The arrival of a new litter of baby rabbits brings excitement along with important responsibilities for any rabbit owner. However, new rabbit mothers may struggle to care for their young properly. Sadly, in some cases, maternal rabbits may even resort to eating their own babies. This distressing event can occur for a variety of reasons rooted in the rabbit’s natural instincts. While disheartening, rabbit owners should not be quick to judge or re-home a mother who consumes her offspring. With some adjustments to diet, environment, and monitoring, many does can go on to become very attentive mothers. This article will dive into the possible causes of cannibalism and provide tips to help prevent rabbit moms from eating their babies. With time and the right habitat, rabbits can successfully raise healthy litters.
Why Do Rabbits Eat Their Babies?
It can be very upsetting for rabbit owners to discover that their doe has eaten some or all of her litter. However, it’s important to understand the reasons behind this behavior, which is actually quite common in the wild. There are several possible reasons a mother rabbit may engage in cannibalism:
One of the most common reasons is that the doe is feeling stressed or anxious. Having babies is stressful for rabbits, especially first-time mothers. The presence of predators, loud noises, too much activity around her nest, or an uncomfortable environment can all make a doe feel threatened. This stress triggers her instinct to “clean house” and eliminate anything that may attract predators to her nest. Unfortunately, this includes eating her babies.
If a nursing doe is not getting proper nutrition, she may eat her babies to recoup some of her lost energy reserves. This is especially common in young, first-time mothers but can happen to any doe who is undernourished. Be sure your rabbit has unlimited access to good quality hay and pellets formulated for lactating does. Fresh vegetables and clean water are also important.
In some cases, the doe may not recognize her babies as her own offspring. This can happen if the babies are born deaf or blind and thus do not respond to the doe’s cues. It may also occur if the babies have a different scent due to human handling. Some does are more prone to this than others.
An ill doe may eat her litter because she senses something is wrong with them. Maternal instinct tells her to remove unhealthy babies from the nest. Diseases, birth defects, injuries, or weak, underdeveloped babies can all elicit this response. It’s not the doe’s fault; she is just following her natural mothering instincts.
Too much noise, light, motion, or interference with the nest can make the doe feel that it’s an unsafe environment for her babies. She may eat them to protect them from perceived danger. Be calm and quiet around the nesting area. Don’t touch the babies unless absolutely necessary.
First-time does often make mistakes in caring for their litters. They may not properly make a nest, feed their babies, or respond to their needs. If neglected, the babies can die and prompt the doe to eat them. Older, experienced does make better mothers.
Very rarely, the doe may accidentally crush or scratch a baby while leaping into or out of the nest. In this case, she will eat the deceased baby to keep predators away. It’s not intentional harm, just clumsiness or poor nest placement.
So in most cases, rabbits eat their young because they’re responding appropriately to a perceived threat or their maternal instincts tell them something is wrong. While unsettling, try not to judge the doe too harshly. The best solution is focusing on creating a low-stress, comfortable environment for raising happy, healthy litters.
Should I Remove My Rabbit’s Babies?
Many owners wonder if they should remove a litter from the doe after she has eaten some or all of a previous litter. There are pros and cons to removing babies:
Reasons to Remove Babies
– Preventing the doe from eating the current litter
– Monitoring babies’ health and care when doe cannot be trusted
– Allowing doe’s health to improve before next litter
– Evaluating doe’s mothering capability before re-breeding
– Finding another doe to foster if original doe has poor mothering skills
Reasons Not to Remove Babies
– Removing litter can further stress the doe
– Doe’s mothering may improve with experience
– Doe and babies both benefit from nursing relationship
– Hand-feeding babies is time consuming and has health risks
– Foster does may reject or injure unfamiliar babies
There are many factors to consider when deciding whether to remove pups. Much depends on why the doe ate her litter in the first place.
If malnutrition or health problems are an issue, give the doe a chance to recover before re-breeding. Correct any environmental stressors and monitor the next litter closely.
However, immediately removing babies should not be a knee-jerk reaction. Does, especially young ones, often become better mothers with experience. Have patience, minimize disturbances, and watch her behavior closely before removing litters.
Only remove babies if there are definite signs of danger or you have an alternate doe to foster them. Hand-feeding should be a last resort as mortality rates increase. Work on creating a secure, comforting environment for your doe rather than disrupting the litter.
Why Does My Rabbit Keep Killing Her Babies?
It can be deeply troubling to have a doe who keeps killing and eating litter after litter. However, there are some common reasons why this may occur:
She is stressed
As discussed earlier, stress is a major factor in cannibalism. Even if she is killing multiple litters, the root cause is likely environmental stressors. Loud environments, frequent disruptions, improper housing, over-handling babies, perceived threats, lack of privacy, uncomfortable temperatures, hunger, and poor health can all cause chronic stress.
She is inexperienced
Young first-time mothers often make mistakes, accidentally killing their offspring. As they mature and kindle more litters, many does learn proper care and stop killing their babies. Older does usually have lower infanticide rates.
The babies have health issues
If babies are born sickly, injured, or with deformities, the doe may consistently cull them from her litter out of instinct. Try improving care of both parents before breeding. Check for illness and genetic issues.
Poor maternal drive
Some does unfortunately lack strong natural mothering instincts, even after multiple litters. These does may regularly neglect or injure their young. It may be advisable to stop breeding a doe who continues to kill despite removing stressors and improving conditions.
She is territorial
In rarer cases, an overly territorial doe may attack and kill older kits that venture outside her nest. This usually only happens when the litter is 3-8 weeks old. House the doe and litter alone, minimizing contact with other rabbits.
Don’t immediately re-home or cull a doe for repeatedly killing litters. Eliminate stress factors, improve her health, give her time to mature, and closely monitor for improvement. See if she successfully raises a litter first before making dire decisions. Continuous killing, however, may indicate it’s time to retire her from breeding.
How Can I Prevent My Rabbit from Eating Her Babies?
If your doe has eaten her young before, there are steps you can take to help prevent it from happening again:
Keep the doe’s environment peaceful and minimize loud noises, bright lights, children/pets interfering with her nest, excessive handling of babies, etc. Let her kindle in an enclosed, dark, cozy nest box.
Ensure proper nutrition
Feed a high quality diet with plenty of hay, vegetables, pellets and clean water. Give extra calories and protein during pregnancy and nursing. Correct any vitamin deficiencies.
Clean the cage thoroughly
Remove urine, feces, and old nesting materials. Provide fresh, soft bedding in the nest box. Thoroughly wash food bowls and water bottles.
Avoid human scent on babies
Handling newborn kits can impart your scent. Use gloves and minimize handling for the first week or more.
Check babies’ health
Look for birth defects, injuries, weakness, runts, etc. Remove any deceased babies immediately.
Provide nesting material
Give the doe plenty of hay, fur, shredded paper, cotton, or other soft materials to build a nest. This stimulates natural nesting behavior.
Monitor from a distance
Watch the doe periodically from outside the cage for the first few days. Look for signs of lactating, feeding, comfort with babies. Intervene if you see problems.
Separate late-term pregnant does
Housing them alone will avoid territorial fighting. Re-introduce the mother and babies to the group after 4-8 weeks.
Avoid disturbing the nest
Don’t move or handle the babies. Leave food near the nest so the doe doesn’t have to leave. Don’t destroy or rearrange her nest.
Proper care, minimizing stressors, resisting interference with the litter, and addressing any underlying health issues in the mother will go a long way toward preventing tragic losses of baby bunnies. Be vigilant but patient, and allow nature to run its course in bonding mother and offspring.
Will a Male Rabbit Eat His Babies?
Male rabbits (bucks) have little natural involvement with their offspring and are generally unlikely to eat baby rabbits. Here are some considerations:
– Wild bucks do not participate in rearing young at all. The doe prepares the nest alone, gives birth, and cares for the litter solo.
– Domestic bucks are separated from the pregnant doe well before she kindles. They have no access to interact with babies.
– Even when given access, most bucks ignore kits or avoid the nesting area altogether. They do not have the same strong maternal instincts.
– Bucks are not driven by hormonal fluctuations, nutritional demands, or maternal stressors that sometimes lead does to eat litters.
– A buck may nibble or lick newborn babies out of curiosity but is extremely unlikely to actually consume his offspring.
– Experienced rabbit breeders very rarely report incidents of male rabbits eating babies. It’s considered an anomalous behavior if it occurs at all.
– Adult bucks are generally gentle with kits and may even help watch over them as they grow older.
– A female rabbit is much more likely to cannibalize babies than a male rabbit in almost all circumstances.
So while strange situations can occur in animal behavior, there is no evidence that male domestic rabbits pose any threat or tendency to eat their offspring. Does often kill babies due to strong inborn maternal drives, while bucks have no such inclination. Barring very abnormal circumstances, buck rabbits can be trusted not to harm their young.
Do Rabbits Eat Their Babies if You Touch Them?
It’s a common myth that mother rabbits will reject or eat their babies if humans touch them. Here’s why this is very unlikely to happen:
– Wild rabbits only visit their nest once or twice a day to avoid attracting predators. Babies naturally spend most of their time alone and do not need constant attention.
– Nests can be disturbed by predators, weather events, or even the doe’s own clumsiness. The doe is adapted to endure some interference with her nest.
– Rabbit mothers do not rely heavily on scent to identify their offspring. Tactile and auditory signals from the kits are more important bonding cues.
– While extremely loud noises, bright lights, and excessive handling may stress the doe, moderate contact does not cause abandonment or cannibalism.
– An attentive doe can detect the difference between a human’s smell and a true predator’s scent. Your smell alone will not trigger a killing response.
– Even does under some stress have a strong drive to continue nursing babies after humans have visited the nest.
– Baby rabbits are relatively resilient. Brief handling by a human does not physically harm them or remove the doe’s scent.
– If the nest is truly disturbed, a doe may delay returning for an hour or two until she feels it’s safe. But she will return and accept the babies.
While it’s best not to interfere with the nest unnecessarily, don’t panic if you find you must inspect or touch the babies. Just leave minimal human scent, keep handling very brief, and allow the doe’s natural instincts to bring her back to nurse once the area is quiet again. A caring rabbit mother will be forgiving of occasional disturbances to the nest site.
Why Do My Baby Rabbits Keep Disappearing?
It can be baffling and upsetting when newborn rabbits vanish from the nest with no explanation. If litters seem to disappear shortly after kindling, here are some possible reasons:
The doe is eating them
Cannibalism, whether due to stress, health problems, or instinct, is probably the most common cause of disappearing baby rabbits. Review the reasons does may eat their young and take preventative steps.
The babies are dying
Premature babies or those born with deformities or health issues often die quickly. Some does eat deceased babies to hide evidence from predators.
They are leaving the nest prematurely
If the nest is disturbed or feels unsafe, kits may hop away too early and subsequently get into trouble. Make sure the nest stays undisturbed in a suitable spot.
They are falling out of the nest
Newborns can tumble out of sloped, low, or overcrowded nests. Ensure the nest box is deep enough with 4-6 inch walls and ample room.
Predators are taking them
Check for signs of rodents, snakes, or other small predators that may enter the hutch. Guard against openings in the cage walls or foundation.
Hypothermia can take baby rabbits very quickly. Protect litters from drafts, rain, and temperature fluctuations inside the hutch.
Accidents are trapping or crushing them
Rabbits moving around the cage may accidentally injure or kill hidden babies. Check for accidents under flooring or ramps.
They are hidden from view
Kits instinctively scatter and hide when the doe leaves the nest. Look carefully under cage furnishings before assuming babies are gone.
Disappearing babies can be difficult to diagnose. Closely monitor the mother, make the environment predator-proof, and thoroughly but gently search the cage. Look for evidence like blood or unusual doe behavior. Consult an experienced breeder or veterinarian if the cause remains unknown. Don’t assume the worst until all possibilities are explored.
Baby rabbits are extremely fragile and many don’t survive to adulthood, even with excellent care. But don’t give up hope. With close observation of the doe, a stress-reduced environment, proper nutrition, and protections from elements and predators, most does will successfully raise happy, healthy litters. Forego handling the babies until they are 2-3 weeks old, do not disrupt or move the nest, and allow the mother’s natural instincts to guide her, even when things seem dire. Have patience, provide the best possible habitat for your rabbits, and you will likely have the opportunity to see adorable baby bunnies grow up in no time. Just remember, nature can be harsh, but with your help new life will flourish.