Why Would A Mother Rabbit Kill Her Babies?

Categorized as Bunny Care Tagged

Last Updated on March 29, 2022 by Rei Garnet

Rabbits will eat their kits for a variety of reasons. Like when the kits are sick, the mother is stressed, there is not enough milk, the kits are mistaken as the placenta, the kits are already dead, or when the rabbit is too young to be a mother.

Rabbits would not willingly eat meat without reason because they are herbivores. What’s happening is just nature telling the rabbit to survive and procreate at all cost, even if it means eating her own.

Now that I’ve told you the gist of the article, read on to know the details of the reason why rabbits would eat her kits:

The kits are sick.

Newborn rabbits or kits that are still inside the nest.
“Rabbits’ Nest Day 2 – 2” by Nick Busse is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

When a rabbit detects that one or more of her kits are sick or weak, her instinct will kick in and eat those kits.

The reason is that weaker or sick babies are liabilities. It could drag down her other healthy kits by robbing them of their mother’s limited resources (i.e. milk).

This reason is especially true for wild rabbits, who have far less nutritional food than pet rabbits. But still, the pet rabbit’s instinct is the same regardless.

It’s an instinct to avoid predators.

A rabbit's nest full of baby rabbits or kits.
“Rabbits Nest Day 6” by Nick Busse is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

When a rabbit is threatened by predators around her, she might start eating her babies to draw attention away from her nest. The same thing happens with pet rabbits who are stressed out or when they’re not comfortable with their current environment.

Before breeding your rabbits, make sure that they are comfortable with their home. Look for signs of stress like aggressiveness, nervousness, over-grooming or not grooming, lack of appetite, and lethargy.

If you see any of these symptoms, consult a veterinarian for proper advice. Your rabbit might be suffering from conditions you are not seeing.

She is too young and inexperienced.

A young wild rabbit attempting to feed her baby.
“Rabbit feeding baby” by Himmel-R is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Inexperienced rabbits are often bad mothers. That’s why it’s not advisable to breed your rabbits before they are 6 months old. What often happens when a rabbit is bred young is that they lack the instinct of a mother because they haven’t reached sexual maturity yet.

But sometimes, even older rabbits can be bad mothers if it’s their first time.

Finally, if your rabbit eats her babies the second time she gets pregnant, stop breeding her and get her neutered.

She doesn’t have enough milk.

A grey rabbit with her five kits inside its nest.
“champagne d’argent mom and babies” by Joan

Another reason a rabbit would kill her kits is a lack of nutrients. Rabbits that lack nutrients will not produce the adequate amount of milk required to keep their kits alive.

This, in turn, would make her kits a liability. Unfed rabbits would likely die, which, in turn, attracts the attention of predators due to their smell.

This is all instinctual for rabbits. They are herbivores and would not eat meat willingly. What’s happening is just nature trying to keep her alive and extend the bloodline further.

The kits are already dead.

As I mentioned, kits that are dead attract predators due to their smell. That’s why most of the time, the rabbit will just eat them.

Another reason why rabbits would eat a dead baby is that they are meticulous cleaners and like to keep their burrow/home clean and sanitized. Not to mention, carcasses attract deadly diseases.

She thought it was a placenta.

Mama rabbits would eat the placenta after giving birth. This would ensure that no decomposing meat would be left in the nest, which could invite predators due to its smell as well as bacteria and diseases.

Sometimes, rabbits would confuse the placenta with her kits and eat them instead.

Summary

Rabbits would eat their children for a variety of reasons, due to their instinct to survive and procreate at all costs.

One of those reasons is when the kits are already sick and weak. Sick or weak rabbits are just a liability to her because rabbits in the wild have limited milk to give due to scarce food sources.

Allowing the weak kits to live would most likely drag her other healthy babies along with them.

Eating her babies could also be due to a stressed rabbit. In the wild, when a rabbit is stressed, she will eat her young in order to not draw attention from predators.

Another reason why a rabbit would eat its young is when a rabbit gets pregnant that’s less than 6 months old. First-time mothers don’t have the right instinct yet, so it’s best to wait for your rabbit to sexually mature before breeding them.

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Also, mama rabbits could confuse the placenta with her children and eat it instead.

And finally, if the kits are already dead, the rabbit will just eat them. This is to keep the place clean and avoid attracting diseases and predators to its borrow.

Cite this article:

Bunny Horde (May 2, 2022) Why Would A Mother Rabbit Kill Her Babies?. Retrieved from https://bunnyhorde.com/why-would-a-mother-rabbit-kill-her-babies/.
"Why Would A Mother Rabbit Kill Her Babies?." Bunny Horde - May 2, 2022, https://bunnyhorde.com/why-would-a-mother-rabbit-kill-her-babies/

Sources and further reading

  • Buseth, Marit Emilie., and Richard A. Saunders. Rabbit Behaviour, Health, and Care. CABI, 2014.
  • Lebas, F. The Rabbit: Husbandry, Health, and Production. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 1997.
  • Patry, Karen, et al. The Rabbit-Raising Problem Solver: Your Questions Answered about Housing, Feeding, Behavior, Health Care, Breeding, and Kindling. Storey Publishing, 2014.

By Rei Garnet

I’ve loved and cared for rabbits since I was 9 years old, and I’m here to share my passion for rabbits. My objective is to help rabbit owners give their rabbits the best life possible.