What happens when a rabbit has her first litter of babies?

Written by brenda priddy
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What happens when a rabbit has her first litter of babies?
Mother rabbits often abandon their first litter. (rabbit image by Allyson Ricketts from Fotolia.com)

Baby rabbits are some of the cutest animals on the planet. They are warm, fluffy and cuddly. To get to that point, however, a mother rabbit has to have her first litter. In general, mother rabbits are very bad parents to their first litter. If you try to make the process easier by providing certain amenities to the mother, then the mother may have a higher chance at raising her first litter.

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Preparation

It usually takes 28 to 31 days from conception to birth in rabbit litters. This short gestation time makes it difficult to predict when babies will be born. If you are unaware that the rabbits have mated, you may receive a new batch of babies as a surprise without knowing the mother was even pregnant. Mother rabbits will typically pull fur from their bodies and try to make some kind of nest. In a cage, you can supply the mother with a box to birth her babies in.

Birth

Rabbits typically give birth in the middle of the night. The mother will go off into a private place (if she has the ability to roam), and give birth in secret. Mothers in a cage may give birth in the box, or they may not. Many first time rabbit mothers seem to be taken by surprise by labour, and do not make it to the nest in time. Birth is short, and the mother usually eats the afterbirth. Mothers typically do not eat their babies, however.

Abandonment

Most first time mothers will abandon their babies. They seem to be unable to grasp the concept that they must care for their babies. If the mothers give birth in a cage, they may leave the babies on the floor of the cage to fall through or die. Other mothers may bury the babies inside the nest and refuse to feed them. If you have an experienced mother rabbit birthing at the same time as the first time mother, sometimes the older mother will take on the additional responsibility of the new babies.

Mother Care

The mother rabbit, if she does decide to care for the babies, will feed them once or twice a day. Other than that, she will largely leave the babies alone to their own devices. Since the babies are blind and deaf at birth, there is not much for them to do. Some people believe that the mother does this to protect the babies from her. The mother should be fed a steady diet of rabbit feed, water and some alfalfa. Make sure there are no other rabbits present in the cage at this time.

Human Care

If the mother abandons her babies, there is little that can be done. However, many people want to try and save the babies. It is possible to feed the babies a diet of formula, but their survival rate will still be low. You can either use SMA baby milk, or a rabbit formula sold at pet supply stores. Try to feed the rabbits every two hours, but if they refuse to drink that often you can reduce the number of feedings.

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