Rabbits have a reputation to produce babies in multitudes which is contributed not just by their short gestation period but also the breeding cycle of does. The old saying “multiplying like rabbits” has some validity because of a rabbit’s ability to become fertile when breeding, not on a cycle like many other mammals. Female rabbits are known as “induced ovulators”, the eggs are released during breeding and not during a specific time cycle.
Does usually will decide when they are ready to breed which can depend upon the different seasons. For many pet rabbits that are kept indoors with plenty of light, does have been known to breed year round. A doe can be finicky towards a chosen a buck but when she does accept her mate, she will ovulate and release eggs during breeding.
After breeding, a doe’s gestation period averages 28 to 32 days with a difference in the doe’s stomach size becoming noticeable at approximately 20 days after breeding. During the gestation and sometimes even after giving birth, a doe may become aggressive towards their handler but this behavior will pass over time. If the soon-to-be mama doesn’t have a nesting box then one should be provided for the impending birth of the kits. A kindling box should feel safe and secure so the doe doesn’t undergo any stress before and after the birth.
The kindling box needs four sides with an opening just large enough for the doe to enter and leave freely. The box can be filled with straw to help build the birthing nest but the doe will also more than likely pull her own fur to help make her nest warm and cozy. During the gestation period, feed the doe a nutritious diet of rich greens, fresh hay, timothy pellets, and provide plenty of fresh water. She will need some time to exercise of at least two hours a day.
Where the doe is kept is important as she will need her privacy. Any stress factors can lead to complications including the death of the kits. A typical litter of rabbits will average five to seven kits (baby rabbits). However, litter sizes have been known to only have one baby and many more than seven so don’t let the average be your guide. The kits will arrive either head or feet first. The process of birthing typically last a few hours but can go on as long as a couple of days.
The kits are born deaf, hairless and with their eyes closed. They are completely dependent upon their mother for all of their needs. The doe’s instincts to care for her young are amazing and a handler shouldn’t intervene unless absolutely needed. Within three weeks after birth, the kits will start to nibble on solid foods and at four weeks, the young are beginning to be weaned by their mother. With this very short gestation and raising process, rabbits can multiply quickly.