Breed Netherland dwarf
Sire B Berry's Merlin
Dam RS's Luna
DOB 14 Dec 2011
total kits 4
Glorious day--your doe has kindled (given birth). The chances of you ever actually watching your rabbits giving birth are very slim. They'll just wait till you leave before giving birth - they can do that, you know.
Me? At this point I’m dying of curiosity.
- Are all the kits alive and healthy?
- How many new kits in the nest box?
- Is the doe taking care of them?
- Can I safely check, or handle, the kits?
Amazing events, are rabbits giving birth. Let’s answer these questions, because after your rabbit kindles, you need to ensure the doe and the kits are all fine.
Are the baby rabbits all alive and healthy?
You need to know, because if there’s a dead kit in the nest, and there might be, you'll need to remove them before they start rotting, smelling and attracting flies.
There could also be a few stray placentas laying around. The doe usually eats them. This apparently increases the correct hormones that she will need for making milk. But if you find any in the nest, and you might if the litter is large, then just pull them out and throw them away. The doe will have nothing to do with it, once she's finished with giving birth and feeding the babies their first 'meal.'
Rabbit kits are born with their eyes and ears sealed shut, and completely furless. Don’t be alarmed at how they look - it'll take them a couple weeks for the fur to grow in enough to keep them warm outside the nest box.
How many newborn rabbits are there?
Imagine rabbits giving birth to 15 babies! A rabbit litter can number anywhere from 1, all the way to 15. Yes, a couple of our does have kindled 15 kits. No, they didn’t all survive, sadly.
It's just as difficult, rabbits giving birth to just 1 kit. Chances rise that it freezes to death, even in the nest. But one of my does, who had just one kit, sat in her nest and helped keep the little one warm. Smart doe, I thought.
There are ways to help rabbits giving birth to more kits than she can handle. Your outcomes will improve if you remove a few of the babies from the nest, perhaps fostering them to those rabbits giving birth to just a few kits. This gives the stronger kits a better chance at a good start in life, and the weaker ones a better chance at survival.
Here’s how I do it: I let nature take its course for a couple days. At the end of, say, 2 days, it becomes evident which of the kits are not strong. The weaker kits will not be getting their fair share of the doe’s milk, and by, say, 2 days, these kits will have thin abdomens.
I will remove the scrawny kits from the nest. the gray bunny has no tummy. You don't want to see such a waist-line! But I'm happy to report that she still managed to get enough milk to do okay. She is still the runt of the litter, but doing very well. She may even turn out to be nice enough to show, once she discovers the delicious rabbit pellets.
Ideally, I reduce the litter size to at most, 10. Sometimes a few more kits become scrawny as well. In this case, the litter might end up numbering around 8. Most does are just fine with 8 kits. That's why I like to have 2 or more rabbits giving birth on the same day. It increases the odds I can foster a few kits to another doe, if necessary.
Is the doe taking care of the baby rabbits?
After rabbits giving birth comes the feeding of the kits, and the doe will likely take excellent care of her babies. But just to be sure, you can check the bellies of the kits. If they have nursed, their little bellies will be round, even distended.
But even if they don’t look full, they might safely go 1 - 2 days before getting a full ‘meal.’ This is probably built into the rabbit as a protective mechanism, since in the wild, the doe might need to stay away from the nest for a while to avoid leading predators to her kits.
Which brings up an important observation for domestic rabbit breeders: Mother rabbits only ever feed their kits once a day, rarely twice, and that for just 5 to 10 minutes. In this short time frame, the kits get their whole day’s milk supply. So, if you never see the doe go near the nest box, but the little kits have round tummies, everything is fine. You don’t need to help nature along. The doe is doing her job while you’re in bed asleep.
Can I safely check on the kits?
What a crazy lot of conflicting information there is on this point!
The answer is: Yes. Here’s how it works:
The doe has spent her 10 minutes in the nest at 11 pm at night. You come along in the morning and check on the kits. Even if you come along in the evening, you can still follow these steps.
- Give the doe a handful of hay or whole oats (or other favorite treat). This distracts the doe.
- Remove the nest box from the cage and place on a flat surface.
- Move the mound of fur aside. If you see any dead baby rabbits or placentas, remove them.
- Reach down into the deeper recesses of the burrow and pull out all the kits, counting each one.
- Place them on top of the shavings in front of the burrow, one by one, where you can see them.
- Observe that there are no dead kits in the back, down in their little sleeping burrow, and if there is, remove them.
- Check that each kit has a full tummy and seems healthy. If the litter is large, there may be one or two whose bellies are not as full as the others, however hopefully they will have had at least some milk, and you can make a note to recheck in a day.
- Replace the kits where you found them. Some may have already crawled back down into their burrow. Mound the fur where you found it, over top of the burrow.
- Put the nest box back into the cage.The doe will come check it out. She might hop in the nest and feed her babies, but chances are better that she won’t return to her babies until late at night.
- In the meantime, the kits will pick up the scent of their nest again, and lose your scent.
- If your doe knows you and your scent, and is comfortable with you, the chance is very great that she’ll be completely unimpressed by your scent on the nest box. I have NEVER had a doe reject her litter because I checked the nest box.
- If you have doubts, for example, if you acquired a pregnant doe who is unfamiliar to your home, if you never handle the doe, or if you know your doe is skittish or highstrung, then put a dab of vanilla extract on her nose. She won’t be able to smell anything else for a while, they tell me. You can check the kits safely, and they will lose your scent by the time she goes back into the nest to feed them.