Young does (female bunnies) can breed from 3 months of age however as the bunny is still a baby herself, she is likely to have stillborn kits and may not care for those who survive. Young bucks (male bunnies) are ready to breed once their testicles have descended, also around 3 months. Pregnant does are ready to breed again as soon as their litter is born. The doe will lift her tail to show the buck that she is ready for him. Does fall pregnant very easily. For this reason, never leave unsterilized male and female bunnies together. If get a bunny from the street or pet shop and she is not sterilized, then she is most likely pregnant.
At Bunny Huggers South Africa, we do not support breeding since there are already so many bunnies in need of homes. We don’t want to make more. Please read the first few paragraphs of this post for more details about the breeding/petshop industry.
A pregnancy will last 28-31 days depending on the bunny. During the pregnancy the doe will often become grumpy. Even if she loved you beforehand, she may not let you touch her or pick her up at all. She may growl and stamp on your hand if you try. You should make sure her space is quiet and stress free. Feed her lots of food and keep her water bowl full. Towards the end of the pregnancy an experienced mom will make a nest using any soft materials available. Teff grass works well for nesting. She will also pull hair from her chest to line the nest. Hair pulling helps stimulate her mammary glands for breast feeding. Make sure you keep her space clean and provide her with a nesting box that she can comfortably get in and out of.
The birth of a litter is called kindling. Kindling happens quite quickly and is usually uncomplicated. The doe will clean her kits and should remove any dead kits from the nest. If she does not remove dead kits then you will need to do this. If she has made a good nest then the kits will be in a slight hollow, well-lined with fur. As far as possible, do not disturb the nest or handle the kits. If she has not made a good nest then the kits may not be together or may wander away from the nest. You will need to make sure to put them back in together so they don’t get cold or miss a feeding. Does do not sit on their nest like a cat will do and may seem to ignore the nest completely. This is normal. Kits are born hairless, with closed eyes. Hair develops in the first two days. Eyes open at 11 days. From 14 days kits will become more active in the nest and start to explore.
Does feed kits once or twice per day for only a minute or two. It is quite possible that you will not see the doe feed her kits at all in the first week or two. This does not mean she is not feeding them. As long as the kits are plump with round tummies, you can be sure that they are feeding. Does feed by standing over the kits. Don’t worry, she won’t hurt the kits if she stands on them. The kits will wriggle upside down under her to feed. If you notice a kit that does not seem to be getting enough milk, you can hold your mom bunny on her side and put the baby on her breast. Don’t ever try and feed a kit with a syringe or kitty bottle unless there is no mom bun available and you have sought advice from an experienced hand-raiser. Kits will start to eat solids from two weeks. Oat hay and lucerne are good first foods, along with small amounts of bunny safe herbs and leafy greens. Kits continue to breast feed until 6-10 weeks and should not be separated from mom before they are fully weaned. Remember to give your doe plenty of food and water whilst she is breastfeeding.
Kits are ready to breed from around 3 months. Males and females must be separated at this time. Males can be sterilized as soon as their testicles descend. Females can be sterilized from 6 months. Do not sterilize your mom bunny until at least 2 months after she finishes breastfeeding. During breast feeding her blood vessels are enlarged making surgery risky and more painful. Remember to keep your doe away from fertile males until she has been sterilized.
Your kits are ready for a new home from 8 weeks on or when they are weaned. Make sure you educate your adopting families about bunny ownership. Get assistance to gender check your babies from 7 weeks of age (before that, it is nearly impossible) so that no mistakes are made with accidental breeding. Try to home your babies in same sex pairs or threes. Buns are happiest with a friend. Remember, not all homes are equal. Be responsible. Do a home visit before you place your buns and make sure that the adopting family is well equipped for bunny ownership.
Photo: Lyn Holm