Rabbits are prolific breeders, and female rabbits spend most of their lives pregnant in the wild. With a relatively short gestation period of only 31 days, rabbits can quickly reproduce, often giving birth to upwards of 15 kits in a single litter. Unfortunately, not all baby rabbits are born healthy and active, and some rabbits will give birth to dead babies. Understanding the causes for a rabbit giving birth to dead babies can not only help you cope with the troubling discovery but also help prevent stillbirths in the future. A rabbit giving birth (see also our article on rabbit reproduction) to dead babies can be caused by several factors, including diet, illness, and the size of the baby.
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Understanding Stillbirths In Rabbits
Nothing can quite prepare you for discovering that your pet rabbit has given birth to babies that are dead. Although it can be troubling, understanding what causes stillbirths in rabbits can help you become a better pet parent and possibly prevent stillbirths in the future.
What Is a Stillbirth?
In animals, a stillbirth can be defined as a death in a baby that happens before, during, or immediately after birth. A stillbirth can occur while the fetus rabbit is still in the mother’s womb or while the baby rabbit is being born. Further, if a baby rabbit’s death occurs within 48 hours of birth, veterinary science still considers this death a stillbirth.
How Common are Stillbirths In Rabbits?
Luckily, stillbirths in rabbits remain relatively rare, and there are greater chances that your rabbit will birth healthy and active baby bunnies. Usually, less than 10% of all rabbit births result in a stillbirth. However, when a stillbirth occurs in a litter, about 50% to 100% of the litter is impacted and will generally die within the first two weeks of life.
While stillbirths in rabbits are rare, there is a frighteningly high mortality rate of rabbits between one to two months of age. Once a rabbit reaches the age of three months or older, the mortality rate drops to near-zero levels.
What Causes Baby Rabbits To Die After Birth?
If a rabbit gives birth to a live baby, there is still a significantly high risk that the baby could perish in the following days. Rabbits usually give birth to many babies in each litter, making competition for resources fierce. Weak kits, or babies with low birth weight, are more prone to death due to starvation as they are outcompeted for their mother’s milk.
Further, physiological condition and the ability of the mother rabbit to care for her new litter significantly impact the chance of survival. The most likely reasons for a rabbit to die after birth include cannibalism, abandonment of the litter, weak newborns, sickness, or the mother’s death.
Why Is My Rabbit Giving Birth to Dead Babies?
Owning a breeding pair of rabbits can be an exciting, informative, and rewarding experience. Birthing a healthy and live litter of kits can give you a sense of satisfaction as you increase your brood at home. (See also How Long is a Rabbit Pregnant?) However, if your rabbit consistently gives birth to dead babies rather than having kits pass away after birth, there may be an underlying condition. Some of the most common reasons why a rabbit may give birth to dead bunnies include diet, disease, or the size of the kit.
Feeding your rabbit a healthy diet of vitamins and nutrients can lead to a healthy life for not only your rabbit but your rabbit’s offspring as well. All too often, genetically modified food is used as the primary food for a rabbit. Unfortunately, GMO pellet food is packed full of corn and soy, linked to problems and diseases in rabbits. Unfortunately, GMO foods can lead to fatal kit birth defects.
If you are struggling with continuous stillbirths, you may want to consider your rabbit’s diet. Ensure that your rabbit always has access to clean drinking water. Your rabbit’s diet should consist of high-quality grass and hay. High-quality food is needed to allow your rabbit’s digestive system to function correctly. You’ll always want to supplement your rabbit’s diet with leafy greens and only a small amount of commercially produced pellets.
Allowing your rabbit to become overweight can also lead to deaths in baby rabbits. Not only can an overweight mother rabbit lead to smaller litter size, often only one kit, but it can also make the birthing process more difficult. A strenuous birth can put undue pressure on the young kits, leading to premature death. A rabbit is a healthy weight if you can see a smooth curve that extends from the neck to the tail and hip to hip.
Underlying illness can lead to stillbirths in rabbits. One of the main culprits is a relatively common disease called Listeriosis. This disease is a bacterial blood infection with the bacteria found in mud, water, and soil. Symptoms are usually sudden and can include:
- Inability to stand or move
- Cough or Difficulty Breathing
Because the symptoms come on so quickly, this can be a complex disease to treat. If you notice that your rabbit is in distress, you’ll want to seek immediate veterinary attention for your pet.
There are four main types of Listeriosis, all of which are serious. The four types include Encephalitis, Septicemia, Mastitis (rare), and Abortion and Perinatal Deaths. Abortion and Perinatal Deaths are a leading cause of stillborn rabbits. This version of Listeriosis is also challenging to diagnose and treat because the only symptom will be the loss of the fetus. Usually, the fetus will perish toward the end of the pregnancy, with the stillborn babies mainly developed.
Preventing Listeriosis is pivotal to allow your mother rabbit to develop healthy baby bunnies which survive birth. Although the bacteria that causes this disease is found worldwide, preventative steps and good hygiene can help eliminate the disease. Avoid contaminated areas, including plants, streams, or mud. Always keep your rabbit’s enclosure clean and free of possible infected feces. Listeriosis is common in younger rabbits, usually between one and three years old, and is more common when stressed. Keep your rabbits in a safe, quiet, and stress-free environment, especially if pregnant.
Sometimes a rabbit may give birth to a dead baby if the kit is particularly large. Stillbirth deaths due to large kits are more common in dwarf rabbits, or rabbits that typically only carry one to two kits. Unfortunately, when there is a significantly larger kit in the womb, most of the vitamins and minerals go to the large baby, which will get too large. When the baby is too large, the mother will have difficulty delivering the baby, leading to immediate death. In many cases, the mother will also die while giving birth.
What Should I Do If I Find Dead Bunnies?
Discovering a litter of dead bunnies can be troubling. To keep the mother rabbit safe and any possible surviving kits, you must act quickly. Be sure to remove any deceased babies to prevent the spread of potential disease. Properly dispose of the dead bunny. Deceased offspring should never be allowed to remain in the enclosure with healthy rabbits.
It may be possible to resuscitate a baby bunny in the event of a difficult birth. It is crucial to keep the baby bunny warm and dry, gently rubbing the body to stimulate blood flow. In some cases, using a hairdryer with low heat is enough to resuscitate a baby bunny. Once the rabbit is resuscitated, you’ll want to keep a close eye on the baby to ensure it survives.
Every rabbit owner wants to breed healthy and active baby bunnies, but sometimes underlying causes can lead to a rabbit giving birth to dead babies. If you are struggling with continuous stillbirth litters, you may want to consider an underlying source. Although weak or sick baby rabbits often do not survive the first weeks of life, stillbirths in rabbits remain relatively rare, accounting for less than 10% of all rabbit births. Possible sources for continuous stillbirths can include improper diet, large kits in dwarf rabbit breeds, or disease leading to fetus death. Although quick action may lead to a resuscitated rabbit, it is essential always to remove dead kits from the nest to protect the life and health of the mother and baby rabbits.