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Dealing with litters born outside the rabbit nesting box on the cage floor is not fun at all but something that every rabbit owner and raiser will likely run into at some point.
You can also have kits born in the box but not being in the actual nest the mother rabbit has made and that is just as deadly.
When I know a litter is due I check on the expecting doe often. Babies being born outside the rabbit nest box is one of the easiest things to fix but can result in the loss of all the babies if they are not caught in time.
Why A Female Rabbit Will Have Her Babies Outside The Box
Most often this happens with a doe that is inexperienced and is not sure what to do once she goes into labor. Not always but it happens.
Another reason they will not use the box is that they don’t like something about it. Whether it is a noise, the location, or a smell on the box.
If it could be the smell, try another nest box if you have one. If not then try hosing it out with a small amount of dawn soap and let it sit in the sun for a few hours until it’s dry.
If you absolutely have to you could try a cardboard box but the problem with those is that the doe will likely try to shred the box. That is why a wooden nesting box is best. I will only switch to a cardboard one once the babies are close to three weeks old.
You might have to become a detective and try to find out the reason.
If you want to learn more about nest box tips and tricks you can read more here.
Nest Box Materials I Don’t Love
There are metal rabbit nesting boxes available but those do not do well in extreme cold or heat. They will increase the severity of the temperatures.
A plastic nesting box is not a good idea because it makes it really hard for the mamma rabbits to grip on the bottom. It could also cause the babies to slip around and get stepped on by the mother rabbit.
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What To Do If Your Rabbit Is Not Using The Nesting Box
If your mother rabbit has not had the babies yet and keeps insisting on building the nest outside the nest box then you need to keep picking the nest back up and put it in the nesting box. If you keep annoying her enough she should quit and leave the nest in the box.
If not she may be in too big of a space right now where she has too many options to make a nest.
You could do is put bowls or things she can’t move in the spot of the rabbit cage she is insisting on using. Once she gives in and makes her nest in the nest box you can remove the stuff you placed in that spot AFTER the kits are at least a few days old.
What To Do With The Babies Born Outside The Box
If you find a litter outside the box that is still wiggling then pick them up and put them back in the next close together.
If momma did not make a nest then make a little hole in the nesting material in the corner off to the side of the nesting box. Use the straw and line it with the momma’s fur that she hopefully pulled. Then put the babies inside the little pocket. See the image below.
Wood shavings are ok to use but they do not build up as easily. The mother rabbit needs to be able to bury her litter so they are covered completely. If you want to layer the pine shavings with straw that will work better than just wood shavings.
What If They Seem Dead?
If you are not more than an hour past the time they were born you can probably get a few of them warmed up depending on how cold it is.
If you are within half an hour then you should be able to get the whole litter to survive depending on how cold it is outside.
The babies are not warm and seem dead or barely moving, take them inside try to get the babies warm.
How To Warm Them Up
I put them in a basket with a rag to take them inside. I like to use my hairdryer to get them started because I can hold them in my hand and feel the temperature. You do want it nice and hot but not enough to make your hand feel like it’s burning.
If you have a small space heater, close the baby rabbits up in a small room and let it get nice and toasty in the room. You want to be able to put your hand over the nest (with the fur removed from over top of them) and feel the heat without the help of a heater.
So once they feel warm to the touch then turn the heater off and let the room cool down to what is comfortable for you. Then wait for an hour or so to see if they still feel warm on their own. If not then you know they won’t survive the temps outside even if it is 50+ degrees.
The biggest thing to remember is to just not freak out and get them warm. If you can check on the doe often during the time she is due then you will likely catch the babies in time. But sometimes that is not possible if you have to work or plans you made beforehand.
Know you did your best and be ok with that.
When do Baby Rabbits leave a Nesting Box?
Baby rabbits can leave the nesting box as young as 2 weeks old. The key is to know when it is safe to let them out. If your cages are made with wire floor (which is best for a clean environment) I would encourage you to wait until 2-2.5 weeks if you can keep them in the box that long. Sometimes they are resourceful critters and get out on their own.
How many Baby Rabbits can Live in the Nesting Box?
Depends on how big it is as well as the breed. For my french lops and other giant breeds, the perfect sizes I find are when two rabbits the size of momma could sit side by side in one box. Leaving space for momma to jump in and land while not squishing the babies.
With that said litters as large as 13 babies have been born and lived in a nest box here in the rabbitry. The issue isn’t the right size for the number of babies. It’s can the mother rabbit support and feed as many as she delivered. If you have another doe with a litter within 2 days of her litter you could give some of the babies to a foster mother.
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