later in the article, there are some terms that need to be clear.
For example, male rabbits are called bucks while females are called does. A young rabbit is also called a bunny. After they are born, baby rabbits are called kits or kittens.
Furthermore, a group of rabbits is called a nest or a colony. Also, a group of baby rabbits born from a single mating is called a litter, and a group of domestic rabbits that live together are referred to as a herd.
Taking Care of Newborn Rabbits
Does have a reputation for being uncaring mothers, which is, to say the least, undeserved. Their apparent aloofness towards their babies is actually their way to protect the young ones.
The doe does not feed her kits immediately, and she may also leave the nest unattended for longer periods. However, this is no cause for alarm.
Only in case she fails to create a nest should the rabbit owner consider hand-rearing the bunnies.
Creating a Nest
The first step a mother rabbit takes is creating a nest for her litter, usually a few days before giving birth. The way she makes the nest is very interesting! She will pull her own fur and scratch up grass. When it comes to domestic rabbits kept in a hutch, the doe will shred newspaper.
The nest is made in such a way to provide warmth for the kits but also to conceal them. Observing a mother rabbit’s nesting habits is the most accurate way to determine whether she is ready for parenthood.
Rabbits that are not mature enough and become pregnant do not usually display the same nesting behavior as the mature ones. This is also a sign that you might need to hand rear the kits.
The Doe’s Absence
For an inexperienced rabbit owner, the doe will seem very unconcerned with her young. This may set some alarms, but you should know that this is actually normal behavior.
Mother rabbits intentionally leave their kits alone for long periods. She does this because she doesn’t want predators to be attracted by her presence. The kits, on the other hand, instinctively burrow into the nest to keep warm and to remain out of sight, as well.
Of course that in the case of domestic rabbits, there are no predators to threat the nest, but the natural instinct and behavior remain.
The doe nurses her kits daily, once or twice. Normally, one feeding is enough to keep her young going for about 24 hours. Rabbits do not lay down to feed their babies like cats do, for example.
Instead, the doe stands over her kits, requiring them to reach upward in order to get their food. The mother rabbit will only feed when she considers it is safe, and this usually happens in the darkness of the night.
The doe is vigilant all the time due to potential predators. If she feels that her presence can attract unwanted attention, she will remain absent even if it means to miss a feeding.
When they are born, baby rabbits do not have an elimination reflex. Therefore, their mother licks their bellies and bottoms to stimulate them to go. This is a common habit for various mammals which can also be observed in nursing dogs and cats.
The doe will frequently bring in clean nest materials, and she will remove any soiled materials in order to maintain the nest as tidy and hygienic as possible for her babies.
Owner – Do’s and Don’ts
The doe nurses her babies for about five minutes a day. She will be in the nest early in the morning and then in the evening. This behavior is common in both wild and domestic rabbits. In the case of domestic animals, you should never force the mother to sit in the nest box.
If you want to make sure they are in order, you can pick the babies up and check the size of their stomachs which should not be sunken in. You can also observe the pinkness of their skin and their activity level. They should not be blue in color or very slow in movement.
Also, baby bunnies should be quiet most parts of the day, so if you hear them crying for too long, it might be a sign of trouble. Usually, it means that they are not getting fed.
Finding a Nest in the Wild
In the wild, rabbits hide their nests in plain view. They often put themselves out in the open, sometimes even in the middle of the lawn, but they can also set it in brush piles and long grass. For this reason, it is not uncommon to stumble upon a rabbit nest.
In case you find one that has been disturbed, you should do all you can to restore and protect it, and do not bring it inside. In case your dog discovered the nest, keep him or her away from that area and try to reconstruct it using grasses.
Only if the situation requires it, you can move the nest no more than five or six feet away, where it is safer. A relocated nest should always be covered with string in a tic tac toe pattern, as well as monitored in order to make sure that the doe finds it and comes back to her young.
The mother rabbit will scrabble the surface in order to feed the babies beneath her. Then she will scrabble the earth, leaves, and grass back over the nest to hide it. That is why it is easy to see if the string has been disturbed.
As a very important note, you should never put kits back into a nest that has been flooded with water. The same rule applies if the nest is visibly infested by bugs or ants, or in case a baby has been killed and there is blood inside.
Bunnies who have fleas are compromised, and they should be taken to a wildlife rehabber immediately.
Furthermore, in case you find a nest of wild bunnies and the mother is absent, please do not disturb them, as this is normal behavior. Keep in mind that by removing the babies from a nest, you are greatly reducing their chances of survival. The mother will return at night, especially if you are not there watching.
In Need of Help or Not?
Let’s say you do find a nest in the wild. You should definitely leave it undisturbed. But what if the babies actually need help? The problem is that kits with their eyes closed and ears back seldom survive in captivity. That is why it is essential to determine if they need your assistance before you do anything.
You can test their hydration level by gently pinching the loose skin at the back of the neck. If it does not spring back immediately and stays in a tent form, the bunny is severely dehydrated. You can also stroke the genital area to stimulate elimination. If the urine is brown and gritty, the doe has not been there in a while.
Only in such cases should you immediately take the bunnies to a rabbit vet or a rehabber.