To start the breeding process the female should be put into the male's hutch, and left in with him for 5 to 10 minutes. If she gets distressed then you will need to remove her and try again about a week later.
Pregnancy lasts 28 to 31 days, and the first signs you see that a family may be on the way will be a load of rabbit hair mixed in with the straw making a rudimentary nest. The female will pull the soft downy hair from her underbelly to make the nest cosy and warm. If the female trusts you, you can check the nest carefully to see whether any young have been born. Be sure to distract the female away by feeding her first - first time mothers especially may get very upset is they see you interfering with the nest, to the extent that they might abandon the young.
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Breeding Pet Rabbits
If you keep two rabbits together be absolutely certain that they are not male and female - rabbits breed, well, like rabbits! They can have their first litter when they are under six months old (but this is not advisable if you are trying to breed good, healthy stock), and will continue having litters every six weeks unless male and female are separated. Although it is lovely to breed baby rabbits, and children will adore watching them grow and develop (they are born without hair, and eyes closed), breeding all too often does the female no good whatsoever, and the babies will be weaker each litter. If you make the conscious decision to try to breed a pair of rabbits you will need two hutches, and be sure to remove the male before the litter is born (the female will be ready to mate again immediately afterwards!).
Do not start breeding your rabbits thinking there is money to be made. Breeding a litter of rabbits can be fun - but you have to think about homes for the babies as you will not be able to keep them all (unless you spend a fortune in hutches!)
Breeding any type of animal is very rewarding - all babies of any species are cute (nature's way of making sure the young are cared for), and rabbit kits are no exception.
Unfortunately, breeding rabbits is only too easy if you end up with a pair - and many people have purchased two rabbits thinking they have two females or two males only to find their two pets have increased to seven or more overnight!
If you find yourself iin the position that your rabbits have suddenly multiplied make sure you separate male and female immediately. Apart from the fact they can mate again immediately, males have been known to attack the kits. The mother will look after the babies until they are due to be weaned. If you want to put the male and female back together again after the babies have gone to their new homes you will need to castrate the male and/or spay the female to stop any more 'accidents'.
Deciding to Breed Your Rabbits
Two things are critical here - firstly that you have healthy breeding stock, and secondly that you have researched homes for all the babies. The size of the litter depends on the breed of rabbit, the individual, and the health of the parents. Litter sizes for small breeds range from 2 to 4 and the largest breeds 6 to 10. You may have friends or family who are willing to take a rabbit from you, or you may have to look further afield. Asking at your local pet shop will give you an idea of whether there is a demand in your area for the type of rabbit you intend to breed. If the pet shops say they are full to overflowing then you are unlikely to be able to sell all the babies, and may be left with more adult rabbits on your hands than you bargained for, which will mean more hutches and runs!
Unfortunately there are a lot of rabbits in rescue centres so be careful about bringing even more into the world.
Dwarf Lop Ear Rabbit with Kits in Nest
Make sure your rabbits have the right temperament to be bred from. They should not be aggressive as temperament can be passed onto the kits, and also an aggressive female will not make inspecting the nest easy.
A small breed doe can be ready to breed at 5 months of age, a medium breed doe at 6 months, and a large breed doe at 8 months. Typically the bucks take an extra month to mature, so for a small breed you will need at least a 5 month old doe, and a 6 month old buck.
New born rabbit kits in a nest
Once the young are born have a swift peek to make sure they are okay, and then leave well alone. Do not disturb the nest too much, and don't handle the babies early on. Be aware that it is usual for the mother not to seem overly maternal. She may stay away from the nest, and appear to be ignoring her babies. This is quite normal, and she will be looking after them. You should not remove the babies from the nest - it is very difficult to hand rear them. As long as they are fit and healthly the mother will be looking after them. Any disturbance may make her abandon the kits - particularly if this is her first litter.
Litter of rabbits just a few days old.
When they are first born the rabbits will be blind, deaf and hairless, and will be totally dependant on their mother. They will stay in the nest for 2 to 3 weeks. Their hair starts to grow, and after 10 days their eyes will open. After a couple of days it is a good idea to gently look into the nest to check whether any babies are dead and remove them. The doe may well do this herself, but it is worth checking. If the doe appears distressed when you go near to the nest then it is best to stay away.
Baby rabbits eyes open at 10 days old
If the mother trusts you you can handle the kits when they become stronger. This kit has not yet opened his eyes, but sits quietly in the hand.
The baby rabbits will make good pets if they are accustomed to being gently petted from an early age.
Be careful to avoid children handling them at this stage - they may be too rough, or could drop a kit, or any over excitement can upset the mother. Best to just let them peer into the nest rather than let them get too close.
As the kits grow you will see their colours start to develop.
The litter will grow fast, changing day by day, and will slowly start to venture out of the nest. Don't try and hurry this - they will come out when it is the right time for them.
It is not difficult to wean rabbits - they will start to try the food their mother eats, so make sure plenty is available. Green food should be avoided at the early stage as it can cause stomach upsets (particularly lettuce). Natural green food (grass, dandelions, cabbage, carrots etc.) have a higher nutrious value and can be introduced when the young are about six weeks old.
As kits grow in the nest they will start to show their colours.
Lop eared kits start exploring outside the nest.
When the kits are at least six weeks old (and preferably eight weeks) they should be moved away from their mother. This is the age when they can either go to new homes, or will need different hutches in the garden. A family of rabbits cannot live together, as males will breed with females, what ever their relationship to each other.
Dwarf Lop Eared Rabbits - parents of the kits above.