Anyone would freak out at the sight of a mother rabbit walking on her kittens.
They have such small and delicate bodies.
And they can be badly hurt.
So, why do mother bunnies do this?
And how can you prevent this from happening again?
Keep reading to discover:
- Why mother rabbits step on their babies.
- Things you might be doing that causes them to do this.
- How the size of an enclosure affects a rabbit’s behavior.
- 9 helpful tips on how to end this and keep your kittens safe.
- And a lot more…
Why does my rabbit keep stepping on her babies?
Your rabbit keeps stepping on her babies because they might have a small enclosure. She can’t move around well and avoid the babies. But, she can be anxious and confused too. And this is likely if this is her first pregnancy. However, noises, new bedding, and frequent visits can also stress her out.
But, there’s also an instance when they’re not actually stepping on their kittens.
It may look like it. However, they might only be nursing their babies.
This is because mothers usually stand over to feed them.
But if this isn’t clearly the case, here are some tips that may help you.
How to stop a mother rabbit from stepping on her babies? 9 tips
#1: Rearrange the babies in the nest
In some cases, mother bunnies might give birth in an unfitting spot. So newborn kits gather in that certain area.
Say, near the entry of the nesting box or hutch.
And this causes the mother rabbit to step on her babies accidentally when it’s feeding time.
In this case, you may need to rearrange the kittens by yourself to keep them safe.
Put them in the rear part of the nesting box to avoid being stepped on.
And might as well line the spot with bunny fur or any nesting material that the mother likes.
“But I heard that when you touch a baby rabbit, they’ll absorb your scent.
And this will make the mother bunny reject or kill them.”
According to experts, this is a myth.
Mother rabbits may find our odor strange. But, it’ll not cause them to abandon or take the lives of their litter.
So, you can handle the kittens.
However, be gentle and only do this when necessary.
Now, you may have also heard that moving a rabbit’s nest is wrong.
Well, this one is true.
Based on Toronto Wildlife Center, if ever you find a nest outside, it’s best to leave them alone.
This is because mother bunnies are particular with their nesting spot. So if it’s relocated to a different area, they’ll abandon the litter.
But don’t worry, in this tip, you’ll not be moving any nests.
You’ll only reorganize the babies in that same place in a way that the mother bunny won’t trample over them.
You might also like: 19 Real Reasons Why Rabbits Eat Their Own Babies + 7 Tips
#2: Provide a larger enclosure for them
Rabbits don’t do well in cramped spaces.
They’re active, curious, and often seen jumping. So if they can’t roam around with ease, they’ll be bored and stressed.
And this is one of the reasons why rabbits dig in their cage.
In this case, the nesting box may take up a lot of space inside the hutch. So your mother rabbit finds it hard to move.
“What should I do?”
If possible, you can extend your rabbit’s cage by adding a run to it. Or an enclosed larger area where they can wander and hop whenever they want.
You may install a playpen to make the other areas of the room inaccessible to them. Put their hutch inside it and open its doors to allow them to move freely.
“How big should their enclosure be?”
PDSA advises to follow these measurements:
- For their hutch: 6 ft x 2 ft (2 m x 1 m).
- For the whole enclosure: 10 ft x 6 ft x 3 ft (3 m x 2 m x 1 m).
#3: Put the babies in a nesting box
Where are the kittens located?
Are they only lying somewhere in the hutch with their mother?
If so, there’s a chance that she stepped on them unknowingly while roaming around.
For this, consider putting the babies in a proper nesting box.
But remember, place it in the same spot to avoid confusing the mother rabbit.
“How can I create a nesting box?”
The commonly used material for this is wood due to its ‘natural’ feeling. Plus, it’ll keep babies warm inside.
However, its downside is that it’s hard to disinfect them.
So, you may also choose a container made of hard plastic, wire, or metal as they’re easier to clean.
To learn more, check out this video:
“How big should it be?”
The size of the nesting box will depend on your rabbit’s breed.
- For smaller: 10″H x 10″W x 18″L (25.4 cm H x 25.4 cm W x 45.72 cm L).
- For giant breeds: 10″H x 12″W x 23″L (25.4 cm H x 30.48 cm W x 58.42 cm L).
#4: Let her reorganize their space
It could also be that she’s trying to dig a burrow for her litter.
But the babies are in the way so she might have stepped on them unintentionally.
However, does she seem troubled by something?
If so, she might be anxious as well because their nest isn’t up to her liking.
This can make her worry a lot. And she may not notice that she’s already stepping on one of her babies.
“What should I do?”
Mother rabbits build and organize their nest. So in this situation, it’s best to leave the job to them.
However, to keep the babies safe, you may move them just a few inches away.
So that the mother can continue what she’s doing without possibly hurting her kits.
#5: Replace it with a nesting material she prefers
When did your rabbit start stepping on her babies?
If this behavior appeared right after you changed their bedding, that might be it.
“What do you mean?”
I said earlier that rabbits are specific with their nests’ location, right?
Well, it may also be the same with the materials they use to build it.
So having new bedding in the nest might stress a mother rabbit. Making her less aware of her surroundings, especially her kittens.
Or she’s trying to remove it by digging.
The material might be novel or unfamiliar to the mother bunny. Or it may not be up to her liking.
“So what are the common materials that rabbits use to create nests?”
Research says that when bunnies are about to give birth, they’ll start plucking their fur out.
They shed due to the rise of prolactin levels in their bodies. And this allows them to use their coat as excellent nesting material.
Aside from fur, they may also gather grass, hay, straw, or wood shavings.
As well as move their bedding. Or any material they see around them.
Now, which one do bunnies like the most?
A group of researchers conducted a study about this.
And they found that 87% of the rabbits prefer a nesting box with straw in it. Compared to the one with wood shavings.
This may vary per bunny. So to be sure, try putting back the material that the mother originally gathered in their nest.
Then see if this will make her calm down or not.
#6: Put their cage in a secure and quiet spot
Rabbits tend to be fidgety since they’re prey animals.
They’re always alert and they’re sensitive to noises.
If this is your rabbit’s first pregnancy, she might be stressed out already. So what more if she’s also exposed to other loud noises.
Like a dog barking or children screaming around the house.
This will make her panic inside the hutch. And it could be the reason why she steps on her babies.
So to prevent this from happening again, relocate their hutch (with the nest inside).
Put it in a quiet corner of the room. And make sure that it’s far from people and other pets.
Note: Being in a new area may also confuse your rabbit. So if you have to relocate them to a different room, move the cage gradually. Little by little, place it a few meters away until it’s in your desired spot.
Further reading: 21 Quick & Effective Ways To Reduce Stress In Rabbits
#7: Give her a ‘safe place’
Aside from putting them in a more peaceful area…
You should also give the mother rabbit a place where they can retreat. So that she can hide whenever they feel scared.
“How does this help?”
According to experts, bunnies don’t only hide to keep themselves safe.
They also stay in burrows to calm themselves down.
Like what we do when we’re overwhelmed with social interaction. Or when we feel insecure about our surroundings.
Did you know that mother bunnies don’t stay with their kits in the nest?
Newborn rabbits don’t give off a scent. But, adult ones do.
This is why mothers don’t remain in their nest to not leave a trail towards their babies. And to avoid attracting unwanted guests – predators.
The House Rabbit Society says that this is innate in all rabbits.
So although pet bunnies don’t have to be wary of predators, they still have this instinct.
Plus, if the kits keep on clinging, the mother can also be stressed out.
What to do?
Put a few hiding places in their enclosure, like:
- Low stools.
- Tunnels for small animals.
- Plain cardboard boxes (with at least 2 holes).
Warning: Rabbits love to chew. They may eat some of the cardboard when they’re bored. So to keep them safe, pick a plain one without any print, adhesives, or staples.
#8: Reduce your visits to their enclosure
To make sure that every baby rabbit is fed well, you should always check on them.
But, this is usually done once a day. Preferably early in the morning.
So if you have no other agenda than that, it’s also best to lessen your visits to their hutch.
Because the mother might also be stressed whenever someone’s watching them.
Think about it.
Are you comfortable with getting looked at every minute?
Well, it might be different for some.
But for most people, it can be uncomfortable. And the same goes for some animals.
Rabbits are prone to stress. Plus, they’re territorial too.
So if they feel invaded or disturbed, they might lash out.
#9: Keep her in a separate cage
Lastly, have you tried everything above?
But still, your mother rabbit still looks anxious and steps on her babies?
If so, you may consider putting her in a separate cage. And only give her access to the kittens every feeding time.
But I’m telling you this now. This tip requires more effort and time.
First, you’ll give the mother bunny access to her babies every mealtime.
This usually happens once a day. Either late at night or early in the morning.
Second, you have to check if everyone’s getting enough milk too.
And third, if the mother refuses to nurse them, you have to hand-feed the kittens yourself.
Now, relax. We have an article that can help you in this kind of situation.