Mother rabbits have an undeserved reputation for being uncaring, but their apparent aloofness toward their young is just their way of protecting them. Mom won’t immediately feed her kits and she may leave the nest unattended for long periods. This is no cause for alarm. Only if she fails to create a nest, should rabbit owners consider hand-rearing the kits.
Creating a Home
Mother rabbits create a nest for their litter any time between a few days before the birth to the actual day of the birth. They create the nest by pulling their own fur, scratching up grass and in the case of domestic bunnies kept in a hutch, they’ll shred newspaper. The nest is designed to create warmth for the young and also to conceal them. One of the most accurate ways to determine whether mother rabbit is ready for parenthood is to observe her nesting habits. Immature rabbits who become pregnant may not display the nesting behaviors of mature rabbits. This is a sign that you may need to hand rear the young.
You may be alarmed at how unconcerned with her young the mother appears. Mother rabbits instinctively leave their young alone for long periods of time. This is so her presence doesn’t attract predators to the nest. The kits instinctively will burrow into the nest to keep warm and remain out of sight.
Mom will nurse her kits once or twice a day. One feeding is typically sufficient to keep the kits going for around 24 hours. Unlike cats, rabbits don’t lay down to feed their young. Instead, they stand over them. This requires the kits to reach upward to get their food. Mom will only feed when she thinks it is safe, typically in the darkness of night. She is constantly vigilant of potential predators and will elect to remain absent from the nest and miss feeding if she thinks her presence may attract unwanted attention.
Newborn kits do not have an elimination reflex, so mom has to lick their bellies and bottoms to stimulate them to go. This is a common habit for many mammals and can be observed in nursing cats and dogs too. Mom regularly will bring in clean nest materials and will remove soiled material to keep the nest clean and hygienic for her young.
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