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The Kindling Process

 

A rabbit is an unique animal. Unfortunately, many people tend to think and expect rabbits to behave similar to dogs or cats, and nothing could be further from the truth! Rabbits are not like dogs or cats and this can often lead to problems and confusion, particularly in regard to mating and giving birth.

A popular adage is often forgotten when it comes to rabbits. "To breed like rabbits" has a considerable amount of truth to it and more than what the average person realizes. Rabbits are unable to differentiate between a sister, brother, mother, father, or unrelated rabbit when it comes to breeding. Rabbits will attempt to mate with anything and everything and including the handler and inanimate objects. Many "accidental" litters are born every year due to the housing of sisters and brothers or a buck and doe in the same cage. Littermates need to be separated by 12 weeks of age, at which time the hormones begin developing and the rabbits begin to "practice" breeding.

 

If you're going to breed rabbits, make sure that you do it purposefully. Keeps your bucks and does separated until you're ready to mate them. You want to ensure that you know which buck your doe has mated with. Once you've mated your rabbits and your doe is pregnant, you'll need to set up a cage specifically for her and the offspring.

How to Set Up a Nest Box

For the pregnant doe, you need to provide a "nest box" in her cage. She'll build her nest and place her young in the nest box. Bedding must be provided in the nest box for the doe to mix her fur with. An old towel just doesnít do the trick as it does with dogs or cats. Recommended beddings would be straw or hay. The doe will rearrange the bedding to her liking, including chewing the larger pieces into smaller sizes. Although a thin layer of pine shavings may be used beneath the straw or hay for drainage purposes, shavings alone are not recommended. Shavings will often clog the nostrils, mouths, and eyes of the newborn. A lack of bedding or improper bedding can cause the newborn to die.

The doe will pull fur from herself for her nest. It is not uncommon for a doe to pull fur after giving birth, although the majority will pull fur just before kindling. Some get a little anxious and will pull fur two or three days before delivering.

How Newborn Rabbits Grow

Baby rabbits are born naked, blind, and deaf. By the second day, a "sheen" of fur will be noticeable as the fur begins growing. The eyes will open at approximately 10 days of age. Once the babies are fully furred, they may be handled. Please do not let young children or others handle the naked newborn. Only one person should check the nest box daily to ensure that the young are being taken care of and to remove any that may have died. Unfortunately, rabbits tend to have fairly high mortality rates.

Problems After Birth

Neglecting Babies: One of the most common misconceptions concerning does and their offspring is the appearance of the doe "neglecting" her young. This is where the rabbit differs vastly from other animals. A rabbit will nurse her young only once or twice a day and usually for only five minutes each time. Since rabbits are "crepuscular" animals (most active during dawn and twilight hours), the nursing is most often performed at times when humans are not around. The rest of the time, she stays out of the nest box, often reclining on top of the nest box. This is quite normal since the rabbit in the wild will remain outside of the burrow in order to lead predators away from her nest. A doe with young is ever vigilant.

Aggressive Does: Occasionally, a doe with a new litter may become extremely aggressive and care must be taken to avoid personal injury. She is only attempting to protect her fragile and helpless young. As the babies grow, she becomes less protective. An aggressive doe with a litter should never be reprimanded or discredited for her wonderfully strong maternal instincts. She is a survivor in a world full of predators and fully intends for her babies to survive, as well.

Killing Babies: Another common misconception involves the doe that "kills" her young when giving birth or shortly after, either by "eating" the young, "stomping" them, or simply "letting them die." Rabbits are not carnivorous animals, but taking note of where and how the young were "eaten" will often explain the problem. "Poor maternal instincts" is actually quite rare in rabbits and the rabbit is often misunderstood. Letís examine some of these problems:

Eating Babies: Rabbits stress very easily and giving birth is an extremely stressful occasion for humans and animals alike. However, rabbits are often so stressed that they simply donít "pay attention" to what they are doing when delivering. If a baby has been "eaten," it will be important to take note of the location of the eaten portion on its body. If it was eaten in the abdomen (belly), this usually occurs as a result of the doe chewing off the umbilical cord, whereupon she simply bit "too deeply." If the head is chewed, the most likely cause was her attempt to remove pieces of the caul that stuck to the babyís head. Missing ears, legs, and appendages that have been obviously bitten off are the result of the doe attempting to help her young to be born by pulling them out with her teeth. Unfortunately, her teeth are too sharp for performing this deed. This will often happen with first-time does, but they learn from it and it rarely happens on later litters unless she has a difficult delivery.

Stomping and Urinating on Babies: "Stomping" on their young is something does might do accidently if the doe perceives as a threat to her and her young. Predators, loud or unusual noises, small children, rodents, etc., can cause a doe to jump into the nest box to protect her young. However, in her anxiety, she "thumps" to warn others of danger...and accidentally stomps her own fragile babies. Likewise, urinating on the young is a protective measure to camoflage the scent of her babies from predators. In such cases, the doe and her litter need to be moved to a more secure location.

Letting Babies Die: "Neglecting," or "letting the babies die" may be a physical problem due to inability of the milk to descend for feeding the young. This is a fairly common problem, and rest assured, the doe did not neglect her babies on purpose! Likewise, a lack of providing the proper bedding for her nest can result in the babies dying of hypothermia. Most rabbit breeders will breed more than one doe at a time in order to be able to "foster out" the babies from a doe whose milk failed to descend. A newborn rabbit that has been fed will be noticeably plump.

In the event there are no other rabbits with young to foster a litter to, the young may be hand-fed. However, this is an extremely difficult and time consuming chore and is often unsuccessful. Once the babies are fully furred, the survival rates increase dramatically.

Milk Substitute for Newborns

One of the best "formulas" to use for hand-feeding newborn baby rabbits is canned goats milk, often available in local supermarkets. Simply use it full strength as it comes from the can without diluting and warm it slightly as you would for any baby. Feeding the young is risky, at best, due to the danger of asphyxiating the baby by squeezing the bulb on a medicine dropper, which forces the milk into the lungs. Extreme care must be taken when hand feeding.

Another method is to simply pour a thin layer of the warmed goats milk into an inverted gallon-sized jar lid and allow the baby to wallow in it. Messy, but effective. Each baby must have its genitals wiped with a damp, warm cloth after feeding to encourage urination. A mother doe generally performs this chore by licking the babyís genitals while nursing.

Conclusion

In conclusion, this is basically what can be expected with a doe and her offspring. We ask that you not purposely breed your pet rabbit unless you already have people willing to take the babies when weaned in order to eliminate the overpopulation of unwanted and abandoned rabbits. Likewise, there is very little market for "mixed breed" rabbits, which makes them much harder to find homes for.

Enjoy your baby bunnies!


 
 

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