Help! Mom's Not Taking Care of the Kits!
It happens every now and again where a dam for whatever reason stops, or doesn't start taking care of her kits. This is not only frustrating, but life threatening. Here are some things you can do in these situations. Photos coming soon!
She had them on the wire!
When a dam has the kits on the wire they are at risk for injury, falling out of the cage, and getting too cold. The first thing to do is to gather up all the kits as soon as you find them. If they are cold, stick them under your shirt or loosely in a pocket. Your body heat will warm them up fast. Get them inside and set up a warming station. If using a heating pad make sure they don't get burnt. Use a blow dryer cautiously at least 6-12" from the kits.
Remember - it's not dead until it's warm and dead.
Warming supplies - heating pad, hair dryer, ziplock baggie of hot water.
She ate it!
It's gross, but it happens. Sometimes mom eats half of a baby, or grooms it too much and removes an ear. This happens most often when she has kits on the wire, but sometimes happens in the box. You can either cull the kit, or try to let it heal. If you see exposed flesh it will probably heal quickly enough, but a limb will never regrow. Remove the nest box full of kits for the day, and put them back out to nurse. By day 2 they will no longer be at risk. A dam will never go back and eat them once they're clean, dried off, and settled in the nest.
She didn't build a nest!
Sometimes the dam won't build a nest or pull fur. This is usually due to the human not providing the preferred nesting material, but sometimes the first time moms don't pull fur. If your rabbit doesn't like pine shavings (most of ours don't), try extra hay or straw. Ours prefer hay over all other bedding materials. The hormones from pregnancy and birth should loosen the belly fur and allow you to pull some out. Hold your rabbit and try to remove some fur. When you have enough, make a little cavern in the hay and sandwich fur, babies, and more fur.
She's not nursing them!
One of the worst things is when the dam refuses to feed the kits. This happens more frequently with first time moms than with proven does. You simply have to force nurse her. This is best done with two people. Have one person hold the doe on her back while you locate each of the nipples and take the scissors to trim the fur around them. This will make it easier for the kits (and you) to find the nipples. You then take one kit at a time and latch them on. They are feisty and will wriggle a lot, so be prepared to catch! We can only nurse one or two at a time this way. You know they are full when you flip them over and their bellies go from flat or sunken in to looking like they swallowed a bouncy ball.
Supplies: Scissors, spare person.
I'm tired of holding her upside down to nurse!
It's been 3 days and she's still not nursing. This happens too. Usually around days 3-5 the rabbit will realize that it feels better when she feeds the babies, and starts doing it herself. Sometimes a change of scenery is all that's needed. We bring both doe and nest box inside, place the nest box on a tote bin (to keep it off the floor away from dog/cat), and place mom in the nest box. She is usually afraid of being raised up and in a new environment and will stay put, allowing the kits to nurse. After 20-30 minutes, we take both mom and box back outside to her cage.
Hopefully by now mom has accepted her babies and they are warm and happy in the nest. If not, you're in for a long haul. If you cannot take care of the kits yourself, you have two options: 1) Foster them to a different mother of yours (with kits the same age), or 2) Contact local rabbit breeders and see if they can take the kits in.
I need to foster!
If you need to foster kits, don't worry. Usually mom will accept foster babies no problem. You will need to keep track of who belongs to whom for pedigrees, but this is easy if the litters are two different colors (if not, just use some nail polish on the head/ears). Put a little vanilla on mom's nose to confuse the scent, or remove mom's box and rub some of her fur over the fosters. If you combine litters, you're all set. If you cannot combine litters (due to size of litters or ages), simply keep one box outside and one box inside the house. Bring box 1 outside at 7 am, then switch them around at 7pm. This should allow mom to still nurse both litters. Keep checking for full bellies.
It's cold outside!
Generally rabbit nests will be fine outside. Sometimes they get too cold and the kits die. For us, we bring them inside overnight if it is a small litter (less than 5), because small litters don't generate or hold as much body heat in. We also bring them in overnight if it is really cold, probably below freezing, possibly into the 40s or 50s as well. If you bring the nest inside overnight, be sure to put it outside first thing in the morning and to check back in an hour or so to be sure mom has fed them. Most rabbits nurse overnight. If she hasn't nursed them, go ahead and use one of the nursing techniques above.