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How to Take Care of a Pregnant Rabbit

If you own a pregnant doe (a female rabbit), you will need to know how to take care of her before, during, and after her pregnancy. It's important to be aware of what is needed to ensure both her health and the safe delivery of her babies.


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    Check if your rabbit is pregnant. Medium to large size rabbits are sexually mature at 4 to 4.5 months, while giant breeds are ready at 6 to 9 months.[1] If your female rabbit is at this stage of maturity and you have reason to suspect that she has been breeding, then check for pregnancy as follows. A pregnancy can be detected between 10 to 14 days after mating, with 12 days being optimal;[2] between these days, the fetuses will start to grow rapidly, causing them to be detectable by touch, and they will feel like the size of grapes.[3] Be gentle when feeling for them! Be aware that false pregnancy is common in rabbits,[4] so even if you find all the signs, you are probably best checking in with your vet as well. These are some of the other signs that your rabbit is pregnant:
    • In the third week, your doe may begin to show increased abdomen size. You may also see slight movement.
    • She starts to have mood swings and is easily annoyed. She may also not want to be held or stroked. Your doe may begin growling at you or act differently towards you. She may begin resting on her side more to deal with discomfort of the growing kits engorging her abdomen space.
    • When there are around two to three days left of pregnancy, she will begin nesting. This typically consists of her pulling out her fur.
    • Note that none of these signs alone are sufficient to diagnose pregnancy. Rabbits do have false pregnancies due to hormonal fluctuations,[5] they can also gain weight and dig in the bowls for other reasons. And conversely, many pregnant does show no signs of pregnancy until a few minutes before they are ready to kindle.
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    Expect the pregnancy of your doe to run for 31 to 33 days.[6] It is possible that a doe with a smaller litter (say four kits or less) will have a slightly longer pregnancy than a doe with a litter that is larger than four. The main concern is to know the start of the pregnancy (you may need your vet's help), as the time of birthing should not go beyond 32 days, in which case your doe needs to see the vet promptly.[7] Without inducing labor after day 32, a litter of dead kits is likely by day 34.[8]
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    Provide proper and complete nutrition for your doe during pregnancy. Your doe will need special changes to her diet to ensure that she is getting adequate nutrition; a doe with nutritional deficiencies may abort or reabsorb the fetuses.[9] Due to her carrying more weight, she will need extra nutrition to her eating habits. Provide her with high quality food along with fresh, clean unlimited amounts of water.
    • Slowly make changes to her diet (rabbits should always experience gradual dietary changes[10]) to include foods like: carrots, celery, cucumber, lettuce, rabbit pellets, stacks of hay, tomatoes, parsley. A diet of alfalfa hay instead of grass hay should be instituted, as well as offering more rabbit pellets than normal.[11] Ensure access to clean water at all times.
    • As she is pregnant, her body will be demanding more. Mix up the vegetables above into a salad with a bowl of water.
    • A couple of days before delivery, cut back on food but not water.[12] Doing so will mean that your doe will have a less chance of experiencing medical problems such as mastitis and ketosis.[13] Cut the diet down to fifty percent of normal amount two days before the expected birth date.[14]
    • Once over, gradually go back to her normal diet and she should be back to normal within one to two weeks of kindling.[15]
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    Provide your doe with a nest box. A nest box is where she will give birth and take care of her young. The nest box is essential because kits are born naked, blind, and deaf and have no ability to regulate their own temperature until day 7.[16] Nest boxes can be purchased from pet stores, and should at least 4 inches (10cm) wider and longer than the doe. The nest box should be provided to your doe 26 days into her gestation period.[17]
    • Your doe will pick fur from her own body (dewlap, belly, and thighs) for her nest box,[18][19] but you can help her by providing her with straw and paper.
    • If you decide to build your own nesting box, use clean wood, but never use plywood or particle board, as these products contain high concentrations of formaldehyde, which is toxic and can cause not only epithelial respiratory drying, but also permanent respiratory passage and neurological damage.
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    Be aware of the possible problems associated with a rabbit pregnancy. Forewarned is always forearmed and you're better at preventing problems if you know what might crop up. With a pregnant rabbit, the following problems can arise:
    • Mastitis – This is an inflammation of the mammary glands found on the rabbit's belly. At the time of being about to deliver, your doe's mammary glands will fill with milk for feeding the kits. Mastitis occurs if bacteria gets into the milk duct and travels into the mammary gland. This can occur as a result of a poorly formed gland (talk to your vet about checking your doe's glands prior to birth), or because she is in an unhygienic environment (ensure that her bedding, her nest, her housing, etc., are impeccably clean and non-abrasive).[20] The real tragedy is that an infected gland that is not caught in time will pass infected milk on to the kits and they'll die.[21] Check the doe every day post-birth to see any signs of swelling or redness, indicators of possible mastitis; if the mammary glands are blue, then the infection is very severe.[22] Other signs include refusing to drink and eat, running a fever, and appearing depressed.[23] Get her straight to the vet as she needs immediate antibiotic care.
    • Pregnancy toxemia – This can occur in a doe that has not received adequate nutrition during pregnancy (and false pregnancy), so it is important to ensure that your doe gets a high energy diet for late pregnancy, that she does not fast, and that she does not get obese.[24] It can occur either late in pregnancy or after delivery and occurs most in Dutch, Polish, and English rabbit breeds.[25] The symptoms include acting depressed, weakness, lack of coordination, and convulsions.[26] If left untreated, she can die within hours, so get her to the vet immediately for treatment with an IV drip and dextrose.[27]
    • Killing her young – Some does will kill and eat their young.[28] The reasons for this vary and it pays to remove any possible reasons: ensure that the nesting area is warm at all times, remove kits that fail to nurse, keep the nest clean, and keep other pets (especially dogs) away from the nest to reduce the doe's nervousness.[29] Do not use a rabbit for breeding if she kills two litters in a row.[30]
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    Know what to expect at the birth (kindling). You should have a good idea of your rabbit's gestation period, either because you know from breeding timing, or you have consulted with your vet and got an agreed date of expected delivery. Some things to be aware of when your doe is giving birth include:
    • Kindling usually occurs in the morning.[31]
    • Most rabbit births occur quickly, born head or feet first. However, some labor can continue for a day or two, before all kits have arrived.[32]
    • Dystocia, or a problem giving birth, is not usual with rabbits, so you probably won't need to help her give birth. Do be sure that the area is quiet, free of anything that could make her nervous, such as noise, other pets, unusual lights, too much heat or cold, etc. Anything that causes her to be too excited or threatened can bring her to harm or eat her kits.
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    Once all kits are born, check to see if everything is fine. Make sure they are healthy, breathing and drinking their mother's milk. A litter can contain up to a dozen kits. Once born, the dam will nurse them, but not continuously. Provide her with continuous fresh water as it's vital for a nursing rabbit.
    • It can be fun having newborn rabbits, but do not disturb the dam or the kits. Disturbing them can stress and frighten them.
    • Wait a couple hours, then offer your doe a favourite treat to keep her occupied while you check the kits. Remove any dead kits, as they can rot and infect the healthy ones. Once done, cover them back up with nesting material and leave them be.
    • If you find that there are more kits than the nipples (8 to 10 nipples), they can be fostered in the first three days to a doe with a smaller litter.[33] Just be sure to cover them with the fur from the new doe to get them accepted, and try moving the stronger, larger kits to increase the success of the transfer.[34] Unfortunately, raising kits by hand tends to have a high death rate.[35][36]
    • Does will nurse only once to twice daily, with each kit getting about three minutes of feeding time.[37]
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    Take care of the kits and the doe together. Kits will nurse at least until about 4 to 5 weeks,[38] as which point they are weaned by the doe slowing down her milk production. Keep an eye on the doe's general health and the manner in which she interacts with her kits. If there is any aggressive behavior, deal with it as needed or call your vet to discuss. Some things to bear in mind with new kits:[39]
    • Kits with a sunken stomach are not getting enough milk; a full stomach is a sign of proper feeding.
    • Some people recommend not to touch newborn rabbits as they will get the human scent on them and the dam will eat them out of fear or rejection. This is a myth! Domestic rabbits are already used to the smell and presence of humans. Most importantly,you should handle a kit if it falls out of the nest, as she won't try to put it back in.
    • Upon opening their eyes at about 10 days of age, check for eyes stuck shut or for infections.
    • Until the age of 8 months, keep kits fed on rabbit pellets.
    • Leave the kits with mother until 6-7 weeks of age. At this point, if the litter is large, you can remove the largest pair or trio and place them in their own cage. This will give a chance to the smaller ones to nurse for a week longer and catch up in weight.
    • Kits should all be removed from mother by 8 weeks, as the doe may get nippy at them and try to shake them off. This also gives the kit a chance to explore its new environment.
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    Find suitable homes for the kits. Whether or not the breeding was intentional, it's important to find a good home for the rabbit babies. If the pregnancy was accidental, take all precautions to prevent impregnation again in the future; the phrase "to breed like rabbits" isn't a cliché without good reason and there is such an over-abundance of rabbits in the world that human-caused additions are not helping. Consider getting your does spayed and your bucks neutered to prevent future "surprise" pregnancies, if this one was such. If re-breeding for showing, as pets, or other purposes, it is best to wait 35 to 42 days after the birth of the initial litter, to give her time to recuperate and care for her current litter.[40] For information on breeding rabbits, see How to breed rabbits for more information.
    • Be aware! Re-breeding can occur any time from 72 hours after your doe has given birth![41] This means taking care to keep her away from male rabbits from the moment of birth.


  • Most kindling births happen at late night or early morning. It can last for up to 2 days. Birth problems are rare in rabbits.
  • When the time is near, don't disturb your doe. She will need a peaceful environment while delivering.
  • An average litter size will be 7 to 8 kits but can range anywhere from one to 22.[42]
  • Remove any other rabbits while the doe is pregnant, especially if they are male.
  • Make sure to keep a schedule of when you last bred the rabbits so you won't be surprised if and when she gives birth again.
  • There is a lot involved in raising a litter, especially if you've opted to raise any by hand. Do some thorough research so that you're aware of all the issues from food to handling.
  • Separate the buck and the doe.
  • Be on the lookout for predators. Place chicken wire or extra fencing around your garden to detour unwanted predators.
  • Usually a mother will make nest in a tight space and most likely behind something big like a rock.
  • Kits are also known as kittens.
  • Remember, it's very stressful being a mother, give her space!
  • If you are purposely breeding rabbits, which you shouldn't do, only leave the doe in with the buck for 30 minutes and always put the doe in the bucks cage.


  • Do not check until all kits are safely born and rabbit has recovered from delivery.
  • If your doe experiences medical problems, contact your vet quickly.
  • Breeding of any animal should not be taken lightly; it is a huge responsibility to look after a breeding animal and its offspring. Do not breed rabbits unless you really know what you're doing and have good reasons as to why bringing more rabbits into the world through your attentions is a worthwhile pursuit. Rabbits are perfectly capable of breeding without human intervention, and often human involvement weakens the rabbit bloodline by keeping the weaker animals, inter-breeding with closely related rabbits, and breeding rabbits too often, taking a big toll on the breeding does.[43]
  • Rapid changes to a rabbit's diet are dangerous because they change the rabbit's intestinal environment and the rapid changes in intestinal flora that help the rabbit to digest her food can end up being toxic.[44]

Things You'll Need

  • Nest box
  • Suitable food
  • Fresh water at all times
  • Attention

Sources and Citations

  1. Merck/Merial, Manual for Pet Health, p. 992, (2007), ISBN 978-0-911910-88-5
  2. Merck/Merial, Manual for Pet Health, p. 992, (2007), ISBN 978-0-911910-88-5
  3. Merck/Merial, Manual for Pet Health, p. 992, (2007), ISBN 978-0-911910-88-5
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