Looking after newborn rabbits is not the easiest task in the world but it can be extremely rewarding and help you create a unique bond with the babies. However, you need to make sure they live comfortably in a stacked rabbit cage and are ready to leave the nest two-three weeks after birth.
Rabbits are smart and loving creatures that make perfect pets for children and adults alike. They are relatively easy to look after and won’t take too much money off your pockets either. However, handling newborns or nursing females is slightly different, so you need to pay close attention to each baby and make sure they all develop normally.
Length of the pregnancy
Rabbits are amongst the few animals that don’t have a designated mating season, meaning they can breed throughout the year. And, since one single litter can count for up to 12 baby rabbits, it comes as no surprise that bunnies can easily become pests if they breed uncontrolled.
Rabbits become sexually mature at an early age and can breed until the age of four years for females and seven years for males. The pregnancy lasts anywhere between 28 and 33 days, although, most of the times, the mother will give birth to her babies after 31 days.
Bunnies are quite individual creatures, similar to cats, meaning they don’t require special assistance from humans to live their lives and give birth. Female rabbits are perfectly capable of looking after themselves and the newborns, without leaving any baby unattended.
In the unlikely event where the mother is young and inexperienced, she might not be able to look after all her babies, and this is one of the few moments when you can step in and feed the baby yourself using a special formula. However, the newborn should be ready to get back to the nest and develop normally after 7-10 days.
How can you be sure the newborns are taken care of?
If you want proof that the baby rabbits are being cared for, all you have to do is check them early in the morning. As we already said, mothers usually feed their babies between midnight and 5 A.M. so, by the morning, they should all be warm and round-bellied. On average, rabbits gain about ¼ ounces per day during the first weeks of life so, the easiest way to make sure they all develop normally is to weigh them on a kitchen scale or small postage scale.
Another thing that many people are still concerned with is handling newborn rabbits. Contrary to urban myths, you can touch and even pet the babies even if the mother doesn’t know you, without worrying about your scent that might trigger the rabbit mom to abandon her cubs. This only happens in special cases when the female is too young and inexperienced, and usually lives in the wild.
In the rare case when a mother rabbit abandons or ignores her babies, she doesn’t build a nest or make any preparations before giving birth, while the milk production may also be delayed. If this happens, you need to be ready to look after the newborns yourself, by nursing and handling them until the mother rabbit can step in.
When do baby rabbits leave the nest?
Since rabbits are fertile creatures and the female can be impregnated as soon as she gives birth, it comes as no surprise that newborns won’t spend too much time near their mothers.
Based on the season, the nest box can be removed two-three weeks after the baby rabbits are born. Some specialists suggest leaving the babies in the nest for two weeks during the summertime and approximately three weeks if they are born in the wintertime.
There are various ways to smoothen the transition and help babies be ready for the real world without causing trauma or rushing things. For instance, you can place a large handful of hay in the cage or hut where they will be moved to allow them to snuggle. The warmth and softness of the hay will help the babies feel like they haven’t been abandoned.
After a couple of days, the babies should be acclimated to living in their new homes, with or without their mother. In fact, you will probably notice that the first time the babies get out of the nest they will try to nurse and look for their mother, while the female rabbit will try to avoid the babies, forcing them to develop on their own.
Within a few hours, the babies and the mother can be placed back in the cage together and coexist peacefully.
Should rabbits stay together?
If you don’t plan on giving the baby rabbits for adoption but don’t want to end up raising an entire farm of animals, you should keep them separated. As a general rule, females and males should live in different cages to prevent breeding. You can also neuter them to avoid surprises in the future.
If you have more than one litter, make sure that each family lives in a separate cage and that no other adult females or males can reach the newborns. Sometimes, dams and bucks can hurt the newborns of a different female, so you should make sure there is no interaction between families.
Babies of both genders can live in the same cage until the age of sexual maturity, around six months old for small breeds and 8-9 months for larger breeds, according to some specialists.
Unlike other species, the male rabbit is tolerant of young babies and can even remain in the same cage with the rest of the family if he is neutered. They can all live under the same “roof” until male babies reach puberty and start nipping. However, we don’t advise leaving the male in the same cage as the rest of the family for more than three months, even when he is neutered.
How to look after baby rabbits
As we previously mentioned, up until the age of 2-3 weeks old, mothers should be the only ones responsible for the babies. Once the babies are big enough to leave the nest, it is your job to make their life as pleasant and happy as possible.
No matter where you decide to keep them, make sure rabbits have enough space to run, jump, and stretch their paws.
It would be best to keep them outdoors in large huts during the summertime, where they can also have access to a backyard or a garden to wander throughout the day. In the wintertime, you should make sure the huts provide enough protection against cold temperatures, rain, and snow. Thus, we recommend keeping the babies indoors or building special houses made of wood and filled with hay to keep them dry, warm, and cozy.
If you opt for wire cages, make sure the space between bars is small enough to prevent your rabbit’s feet falling in between and hurting itself. We recommend choosing a wire cage that comes with a solid bottom tray that can be detached for easy cleaning and sanitizing, whenever you want.
As we mentioned before, baby rabbits love cuddling and staying warm, so you should consider filling the cage with hay, small huts, and plenty of entertainment options to spark their curiosity and stimulate their minds.
What can baby rabbits eat?
Mothers are responsible for nursing young rabbits during the first weeks of their lives. If the litter is too big or the mother is inexperienced, you can offer the babies special formula until they are old enough to switch to solid food. After about one month, baby rabbits can be fed special rabbit food, hay, pellets, and a combination of fresh fruits and vegetables.
Keep in mind that fruits should only be offered as treats, especially if they contain high amounts of water and sugar like watermelon. You also need to make sure the babies have excellent oral hygiene to prevent teeth problems in the future, so you should consider adding various snacks and edible toys to their cages. Huts and balls made of hay or softwood are perfect because they control the bunny’s natural chewing instincts.