If your pet rabbit has gifted you with a litter of babies, congratulations!
If the father (or any male) is housed with the mother, remove him to another cage immediately!
Really, the male and female should not be kept together unless you are looking to breed from them - or they have been neutered or spayed. If they are a breeding pair, they should be separated after mating.
A male in the cage probably won’t hurt the babies though I have personally known one case where he ate them (Ooops!), but he can impregnate the female again before she is physically ready to handle another pregnancy.
A male in the cage can also impregnate any female offspring as soon as they are mature enough.
Prior to giving birth, the mother will pull fur from her chest and stomach to line the nest box. She may also shred papers, gather hay, or rip up carpeting to make a soft, warm lining for her nest.
If the babies are born outside the nest box, or are scattered around the cage, you will need to help the babies. First, make a warming box:
Fill a hot water bottle with warm water. NOT HOT. Wrap it in clean towels and place it in a small box.
Line the box with towels, covering the hot water bottle.
Make a small hollow in the center of the nest and put the babies in the warming nest.
Do not let the babies come into direct contact with the hot water bottle.
Next, make a proper nesting box for the mother and babies. Find a cardboard box or make a wooden box that is slightly larger than the mother rabbit. Pick one side and cut a rounded doorway that is just large enough for the mother to fit through. The doorway should have a lip of at least one inch from the floor to keep the babies from rolling out. Line the bottom of the nesting box with shredded paper or wood shavings, then place a large handful of straw, grass, or hay on top. If you have any shedded fur from the mother rabbit, you can use that to line the center of the nest box.
Once the babies are warm to the touch, you can place them into the new nest. Leave the mother and babies alone in a small, warm, quiet room.
You may be concerned if you don’t see your mother rabbit feeding the babies or rarely spending time with them. Domestic and wild rabbits do not typically lay with their offspring like dogs and cats do. Chances are, the mother rabbit is keeping an eye on her babies from a safe distance. This is perfectly normal!
Rabbits feed their offspring no more than twice per day, and will only feed when they feel safe. So your mother rabbit is probably feeding her kits when the family and other animals in the house are fast asleep! If you want to catch her in the act, try checking in just before dawn or just after dusk. But be careful -- too many humans around the cage will make the mother too nervous to nurse.
A well-fed baby rabbit will have a rounded tummy. Whether you see momma at work or not, a full belly is a sign of a baby that is being cared for. Babies that are not being fed will have sunken tummies and wrinkled skin from dehydration. If you do have dehydrated babies on your hands, give each baby a drop of honey or jam to raise blood sugar and call your vet immediately.
Check to make sure the mother is lactating -- hold her upright or on her back and examine the teats. They should feel slightly swollen, and a light pressure should produce milk. If she is not producing milk or clear fluid, the veterinarian will need to administer a drug to induce lactation.
By approximately ten days of age, the babies’ eyes will open. They will start to eat their mother’s cecotropes (also known as night feces) which are rich in nutrients and help the babies’ stomachs adjust from milk to solid food. As soon as their eyes are open, you can introduce the babies to plain alfalfa pellets and hay. Oat hay, timothy hay, and alfalfa hay are good choices.
Between four and six weeks of age, the mother will begin to wean the babies. By the age of eight weeks, the babies will be ready to leave their mother and go to good homes. Be sure to separate the males and females at this time; male rabbits can be sexually mature at ten weeks.
You may want to consider spaying or neutering the offspring and parents. Did you know that one pair of mature rabbits can produce more than two hundred babies every year? Are you ready to take care of that many rabbits? Altered rabbits are easier to place in adoptive homes and tend to live longer.
Sexing rabbits is not easy, and not always a perfect science! Even veterinarians and other rabbit experts have been mistaken.
Determining the sex of an adult rabbit is somewhat easier than a young rabbit. In adult males, the testicles are large and prominent hairless sacks. In young rabbits, however, males can tuck their testicles in, making them hard to find. And the scent glands on a female rabbit may be mistaken for testicles. If you aren’t sure, check with your veterinarian or local rabbit breeder for a confirmation.
Examining the Babies
You can examine the babies if you choose, but do it sparingly. As long as they are cuddled up in the nest and being fed, you shouldn’t need to disturb them. The best course of action is to avoid handling the babies as much as possible until they are ready to leave the nest box on their own.
If you do want to examine the babies by hand, pet the mother first. This will help hide the human scent of your hands. Avoid wearing heavy scents.