Conception, by definition, is the fertilization of the
egg(s) of the doe by the sperm of the buck and the
subsequent attachment of these eggs to the uterine horns
of the doe. A dwarf doe usually has an average of 4
fertilized eggs that attach to her uterine horns. This
number is highly variable and can range from 1 to 8 or
more. A larger breed rabbit has an average of 7 - 8
fertilized eggs, and can vary from 1 to 14 or more. The
number of fertilized eggs depends on the age and health
of the doe and buck, the season, the number of eggs
available for fertilization, the amount of sperm
deposited and its viability, the capacity of the uterine
horns, the genetic backgrounds, and other factors that
may or may not be controllable.
estrus or "heat" cycle of a doe rabbit is
so often that it may be considered continuous. You may
see a doe mounting a buck or another doe. She may even
attempt to mount another animal of the same size if it
is available. It is best to keep rabbits by themselves
except when you want to breed them. Don't get the idea
that they are lonely, because they are not. They are
territorial animals, not social. This means that they
normally want their own place, not to share their lives
with one another. Keep in mind, that when you let
rabbits run together, they will fight. If you have one
buck amongst a herd of does, you might as well consider
that they will all get pregnant.
number of eggs that can be fertilized depends on the
parents' ages. The doe and buck have maximum egg/sperm
production between the ages of 6 months and 3 years.
After this, egg/sperm production decreases, as does the
chances of conception and bringing the little ones to
Temperature extremes decreases the chances of
conception. At high temperatures, the buck stops
producing viable sperm. When the buck is exposed to
temperatures above 92 degrees, he may become temporarily
sterile. It may take up to 4 weeks for him to recover.
Extremely cold temperatures causes the doe not to
conceive because her system is concerned with taking
care of herself rather than nurturing young.
period between October and December is considered
molting season. It is when the amount of sunlight is
decreasing and the rabbit is getting ready to put on its
winter coat. Just as in chickens, this decrease of
daylight affects reproduction, and the conception rate
usually goes way down. You may artificially stimulate
the rabbit to continue producing by keeping it in a
building with the lights on.
breeding, always bring the doe to the buck's hutch. You
may increase the amount of conception by rebreeding the
doe to the buck 4 to 12 hours after the initial
breeding. I just leave the doe with the buck for one
day. Never rebreed the doe after 36 hours of the initial
breeding. It may cause the estrogen/progesterone cycle
to get messed up in the developing womb, causing an
abortion or miscarriage. You'll see her give birth to a
bunch of "blobs".
Gestation is defined as the period of time from
conception to birth. This period usually takes 31 days,
but may vary as much as 2 days either way. The doe gets
plumper during this time. She may also get grumpy and
try to scratch you. You should NOT vary her feed at this
time. Keep her fed the same way you normally do. Do not
give her treats if you don't normally give her treats.
Do not increase the food you normally give her. Her
system would be more harmed by varying her diet than if
you keep things as usual. Her body adjusts to the
developing babies just fine without your intervention.
Just make sure she always has plenty of fresh water to
drink when she needs it.
Provide a Nest Box for her on the 28th day,
unless you see her pulling hair before that time. Do not
put the nest box in too soon or she will sit in it and
poop in it, destroying the good environment it was meant
to be. A nest box can be made of 1/4" plywood. The best
dimension for it is:
Dwarfs: 12" long x 8" wide x 8" tall
Medium: 15" long x 10" wide x 10" tall
Large: 18" long x 12" wide x 12" tall
Round out the top on one of the narrow sides to allow
her to enter easily. Do not come down too far, though,
because the babies may escape.
find it best to fill the nest box in the following way:
Put some absorbent pine shavings (not cedar!) on the
bottom 1". Then put alfalfa or another good hay in the
rest of the way. Hollow out a hole in the hay that she
can get in and put the young.
you put a nest box in, the doe will start taking up hay
in its mouth to prepare her nest. Watch carefully to
make sure that she is putting it in the nest box and not
spreading it on the floor of the hutch. If she is
spreading it on the floor, she is intending to have the
litter on the floor instead of the nest box. This would
be disastrous. I find that if you move the nest box to
where she was spreading it on the floor, she may then
prepare her nest in the nest box instead. Make sure you
watch for this because if she has her litter outside the
nest box, the odds of their surviving are very slim.
Usually, the doe will pull her fur from her upper
abdomen and around the shoulders just before she is to
give birth. However, on occasion, I have seen them pull
fur one week before they were due. Make sure that there
is enough fur pulled for the nest or the little ones may
freeze (depending on the temperature). Occasionally, if
a doe does not intend to take care of the litter, she
will pull no fur. I always keep a box of fur on hand
from earlier litters in case I need to add some or take
Sometimes a doe will give birth prematurely. These
babies, if they are more than 2 days early, will usually
die, and there is nothing you can do about it.
Sometimes a doe will prepare the nest with fur but never
give birth. This is called "False Pregnancy". You
may rebreed her 4 days after she was due.
doe will give birth any time of the day, with most
births being at night. It takes about ten minutes for
her to deliver all of her young. Normally, she will pull
her fur just before birth, but as I mentioned, there is
much variation in this. If everything goes right, she
will birth them in the nest box on a bed of fur in a
depression of the hay. Once she has had them all, she
will cover them with fur and get out of the nest box. As
long as she has had 3 or more bunnies and they have
adequate fur protection in the nest box, they should
survive even in cold winters. When there is only one or
two, they may not be able to keep their temperatures up
in cold winters and may die. If you can, it is best to
let her have her litter in a heated area in the cold
Babies are born with their eyes closed and nearly
hairless. They must be protected from exposure and must
be confined together with their litter mates. The
difference in size between a dwarf and a giant is not
significant, though the difference can be seen.
Sometimes a doe will give birth on the cage floor. Be
vigilant and watch for this. Unless you gather up the
babies in enough time and put them in the nest box, they
will die from exposure. Once in the nest box, the mother
will care for them. The position of the babies is very
important. The mother will NEVER move the babies
anywhere. If they are on the cage floor, on the cage
floor they will remain, unless YOU intervene. Even in
the nest box, they have to be in the right place and it
is up to you to make sure of this. Make sure that they
are lying on fur in a good depression in the hay where
they cannot climb out of the nest box. If they climb out
before their eyes are open, their chances of survival
are slim. Remember! The mother will NEVER move the
babies anywhere! YOU must ensure that they are in the
Check the babies soon after birth to count them and to
eliminate runts and deformed babies. Believe me, it is
hard to kill a bunny that's just been born. But it is
necessary. If the bunny is allowed to get older, it will
eventually die of the complications of its birth defect.
The other bunnies could have been healthier if they did
not have to share their nutrition with one that was
going to die anyway.
doe may not feed her bunnies for 2 days after she gives
birth. This is normal. Check on the bunnies every 1-3
days to make sure they are doing ok. Their bellies
should be rounded. This shows they are getting adequate
nutrition. Don't worry about handling babies. Just don't
frighten the mother.
thing to check for is eye infection, which is very
common in new borns. Their eyes don't open until the
10th or 11th day, so you can't do anything before that
time. If the baby is born with bad eyes, eliminate it
immediately. But after the 10th day, you may treat the
eyes with Neosporin droplets that you can get a
prescription for. Do not use the Neosporin salve that
feed stores sell. It's worthless. You must treat eye
infections as soon as possible or the rabbit will be
blind in that eye as it gets older.
a rabbit loses its litter, you may rebreed her one week
after birth. This means that if she loses her litter on
the 8th day, you may immediately rebreed her. If she
loses it on the 3rd day, wait four days and then rebreed
Days - 4 Weeks Plus
bunnies go from birth to 10 days, they get more and more
of their own fur. They are born almost hairless, but
develop enough fur to keep themselves warm by the ninth
day. On the tenth or eleventh day, their eyes are open
and sometimes they will come out of the nest box. They
will start to eat solids between the 11th and 14th days.
is between the period of birth and 12 days that you can
transfer babies around to different mothers, if
necessary. Perhaps one mother gave birth to only two and
another gave birth to three. As long as their ages are
within 4 days of each other, you may transfer them from
one mother to another, and the other mother will take
care of them as if they were her own. You will have
problems if you transfer them after they are 12 days
old. Their scent is different and the foster mother may
Domestic does will foster wild baby bunnies in the same
way. The things you have to watch out for, though, is
the possible transmission of lice, fleas, or disease to
the domestic rabbits.
the weather is nice, above 60 degrees, you may remove
the nest box on the 14th-16th day after their birth.
Allow them to stand on a piece of plywood until the 18th
day. On cold days, remove the nest box on the 18th-20th
days. It is necessary to remove the nest box before the
21st day because they poop and pee in it, which makes it
harbor a lot of germs that they can easily become
Between the 14th day and two months, you may notice an
increase in mortality. The vast majority of deaths in
these young rabbits is related to their intestines. For
some reason, they are very susceptible to inflammation
of their intestines and they may or may not get
diarrhea, and simply die for no apparent reason. Many
rabbit raisers put Terramycin in their drinking water
for two weeks, starting the 14th day, in order to curb
the alarming death rate. It is met with some success,
but, unfortunately, enteritis, as it is called, is a big
killer. It's also a big killer of cattle and pigs at the
same age. In them it is called scours. They are treated
in the same way as rabbits. I think the reason for
intestinal disease at this age is the change from milk
to solid food. The intestines become somewhat allergic
to the new foods it is processing and sets up a reaction
that can lead to diarrhea or constipation, in any case,
causing intestinal inflammation. Terramycin helps by
keeping bacterial build up from killing its host. I
believe there needs to be more research in this area.
Since the bunnies start eating solid food between the
11th and the 14th day, they continue to grow and may be
weaned as early as 4 weeks after birth. Usually, it is
best to keep them with their mother until they are 6
weeks old, but you may wean them at 4 weeks without
complication. Some breeders allow them to go 8 weeks
before weaning. This maximizes their nutrition and
growth. NEVER let them continue with their mother after
they are 3 months old.
Weaning simply means taking them away from their mother.
Sometimes, it is best to take all of them away except
for one, which you would take away one week later. This
is supposed to give the mother's breasts time to
acclimate to not having to nurse, causing less pain.
the time of weaning, you should sex the bunny and
separate the males and females into their own cages. At
the same time you sex them (see my other web page on
sexing rabbits) you should check their teeth. This is
very important. While the bunny is on its back, spread
its lips apart sideways and note how the teeth are set.
The upper teeth must overlap the bottom teeth. If the
upper teeth meet the lower teeth or the lower teeth
overlap the top teeth, this rabbit has malocclusion
or "wolf-teeth". This disqualifies it for show as
well as breeding or pet purposes. The teeth will
eventually grow out to look hideous and the lower teeth
may dig into the upper gums, or worse, the rabbit may
not be able to eat.
you find a rabbit with wolf teeth, do not sell it to a
pet store except as a feeder rabbit for snakes. The wolf
teeth trait can be passed down to offspring, and no one
wants a rabbit with wolf teeth. Sell the rabbit for meat
but never for breeding or to be someone's pet.
may keep the rabbits you've weaned together, separated
by sex, until about 4 months, at which time they need to
be totally separated - one rabbit per cage.