Rabbits look so innocent and cute, but you may have heard a rumor that they can sometimes be cannibals. Is there any truth in this? Well, the answer is quite surprising…
Although it’s not common, rabbits can sometimes be cannibals. This behavior is only shown by the doe (female rabbit). They can sometimes eat their babies, particularly if the mother is stressed, threatened by a predator, or has a lack of resources such has drinking water in their environment.
Now, before you start to panic and think your rabbit is going to go all Hannibal Lecter on any other rabbit around it, we need to explain things a bit better. You see, it’s not as clear-cut as it may have initially sounded. In fact, there are a number of important points to consider surrounding this rather gruesome idea.
So, we are going to look into it a bit more, and we will do so via these 9 different facts. Be warned, some of them may not be as nice as you would like to imagine in connection with your rabbit.
However, luckily there are ways to prevent cannibalism happening, and I’ll get into that in detail at the end.
Fact 1: A Mother Could Eat Their Baby
This is shocking, but a mother could end up eating their baby, but it’s not because they hate them or are hungry and see a quick and easy meal. Instead, it’s linked to a particular mothering instinct, even though it doesn’t sound all that cool.
OK, so you may wonder how a mothering instinct could lead to such a reaction, but it’s all linked to a fear of a predator. A rabbit is, by nature, a very scared little animal, and the fear of dying at the hands of a predator does plague it on a daily basis.
If a young mother has just given birth, and they then become aware of a predator, then as a survival mechanism they will end up eating their baby. It’s partly to help them to get away from the predator, while we also hope it’s because they don’t want their baby to end up suffering at the hands of a predator.
Of course, they will only be too aware that they cannot escape with their baby in tow with them. It’s just not possible, so in their scared mind it does mean there are very few options.
So, the only thing they can do is to effectively put their baby out of their misery and to then get away from the predator on their own. It’s tough, but then nature is a tough undertaking.
Fact 2: It Can Occur Due to a Change in Environment
Aside from trying to get away from a predator, a female rabbit can cannibalize their young if there’s a change in environment. [Source] But what do we mean by this?
A change in environment is stressful for a young mother. They need to feel safe and secure in their environment to then be capable of rearing their young in the best possible way.
By a change in environment, it can involve where they are living, or sheltering as that’s often the case, as this causes a severe stress response. Then, the idea of only the fittest surviving is going to kick in as a natural instinct.
Sadly, this feeling can then result in the mother killing their own young as a direct response and reaction to the situation. It’s not what they want to do, but nature has a different idea.
Fact 3: A Lack of Resources Can Be a Cause
Another potential cause is a lack of resources, and it’s often due to insufficient drinking water. However, food can also be a problem if they are struggling to get enough to sustain themselves.
This can become a serious issue if they are dehydrated due to insufficient water. This dehydration can lead to a drop in electrolytes, and there’s an indication that this can then play a significant role in the chances of cannibalism taking place to increase quite significantly.
Of course, if you then add in a change in environment leading to a rabbit changing location, then they may not even be too aware of where the best drinking water is at first. Add in a problem if the water is not clean enough to drink, and you then have a doe that is desperate and is then going to take some drastic actions.
Sadly for their young, that action is going to prove to be life-ending for them.
Fact 4: It’s All a Natural Instinctive Response
The one thing you will notice over and over again is that this is purely a natural instinctive response. It’s not something that the doe will do simply because they pretty much feel like it. That is certainly not the case.
Actually, different scientific studies of rabbits with this particular action of cannibalism have managed to show that it’s directly linked to something external going on. It’s almost as if this action is a last resort when nothing else is going to solve a particular problem.
We must stress that this act is not something that the doe is going to do on a whim. They have been pushed to their absolute extreme and feel nothing else is a viable option. Well, that’s what happens in almost all occasions. However, as you will see in a later fact, that’s not always 100% the case.
Fact 5: It’s Only the Doe
Being a cannibal rabbit is something only limited to the doe, and it’s also generally restricted to only happening around the time of them giving birth.
This is clearly a stressful time for them, and they also feel significantly more vulnerable around these times, so that fear and anxiety is something that does, very occasionally, push them towards this particular action. This is also something that increases in probability when it’s the first time that the doe has given birth.
At that point, they are unsure about everything. They are very scared, and their reactions can go against what they would normally do.
Of course, the fact it’s connected to the doe is no surprise when there is such a close link to the birth of their young and then those initial stages connected to weaning them and helping them grow. The father is long gone and out of the picture, so there’s not the same type of fears or survival instinct linked to this particular action in that sense.
Fact 6: It Tends To Occur At Night
Rabbit cannibalism is not something you will tend to see, and that’s partly because it occurs at night. Remember that this may very well be the time of day when they feel most vulnerable, or they are struggling for those resources. They will be sleeping during the day and in the middle of the night, so there’s not the same stresses.
You see, when we mentioned in an early fact about predators roaming around, we are talking mainly about vermin and rodents. The problem is that they will carry out most of their activity at night, so that is why this cannibalism act ties in with those times.
What that tells you is that a wild rabbit will generally be more concerned about predators than any of the other potential causes of cannibalism.
However, even when it’s not linked to them believing that a predator is on the prowl and nearby, they can still carry out this act at night. It all depends on how scared they are, or how difficult the situation may be.
Fact 7: Stress Can Lead to This Action
To show just how difficult all of this can be, something as simple as stress can lead to the doe taking this particular action. Now, by stress, [Source] we are talking about something that is quite wide-ranging and not just one or two different things.
The problem is that any kind of sudden noise, new people, sights, anything that could potentially spook a rabbit that is already on edge due to having just given birth, can lead to the most drastic of actions being taken.
Of course, if you are breeding rabbits at home and are worried that this may happen, then it’s best to make sure the young mother is not being scared senseless at any point. Keep everything the same for them, so that means the same food, same habits, and keep them in a more sheltered position.
Anything different to them can cause a spike in anxiety. When that happens, they will then react differently to how they would normally do, and that’s where things can become difficult.
Fact 8: Poor Mothering Instincts Can Be a Cause
While it’s primarily linked to some external causes, there are times when poor mothering instincts can be at the root of it all. However, there can be some signs that this is the case, and if you are breeding rabbits, then it allows you to take the correct course of action.
If a doe is incapable of building a solid nest, or they are liable to spread their kit before its time, then this can be an indicator that all is not well, and the risk of cannibalism will increase. If breeding, then give the mother a second chance if it’s their first time with a litter. It may be the case that they are simply stressed about being a mother, and the second time around will lead to a better experience.
Now, we aren’t saying that your rabbit will do this simply because they cannot be bothered to be a mother. That would be wrong. However, it’s because of the uncertainty surrounding being a mother that they cannot deal with.
Being a mother as a human is stressful, and it’s the same for your rabbit. Remember, they don’t have any sort of guidance about how to do things, so it can lead to the wrong actions and in rare occasions it can result in cannibalism.
But do keep in mind that they will be more likely to disown their young or move away from them instead of killing them. Just be aware of this and be prepared to remove the mother from the situation.
Fact 9: You can Prevent it Happening Quite Easily
So, here’s our final fact. You can prevent this from happening quite easily if it’s connected to your pet rabbit trying to bring up their young.
We mentioned in the previous fact about poor mothering instincts sometimes being to blame, so in that case you would want to remove the mother from their young as soon as possible. Yes, this does mean you need to hand-rear the young and feed them correctly, but that’s the better option considering what could then happen.
But there are other things that can stop your rabbit becoming a cannibal.
Make sure the pregnant mother is getting enough to eat during her pregnancy. Increase their food as the pregnancy proceeds as this does make a difference with how strong they feel after giving birth. Restricting their food, and also then low-calorie density food, will cause problems, and their young could suffer as a result.
Provide her with space, peace and quiet, and a comfortable bed. Keep those noises away from her, as much as you possibly can, and do absolutely nothing to scare or spook her. If you fail to do this, then it could lead to her going down this cannibalism route as a spur of the moment anxiety thing, and you don’t want to feel as if you were the cause of that.
So, while rabbits can indeed be cannibals, there’s nothing to worry about. Thankfully, it is a very rare thing, and it’s connected to something else going on. From the perspective of your pet rabbit, it’s only a concern if you are breeding them, but even then it should all go well if you know what you are doing and understand the warning signs to look out for.