Rabbits are cool, but there are definately some things I wish I had understood better before getting mine. I intentionally breed my rabbits for wool and meat production, so some of what I have to say may not apply to everyone or to all reasons for having rabbits. But I hope this list helps someone!
1 – Rabbits do not breed like rabbits
The phrase “breeding like rabbits” was coined by someone who definately did not have rabbits! Or at least, he didn’t have rabbits he wanted to breed. Rabbits are actually incredibly picking about breeding. For one thing, bbucks don’t always know what they’re doing. They’re rather eager to try, but they, um, “miss” a lot. Sometimes they aim at completely the wrong body part! It’s like there is an instruction manual they didn’t read. Does can have trouble ovulating if they’re overweight. Bucks can become temporarially sterile when temperatures are high. The does are incredibly picky about their mates – if they don’t like the buck, they don’t like the buck! Too bad does can’t be given drinks until they’re soused and don’t care anymore…
2 – Rabbit kits are incredibly fragile
Even once you get two rabbits to successfully breed and you have kits on the way, don’t count your chickens before they’re hatched! (Yeah, I’m mixing my metaphors here, but you get the idea.) Kits need to be born into a warm nest, have several from the litter survive to keep each other warm, not be mistakenly eaten by mom, must be fed every day, and must not be trampled by adults. First time moms often don’t have a clue what they’re doing, and the kits die before you know she’s kindled them, usually because she gave birth outside the nest and the kits die from exposure. Even if mom is experienced, so much can go wrong. Kits can wriggle their way too far from littermates, and die from cold. Kits can hold too tightly to mom’s nipples and be drug out of the nestbox by accident, and die from exposure. Mom (or other adults in the same cage) can accidentally trample them, if she hops into the nest too roughly. Kits are fragile, I have learned not to count on having a live litter, or count on having the same number of adult rabbits as I have kits, until everything is well on its way.
3 – Humans really can’t make a doe reject her litter
We’ve all heard it “don’t touch that baby rabbit, you’ll make mom reject it!” Well, it isn’t true, at least not for rabbits who already recognize you as the bringer of food, water, and other good things. It is important to check on a new rabbit litter early and regularly – doing so can prevent a lot of problems later. And stay calm when mom doesn’t seem to care about her litter – rabbits tend to nurse once, sometimes twice per day and ignore the kits the rest of the time. In the wild, that keeps predators from following her back to the nest, and they continue that behavior even when they’re pets. S0 save the “don’t touch it” mantra for wild rabbits that associate human smell with danger.
4 – Most vets don’t have a clue about how to help rabbits
I was really startled to learn this one. It isn’t because they are not taught about rabbits while in vet school, it’s because there are very few interventions for rabbits that work. There are few antibiotics that work – the ones that do are usually expensive. There are few painkillers that work. A rabbit’s reaction to stress is often to shut down and not allow it’s body to work correctly, leading to a minor injury that the rabbit can starve to death from. It is emotionally difficult to watch a rabbit deteriorate and not be able to do anything about it. Especially if your rabbits are for wool or meat production, rather than beloved family members – just how much money can you spend to help them when you are not even assured that the help will succeed?
5 – Rabbits will try to drive you insane
After you’re read everything above, you probably think rabbits are impossible to keep. But that’s not true at all. The truth is that rabbits are conundrums. Enigmas. Mysteries. You can have two perfect rabbits you want to mate, who hate each other and won’t breed after weeks of trying. But let one of them get loose accidentally and you could have a litter after just 2 minutes of unsupervised time with a different mate, even with a wire fence in between them! And while many kits die, some does can easily deliver a litter of even 15 kits and successfully raise them all. One rabbit may die from a minor flesh wound, another can recover from a badly broken leg.
Rabbits are fun, frustrating, strange, and amazing creatures. I love having mine. Other people can’t stand them. As always, do your research and prepare for the unexpected!