Breeding rabbits can be amazing but it can also be emotionally draining. The first thing to note is that many baby rabbits (kittens) do not live past the weaning stage. It’s not unusual for a whole litter of baby rabbits to die, especially if it’s the first litter for a rabbit mother. And the mother is also at risk of problems during pregnancy and birth.
So, you can see why it’s important to think carefully about breeding rabbits.
Can you deal with the emotional issues? Why do you want to breed rabbits? Do you have anyone to take the baby rabbits off your hands when they are old enough? This last point is really important as there is no point in bringing unwanted animals into the world.
If you’re sure that you want to go ahead with breeding rabbits then you need to know about the whole process. Read on to find out more…
How to breed rabbits
Choosing the right buck and doe to breed
One of the main reasons that people breed rabbits is to improve the stock they have. If you show your bunnies, or you would like to, then breeding rabbits can improve your chances of winning prizes.
For example, if you have a female rabbit (doe) that has a longer muzzle than you want, you can breed her with a male rabbit (buck) that has a shorter muzzle. The aim is to get baby rabbits that have improved features.
If you are new to keeping and showing rabbits then it’s sometimes difficult to know what needs improvement. It’s a good idea to ask for comments from show judges and experienced breeders. Remember to ask a few different people as they may all have different points to make.
Remember that you need to wait until the buck and the doe are sexually mature before you can start the breeding process. This can be at anywhere between three and six months but generally it’s best to wait until the bunnies are six months old.
Being prepared for breeding rabbits
Once you know which rabbits you’re going to breed you need to make sure you’re prepared for the birth. This may sound like you’re doing things a little back to front as the bunnies haven’t even mated yet. The thing is that once the mating has happened it’s too late to change the date the babies will arrive. This is why you need to plan and make sure you’ll be available to provide a nesting site and supervision when the birth happens.
The good thing about rabbits is that they are pretty reliable when it comes to expected birth dates. A rabbit pregnancy lasts 31 days and most litters of baby rabbits are born spot on the 31 days. Sometimes litters do arrive a couple of days early or late so make sure you take account of this in your plans.
Before you breed your bunnies you also need to make sure that they are both healthy and clean and that their nails are clipped.
There are different methods of mating rabbits but generally the best thing to do is to place the doe into the buck’s cage. Never put the buck into the doe’s cage as female rabbits are very defensive of their cage space.
Once the rabbits are together, you will need to keep a close eye on them. Breeding rabbits may take time but the mating sometimes doesn’t. Turn away for a second and you might miss it! This is important because if you don’t realise that the doe is pregnant there can be problems, as baby rabbits come along unexpectedly.
Once the mating has taken place the female bunny should be moved back to her own cage.
How to tell if a female rabbit is pregnant
Once you know that the buck and doe have mated, and the doe has been returned to her own cage, you can leave her alone for a while.
After 11-14 days have passed you should place the female rabbit on a table, facing towards you. You then need to place your thumb on one side of the bunny’s abdomen and your fingers on the other.
Moving your fingers around you should be able to start to feel tiny pea sized formations; these are the baby rabbits or kittens (you will sometimes see this name shortened to kits). This process is called palpating.
Providing a nest
Once your female rabbit’s pregnancy is nearing its end you need to provide a nest box for her. There are many different types of box available and the type you choose is up to you.
Of course, you also need to provide nesting material which should mostly be hay, with maybe some straw and shavings included.
The nest box should be put into the rabbit’s cage around three days before the babies are due.
Taking care of baby rabbits
Hopefully, the end result of breeding rabbits is a litter of healthy babies.
It’s very important that baby rabbits are kept warm. This should happen naturally if the nest has been built well, but you still need to watch that the temperature of the nest is 100 degrees Fahrenheit.
Once the babies are 2-3 weeks old you can think about removing the nest box from the cage. When you do this often depends on how warm it is in the room. After you remove the box you can leave nesting materials for a while to help the babies get used to their new environment.
After seven weeks the doe can be removed from the cage and the baby rabbits can be weaned. It’s a good idea to keep the babies together for a few more days so they don’t have too much stress at once.
And there you have it: the process of breeding rabbits! You don’t have to breed your pets, of course. Rabbit breeding is mostly done by professional breeders who sell rabbits and by people who show their rabbits. However, if you do decide to breed rabbits then make sure you have done as much research as possible and that you are ready for all the highs and lows of bringing new baby bunnies into the world.