Why Rabbits kill their babies?

If you are a newbie rabbit owner or breeder, you may be surprised to know that some rabbits may turn out to be really sick parents. Yes, it’s true!

Some rabbits (especially new mothers) mishandle their kits, stomp on them, abandon them, even kill them. But why? And what can we do to avoid this tragedy?

Table of Contents
  • Why do some rabbits kill their kits?
  • How to safeguard kits from their killer parents?

Why do some rabbits kill their kits?

  • If the doe (mother rabbit) is a first-time mother, she may take some time to figure out the things. She might stomp on her kids, use the nest box as litter box, be clueless regarding how to take care of the kits, etc.
  • Some doe might really have bad motherly instincts – not a good mother material. If the doe is not only killing its kits by stomping on them accidently, but also by eating them, give extra attention to it. Keep it on your grey watch list!
  • Some doe may kill her kits due to predator pressure. It’s a survival instinct. Though new-born kits are almost odourless, they may have some smell right after birth due to the other material and blood on them. It may attract predators, especially if they are seen. If the doe sees a predator around, see may try to kill her new-borns for self-survival.
  • It may happen due to some health issue in the doe, e.g. infection in the urinary tract (UTI), infection in mammary gland, etc. Rabbits do not display health issue easily – so you may have to do some research and maybe consult a vet.

If you find the kits killed or missing, do not automatically assume that they have been killed by their mother. It might be the work of a predator that you do not know of. Do proper research before drawing conclusions.

Also, some doe may prefer to take care of their kits in private – maybe nurse them once or twice a day. Rabbit milk is extremely nutritious – once a day is enough. So, if you do not see the doe taking care of the kits, do not automatically assume that they are not been taken care of. Just see if they seem active and well-fed. If they seem healthy and active, be assured that they are in good hands.

In the wild, rabbits often cover their kits with a thin sheet of soil to protect them from predators. It almost looks like that doe is burying them alive. Do not panic if you see this. She is not trying to kill them!

If a kit dies due to natural causes, the mother may eat it. Otherwise, the corpse may start rotting soon and the smell will surely attract some wild animal. So, observe carefully – she is eating her kids alive or some kid that is already dead. The difference is stark!

How to safeguard kits from their killer parents?

  • If your rabbit is a first-time mother, be extra cautious. You may have to train her a bit regarding how to take care of her kids. Even then you have to be extra cautious, and give special attention to the kits for some days. Generally, doe will not eat her kits that are more than 2 days old. So, be on high alert for the first two days.
  • Even if all the kits end up dying, give your doe a second chance – she might prove to be a better mother the second time. If she killed her babies due to accidentally stomping on them, or by not taking care of them, she might improve the next time. However, if she killed them intentionally, or even worse ate them (which is rare), the chances of her becoming a better mother the second time maybe lower. But everyone deserves a second chance! But do wait for some weeks before you breed her (or let her breed) again.
  • If the mother rabbit is killing its kits on a repeat mode, it might really be a bad mother. Give it a couple of breeding chances, maybe three. If it ends up killing its babies each time, either by stomping on them or by eating them, stop breeding it. Period. Three strikes.
  • If the doe is in the habit of eating its babies (which is rare!), you may place something for her to nibble on, e.g. raw piece of bacon for her protein intake, etc. It might keep her from eating her babies.
  • Make sure that the new mother does not feel threatened by you or any pet or wild animal. For the first few days keep your other pets (e.g. dogs, cats) away from her (not only physically, but also out of sight).
  • If your rabbit is even scared of you, she might end up being very scared all the time. This may lead her to kill or eat her babies. This often happens if you have adopted a wild rabbit which is not accustomed to human presence. Make sure that your rabbit bonds with you and other care givers well before she breeds.

Good mother rabbits eat up all the by-product materials (apart from her kits) after birth. This is a natural instinct inbuilt in most of the doe. It serves two purposes:

  • Mother rabbits clean up the birth material (even blood droplets) to remove any smell that may attract predators.

  • Eating up the left-over material, e.g. placenta, replenishes the energy levels in the new rabbit mother, as it is rich in protein. If she does so, she won’t feel the need to eat up her new-borns.

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