BEHAVIOUR

The Mating Habits of Rabbits

When you think of the Rabbit and its mating habits, it is likely that you picture the rapid act of reproduction. Would it surprise you to know that there really is more to the life of a rabbit and its mate than the standard joke of ‘humping like rabbits?

Rabbits in captivity experience something slightly different than the rabbits in the wild do. While in captivity, as a pet or at a breeder, the male and female are selectively chosen to mate. This is done by the breeder for genetic reasons or certain characteristics that are wanted. In simple terms, when in captivity, neither the male nor the female has a choice as to who they are partners with.  They are basically forced into cohabitation.

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Process

While living in the wild there is somewhat of a selection process happening. There are behaviors that we humans are rarely privy to. These behaviors include nudging each other’s noses and nibbling at each other’s fur. This is not to say that in their own way, there is no flirting, courtship, or what we would consider as normal before the act of intimacy occurs. Rabbits in the wild need to be fully aware of any predators that may be around them. If they do not stay aware, they could be gobbled up quicker than the act of sex takes them.

When a male rabbit is aware of a female that is receptive to his advances, he basically stalks her at a distance of 15 to 20 feet. He is on her path as long as it takes until she seems to be accepting his advances, then he will get closer and closer. As he does so, he will adopt a swagger to his stiff-legged walk, while his tail is held high. 

The female rabbit, similar to the humans, may play coy and act like she is not interested. She, in essence, plays hard to get. When the male senses this, he rushes past her and squirts her with his urine, just to make sure she knows what it is he wants. If she decides she is interested in his tactics, they may partake in some grooming of one another.

This mutual grooming is in fact, a sort of bond between the pair. It is their way of showing love for one another. In captivity, you may notice that your pet rabbit does come to you and nudges or nibbles at you. Do not think that he or she is trying to hurt you, they are saying ‘I love you’ in the only way they know-how.

The act of sex is actually a very quick moment in time. The male will straddle the female with his forelegs and bite her neck. It will only take him a few thrusts before he ejaculates. Upon doing so, he will fall to the side unconscious. After this short burst of intimacy, the nightly search for food will continue as if nothing happened.

The Mating Begins…

The act of mating can begin as early as 3 ½ months of age. This is generally in the smaller breeds such as the Polish Dwarf and the Dutch. The mid-size breeds become sexually mature and ready for action at 4 to 4 ½ months. The Giant breeds do not become sexually mature until they are 6 to 9 months of age. 

Unlike humans, the rabbit’s eggs are released through the act of intercourse, not by a hormonal cycle. These furry creatures have what is called a mating cycle. Every 14 out of 16 days, the female, (doe) is sexually receptive. This is shown by the red, moist vagina.  If the female is not receptive, her vaginal area will be more whitish pink and there is no moisture at all.

Pregnancy…

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False pregnancies are common in rabbits. A pregnancy in the female rabbit will last about 30 days. If a doe has a litter of 4 or less, she will tend to have a longer pregnancy. If more than 4 kits, she will have a shorter term. It is known that if by the 34th day, and the doe has not given birth, she will either deliver a dead litter or absorb them back into her own system. This would happen if the doe has not been able to find the nutrition needed for a proper diet, or due to disease.

Breeding Season

The breeding season for rabbits begins in February and continues through to September. A female has the capability of having four litters per year. This is where the term “Breeding like Bunnies” comes from. If a female rabbit is feeling receptive to the male’s advances she can do one thing If she is not in the mood and does not feel receptive to the male, she may become aggressive or simply run away from him. The male may continue the chase until the female gives in or he gives up and searches for a different mate.  She may just lay down, which will encourage the male to go ahead and mount.

The flirtatious courtship entails dancing and boxing between the male and female rabbits. As previously mentioned, the buck will continuously stalk the doe, looking for signs of her interest. Once she stops, she will turn about-face, look at him and box him with her front paws. This will continue until one of them takes the lead and jumps straight up in the air. When the second of the two jumps straight up in the air, this is the conclusion of courtship and signifies that the mating will then begin.

Breeding Cycle

Due to the way, a female rabbit begins to be sexually mature, or her estrous cycle begins, she is considered to be permanently in estrus and continually ready to mate with the male. There are ways you will know that your female rabbit is ready to mate. Look for restless behavior on her part, her genital area may become bright pink and swollen, or she may just lay down as though she is waiting for the male to proceed. When two rabbits are courting each other, there is a honking noise that is evident. If a rabbit is excited or happy, it will honk.

When either the male or the female has the urge to mate, they begin to exhibit a few odd behaviors such as biting, humping inanimate objects, marking with urine, being aggressive or destructive. This of course happens year-round for the male. Not so for the female. She will only exhibit these behaviors when she is not pregnant. Of those that are pregnant, many of these may end in aborting the kits due to stress or disease. 

For those who have rabbits in captivity, it is highly recommended that their rabbits be sterilized. There are a couple of reasons, for one since the act itself only takes moments, it is best to be vigilant about the amount of time the two sexes are around each other. Secondly, females have an extremely high rate of uterine tumors. By removing the organ, their rabbit can live a longer life. Sterilization can also eliminate or minimize the nuisance behaviors that are exhibited by those who are on the hunt for immediate mating.

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To Remember

A couple of things to remember if you have rabbits in captivity that you want to have bred. First, you need to put the female into the males’ hutch, not vice versa. The females are quite territorial over their area and may become aggressive with a male placed in her hutch. Ten hours later, you will want to place the two rabbits back together. This action will stimulate the female to ovulate. This in turn will increase the litter.

There are other times to be aware of when it comes to rabbits. If the outdoor temperature is too high, in other words too hot outside or indoors, where they are, this can cause sterility in the male. Spring is the season that most of the rabbits prefer to mate. If the male is too large and overweight, he may lack the desire or libido to mate. The female likely will not become pregnant if she has not mated in any length of time. 

In Conclusion

In order for not only the mating act itself, but the pregnancy and even healthy life of your rabbits, whether in captivity or out in the wild, their diet should consist of a good quality of hay, such as Timothy. There should be options of vegetables and fruits that are okay for them to eat. When given options of healthy foods the rabbit will go for what is the proper type.

Very seldom will they choose a food that is fatal to them when they are out in the wild. The rabbits in captivity are the ones to watch those lists of approved foods closely. A rabbit in captivity will eat the foods it is given. It is up to you to keep the animals as healthy as possible to allow for mating and successful pregnancies.

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