Breeding from your pet rabbit
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Breeding from your pet rabbit

An article about 'how to breed from your rabbit' may seem a little crazy, being as rabbits are well known to be prolific breeders who generally don't need any help in the mating department! But for the responsible, caring owner, there's more to consider than just putting a doe and a buck together and letting them do what comes naturally.Lots of people who own a couple of rabbits think it might be fun and rewarding to breed them and raise a litter, but remember that bringing new life into the world (of any species) is not a course of action to be entered into lightly, and simply thinking that breeding rabbits will be 'fun' or easy is not a good enough reason to do so.If you're thinking of breeding from your rabbit and want to know a little more about it, then read on.

Responsible breeding

It's fair to say that rabbits aren't generally hard to come by, and there's no shortage of rabbits available for sale as pets within the UK. If you feel that you might want to breed from your rabbit and you really care about your pet and rabbit welfare in general, it's important to consider the implications of doing this and how you can make sure that you're doing the right thing by your pet and any kits (babies) which they might have.So what are good reasons for breeding rabbits? Well, if you have a healthy, strong rabbit with good conformation, colouring and no known genetic defects or hereditary health conditions, then breeding them to another healthy rabbit of the same ilk will play a part in raising the general standard and genetic strength of the gene pool of rabbits in the UK, and breeding out flaws and health issues found in weaker rabbits. So if you own a robust, healthy pedigree rabbit, then breeding them may be a good thing for the population as a whole. You should never consider breeding a poor standard, unhealthy rabbit, or one which possesses any genetic defects or hereditary health issues- both from the point of view of homing and caring for the resulting kits, and because to do so will bring down the general standard of rabbit health and wellbeing across the board.If you own a high quality show standard pedigree doe and mate them to a similar standard buck, then you will probably not have a problem being able to find caring, experienced homes for the offspring. It's important to make sure before you go ahead with breeding that you know that you can home all of the resulting kits. Dwarf rabbit breeds usually produce between two and four kits in a litter, with larger breeds having anything up to twelve. That's a significant amount of new homes to find, or mouths to feed if you're planning on keeping them yourself.Rabbit clubs and societies are often helpful in finding homes for new litters, and advertising on a web site like Pets4homes is also a great way to get in touch with prospective owners. Pet shops will often buy young rabbits to sell on, but you should look into this carefully and consider if you would be happy doing this, not knowing what kind of eventual homes the kits will end up in, and if you're happy with the standard of care and vetting procedure for future owners which the pet shop will provide.

What kind of commitment does rabbit breeding involve?

If you're considering going ahead, you will need to have a significant amount of both time and money to devote to the endeavour. Towards the end of the period of gestation and at the time of the birth, you will need to be on hand and available twenty four hours a day to monitor your doe and care for their needs, and intervene in case of any problems. Immediately after the birth, you will need to be available to care for the kits, handle them and look after the needs of the doe and help her to care for the litter, which can all be very time intensive.You will also, as mentioned, need to have arranged homes for the developing kits, preferably before they are born. Start looking into homing the kits and advertising your prospective litter before you go ahead with breeding- this will provide you with a valuable insight into the potential interest and market for the babies. If you find at the research stage that there is not significant interest and demand for the offspring, then you should rethink going ahead.

How to commence breeding

If you have read this far and are still keen to breed your rabbit, then great! But there is still a significant amount of research and legwork involved before you get started. This list should provide you with a basic guide to the steps involved in breeding.

  • When you're ready to breed, move the female into the male's hutch, rather than the other way round. Female rabbits can be rather territorial, and may view an incoming male as a threat, and respond aggressively.
  • Leave the doe and buck together for a period of between half an hour and an hour. Monitor them carefully for any signs of distress, aggression or general unhappiness and be prepared to remove the female if this occurs. Remove the female from the male's hutch after mating.
  • Unless you take your doe to the vet, there is no foolproof way to tell if they have conceived. The general term of gestation for rabbits is between 28 and 31 days. You should not try to palpate the abdomen to try and detect the presence of babies, as this can lead to damage to any foetuses present. If, after two weeks, your doe has not begun to fill out and start building a nest, then she has probably not conceived, and you should try introducing her to the buck again. Provide lots of extra bedding, and watch for signs of nesting behaviour, including plucking her fur out to line the nest.
  • Do not over handle the doe after conception- leave her alone to manage the pregnancy naturally, and without additional stresses. Remember that some does will become defensive and territorial when they are pregnant, and so watch for signs of this and do not continue to push into her space or handle her if she is clearly unhappy.
  • The doe will require significantly higher amounts of food while she is pregnant and after the birth, so allow her as much muesli/ pellets and hay as she needs. You may also up the level of fresh vegetables you feed to her, but be careful this does not lead to diarrhoea or stomach upsets.
  • When the doe is in labour, do not interfere unless she is obviously suffering distress. It is highly likely you may not even be aware the doe is in labour until after the kits have arrived- rabbits tend to give birth at night. A rabbit will abandon her nest easily if upset or stressed, so do not attempt to intervene during the birth or in the few days immediately afterwards. Check on the condition and development of the babies regularly, but listen to the signs the doe gives you to tell you whether or not she is happy with you handling her and her babies, and do everything you can to minimise stress to her and the litter.
  • Once the kits reach around ten days old, they will start to open their eyes and take an interest in the adult food that the doe is eating. At this stage, you should start handling them and getting them used to people, if you have not been able to do so already.
  • Kits should be weaned at between six and eight weeks old, or when they have reached a healthy weight and are eating on their own. Letting the babies go to their new forever homes can be done from between eight and ten weeks old, depending on the growth and development of the individual rabbits. Remember to separate males and females at this stage, to avoid further and unwanted breeding!
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