Even though rabbits are herbivores…
There is a rare exception that will make them eat meat.
The terrifying part is that they eat their own babies.
It’s an upsetting event that needs prevention.
After all, if it happened once… It can happen again.
So read on to learn:
- 19 reasons why rabbits eat their own babies.
- When to consider spaying or neutering a rabbit.
- Whether you should take your rabbit to the vet or not.
- 7 tips on how to stop a rabbit from eating their own babies.
- And so much more…
Why do rabbits eat their own babies?
Rabbits eat their own babies to spare them from the pain. It happens when the baby is born weak and has no chance to survive. In some cases, they do it to avoid predators. In rare cases, they’ll do it out of stress or depression.
19 reasons why rabbits eat their own babies
#1: By accident
As strange as it sounds, this type of accident can happen in rabbits.
It’s true; sometimes, it’s not their intention to eat their babies.
But how can such an accident occur? It happens when the mother eats the baby’s placenta.
A study reveals that eating the placenta is common for rabbits. They eat it for the nutrients it contains.
It can happen while they’re licking their babies clean.
But some of them can make a mistake. They’ll think that their baby is part of the placenta. Because of this, they’ll end up eating the babies along with it.
Though they are smart, accidents can always happen.
#2: The mother is too young
Most young rabbits are not ready for motherhood. This is the time they can make a lot of mistakes, such as mentioned in #1.
It’s common for first-time mothers to eat their babies by accident.
This is due to their inexperience.
Even though rabbits can breed as early as 2 to 3 months old, it’s not advisable.
It can even put the rabbit in danger. Their body is not strong enough.
They can also still be “childish” at a young age. This means that their desire to play and have fun on their own will still be there.
Their maternal instincts will not be as strong, unlike when they are older.
If they aren’t ready for it, a rabbit can get stressed and eat the babies.
With the mention of stress, their young age is not the only factor that can cause it.
Many things can stress a rabbit out and lead them to eat their babies.
Here are 5 examples of what can cause stress in mother rabbits:
- Poor health.
- Loud noises.
- Lack of privacy.
- Dirty environment.
- Not having enough food.
These things are simple issues, but they can be big for a rabbit.
You’ll learn more about these factors and how to avoid them as you read on.
Aside from stress, depression can also cause problems for a rabbit.
It’s alarming for them. Not only will they harm their own babies, but they will also harm themselves.
There are a few things that can make them feel this way.
A common reason is when you separate them from their mate.
Most people separate pairs when the female gives birth. They do it out of fear that the male will attack the babies.
But one thing they forget is that they should never separate a bonded pair.
A rabbit’s bond is strong, and being away from their partner can lead to depression.
In some cases…
Their age can also play a role in this. Being old can make them feel too tired to care for babies. At the same time, young age is as explained in #2.
Another example that can cause depression is boredom.
This can happen if a rabbit spends most of their time locked up in one place.
If it feels like a “prison”, it restricts a bunny’s curious nature.
As a result, they won’t be happy to give birth. They’ll eat the babies to “set them free” from the “prison” they are in.
#5: Sick babies
Having a sick baby is one of the most common reasons why cannibalism happens.
This is not only for rabbits. Other animals such as hamsters, cats, bears, even dogs will do the same thing.
Have you ever heard of “late-term abortion”?
Based on research, experts may recommend this to people in very rare cases.
For example, the child is born with serious health problems. To spare the child from suffering, they put them to sleep for good.
It’s quite similar in this case. A rabbit will eat their sick baby to spare them from the pain.
#6: Wounded babies
In some unnatural cases, mother rabbits will eat their wounded babies.
This can happen in a few abnormal ways. For example, the baby can fall off from the nest.
If the nest is too high, they can get wounded.
Attacks from other animals can also cause this problem. In some cases, a mother rabbit’s claw can scratch them by accident.
As long as there is bleeding, the situation is alarming for the mother.
The scent of blood will attract predators. Even as pets, they can’t get rid of this instinct.
At the same time, they also don’t want their baby to bleed slowly to death. They cut the pain short by eating them as mentioned in #5.
#7: For nutrients
A malnourished rabbit may eat their babies for nutrients. This can happen due to a poor diet.
As bizarre as it sounds, rabbits will do it to survive.
Do you know that rabbits eat their own poop for nutrients as well? It’s almost the same thing. But cannibalism is abnormal and seen as an immoral thing to do.
Since they are animals, they won’t know better. All they know best is how to prioritize their survival.
This is why they’ll eat their babies and breed again at another time.
If a rabbit is healthy in their second pregnancy…
The chance of eating their babies is lower than before.
You might also want to check out: 9 Weird Reasons Why Rabbits Eat Their Own Poop + 9 Tips
If the babies are stillborn, a.k.a born dead, the mother will eat them.
A study shows that “Dystocia” is a cause of stillbirth in rabbits. Dystocia is the term for abnormal birth or having difficulty giving birth.
Another study reveals that it’s common in small animals because of mismatched breeding.
An example of this is when a dwarf bunny mates with a large breed.
This can cause the babies to be larger than usual. A rabbit’s small body can’t handle it. As a result, the mother will struggle to give birth.
Poor labor can cause the babies to be dead at birth, and the mother will eat them.
After all, there’s no point keeping their corpses. In fact, it can only endanger the living babies and the mother.
More on that topic as you read on.
#9: Small living space
In some cases, a tight enclosure can make a rabbit eat their babies.
Aside from what’s mentioned in #4…
Small living spaces can also trigger another problem.
If a rabbit feels territorial, they might eat their babies to get rid of “competition”.
Overcrowding can also be another concern.
Isn’t it stressful to be stuck in a full elevator? A rabbit can feel the same way.
To feel better, they’ll get rid of their babies to make some space. After all, their space is already too small to share with others.
#10: Food scarcity
Having nothing to eat is another reason for rabbits to do this act.
This is common for rabbits in the wild, especially in winter.
While most of them will breed during the warm season… surprises can happen.
Unlike others, rabbits don’t hibernate. They don’t stock up on food either.
They are foragers – always on the hunt for food. But during winter, it’s hard to find unfrozen food.
So if there’s food available – a hungry and desperate mother will eat their own babies.
But this is not only for their selfish gains. It’s also because a rabbit can’t feed their babies in this scenario.
The mother can’t produce milk if she has no food to eat. Thus, the best solution for a mother rabbit is to eat their babies.
#11: Panic or fear
A rabbit might also eat their babies out of panic or fear. It’s common in young rabbits, but rabbits of all ages can do this too.
As prey animals, they tend to get nervous a lot. Even the slightest sound can scare them.
And since they have a great sense of smell plus a 360-degrees field of vision…
A rabbit can spot a predator right away.
But for pet rabbits, false alarms can happen. If they feel threatened by something, they can become anxious.
For example, loud banging noises can make them feel afraid. If you sneak up on them, it can also make them feel a great amount of fear.
In this state of panic or fear, they’ll cannibalize their babies in an attempt to avoid predators.
One might even think that they’d rather “eat their own kind” than be eaten by their enemies.
Since they’re about to face their doom, why not be the ones to end their own kind?
This happens if the mother thinks there’s no way out for them.
Check out also: What do rabbits do when they are scared?
#12: The mother is sick
If the babies are healthy, sometimes, the mother is the problem.
If she’s sick, there’s no guarantee that she can take care of their babies as well as she should.
So she’ll either abandon her babies or eat them.
She’ll do it in fear that her babies will catch their illness. So, there is no point for her to raise the babies.
If the babies grow up carrying the mother’s disease, it can spread to the colony as well.
To minimize the damage, the mother would rather eat them. After that, the mother will hide far away. This is to protect their colony from getting sick as well.
For pet rabbits, they will still do the same.
In rare cases, the sickness can cause the mother to act strange.
If you suspect your rabbit ate their babies due to a condition… consult a vet.
But while waiting, this might also help you…
#13: Unhealthy environment
Living in a bad environment can also be a cause of the issue.
An example of a poor environment would be a dirty room.
The mother would consider the place to be unhealthy for their babies. As newborns, it’s easier for them to get sick in unclean places.
At the same time, the dirt can also stress the mother out. This takes us back to reason #3.
Another example is a crowded area.
Most rabbits want to be alone and away from people after giving birth. Even as pets, they’d want the same thing.
It’s safer for them to feel hidden.
If there are too many people around, they will feel unsafe. This also relates to reason #11.
Even if people leave them alone, rabbits can still sense them.
Once again, they can be sensitive to noise.
If they are not nesting in a peaceful area, the outcome will be the same where they will end up cannibalizing the babies.
Further reading: Why do rabbits dig in their cage?
#14: To avoid predators
If one of the babies dies due to any cause, the mother will eat them to avoid predators.
A dead animal will attract predators. The scent of the corpse is easy to track. To cover it up, the mother has no choice but to eat the baby.
Even as pets, rabbits will still do it as part of their nature.
#15: The babies are born weak
They will also do it when the baby is born weak. But what makes it different from being born sick?
There isn’t much of a difference; the motive only changes a bit.
In simple terms, the mother knows if their child won’t make it out alive.
Even if they grow up, they’ll be too weak to live in the wild.
To prevent letting them grow up to only end up in another animal’s stomach…
The mother will eat them right before they grow and suffer a tragic end in the face of a predator.
It’s a principle of, “If I can’t have it, no one can.“
If the mother can’t keep her baby due to the baby’s weak body, they won’t let another animal have that benefit.
#16: To get rid of the body
Rabbits are sensitive to scents as well.
They have over 100 million scent cells, after all. So, other than eating their babies to avoid predators…
They’ll also do it for the sake of their own comfort.
They won’t be able to stand the foul odor of a decaying animal. They are, after all, herbivores.
To get rid of the smell, they’ll make an exception and be a carnivore for a day.
If they don’t do it, their sensitive nose can end up making them sick as well.
For everyone’s safety, it’s the best thing the mother can do.
#17: Premature babies
Aside from stillbirths…
Rabbits can also have premature births.
It’s not as rare as you would think. It happens to many animals, too, such as cats or dogs.
One common cause of premature births is infections.
For example, bacteria infections such as snuffles can be an issue. The said condition can make it hard to breathe for bunnies.
When it’s hard to breathe, pregnancy is harder too. This leads to dystocia, as mentioned in reason #8.
Their body’s response to the difficulty is to get rid of some of their “workload”.
After all, carrying babies is not an easy thing to do. You need to be physically fit for the task.
Due to this, they may give birth earlier than expected.
With premature babies, there’s a low chance of survival. Just like in reason #15 where I’ve talked about bunnies being born weak.
#18: To protect the other babies
Rabbits give birth to an average amount of 5 babies. But it can vary between 1 to 14 babies per litter, as claimed by research.
If only one (or some but not all) of the baby rabbits was sick or born dead, then the mother will eat them to protect the others.
With this, they can make sure the other babies can get taken care of without worries.
With no corpse around, they can:
- Avoid predators.
- Get rid of the foul smell.
- Remove the risk of getting sick from the corpse.
- Prevent bacteria and parasites from forming around the corpse.
This way, the mother and the surviving children are safer from any risk.
#19: To spare the baby from the pain
While this was already mentioned throughout the other reasons…
It’s mentioned once more to sum up most of the reasons on this list.
In other words, a mother rabbit will eat their own babies for a simple reason: to not prolong their pain.
For humans, we would know this as “mercy killing“.
Animals are capable of doing the same but only to their own young. While it’s still a debate today whether animals have feelings or not…
It’s evident that most of them respond to pain. They can feel pain.
One research revealed how rabbits respond to pain. Their whiskers moved. The heart rate and blood pressure increased. These are clear signs of pain response.
Despite their nature of hiding it as best as they can…
They can still make involuntary movements that prove they can feel pain and they react to it.
When a mother knows this, they will want to spare their child from it.
How to stop rabbits from eating their babies? 7 ways
#1: Avoid stress
Stress can do a lot of bad things for your rabbit’s health.
So here are 5 tips to avoid it:
- Provide enough space.
- Avoid too much handling.
- Place them in a quiet room.
- Make sure they have enough food.
- Keep them away from other animals.
If your rabbit is also showing signs of aggression towards you, consider taking them to the vet.
Reading recommendation: How to reduce stress in rabbits?
#2: Don’t separate them from their mate
As explained above, separating a bonded pair can cause a disaster.
But it’s true that in some cases, the male rabbits can attack their own babies too.
To avoid the worst, there’s a simple solution.
Create a fence with small spaces between them. This allows the 2 bunnies to keep seeing each other.
The small gaps will also let them interact.
This way, the male can’t reach the babies. At the same time, both parent rabbits don’t feel lonely.
#3: Keep their environment clean
To avoid sickness in both the mother and the babies, always clean their room.
It’s best to clean their enclosure at least twice a day. One in the morning and one in the evening.
It will help them feel fresh and sleep with the best comfort.
#4: Place them in a safe and peaceful room
To make sure your rabbit won’t feel anxious, it’s best to move them to a safer room.
This way, they won’t feel threatened by any predators.
The peaceful place will also keep them relaxed. In the wild, rabbits dig for their nest.
It can be harder for predators to find rabbits in their burrows.
This is why it’s important to keep them in a secured room, especially if you own other animals.
If your bunny feels anxious, you can try to play music to put them at ease.
You can listen to this music video made to soothe rabbits:
#5: Don’t let them breed too early
It’s common for rabbits to give birth as early as 3 months old. One way to keep their breed alive is to mate and give birth as much as possible.
This is why rabbits will mate as early as they can, so what you can do is to avoid letting it happen.
If you don’t want to spay or neuter them, your best solution is to monitor them at all times. But since this is a hard task, it may be better to get rabbits of the same gender first.
If the female is old enough, that’s the only time you can introduce the male partner.
To know when it’s safe for a rabbit to breed, it’s best to consult a vet.
The situation varies depending on a rabbit’s health.
#6: Consider spaying and neutering
If breeding the rabbits was not your intention, it would be best to spay or neuter them.
This way, you can also fix a lot of problems in a rabbit’s behavior. It can also help avoid cancer.
It’s hard to control two rabbits in heat. If you take your eye off of them for a minute or two, they’re already circling each other.
The only way you can prevent the cannibalism issue is to avoid pregnancy in the first place.
#7: Take them to the vet
Whether you suspect your rabbit to be sick or not…
It will always be a good idea to take them to the vet. Illnesses can be hard to spot in rabbits.
After all, they try to hide their symptoms.
Only a professional can help identify hidden problems. This will help avoid the risk of the mother eating all the babies.
In the meantime, you can also opt to take care of the babies on your own.
If the mother has to stay with the vet, you might feed the babies by yourself.
Though this can be risky for their health as well. Seek your vet’s advice ASAP for the safety of both the mother and the babies.
People also ask:
Do male rabbits eat their babies?
Male rabbits don’t eat their babies. Rabbits are herbivores, and the male often stays away from the nest.
Only the female spends most of their time near the babies.
But in some cases, male rabbits can attack due to territorial behavior. Sometimes, they will treat the young rabbits as competition too.
Though they can eat the babies, it’s rare and abnormal.