A reader wrote to ask why her baby rabbits are dying.
“I am a pawrent to rabbits and my main concern is that anytime the doe gives birth the whole litter dies when they are being weaned off. This has happened to all my litters. One baby dies then the rest follow. What could be the issue?”
Baby rabbits may die for a number of reasons such as heart attacks, cold temperatures, hazardous ingestion, dehydration, unsanitary conditions, pneumonia or lack of milk. Newborns are sensitive and they need their mother for nutrition thus the chances of a baby bunny surviving without a mother is less than 10 per cent.
A good nest for the rabbits is paramount to prevent the babies from exposure to the elements. If you lack a good shed, without good padding, and the mother rabbit has the babies on the cage floor they may not live long. Line the nest with hay and cover the babies with an old blanket especially if they are born without fur.
Large litter may also lead to some if not all babies dying as it is hard for one mother rabbit to take care of all of them. A well-nourished mother rabbit can handle a maximum of nine babies. You make sure the mother has enough milk by proper feeding. The feeder should always be full so she gets to eat as much as she wants. And remember to refill the drinking jar with fresh water regularly.
Ageing mother rabbits may also lose their babies easily. If you have one that is over five years old with few litter and is still struggling to take care of the babies, it is likely they have outgrown giving birth.
Pneumonia is also a common reason behind the death of baby rabbits. New-borns battling pneumonia will show signs of lethargy and will have pale bluish gums. Some will cough, sneeze, open their mouths while breathing and have no appetite.
When you discover a dead baby rabbit, remove it immediately and clean up the nest to avoid the spread of bacteria to the remaining rabbits and to prevent the mother rabbit from eating the dead baby.
A healthy bunny can live up to 12 years but on average, most do five to eight years. If you want the rabbits to live the longest years possible, provide them with suitable housing, the right diet and protect them from extreme weather and predators. You can also have the vet examine them once or twice a year.
Maryanne is a pet owner. [email protected]