My rabbit had babies — can I touch them?

Touching newborn dwarf rabbit
It’s just fine to handle newborn rabbits. Photo by Grace of Happy Farm Bunnies

Will the Mom Kill Baby Rabbits if You Touch Them?

It’s a myth that even some wild animals reject their young when people touch them, let alone your rabbit who is very used to human smells, and associates it with food and petting.

It IS important to touch your baby rabbits.  Very important.  There are several reasons.  You need to make sure there are not any dead ones that can contaminate the nest.  You need to see if they are being fed.

You need to make sure none have gone missing.  I’ve had kits crawl out of the box and out of the cage and I found them, still alive, in the drop pan beneath the cage, or somewhere else on the barn floor.

Also, you need to check their bottoms.  Newborns cannot go potty without help.  Usually the doe licks their genitals to stimulate them, but still they can get a blockage.  If caught early, you can clear it away easily.  If it’s not cleared it can lead to a nasty buildup and even infection.

Also, handling your kits from the time they are very little gets them used to human interaction.  This will make them more friendly as adults and better companions.

Will my rabbit eat her babies?

Probably not.  It only happens occasionally, and then usually only right when she first gives birth.  It usually happens when the doe doesn’t think her kits will survive.  For instance, once I had a doe with an infection.  When she kindled she killed her litter because she realized her body wasn’t going to be able to take care of them, and didn’t want them to starve.

Likewise, it can happen when the doe isn’t getting enough good food to eat, or when there are predators around that she thinks might get the kits.  That said – it doesn’t happen very often.  The best thing you can do is just keep her environment clean and low-stress, and make sure she has plenty to eat.

Learn more about reasons why a rabbit eats her young.

How do you prevent babies freezing on the wire?

Why would the babies leave a warm nest?  Kits leave the nest because they are hungry.  They sleep most of the day except when their mom wakes them up to feed them.

If something else happens to wake them up, they will crawl out and try to find mom.  For instance, if I put my hand in the nestbox, I wake them up and they try to nurse from my hand.  I have to stay and watch to make sure they don’t crawl out of the box until they go back to sleep.

Sometimes if a doe is done nursing, the kits cling to her nipples and she pulls them out of the nesting box.  Rabbit mom’s aren’t like cats and won’t pick up babies with their teeth to put them back.  Really they don’t do much for their kits besides build a nest, feed them, and lick their bottoms.

Because it’s such a common problem for babies to crawl out, it’s important to have a box with a high front.  Ideally, the hole in the box should be in the top, not in the side.  Some people make boxes with a lip on the opening to keep kits in.

But none of those things are always effective.  I have resorted to taking the box out of the cage and covering it with a wire top to keep the babies inside.  Then I return the box to the doe once a day for feeding.  This continues until the kits are about 12 days old and have plenty of fur, then I put it back in with the doe full time.

This is actually a common practice.  Many breeders do it, either to keep the kits in the box or to bring the box in a heated area like the house for the night.  Holland Lop moms don’t visit the box more than once or maybe twice a day anyway, so they don’t miss it.  By nature they stay away from the nest most of the day, because in the wild, their presence would alert predators to the location of the nest.

How often should you clean the rabbit nesting box?

You should check the nestbox to see if it’s wet every 2-3 days at least — every day is fine, too — but don’t clean it unless it is wet. I usually clean the box only once, right at 9-11 days when the kits are starting to open their eyes and need a clean dry environment to prevent infection.

If it’s wet, definitely clean the box and replace the bedding, saving as much of the pulled fur as you can. Make sure to put absorbent pine shavings in the bottom of the box, to soak up some of the moisture. Check it every few days till the kits are coming out and about.

Wishing you success!