Whether you are interested in venturing into Flemish rabbit husbandry (that is, raising and breeding rabbits for commercial purposes) or owning a breeding pair as pet rabbits, it is important to understand the biology of these fascinating gentle giants of the rabbit world. Chief amongst these is understanding the length of pregnancy of a female Flemish giant.
What Does It Mean to Breed Like Rabbits?
If you have come across the English idiom “to breed like rabbits,” you may not need to have expertise in rabbit biology to know that it does not take very long for a couple of breeding rabbits to produce many other rabbits in an exponential fashion.
Flemish rabbits are no exception in having frequent pregnancies and delivering sizeable litters after a relatively short period of gestation.
How Old Does a Female Flemish Rabbit Have to Be Before She Gets Pregnant?
Female rabbits can usually get pregnant from about twelve weeks (about three months) from birth. This is an exceptionally short period of time for a mammal of such a size as your average domesticated rabbit.
Owing to their large size and unique biology, Flemish rabbits take longer to mature than is typical for other rabbits. Indeed, a Flemish doe (female rabbit) may not get pregnant until she has reached six months of age. Therefore, for the best quality and healthy breed of Flemish rabbit kits, you should not breed rabbits until they have surpassed nine months from their time of birth.
When Do Male Flemish Rabbits Reach Sexual Maturity?
Male Flemish rabbits reach sexual maturity at around the same time as their female counterparts do. A buck of about six months is therefore capable of impregnating a doe. It is, however, more expedient to allow the rabbits to reach the age of ten to twelve months before allowing them to breed with the females.
How Often Do Flemish Rabbits Mate?
The commonly held idea that rabbits are always “doing it” is a misconception but it is not altogether removed from reality. It is true that the females of most non-primate mammals are only sexually receptive for a brief time, usually a few days or weeks every year.
Rabbit does, including those of Flemish rabbits, are sexually receptive for about 14 out of every 16 days of their reproductive lifetime.
Boy rabbits can smell out if a female rabbit is sexually receptive and will get very friendly and mount her if she lets them.
How Do I Tell if a Flemish Rabbit Doe Is Sexually Receptive?
You can tell that a doe is sexually receptive if her vagina is moist and appears to have a reddish hue. If she is not receptive, the vagina will have a pinkish appearance with no or barely discernible moistness.
Should I Let a Doe Mate With More Than One Buck?
There is nothing intrinsically wrong with letting a sexually receptive doe mate with more than one buck. After all, this happens regularly in the wild.
It is, however, worth noting that rabbits in the wild live in colonies with very ordered hierarchies of dominance and privileges, including which bucks have access to which does. This is not as clear cut among domesticated herds.
The bucks of wild rabbits are constantly fighting for the right to mate with females. In the wide-open meadows of the wild, the defeated buck can run off before the winner inflicts too much hurt, so these fights over mating rights don’t lead to too much harm.
Fighting between bucks over a sexually receptive doe among domesticated rabbits can be vicious and even fatal. For example, a well-built Flemish boy rabbit can deal a deathly blow to a fellow buck if they are left to fight it out over access to females they can mate with.
You should never keep more than one reproductive age buck within an enclosure that also contains adult females. The best standard is to keep both female and male rabbits in separate enclosures until it is necessary to breed the does.
The rationale for keeping a female rabbit separate from breeding males is first to preclude the possibility of the bucks fighting over access to breeding females. It also helps prevent the phenomenon of double pregnancies.
Rabbits belong to a special class of mammals that can carry two pregnancies conceived over time. While some doubly pregnant females deliver their two litters without issues, the possibility should be avoided at all costs.
To go back to the question of whether it is proper to allow a doe mate with more than one buck, the answer is “no.” It is neither beneficial nor even practical for Flemish rabbits being raised under the best husbandry standards to have a doe mate with more than one buck.
Do Flemish Rabbits Have Hormone-regulated Breeding Cycles?
In humans and many other mammals, the release of eggs in the female is controlled by action of hormones. In Flemish rabbits (as well as in other rabbit breeds), however, it is the act of sexual intercourse which triggers the ovaries to release eggs. This peculiar biology is the reason why rabbits mate successfully almost all year round.
What Is the Gestation Period of a Flemish Rabbit?
Rabbits take about 30 to 32 days to deliver young ones from the day they get pregnant. So, in general, if a doe has a small litter (about four kits), she will have a longer gestation period than a doe with a large litter of eight kits or more.
As a responsible rabbit breeder, you should move nest boxes into the rabbit’s general shelter about the twenty-eighth day after the female was bred. This allows enough time for the doe to line up the nest box with her fur before she delivers her kits.
Moving the boxes into the shelter less than four weeks after the day of pregnancy is ill advised. It increases the chance that the boxes will be contaminated with feces and urine, making them ill suited for holding the vulnerable and delicate freshly born kits.
What Do I Do if My Pregnant Rabbit Has Exceeded the Gestation Period and Hasn’t Delivered Her Kits Yet?
If your pregnant rabbit has exceeded 35 days from the time of pregnancy and has not delivered her kits yet, you need to consult a vet with immediate effect. If they deem it necessary, the vet may deliver the kits by either clinically inducing labor or by performing surgery.
How Do I Know if My Flemish Rabbit Is Pregnant?
Rabbits of all breeds exhibit certain behaviors and show perceptible symptoms which someone withy a keen eye can discern to tell if a rabbit is pregnant or not. Here are some of the most common indicators of pregnancy in Flemish rabbits.
A Flemish rabbit doe will begin building makeshift nests when her pregnancy has progressed on considerably. This could be a couple of weeks away from birth or just a few days prior.
Nest building is a behavior. Flemish rabbits have inherited from their wild ancestors. A doe will try to make a nest from hay, straw, or any other loose material she can find in the shelter. If she is allowed to roam in the yard, the doe may also attempt to dig a hole in the ground to use as a nest.
A pregnant doe will also start pulling off some of her fur as she prepares the nest for the coming litter. The rabbit will then use this fur to line the surface of the makeshift nest she has been building.
For rabbit owners who have not bred rabbits before, this behavior can be concerting as it would seem as if the rabbit is deliberately causing hurt to herself. Pulling out the fur is usually the last indicator of imminent birth time for a pregnant female.
Pregnancy in a rabbit is usually accompanied by secretion of hormones that trigger maternal instincts in the soon-to-be mother. Unfortunately, this often results in the rabbit putting up aggressive displays.
Flemish rabbits are colloquially known as the “gentle giants” of the rabbit world. They have earned this moniker because they are the largest species among all domesticated rabbit varieties, and yet they are the most docile of the lot.
If your erstwhile placid and tractable Flemish doe all of a sudden starts growling when you approach her, it could be that she has recently conceived. The same is true if previously you could pet and even hold an adult female in your hands, and now she won’t let you come within a few feet of her.
Pregnant does will often shun the company of their fellow rabbits. They will retreat to a corner of the shelter and may growl threateningly when another rabbit draws nearby.
A doe will gain some considerable weight as her pregnancy progresses. However, this is very dependent on whether the rabbit is getting adequate nutritional intake to take her through this exacting period. Moreover, because pregnancy is such a commonplace occurrence in a rabbit’s life, the amount of weight gained is nowhere near as remarkably evident as what is common the pregnancy of humans and other mammals.
Change in Eating Habits
During the course of a rabbit’s pregnancy, her appetite will improve substantially. She will start being more voracious in the amount of hay and pellets she consumes. Once you have ascertained the pregnancy, you should offer the doe more high quality pellets to supplement her intake of vitamins and essential minerals.
Sleeping on One Side
The most common sleeping position of a rabbit is known as the loaf position. This is where the rabbit sleeps on the tummy with her limbs tucked beneath her body, a pose that is reminiscent of a loaf of bread.
After your Flemish rabbit’s pregnancy has progressed for a bit, lying in the loaf position becomes uncomfortable. However, lying on the side relieves the tummy area from pressure enabling the bunny to sleep comfortably, even in the latter stages of her pregnancy.
It is, however, important to note that some rabbits sleep on their side as their natural sleeping position. Therefore, this should only be taken to be a probable indicator of pregnancy if that particular doe was used to sleeping in the loaf position before.
Feeling the Rabbit’s Belly to Ascertain if There Are Babies
If you know how to do it, you can feel about the rabbit’s belly to ascertain if she is pregnant. This is considered the most accurate and foolproof way of confirming that the bunny has conceived and that other signs are not a result of a false pregnancy.
There is an art to the method of feeling about a doe’s belly to confirm or rule out a pregnancy. However, it is important to learn the method properly as the wrong kind of pressure on growing fetuses can lead to miscarriage.
Once you have the hang of it, it is possible to feel a doe’s belly and make a positive confirmation of a pregnancy within fifteen days of conception. vets and expert rabbit breeders can use this method to confirm a pregnancy that is as recent as ten days.
If the Doe Has a Rounded Belly, That Is More Than a Sign of Feeding
If your rabbit has a properly rounded belly showing evidence of more than just evidence of having taken a good meal, the likelihood is that she has babies growing in the womb. But, of course, a rounded belly is only a definitive indicator of pregnancy very close to delivery.
The roundness of a belly becomes an indicator of imminent delivery from around the third week of pregnancy. It is definitive when the rabbit sports an extended belly even after hours of sleep where much of what she had eaten is already digested. It also goes without saying that the larger the litter a rabbit will eventually deliver, the bigger the belly will be in the days before delivery.
How to Properly Palpate a Doe to Ascertain if She Is Indeed Pregnant
The method of using the palms and fingers of your hand to feel about the belly of a rabbit to ascertain or rule out a pregnancy is known as palpating. It needs practice and patience to get it right.
It is best if you start learning how to palpate with a doe about thirteen days after she was bred. Try again after seventeen days if you do not feel any babies or cannot be certain. The more you do it consistently, the more you will be able to ascertain pregnancies earlier and earlier in the gestation period.
Steps to Palpate a Doe to Ascertain if She Is Pregnant
Here is a step by step guide on how to palpate your rabbit to ascertain if she is pregnant.
- Start by palpating a doe who is definitely not pregnant. This will give you a clear feel of a normal belly as a contrast to one that has the definitive evidence that the rabbit is pregnant.
- Hold the rabbit with the head facing you.
- Make sure the rabbit is calm and reassured about her safety.
- Use one hand to hold the rabbit’s head down gently
- Place your other hand beneath the belly of the rabbit. Cup your fingers gently around the rabbit’s midsection
- Using the thumb and one finger, gently feel for lumps in the belly. If there are baby rabbits growing in the womb, you will feel them as grape sized lumps.
Care Guidelines for Pregnant Rabbits
A pregnant rabbit requires a lot more care and attention than regular bunnies. Ensure the doe has access to plenty of clean water and nutritious food. You can double her daily or weakly intake of leafy greens, alfalfa hay, and pellet food.
A pregnant rabbit will instinctively result in digging up a burrow in preparation for giving birth. Please ensure she has appropriate and comfortable nesting boxes within reach to save her from distress.
A pregnant rabbit also needs to be afforded as much privacy as possible. Too much fussiness and unnecessary attention can cause her distress with negative consequences for the pregnancy or the liter she will eventually deliver.
What Is False Pregnancy in Flemish Female Rabbits?
False pregnancy in rabbits is when a doe exhibits the signs of being pregnant when actually she is not. A veterinary doctor is able to tell if a doe is pregnant by feeling for fetuses in the abdominal cavity. However, a positive confirmation is only possible once the doe is at least twelve days from the time she conceived.
False rabbit pregnancies are common problem in Flemish rabbits. As it is important to change the diet of a pregnant doe, it is essential that you have a vet check to confirm if it is true that pregnancy has occurred.
What Do I Need to Know About Taking Care of Newborn Flemish Rabbits?
Newborn rabbits are among the weakest and most defenseless babies in the animal world. They are born deaf, blind, and naked (as in not having a coat of fur).
They Are Totally Dependent on Their Mothers for Warmth and Sustenance for the First Ten Days
The first one week to ten days are the most precarious ones in the life of young rabbits. By then, they are not only deaf and blind to the world, but they cannot regulate their own body temperature as well. Therefore, they are totally dependent on their mothers to keep them warm and provide sustenance in the form of milk.
Young rabbits, however, grow up very quickly. By the end of the seventh day from birth, they will have the ability to regulate their own body temperature and be less dependent on the mother.
Most Flemish rabbit babies will have opened their eyes and began using their ears by the time they are ten days old. They will also have a discernible coat of fur along the entire length of the body. Even if they are unable to feed on the food adult rabbits take, they will be able to patter around their enclosure at this age.
A Doe May Be Unable to Suckle All Her Young
Female rabbits usually have ten nipples spread from the rabbit’s thoracic to her inguinal region on the underbelly. Some may have only eight nipples, but this is only common in small and midsized rabbit breeds. A doe with eight nipples is a very rare occurrence among Flemish rabbits.
A doe often delivers a litter of between twelve and fifteen young ones. This means they are unable to suckle all of them. When nature is left to take its course, half the rabbit’s litter will often die in a matter of days.
You Can Have a Foster Mother Nurse Young Ones From a Litter Whose Mother Is Unable to Suckle Her Kits
If a lactating mother is unable to suckle her young (probably due to health reasons), you can have some or all of them adopted by another doe with a small litter. Does will naturally neglect or attack kits brought in from a different litter. To prevent this, ensure you cover the fostered kits with the hair of the new mother.
Fostered kits tend to have a higher chance of survival if the larger ones are moved. It is also best if the foster mother is of about the same age as the natural mother. If the two mothers are also closely related, it is less likely the foster will reject the new kits joining her litter.
Feeding Kits by Hand Who Are Unable to Suckle From Their Mother
If there are no foster mothers to nurse and suckle kits, you may still feed them by hand. Do not try to give young rabbits cow’s milk as it is toxic to them. Keeping freshly born kits warm and sated is very hard if the mother is totally absent. In such cases, death rates are very high.
Feed kits raised by hand should be fed kitten milk replacer. Flemish rabbit kits should be fed about one tablespoonful of the replacer at a go, and this should be repeated twice a day. This provides about the same nutritional sustenance they would get from their mothers if they were suckling directly.
Considering how voracious adult Flemish rabbits are, providing such little milk replacer to hand-fed kits may seem counterintuitive. However, keep in mind that female rabbits suckle their babies about twice a day, and each kit only has about three minutes at the teat.
My Flemish Doe Just Ate Her Young Ones; What Does It Mean?
It can be disconcerting to discover that your female Flemish rabbit has just eaten up the baby rabbits she just delivered. However, it is a rare phenomenon that has been observed in many domesticated breeds, including Flemish rabbits.
It is almost always young female rabbits who kill and eat their litter. The most common reason this may happen is that the female rabbit gets nervous or because of neglect resulting in failure to nurse. In addition, at times, this macabre cannibalism behavior can result from the mother rabbit undergoing period of extreme cold.
If a dog or some other likely predator enters the nesting area, this can trigger nervousness in a young doe, causing her to kill and eat her baby rabbits. But killing and eating up dead young ones should not be equated to the natural nest-cleaning behavior of mother rabbits eating young ones who have died of natural causes.
What Can I Do to Prevent My Female Flemish Rabbit From Cannibalizing Her Young Baby Rabbits?
Before you consider taking action because a female rabbit is eating up her young ones, you need to establish if she is actually killing them or only eating the ones who have died in their infancy.
If the affected female is a first time mother, give her a break from breeding until she has matured up. Then, make clear and consistent observations once you re-introduce the doe back to breeding.
If despite the best in terms of care and management, cannibalism continues for two consecutive litters, that rabbit should not be bred again. You can even have her spayed, to be certain. In practice, though, ensuring she does not come into contact with reproductive-age male rabbits should suffice.
How Long Should I Wait to Breed a Female Rabbit Who Has Just Given Birth?
A healthy doe is capable of getting pregnant right after giving birth. However, as noted previously, it is also possible for a doe to conceive even while in the midst of the gestation period of a previous pregnancy. This is why you must continue to keep the female rabbit separate from the male, even right after they have just delivered a fresh litter.
The American Rabbit Breeders Association (ARBA) recommends that pregnancies should be adequately spaced through careful breeding practices. The best standard practice is to wait for between five to seven weeks from the time of birth to rebreed the same rabbit. Rabbits raised for meat and fur can be bred more often than those raised as pets or for show.
Raising rabbits either as pets or for commercial purposes makes it necessary to learn how they reproduce and take care of their young. As she is almost always capable of conceiving, an adult female rabbit should only be brought to close proximity with a male rabbit when it is expedient for her to breed.
As a responsible practitioner of rabbit husbandly, you should learn how to control the breeding of female rabbits, ascertain if a rabbit is pregnant, rule out any false pregnancy, provide the right nutritional requirements of a pregnant rabbit and ensure proper care of kits once they are delivered.