Losing a pet is always difficult, but it can be especially heartbreaking when it happens unexpectedly and at a young age. Unfortunately, this is a common occurrence for baby rabbits, who can die suddenly for a number of reasons. In this article, we will discuss 11 potential causes of premature death in baby rabbits, as well as what you can do to prevent these tragedies from happening.
1. Gastrointestinal Stasis
One of the most common causes of death in young rabbits is gastrointestinal stasis, which occurs when there is a blockage in the GI tract. This can happen when dried-out mats of fur combine with food, forming an impaction in the stomach and sometimes the large intestine. When this happens, rabbits will stop eating or eat less, and over the course of a few days they become weak and listless, eventually succumbing to dehydration if left untreated.
Rabbits are prey animals and are therefore vulnerable to going into shock when they are frightened or stressed. Baby rabbits are particularly prone to this and can literally die from fear. Loud noises or the presence of predator animals, such as cats or dogs, can trigger this response. Signs of shock include rapid or struggling breathing, hypothermia, shivering, pale gums, weak pulse, cold ears, and glassy-eyed appearance. In severe cases, a rabbit may experience a heart attack from the stress. If you suspect your rabbit is in shock, it’s important to seek veterinary care right away.
3. Abandonment or Death of the Mother
Baby rabbits spend about 25% of their lives with their mothers, so if a rabbit is abandoned or if his mother dies while he is still nursing, he can die from starvation. First-time mothers and young mothers also have lower success rates in raising their offspring, and some even abandon their litter due to stress.
4. Large Litters
If a doe (female rabbit) has too large a litter, it increases the likelihood that not all of the kits (baby rabbits) will survive. The average litter size is about five kits, but the more kits a doe has, the higher the mortality rate. According to MediRabbit, if a litter size is 10 kits, the mortality rate is 20%. With a litter of 12 or more kits, the rate increases to 30%. Large litters may also include runts, which are more likely to die from starvation.
5. Mother’s Diet
What the mother rabbit eats while pregnant can have a direct impact on her offspring. A healthy diet with clean drinking water and appropriate supplements can improve the doe’s milk production and protect her against digestive diseases. However, ingesting contaminated food or water can stress her system, especially when she is giving birth.
6. Mucoid Enteropathy
Mucoid enteropathy is a disease of the intestinal tract that occurs most commonly in young rabbits. It causes inflammation in both the small and large intestines, with excessive amounts of mucous buildup. Symptoms include diarrhea, lethargy, weight loss/anorexia, and severe constipation. Prognosis is poor in young rabbits, but there are treatments available for older rabbits.
7. Accidental Crushing or Smothering
If a doe is stressed or nervous, she may accidentally kill her offspring. For example, she may thump her hind feet to send a warning signal when there’s danger or she may sit the wrong way and smother her babies.
8. Fly Strike
Fly strike is a condition that affects rabbits of all ages, but most often those that aren’t well taken care of. Flies lay eggs on a rabbit, and when the maggots hatch, they eat their way through the rabbit’s tissues.
9. Temperature and Weather Extremes
The environment in which baby rabbits are housed can impact their survival. Domestic rabbits, particularly kits, must be kept in a nest with their mother and protected from extreme weather conditions. Exposure to dampness, cold, or heat can cause sudden death from overexposure and can also lead to other conditions such as pneumonia or diarrhea.
Young rabbits are vulnerable to several parasites, including coccidia, which is a common parasite that only infects rabbits. Baby rabbits living in poor conditions are more likely to become infected and die. Another parasite, staphylococcosis, can be passed onto the offspring of an infected doe.
11. Contagious Infections
Certain infections such as pasturella can affect some or all of a litter of kits, and can be passed from mother to babies. Being in close quarters with other rabbits can easily cause infections to spread through the entire litter.
While some causes of premature death in baby rabbits are not preventable, there are many precautions you can take to minimize the risks. Proper diet and hygiene, appropriate housing, and avoiding stressors such as noise and predators can go a long way towards ensuring your rabbits’ health and wellbeing. If you suspect that your rabbit is ill or in distress, it’s essential to seek veterinary care as soon as possible. By taking proactive steps and recognizing the potential causes of sudden death, you can give your baby rabbits the best possible chance at a long and healthy life.