At birth, the rabbit is a little being, shapeless, fragile, hairless, blind, deaf and inert. Difficult, then, to imagine that in a few weeks, like the chrysalis transformed into a butterfly, it will become a silky plush, endowed with a marvelous beauty, touching and full of vivacity! What has happened during these four weeks to cause such a transformation ? This is what we will see.
The birth of young rabbits
After having carefully improved the cozy nest with his own hairs, the rabbit finally gives birth to her young, at the rate of one birth every 10 minutes. Depending on the race, they will be between 2 and 12 to clump around the maternal udders. Each time, the mother carefully cuts the umbilical cord of her teeth, swallows the placenta who could soil the nest and lick each baby for a long time in order to rid its body of all filth. It is not uncommon for a litter to have one or more individuals stillborns or malformed. In this case, it is important for the good development of the survivors to remove them as quickly as possible. Take advantage of this visit to also clean any remains of the placenta.
The first meal
At the time of birth, the physiological transformation of the female is already complete. Her udders are full of a specific “early age” milk, very rich, the colostrum. Vital for young rabbits, this elixir is essential for their growth and protects them from diseases. This milk accompanies newborns during the first 3 weeks of life, then becomes concentrated, enriched in protein and in fat and lightens in lactose. The first meal will be the only one during which infants can feed themselves as they wish. It is not uncommon to see some of them activate around the breasts, while the mother expels the latest arrivals.
The first days
At birth, the rabbit weighs between 30 and 80 grams, depending on its breed and constitution. Nesting, it is not able to move around and feed itself. It is therefore the mother who will go to the nest for the only daily breastfeeding. Feeds only last a few minutes and the mother remains standing. It is the rabbit who decides the quantities of milk distributed, when she judges that it is over, she is able to block the flow. This behavior is quite natural, but when hungry, it can happen that the last to arrive desperately cling to the udders. This does not prevent the mother from going back to go about her business. You have to be careful with these movements, because a baby rabbit can get stuck on a udder, and be dragged out of the nest. It must then be put back there quickly, otherwisehypothermia, cause of rapid death.
The first awakenings
From the fourth day, the risk of death due to the mother’s lack of milk or to hazardous genetic manipulation (dwarfism), shrinks. The range is getting rounder every day and a first down very silky covers the entire body. Even if it is very tempting, hold back, at this point, your frenzied urge to cuddle these little loves. A visual inspection of the health of their living environment is sufficient for now. It is also the moment when each person’s character traits will appear. Nestled in a compact cluster, periods of sleep still occupy most of the brood’s time, but it is remarkable to note that the same individuals occupy the central place, comfortably coiled up warm and in safety. Certainly, these are already the dominant of the group.
First week, continuation and end
From the sixth day, the more adventurous get up and try a disorderly walk. Little by little they become quite stable on their feet to timidly venture out of the nest, although falling frequently. Little reckless, they quickly fall back to comfort. On the food side, babies have become pros. The time allotted is still as short, but better used and more productively. Everyone is thus able to ingest, at each feeding, up to 15% of its weight in milk. However, the larger the litter, the more consumption decreases, which is not without consequence on the weight of each individual, but does not seem to affect the growth curve. This does not necessarily explain the weight differences observed within a sibling. If the young rabbits are growing well, the ears still stick together on the skin of the back. The little ones become more turbulent, scrape the straw from the nest, bury themselves in it, make little progress in this hot universe or throw it away!
At the end of their first week, the young rabbits more than doubled their birth weight and ingested, on average 1.50 g of milk for 1 gram of weight won.
Second week: a real rabbit in miniature
The second week is the time of physical metamorphosis and sensory the most striking. The hair grows visibly and acquires its final color. In 48 hours, the eyes of all individuals within the litter should be open. Please note: any delay is a reason for consultation veterinary. The little ones run around, start to jump in the nest and practice climbing. The ears are take off, then rise up gradually (except for some dwarf species). These changes, however, in no way affect the cohesion of the group, which is still very compact.
At the end of the second week, the average birth weight was quadruple, the absorption of milk too, which passes to 1.75 g, on average per gram of weight gained.
Third week: the break
After a dazzling second week, the young rabbits enter a phase of consolidation of their acquittals and exploration of their living environment. The time devoted to rest gradually decreases and the group, always united, can sleep outside the nest. The displacements, more precise and longer allow exploration of the cage and more distant horizons if the doors are open. The rabbit recognizes the toilet area and start using it. You can finally, without risk or sanction from the mother, carefully take the young in your hands. The duration of breastfeeding decreases and the young rabbits try to nibble a few twigs of straw or pieces of granules.
At the end of the third week, the dentition is complete, the birth weight is multiplied by six and the average amount of milk per gram of weight gained is now close to 2.40 g.
Fourth week: towards a new life
The rabbits are now almost autonomous, they trot around the house, and feed more and more often by themselves. The weaning will intervene only in 1 or 2 weeks, but the quantity of milk absorbed by the young and produced by the mother decreases noticeably. At the same time, the acidity level stomach and intestine exchange quickly, to prepare the morphology of the animal for its future diet.
At the end of this fourth week, the birth weight was multiplied by 10. The proportion of milk consumed almost fell back to the level of the second week.
A beautiful life opens up for the young rabbits and adoptive family.