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Choosing Your Rabbit

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The New Litter 

Baby rabbits are called kittens and an average litter size is 4-6 although one of my Does had 11 once and another one only ever had 2 or 3 in each litter.

The young are born, usually at night, completely helpless save for their ability to suckle.  They are entirely dependent on the doe who, undisturbed, will tend them admirably.  Understandably she is anxious, and on the defensive, and resents any interference at all.

It is important that you do not disturb the doe or her babies.  Try to restrain your curiosity, at least for the first five days.  If you must take a peek, choose a time when the mother is out of the nest and make it a quick look.  Make sure no light shines on the babies because, at this time, their eyes are highly sensitive.  The doe knows by instinct how to raise her young, and if she is interfered with and someone tries to handle her babies she may disown or even kill them.  This may sound like strange behaviour from a mother who loves her children, but it is not uncommon in the rabbit world.  Your rabbit, no matter how fond she may be of you, is instinctively distrustful during this sensitive period.

In the wild the young rabbits spend their first weeks underground in a nursery burrow, stopped off from the rest of the warren and visited only by the doe for suckling.  In captivity it will be perhaps three weeks before they will emerge voluntarily from their nest in the doe's sleeping compartment, into the daylight.

By this time they are fully furred, with ears and eyes open, and attempting to eat a little solid food.  They will nibble at tender greens and hay, and take some whole meal bread and milk.  Their main nourishment remains their dam's milk, and the doe will continue to suckle until they are at least six weeks old and frequently as long as eight weeks.

At eight weeks the kittens are almost irresistible, with all the perfection of the miniature.  Between now and ten weeks is the best age to buy, when they are such a pleasure to handle that they quickly become tame, and a delight to the whole family.

But, beautiful and endearing as they are, the kittens should be resisted unless one has a mind to keep them imaginatively and well in a rabbit enclosure that allows for physical freedom while keeping them safe.  To reduce these rabbit kittens to mere backyard prisoners is unthinkable.

Don’t be upset or worried if the Doe kills or abandons her first litter. After eight years of breeding I can only count about 5 doe’s that have successfully raised their first litter. All the rest have either killed or abandoned the entire first litter. It seems that they treat the first pregnancy as a ‘trial run’ to 'test the water' – and then realise that it wasn’t so bad after all!

It is difficult to define rules about whether you should peep at the new-born litter or not. I have found that some rabbits don’t mind whereby others will become slightly more aggressive and may ‘go for you’.

I have also found that some rabbits don’t take particularly good care of their young and if I hadn’t intervened the babies may have died. They leave them laying in the middle of the cage or the young bury themselves so far down in the nest that they never get fed. In fact, the sad thing is that when I felt the babies were old enough to clean the cage out for the first time, I have then found dead ones in the bottom of the nest box.

Another thing I found is that when the Doe has a large litter she may separate some off into a separate corner. The first time my Doe did this I put them all back in the nest and she later separated them again. She had 11 babies and I later read that she was probably separating off the weaker of the litter and feeding the others. Out of the 11, 9 survived so she didn’t do too bad!

Sexing rabbit kittens: The males have a round genital opening, and gentle pressure around it will expose the penis.  The females have a genital slit.