It’s no secret that rabbits like to breed. This is why spaying a female pet rabbit is advisable, but it doesn’t solve every issue. Females can be prone to false pregnancies, even after being fixed.
All the same, your rabbit needs patience and empathy. Their hormones will be erratic, and they’ll act oddly. Prepare yourself for mood swings, elevated hunger, and strange practices.
What is False Pregnancy in Rabbits?
False pregnancy is also referred to as a phantom pregnancy or pseudopregnancy. It occurs when a bunny becomes convinced they are pregnant, even when this is impossible.
As far as the rabbit is concerned, there is no difference between phantom and genuine pregnancies. She will act the same as when pregnant. There is no litter at the end of the pseudopregnancy.
Any female rabbit of breeding age (three months and up) can experience a phantom pregnancy. This means that you’ll have to be careful. Keep an eye on who they interact with, and how.
What Causes Phantom Pregnancies in Rabbits?
As Clinical Veterinary Adviser explains, phantom pregnancies have a range of causes. They all result in the same thing, though. The rabbit ovulates, and believes she is pregnant. This is maintained for up to 20 days. The two typical explanations for a pseudopregnancy are:
- Sexual Stimulation. Female rabbits are always ‘on heat,’ so can be stimulated by any mounting or humping. It doesn’t need to be an intact male. A castrated male, or even a female, can cause a pseudopregnancy.
- Heightened Stress. If a rabbit is afraid, she may ovulate. This may be caused by separation from a bonded friend, or a trip to the vet. Rabbits reproduce to sustain their species. This explains why fear induces ovulation.
As you’ll see, a rabbit doesn’t need to encounter another bunny to experience a phantom pregnancy. This is always more likely, though.
Any rabbit of any age can experience a pseudopregnancy, as long as she has reached sexual maturity. It’s vital to manage bonding before placing two rabbits together in a hutch.
Will Spaying Prevent False Pregnancies?
A rabbit that’s been spayed can still experience phantom pregnancies. It makes them less likely, though. Spaying also comes with a wide range of additional health benefits.
Primarily, spaying will make your female calmer and more docile. This is particularly important during a false pregnancy. While your rabbit thinks she is pregnant, she will be cranky and territorial. If unspayed, she’ll be even moodier.
Just be aware that spaying a female will not make her less appealing to male rabbits. An unneutered male will still try to mount a spayed female. This may lead to a pseudopregnancy, or a fight if the male refuses to take no for an answer.
Is a Rabbit Pregnancy False or Real?
It’s virtually impossible to tell if a rabbit pregnancy is authentic for at least 20 days. Genuine rabbit pregnancy symptoms include:
- Enlarged Belly. As her babies grow inside her, the belly of a female rabbit will expand. Her mammary glands will also become more pronounced.
- Eating More. A pregnant rabbit is eating for as many as 16, if she’s due a large litter. This means she’ll be considerably hungrier, and will eat more hay and pellets.
- Mood Swings. This is the main sign of pregnancy. Even the sweetest, most docile bunny becomes volatile. They’ll be extremely territorial, and will bite and nip regularly.
- Nesting. When rabbits are pregnant, they’re driven by instinct to create a nest. They’ll start pile hay and blankets into a corner of their hutch. Next, they’ll tear out their fur with their teeth to line the nest. You may see a rabbit carrying hay in her mouth to make a nest.
The trouble with pseudopregnancy is that the symptoms are the same. As far as the rabbit is concerned, they are pregnant.
They will engage in the same behaviors as a pregnant bunny for around 18 – 20 days. After this stage, a phantom pregnancy comes to an abrupt end and the rabbit returns to ‘normal.’
If you’re not prepared to wait this long, try checking the rabbit’s stomach. A rabbit undergoing a phantom pregnancy may still gain weight, as they’ll be eating more. A genuine pregnancy will be detectable.
Run your finger along the rabbit’s belly. Can you feel little lumps, around the size of marbles? If so, the rabbit is pregnant. If not, it’s likely a false pregnancy. The challenge will be getting close enough to check without being bitten.
Of course, this places rabbit owners in a tricky situation. What if the pregnancy is real? If this is the case, up to twelve baby bunnies will need to be housed, fed, and rehomed.
There is no way of knowing for sure until over 34 days have passed. By this point, your rabbit would have given birth if pregnant.
Rabbit is Not Eating Food
There are two primary explanations. They may be so focused on building a nest that they have no time for anything else. Alternatively, they may have blocked their throat with fur.
Pregnant bunnies, whether real or phantom, have a one-track mind. When they start building a nest, it becomes their sole concern above all else. They may eat just enough to focus, then get back to it.
This should only last around a day. You may find that your rabbit is unable to resist their favorite treat, either. Hay is for nesting. Raisins and carrots are for her.
If the bunny doesn’t eat at all, check their mouth and throat. While the rabbit is pulling fur for nesting, they may swallow hair. A tiny amount to create a hairball is fine. Large chunks can make it impossible for a bunny to swallow food.
If your rabbit has not eaten (or drank) for 24 hours, you should see a vet. Regardless of their reproductive status, this is dangerous.
How Long Does a Rabbit Phantom Pregnancy Last?
A rabbit’s phantom pregnancy lasts between 18 and 20 days. This is in comparison to a genuine pregnancy, which lasts around 31 days.
The timeline of a false pregnancy vs. genuine pregnancy plays out as follows:
|Genuine Pregnancy||False Pregnancy|
|Day 1||The unspayed rabbit mates with an unneutered male, and is impregnated.||The spayed rabbit ovulates, resulting from sexual stimulation or stress, and becomes convinced she is pregnant.|
|Day 6-8||The rabbit starts eating more, and becomes increasingly agitated. They’ll become particularly aggressive to any male rabbits that approach.||The rabbit starts eating more, and becomes increasingly volatile. They may or may not be aggressive with other rabbits.|
|Day 10-12||In addition to being swollen, the rabbit’s tummy will have a number of small bumps. These are baby rabbits.||The rabbit’s tummy will be unchanged. They probably won’t let you touch it anyway, though.|
|Day 15-18||The nesting process really starts. The rabbit will start stockpiling hay and blankets. They’ll also begin to tearing out their fur to create lining for their nest.||The nesting process really starts. The rabbit will start stockpiling hay and blankets. They’ll also start tearing out their fur to create lining for their nest.|
|Day 18-20||The rabbit will calm down on the nesting and stop tearing her fur out. She’ll start to take it easier, and spend more time sleeping.||The rabbit suddenly loses interest in nesting. They’ll return to their usual behaviors as though nothing happened. Their mood will greatly improve.|
|Day 29-32||The rabbit will give birth. This usually happens overnight, so don’t be surprised if you have new family members one morning.||Your rabbit will have forgotten all about her pseudopregnancy. She’ll just be mooching around her hutch as normal.|
As you’ll see, a phantom pregnancy starts to fizzle out at around day 21. Until this point, it may be a nervous time. While there’s not necessarily a need to buy a second hutch, do be vigilant.
Rabbit Phantom Pregnancy Treatment
You have to treat them the same way as you would a genuinely pregnant bunny.
As far as the rabbit is concerned, they are pregnant. They won’t know any different until nearly three weeks into the experience. You’ll need to show the appropriate levels of empathy.
Make your rabbit as comfortable as possible. Offer more food, ideally hay. Some will be eaten, but most will go into building a nest. Don’t worry about any weight gain. Your bunny can have extra exercise once the pseudopregnancy concludes.
Also, try to put as many soft and fluffy items in the hutch as possible. Your rabbit will use these to line their nest. The more you provide, the less likely they are to tear their fur out.
Also, respect your rabbit’s wishes to be left alone at this time. Your pet will be irritable and territorial. Don’t try to handle them unless strictly necessary.
They’ll also be particularly annoyed about you cleaning their cage. This still needs to be done, though. Consider wearing gloves to protect yourself from angry nips.
A phantom pregnancy will right itself. There is no treatment needed in terms of medication, or even veterinary care. You’ll need plenty of patience, and an understand of what’s occurring.
My Rabbit Keeps Experiencing Phantom Pregnancies
A phantom pregnancy is not a ‘one-and-done’ experience for a bunny. A rabbit could experience a constant, never-ending stream of pseudopregnancies.
This is partly because a rabbit becomes fertile from the moment they give birth. A rabbit can also experience phantom pregnancy from the moment the previous one concludes.
If this is happening to your bunny, you’ll need to ask yourself why. Sure, it doesn’t technically hurt your rabbit. All the same, their hormones will be surging constantly. You’re also surely sick of being nipped and bitten.
- Does the rabbit live alone? If so, something must be stressing her out and leading to ovulation. Adopt a trial and error approach to removing potential anxiety triggers.
- Does the rabbit share a hutch? Is she dominant or submissive to her hutchmate? If humping and mounting assert either status, it may be stimulating enough to inspire ovulation.
- Does the rabbit only have a hutchmate some of the time? Separating bonded bunnies can be stressful and confusing. Try to keep them together.
Sometimes, false pregnancies happen, and there is nothing you can do to stop them. If it’s a regular occurrence, you may wish to look into it a little closer. Something is triggering a hormonal reaction in your bunny, for good or ill.
Do Rabbits Experience Trauma from Pseudopregnancies?
No, the event of a false pregnancy will not cause problems for your rabbit. Fertility will not be affected, and the absence of a litter will not emotionally scar them.
While rabbits instinctively prepare for the arrival of their young, they are not natural caregivers. One expert at The House Rabbit Society advises against breeding bunnies at all.
As soon as the phantom pregnancy comes to an end, your rabbit will forget all about it. They’ll put their hutch back together as it once was, and stop tugging out their fur. Most importantly, their temperament will return to normal.
Should Mixed Sex Rabbits Not Live Together?
It doesn’t need two rabbits of opposite genders to create a phantom pregnancy.
We need to remember that rabbit mounting is not only sexual. It’s a display of dominance. One rabbit mounting another is saying, “I can do this because I am your superior.”
Now, some rabbits will be fine with this. They’ll grit their teeth and tolerate being mounted. Others will fight back, and stake their claim for pack leader status. What’s important to know is that this could happen with any two rabbits.
This includes two females. Heck, it includes two sisters. Two female rabbits are more than capable of sparking false pregnancies in each other. It’s less likely if they’re both spayed, as they’ll be calmer. It remains possible, though.
The more important question is when two rabbits – of any sex – are ready to love together. Introduce the bunnies outside of a hutch first, and let them establish a pecking order. Bonding is also important here.
Once this process is complete, two rabbits will be able to share a home without incident. Any gender combination is fine, if both pets are bonded and fixed. Just don’t assume that spaying and neutering bring instant results.
It takes at least six weeks for these procedures to take hold. Until then, both rabbits will at peak hormonal level. Additionally, males will still have active sperm. Patience is a virtue, and it will retain the virtue of your bunnies.
Why Do Fixed Rabbits Still Try to Mate?
Rabbits are a prey species, and they know it. This means that they are driven by an unyielding and overwhelming urge to reproduce. It’s a numbers game. The more rabbits are in the world, the likelier the species is to continue.
Also, spaying or neutering does not eradicate a rabbit’s primal instincts. Neutered male bunnies still have testosterone in their bodies, and spayed females still have estrogen. It does reduce their hormones, though.
It’s advisable to fix rabbits as early as possible in their lives. As per RWAF, rabbits neutered later often demonstrate the same behaviors as an intact bunny. By catching them early, they’ll never know what they are missing.
They may still try to engage in shenanigans. Animal instinct is a powerful thing. It may even end with a phantom pregnancy. Spaying and neutering reduce the risk of both these outcomes, though.
When are Phantom Pregnancies Likely to Happen?
You’ll likely find that your rabbits become friskier around spring. This is a time to watch your bunnies, whether fixed or intact. While rabbits do not have a specific mating season, they avoid breeding in winter.
As a bunny pregnancy lasts just a month, mating in the colder seasons is risky. It means the babies would be born in winter, and at immediate risk of exposure.
This means that rabbits become much more excitable when spring arrives. This is the origin of the idiom, “as mad as a March hare.”
Even domesticated rabbits will adhere to this. Bunnies have a natural body clock, and they react to the hours of natural daylight. They innately detect when the days start getting longer, and their bodies react accordingly.
If you’re getting two new bunnies to share a hutch, try bonding them in the winter. They’re unlikely to be distracted by hormones at this time of year, making your life easier.
What Happens if Two Fixed Rabbits Try to Mate?
So, spring has arrived and your rabbits are reacting accordingly. You may think that you have nothing to worry about. After all, spayed and neutered bunnies can’t reproduce.
As we have now established, this is not the case. False pregnancy is a real possibility. In addition, violence may break out for one of two reasons.
- If a male attempts to hump or mount a disinterested female, she won’t take it lightly. Boxing is more common in wild hares, but it does happen in domesticated rabbits.
- The humping is not always sexual in nature. Often, it’s designed to assert dominance and take on alpha status. This is fine if both rabbits agree. If they both consider themselves in charge, they’ll fight.
Fighting can be even more harmful to rabbits than a false pregnancy. It can be difficult to bond two bunnies that have fallen out. Wait until they are ready to share proximity before introducing two rabbits – regardless of gender dynamics.
How Can Phantom Pregnancies in Rabbits Be Prevented?
In truth, it’s almost impossible to prevent false pregnancy in rabbits. Even if your bunny lives alone, they can still undergo the issue. Thankfully it’s self-relieving, and has no real, lasting impact.
The best way to minimize risks of pseudopregnancy is to spay young, and keep the bunny calm. Spaying early in life keeps a rabbit’s hormones under control. A calm and happy life, meanwhile, reduces the chances of stress-based ovulation.
Phantom pregnancy can be a trying time for a rabbit. As far as a rabbit is concerned, she’s going through everything associated with impending motherhood. She may not have a litter at the end of it, but it’s still exhausting.
The good news is that your bunny will be back to her old self in no time. Once it has run its course, offer a treat, and act as though nothing happened. As far as your bunny is concerned, it didn’t.