Last Updated on December 18, 2022 by Ellyn Eddy
The calendar says it’s time for your mother rabbit to give birth. She’s even built a nest. But day 31 hits…and no babies. What should you do now?
Can rabbits delay birth?
Rabbits generally deliver like clockwork between 30.5 and 32 days after mating. But it’s not uncommon for does to delay giving birth, especially if they are stressed or this is their first litter.
There are several things that can cause a doe to go beyond her due date:
1. Stress: If your doe is stressed, she may delay giving birth. To reduce stress, make sure she has a quiet, comfortable place to nest and that she isn’t being disturbed by loud noises or too much activity.
2. Malnutrition: A lack of nutrients — or water — can also cause a doe to go past her due date. Make sure she is getting a balanced diet and has access to fresh, clean water at all times. Seasoned breeders — and midwives — recommend giving red raspberry leaf in the second half of pregnancy to tone the uterus and help the body prepare for birth.
3. Health problems: If your doe is sick or injured, she may also delay giving birth. If you think this might be the case, take her to the vet for an examination.
When should you induce labor in rabbits?
If your doe goes more than two days past her due date, it’s time to take action. Here are some steps to take:
- Call your vet. They may recommend inducing labor or will simply assure you that your doe is okay while you wait for nature to take its course. Don’t take your doe to the vet unless you’re sure there’s an emergency, as a car ride and an exam will stress her during this delicate time.
- Check her nest and environment for any signs of blood. Observe her behavior. If she is straining or shows any signs of distress, make sure there are no stuck babies. Stuck kits is an emergency that requires immediate action.
- Look very, very carefully in every corner of the cage and the surrounding room for babies. Baby rabbits can wiggle across the room surprisingly quickly. If you see any blood or loose fur from a nest, double down on your search. Check your rabbit’s underside and vulva to see if it looks like she’s given birth. Check to make sure she seems pregnant.
- Try natural induction. If you’re convinced that your mother rabbit has not yet had her babies, and she is more than 3 days past her due date, you can try to induce labor.
How to help a Pregnant Rabbit go into Labor
What should you do when your pregnant rabbit won’t have her babies? Remember, I’m not a vet, but my four suggestions in a situation like this are:
1. Just wait. I’ve had a doe have two babies one day, then two more two days later. It’s not very unusual for a litter to be spread out over a couple days. If she’s not straining, and not over 32 or 33 days, just keep her in a low-stress environment and see what happens. Also – double-check the due date. Are you sure you didn’t accidentally count three weeks ahead instead of four on the calendar?
2. Take her out for some exercise. If her body gets active it often brings on contractions. Let her run around your living room or a playpen for an hour or so.
3. Put her back in with a buck. She won’t get pregnant if she is already bred, and the encounter will stimulate hormones that will likely cause her to deliver the litter.
4. Offer her lavender. Some breeders say that this will cause a mother rabbit to go into labor. Never give it to a doe that isn’t full term, as it can cause her to abort. Red Raspberry Leaf can also stimulate contractions.
Using Oxytocin for Inducing Labor in Rabbits
Some breeders will reach for a drug called Oxytocin when their mother rabbits are slow to deliver. I never have done this, and would never recommend inducing labor just to have babies a day or two earlier. Nature knows when babies are ready to be born.
Oxytocin is only available with a prescription from a vet.
It’s best to avoid medication for your pregnant doe whenever possible. Rabbits are very sensitive to anything that might upset their digestive system, especially when already stressed from the pregnancy. Administration of any drug can lead to diarrhea and death in short order.
Furthermore, oxytocin is powerful stuff. Used incorrectly, it can lead to a ruptured uterus or other big rabbit pregnancy problems.
So that’s why I try one of the four methods listed above. And you know what? So far, they’ve always worked.
Do not force your doe to go into labor if she’s not ready. Any kind of stress makes her more likely to eat her babies after delivery.
Stuck kits (labor dystocia) is another story
The methods listed above are only safe to try if a rabbit isn’t yet going into labor.
If you have a doe that is laboring, but not delivering; if she has stuck kits or dystocia, that is another story. If you give a doe that is already laboring oxytocin, or do something else to make her just “push harder,” this can easily lead to a prolapsed uterus, which is fatal. If your doe has stuck kits, please refer to this article on the Nature Trail.
What are the signs of labor in a pregnant rabbit?
The signs of labor in a pregnant rabbit include nesting behavior, loss of appetite, and restlessness. You may also notice that your rabbit’s vulva is swollen and that she is producing a mucous discharge.
If you see a pregnant rabbit passing blood, give her some space to see if her labor progresses. If it looks like she is straining or having a difficult time for more than 15 minutes, you should call a veterinarian.
How do you know if your rabbit is pregnant?
If you’re not sure whether your rabbit is pregnant, there are some signs to look for. Pregnant rabbits will usually build a nest out of hay or other materials, and their nipples will be enlarged. They usually pull out fur from their bellies right before giving birth.
You may notice that your rabbit’s belly looks larger than usual, but this sign definitely isn’t as prominent in rabbits as in other species.
If a rabbit is full-term pregnant, you should be able to feel babies squirm and kick just by resting your hand on her belly. You may even observe sudden jerking motions under her fur if she is lying down with her belly extended. Avoid palpating at this stage to reduce the risk of injury.
How long is a rabbit pregnant?
Rabbits are pregnant for 30.5 days, on average. Yes, 30 and a half. When you only have a month to carry a whole litter of 2-16 babies, every twelve hours counts toward development! However, rabbits can give birth to term babies as early as 28 days after mating or as late as 40 days.
Here’s wishing you a healthy doe and plenty of these little things: