False pregnancy in rabbits
Updated: May 23, 2022
Just because your rabbit is hording hay in their nest box or pulling hair and building perfect nests does not mean that they are in fact pregnant. False pregnancies can and do happen.
A false pregnancy or pseudocyesis is when a creature believes it is pregnant and can have some or all the symptoms of pregnancy except for actually having a fetus. This can happen to any rabbit of breed able age ( 3 months plus) and is more common than you would think.
Rabbits ovulate for two reasons, being mounted and from stress. A neutered male or a female mounting another female rabbit can cause ovulation. The actual breeding by an intact male with viable sperm is needed for a true pregnancy, but just the act of being mounted is enough for the female to start ovulation and ovulation is all that is needed for a rabbit to assume they should get pregnant. Rabbits reproduce to maintain their species. Stress can be associated with predators and life threatening situations. Ovulation that leads to kits preserves the species and helps balance out any rabbits that may be lost due to predators. This is why stress can bring on ovulation.
Most times nothing special needs to be done for your rabbit if she is having a false pregnancy. She will nest, pull hair, could become moody or lazy. After about 3 weeks her hormones should level back out and her body will figure out that there are no fetuses to be delivered. The female rabbit will then stop nesting and return to her normal habits. Occasionally however mammary changes occur and milk can be produced. With no kits to nurse the doe could develop mastitis. Veterinary care and antibiotics can cure mastitis caught early.
If you have bred your rabbit it's important to always assume all breedings are successful and provide adequate pellets, hay and water to accommodate a mother growing kits. Providing a nesting box and ample nesting materials are also vital. An under prepared doe could lead to a litter of dead kits due to exposure or malnutrition. An over fed doe with a false pregnancy is easier to correct once it's known she is Infact not pregnant.