Mothers eating their young isn’t entirely unheard of in the animal kingdom.
Yet, it can be downright horrifying to witness your beautiful, fluffy doe eating her young.
So, why is the rabbit eating her babies?
Some possible explanations include immature mothers, nutrient deficiency, survival of the fittest, and more.
So, let’s explore why your fluffy, seemingly innocent doe is eating her babies!
Why Is Your Rabbit Eating Her Babies?
Even though mother rabbits don’t typically eat their kits, this disturbing occurrence can take place.
It’s why you must keep an eye on the mother after she has delivered the litter.
It’s certainly hard to imagine, but mother rabbits eat their kits due to various reasons.
Here’s an in-depth analysis of why your rabbit might eat her babies:
Fight or Flight Response
Rabbits have a deep-seated instinct to eat their babies when faced with danger.
Due to their small size, they always have larger mammals and birds chasing after and hunting them.
So, when they are faced with a fight or flight situation, rabbits choose to run away. They know they don’t stand a chance against their predators.
However, before running away, they have to hide all evidence of their presence.
The only way to do that for new mothers is to kill/eat the kits. This way, the doe flees from her predator in the wild.
But this fleeing instinct is so deeply ingrained into a rabbit’s DNA that even domesticated rabbits have it.
This instinct compels them to eat their young when they perceive a threat.
Any anxiety-inducing situation can result in this instinctual state of fight or flight. And your doe’s response will remain the same, i.e., flight.
Weak Kits – Survival of the Fittest
The mother rabbit will also eat her kit if the baby is too weak or injured to survive.
They do that to prevent the kit from suffering. They also do it to ensure the survival of the fittest in their litter.
Your doe will also eat her newborn if it has an illness. She will do so to prevent the kit from infecting the healthy kits.
She might also eat the run of the litter if it’s the weakest.
Moreover, if a mother rabbit fatally injures her kit during birth, she will likely eat the kit. It can happen if your doe has sharp nails.
Rabbits are notoriously anxious animals that can easily develop anxiety. If a mother rabbit perceives a threat and feels fearful, she will eat her kits.
A doe can feel anxious if her birthing area is in a noisy place.
She can also feel fearful and restless if other pets or strangers are near her. Her anxiety can cause her to eat her newborns.
Your doe will most likely eat a kit that is born dead. It’s not uncommon for rabbits to deliver dead babies.
It can happen due to various injuries, complications, or deficiencies.
If your rabbit gives birth to a dead kit, she will eat it to prevent its smell from attracting predators. This way, she will ensure her own and the remaining kits’ safety.
Inexperienced or Immature Doe
A young or inexperienced doe is more likely to eat her kits.
If the rabbit is less than six months old, she might succumb to her natural territorial behavior or face overwhelming fear.
It might result in her harming or eating her kits. Moreover, a young doe can also confuse her kit with a placenta. It’s especially true for deformed kits.
A first-time mother might also not understand that she has given birth. She might eat her kits out of sheer curiosity. She may also neglect or abandon them.
Immature rabbits might also confuse their kits with hamsters or mice. It could result in them killing their babies.
Lack of Milk
If your rabbit has given birth to a huge litter, it might get difficult for her to feed them all.
In such an instance, she might abandon the weakest among her kits.
However, if she continues to feel exhausted from regular feeding, she might eat the weaker kits.
It will help her gain the energy she needs to keep her kits fed.
Carrying babies and giving birth can cause your doe to develop nutritional deficiency.
It’s more likely to happen if the expecting doe stops eating her pellets before giving birth.
Since labor will require her to expend her reserved energy, she will be famished afterward.
The hunger and nutritional deficiency can cause a mother rabbit to eat her kits as they are accessible protein sources.
Congested Nest Box
A smaller nest box can also cause a rabbit’s mother to become anxious or agitated.
It can cause her to eat some of her kits to make more space.
Lack of Motherly Instincts
Lastly, if your doe continues to eat her litter every time, she might not have a motherly instinct.
In such an instance, it’s best to get her fixed to prevent her from breeding.
7 Ways to Stop the Mother Rabbit from Eating Her Kits
Here are some tips you can use to prevent your doe from eating her kits:
Don’t Breed Immature Rabbits
As a rule of thumb, don’t breed rabbits that are younger than six months old.
It’s because rabbits younger than that are immature. They are not ready to bear the stress of birthing and caring for a litter.
An immature doe will react poorly to her babies. It is also more likely to succumb to stress and fear, causing her to eat her kits.
Moreover, if your mature doe continues to kill her litter every time, get her fixed.
Avoid All Anxiety or Stress Triggers
Before your rabbit gives birth, make sure to provide her with a safe and calming environment. Remove all stress-inducing triggers from her environment.
It includes pets, babies, and anything that can cause a ruckus. You must also remove bright lights and avoid any quick movements. Creating a quiet, calming ambiance will keep your doe stress-free.
You can also create a nice, dark hiding space for your doe and her kits. Keep her cage away from high-traffic, brightly lit areas. It will keep her fight or flight instincts at bay.
Moreover, make sure to shower her with your affection to make her feel safe.
Provide the Doe with a Nutritious Diet
When you find out that your doe is pregnant, increase the protein in her diet. Provide her with a nutritious diet to prevent her from eating her kits.
You will need to feed her alfalfa hay during the last few weeks of her pregnancy. It’s rich in protein and will keep your doe from feeling exhausted after giving birth.
You must also feed fresh food to your pregnant doe. You can give your rabbit fat-rich sunflower seeds and some organic parsley. You can also feed it calf manna.
A healthy diet will prevent your rabbit from feeling famished. It will also help it produce enough milk to keep its litter well-fed.
This way, she will not be inclined to eat her newborns. However, if you notice that the mother rabbit is not producing adequate milk, take her to the vet right away.
Also read: How Long Do Rabbits Stay Pregnant?
Clip Your Does’ Nails
You will also need to prevent your rabbit from injuring her babies during or after birth. The best way to do that is by clipping her nails before she gives birth.
It will prevent her from injuring her kit while breaking the placenta. It will also help you keep the kits alive.
Monitor the Mother Rabbit & Her Kits
You must keep a close eye on your doe and her kits as soon as she gives birth to them.
It will help you prevent her from accidentally eating her kits while eating the placenta.
Moreover, you will also need to intervene if the mother shows hints of eating her kits or is neglecting them. If one of the kits is deformed, ill, or dead, remove it from the others.
Make sure that the kits remain in the nest box. If one of them falls out, put it back into the box. If the mother shows signs of anxiety, try petting her to calm her down.
Invest in a Spacious Nest Box
Firstly, make sure that your pregnant doe’s cage is big enough for a spacious nesting box.
Don’t wait to change her environment/cage until the babies are born. It can cause preventable stress.
After securing a large cage, put a nesting box inside it. Do so after your rabbit is comfortable in the cage. Make sure it’s big enough to comfortably house numerous kits.
Don’t put the nesting box inside the cage too early. Otherwise, the doe might start using it as her litter box. Keep it in the corner of the cage and make sure it’s fall-proof.
You can use some hay and paper shavings inside the box. Make sure it’s comfortable for kits as they will stay in it until two weeks of age.
You can also keep the box out of the mother’s reach. This way, you can take out the kits for a supervised feeding time and put them back in later.
Distract the Doe
To prevent your rabbit from stressing out, keep it distracted with new toys.
The more you keep your doe engaged in various activities, the less stressed she will be. It will keep her kits safe.
The Bottom Line
If you have taken every necessary step, but the mother rabbit is still trying to eat her kits, you will need to separate them.
Remove the newborns from the doe’s care and only leave them with her for supervised feedings.
This way, you can prevent the mother rabbit from feeding on her young.
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