It may come as a surprise to new rabbit owners that rabbit mothers will sometimes eat their offspring. Even though rabbits are not carnivorous by nature, their position as prey animals can encourage them to take strange actions in the face of stress or perceived danger – conditions both found shortly after giving birth.
If your rabbit is pregnant, or you have plans to breed them at any time soon, it’s important to prepare for the possibility of your rabbit eating her babies. Thankfully, by addressing the underlying causes of this behavior and closely monitoring for warning signs of danger to newborns, you can often prevent this undesirable outcome.
In this article, we’ll be covering the factors that can contribute to this behavior, as well as preventative measures you can take before the birthing process to make it smoother and safer for every rabbit involved. Should those strategies fail, you’ll also learn about how to safely take rabbits away from their mother if necessary.
Read on to learn everything you need to know for how to stop a rabbit from eating her babies.
Why Do Rabbits Eat Their Own Babies?
The act of birth is no doubt one of the most stressful experiences that females of any species can go through. For the already fragile, prey animal rabbit though, this process can push them into a state of instinctual “fight or flight” style reaction.
Furthermore, carrying children and birthing them can place a serious strain on the mother’s nutrient balance, often creating a protein deficiency. For otherwise non-aggressive mothers, this is the most natural conclusion as to why they would eat their young: The birthing process has left them so deficient in protein that they fear for their life and health. In this situation, the newborn is the nearest available source of protein.
If a mother is particularly young (less than 6 months old), this experience can put her body under even more stress. In the day after birthing her litter, the stress of the situation can encourage her worst territorial behaviors. This will sometimes encourage her to eat her young to protect her position in the hutch, or so as not to draw attention from potential predators (source).
4 Ways to Keep Your Baby Rabbits Safe
After learning about why rabbits eat their own babies, it’s probably starting to be clearer to you just how we can prevent this from happening. Because each of the reasons for rabbit mothers eating their young has a root in behavior or dietary choices, this means we can provide support prior to birth and avoid any unwanted outcomes.
1. Make sure your rabbit mother has plenty of protein in its diet.
As the highest-protein, most nutritionally dense hay, alfalfa is an excellent choice to supplement your mother-to-be’s diet in the weeks prior to birth.
2. If you have the choice, don’t breed very young rabbits.
Any rabbit that isn’t fully mature and mellowed with age will be more likely to react poorly to the stress of birthing.
3. Remove anything that may be stressful to the Mother
Limit or remove loud noises, bright lights, and quick movements in the mother’s area leading up to and following the birth. Creating an atmosphere of calm and quiet will help keep stress and danger signals to a minimum.
4. Monitor the mother and newborns
Watch then very closely immediately after birthing. The mother will eat the placenta to restore important nutrients and should be watched carefully to ensure that she does not accidentally eat one of her young.
If you’ve taken all these steps, but the mother is still showing signs of aggression towards her newborns, your last option may be to take remove the newborns from their mother’s care. When this is necessary, be sure to follow the steps in the next section.
Can I Take My Baby Rabbits Away From Their Mother?
Unfortunately, the occasional rabbit mother is simply not suited for maternal duties. Whether this is because of aggressive behavior, a persistent nutrient deficiency, or overly fragile and skittish nature makes no difference; once a mother shows these signs, you should stop breeding them immediately.
Once you see these behaviors though, the litter in question still needs to be given appropriate care. In most cases, the first 24 hours after birth are the most critical; if your mother goes this long without showing any alarming behavior, it’s unlikely that she will eat her young after that.
In the case that you do need to separate baby rabbits from their mother, please follow the extremely detailed and thorough directions provided by Doctor Dana Krempels of the University of Miama Biology Department for the “Care and Feeding of Orphaned Domestic Rabbits”, found here. It is the most effective system we have seen in caring for orphaned rabbits and could hardly be improved upon by the author of this article.
The time surrounding your mother rabbit’s first litter can be stressful for animal and human, alike. We hope that this guide has been useful to you in shedding light on the underlying causes of rabbits eating their young, and prepared you with everything you need to know to prevent this from happening. By taking the appropriate steps in preparation for birth, you can minimize the stress and danger to every animal involved.
You may also want to read: How Long Are Rabbits Pregnant? (Gestation Periods)
Featured Image: auenleben from Pixabay