If you’ve gone through the fun of breeding rabbits and helping them start families of their own, you may have seen this odd phenomenon where the mother or father will eat their babies!
It’s alarming, though not uncommon in the wild.
Why would rabbits eat their babies?
How do we prevent this?
I looked into the reasons to share with you and help my own bunnies live and long and healthy life.
Mother rabbits usually eat their young only if they are under extreme stress or a dire lack of nutrition. They’ll attack their young to recover nutrients or prevent predators from sniffing around her home. Males won’t eat their young, but they will attack them if they feel the resources are threatened.
For more details and tips on how to prevent these sad circumstances, keep reading.
Table of Contents
Why Do Rabbits Kill Their Babies?
There are two options for what happens when rabbits sadly kill their young:
- Simply kill the babies
- Eat the babies
The reasons for each of these are similar and yet different from one another.
For this section, we’ll look at why the rabbits will intentionally kill off their babies.
Rabbits are stressful critters as it is, but when they feel threatened (by predators, mainly), they’ll do anything to protect themselves and the rabbit family as a unit.
After all, from a pure preservation perspective, the other adult rabbits can mate and make more babies when the time is safer.
Babies are predator magnets.
Predators only want to expend energy hunting and catching food if they feel confident they can get it easily.
Baby and young rabbits are easy prey, so some predators will get extra aggressive when they know there’s a tasty snack within reach.
Mother rabbits will sense this and may kill their young to prevent this extra attention.
Lack Of Resources
If the fluffle (that’s what they call a group of rabbits) doesn’t have a lot of space for hiding and food for eating, the larger, more dominant bunnies will get territorial.
Females will harm their young to remove extra mouths to feed, but the males are more likely to take this on.
Bucks are territorial and view little bunnies as a threat.
This is why males should be removed from the female when she’s pregnant and certainly from the infants once born.
Mom Is Too Young
While technically, a female rabbit can get pregnant and give birth starting as young as 6 months of age, it’s best to wait until they’re older.
Young rabbits feel too threatened and unestablished in their homes.
This stress leads them to think their young will soon overtake them in the group and perhaps steal food from them.
On top of this, young rabbits will also have a harder time giving birth as they’re not growing yet.
Why Do Rabbits Eat Their Babies?
When rabbits eat their babies, it’s a different set of issues rather than when they attack their young.
It’s still sad, but these reasons are a lot more preventable (as we’ll talk about later).
Lack Of Nutrition
Growing a baby and giving birth is tough on all females, even rabbits.
It requires a lot more protein and nutrition in general.
Some rabbits, especially pet rabbits whose owners don’t increase their protein amount, will end up feeling sick by the end of the term.
After giving birth, there are instances of mother rabbits being so malnourished they can’t move.
At this point, their instincts kick in, and they want to absorb nutrition to save their life.
Sadly, without being able to move, this leaves the newborn young as the prime candidate.
This is an easy fix on our end; read on for the later section where we offer tips for helping the doe through this tough time.
Confusion While Eating The Placenta
For all the reasons we talked about in the previous section, rabbits want to eat right away after giving birth.
It’s not unusual for the mom to eat her placenta and afterbirth, and it’s not bad for them either.
Unfortunately, it’s often near where some of the babies end up, so they may end up eating their young along with the other bits without realizing it.
Do Wild Rabbits Eat Their Dead Babies?
Wild rabbits will eat their babies if they’re stillborn.
It’s a matter of energy conservation to them and perfectly natural, as odd as it seems to us.
Cleaning up the passed babies is a way to make use of the nutrients for the benefit of the rabbit family.
Should I Remove My Rabbit’s Babies?
Most experts recommend you remove the mother away from the babies for a little while right after they’re born.
In their exhaustion after giving birth, mother rabbits can get somewhat desperate and make mistakes in caring for their young, as we talked about above.
The baby rabbits will be OK without their moms for a little bit as long as you treat them carefully and keep them warm.
Once the mother has settled down, it’s fine to bring them back to their moms. Just keep a close eye on the reintroduction and be ready to step in if she shows any signs of violence.
This won’t usually happen, but it does on occasion.
Will Rabbits Kill Their Babies If You Touch Them?
There is a myth out there for many different animals where if a human touches a baby, the mother will abandon or kill it when it smells the human scent on it.
I first heard this as a kid with birds, but the myth applies to many other animals as well, including rabbits.
The difference comes with causation.
Is the smell of the human causing the issues, or is it merely something that happens along with other issues?
Ask yourself this question: Why are you handling baby animals?
Most of the time, you’re handling them because you’ve found them abandoned, left alone briefly, or lost.
Then, you pick them up and put them back where they belong.
The mother comes back, and either leaves the infant again or kills it outright.
It must be the touching, right?
Probably not. For the young animal to be without its mother in the first place meant something was wrong with it.
Maybe it was ill; maybe food is scarce.
Whatever the reason, you’ve just given the mother another chance to abandon it all over again.
Sad, but don’t take the blame on yourself.
Animals are used to our scent at this point, so it’s unlikely they hurt their young because of us.
Can I Take My Baby Rabbits Away From Their Mother?
Yes, it’s possible to take baby rabbits away from their mother, though it’s best if they return before too long (24 hours).
Young bunnies have a low survival rate anyway, but living without a mother makes the chance even smaller.
Still, an aggressive mom lowers the rate to zero, so any chance is better than none.
The first three weeks of life are the most dangerous for rabbits.
Mother rabbits are fairly hands-off when it comes to caring.
They only nurse them for about five minutes per day. They also don’t sit with them to keep them warm.
We need to replicate what she offers for the babies.
Unfortunately, rabbit milk is so rich it’s tough to find anything that can replace it for these babies.
Kitten milk is the best shot you’ve got.
Feed them twice per day, with a minimal amount. Use this chart to help you.
|Amount twice per day
For a nest, keep it dark, enclosed, and soft with towels and other things like hay to help them feel comfy.
They don’t need it super hot (this will kill them, in fact), just make sure it stays between 65-75° degrees Fahrenheit (24° C).
How To Stop A Rabbit From Eating Their Babies
There are some simple steps we can take to prevent a bunny from eating her babies.
Let’s look at them real quick and give our baby bunnies their best chances at life.
Help your rabbits feel more secure by providing them with plenty of space, food, and a calm environment.
Don’t leave them exposed to a lot of predators or loud noises without a safe place to hide and rest.
If the rabbits feel safer, it’s less likely to harm their young.
Remove The Mother
After birth, remove the mother for a while, no longer than 24 hours.
Give her a chance to settle in and make sure she feels good.
Provide her with plenty of food and space as she settles down.
Most rabbit pros will do this as a matter of course.
It’s a standard procedure and doesn’t harm the little bunnies’ chance at life.
Provide A Distraction
Distractions are good for rabbits.
These are clever and active critters; they like to have something to engage with and chew on.
Now’s the chance to provide some toys for mom and chewable things to keep her teeth filed down.
She’ll appreciate something to do, so she won’t end up accidentally attacking her babies.
Raise The Protein In Mom’s Diet
This is one of the biggest tips for helping momma rabbits survive pregnancy, in general, but also avoiding harming the babies.
Pregnancy takes extra nutrients, especially protein.
Switch from a diet of timothy hay to alfalfa hay, which has a higher protein and nutrient value.
It’s not good to use alfalfa all the time; it’ll make your bunnies overweight and introduce other health issues.
But during pregnancy, this is ideal.
You may also want to use fiber pellets with a bit more protein, such as those used for adolescent rabbits.
Do this, and your mother rabbit will be less likely to attack her young for nutrition.
Don’t Breed Young Rabbits
Most experts agree: wait until a rabbit is at least a year old before breeding her.
Young rabbits have a hard time with pregnancy as it is, but they also don’t like to care for their babies.
If possible, wait for a year.
Keep in mind, though; there’s a reason for the expression: breed like rabbits.
Rabbits will breed whenever they get a chance, even if they’re direct brothers and sisters.
Keep the males away from the females at all times unless he’s fixed.
Otherwise, you’ll have plenty of bunnies on your hands.
Monitor Them Closely
After baby bunnies are born, monitor mom closely (if you don’t remove her).
You’ll notice her acting funny and irritated toward her babies as a sign of a possible attack.
This is when you should take her away.
Males should never be left with the young, and they really shouldn’t be left with the females after mating either.
Even after impregnating the doe, the bucks will attempt another mating.
She’ll get irritated and attack back at them in some cases, causing injury.
Read more about rabbit fighting in our article at the link.