If you are new to rabbits you may be lost after your rabbit gives birth for the first time. Your first litter of rabbits can be very overwhelming if you have no prior rabbit experience. But, keeping them alive and helping them thrive is fairly simple due to the mother’s natural instincts.
Once your rabbit gives birth, kits will need to be warmed up if they are cold. You will also need to tuck them into a nest if they were born outside a nesting box. After they are settled in their nest you will need to make sure they are all alive and fed each day. You should keep good records about the litter as they age.
Were the Kits Born in a Nest?
Hopefully, if you knew your rabbit was pregnant, she was provided with a nest box. Even if your rabbit did have a nest box, she may kindle (give birth) outside of the box. This can be due to being young or inexperienced. Everbreed’s Rabbit Breeding Basics article goes deeper into the steps you should take before breeding your rabbits. These steps will help them to be more successful.
Kits can quickly become chilled if your rabbit gives birth outside of the nest. Rabbits are born with little to no fur and they are not able to regulate their body temperature until they start growing their coat. If you find your kits outside of the nest box you will immediately want to check if they are warm or cold.
Warming Up Cold Kits
Kits may appear dead if they are cold, but this is not always the case. A common saying in the rabbit world is, “kits are not dead until they’re warm and dead”. When kits become chilled they do not move. But, often these kits can be warmed up and “come back to life” if they are found early enough.
Below, you will find three ways to warm up chilled kits in case your rabbit gives birth outside of a nest box.
The easiest, and quickest way to get kits warmth is skin-to-skin contact. You can do this by placing the kits inside your shirt or bra. This method can always be used temporarily while you prepare another method so that the kits can begin warming.
This is likely the most common method of warming kits. You will fill a bowl with warm water (not hot – heating the kits too quickly can harm them). Then, you place the kits in a plastic bag, leave the bag open, and clip the bag to the side of the bowl so that it stays upright. You will leave the kits in the bag until they are wiggly.
You can also use a heating pad to warm up kits, but it is important to make sure it is not too hot. A blanket or towel can be wrapped around the kits to give them a little insulation between them and the heating pad.
Tucking the Kits Into a Nest
After the kits are warm and wiggly they will need to go into a nest. There are numerous options available for nest boxes and nesting materials.
The Nest Box
In simple terms, you just need a box that will keep the kits together and is big enough that the doe (mother) can go inside to feed them.
If you do not have many rabbits, a quick fix for a nest box is a cardboard box with the top removed. You will need to make sure the walls are not too high so that the doe can easily get inside. The walls should also not be short enough that the kits can wiggle out. Your doe’s size will determine the ultimate height of the walls.
There are many commercial options available that will last longer than a cardboard box, and they can be reused multiple times. Wood and metal are the most common materials that these boxes are made out of.
You will want to make sure that you have a way to sanitize the nest boxes if you will be reusing them. Metal is usually the best option for this. Commercial nest boxes typically have a little bit of a roof that the doe can use to rest, away from the kits, when they begin to adventure outside of the nest.
After your rabbit gives birth, the kits will need something to keep them warm inside the nest. You have quite a few options for nesting materials.
Straw and hay are typical nesting materials and they each have their pros and cons. Hay allows the kits to start nibbling as they get old enough to eat hard food. But, hay also doesn’t soak up moisture as well.
Breeders who use straw as nesting material sometimes add hay as the kits start getting old enough to nibble. Straw soaks up moisture better than hay.
If you do not have straw or hay you can use wool, pieces of cotton or fleece, and wood shavings (avoid cedar shavings). Whatever you choose to use, you will need to make sure the pieces are small enough that the kits cannot get them wrapped around their neck and suffocate.
Keeping the Nest Clean
The kits must stay dry, because again they cannot regulate their body temperature and moisture will quickly chill them. Some breeders will add a layer of wood shavings beneath their nesting material to help soak up moisture.
You will want to check the nest for moisture every few days and switch out nesting materials as needed. Some nesting materials will spoil quicker than others.
Touching the Kits After Your Rabbit Gives Birth
It is a common misconception that a doe will abandon her kits if they are touched, but this is not true!
Counting the Kits
Kits should be counted every day to ensure none have died. A dead kit will quickly chill the nest and can kill the other kits. Not to mention, if it is hot when the kits are born a dead kit will start decomposing soon after death and this can also kill the other kits.
Making Sure the Kits Are Fed After Your Rabbit Gives Birth
Rabbits only feed their kits once or twice a day, so you will be lucky if you get to see your doe feeding her kits. Fed kits will have round bellies and not look skinny. If you check the kits in the middle of the day they may appear skinny, so it is best to check in the morning or evening, around feeding times.
Keeping Good Records
No matter what you are breeding rabbits for, it is important to keep good records after your rabbit gives birth. These records will come in especially handy if you are looking to sell the kits or make them breeders in the future, and they are overall useful for assessing health.
Weighing kits does not just have to do with raising rabbits for meat, although it is a large part of raising meat rabbits.
By frequently weighing your kits after your rabbit gives birth you can ensure that they are gaining weight. Healthy kits will continually gain weight as they age.
Everbreed offers effortless weight tracking and generates production reports so you can compare kit, litter, and doe performance.
If you notice anything odd or abnormal about a kit you should make note of it so you can keep an eye on it as it grows. You may make note of a kit with deformities or one that seems overly skinny. The kit’s ear can be marked if there are multiple kits of the same color.
Everbreed’s litter tracking allows you to make notes for specific kits and entire litters. These notes can be referenced at any time from the Everbreed mobile app.
Even experienced rabbit breeders can sometimes be surprised with unexpected litters since it can be difficult to determine if rabbits are pregnant. After your rabbit gives birth, you will need to make sure the kits are warm and tuck them into a nest with appropriate nesting materials.
As the kits grow it is important to check on them daily, making sure they are all accounted for and fed. Keeping good records is influential in deciding breeder viability in the future and assessing overall health. Everbreed offers software to simplify all of your record keeping and it is always available, right on your phone.