You’ve noticed a change in your rabbit’s behavior: she’s pulling out the hair on her belly, while behaving more aggressively with you. In addition, while petting her, you may have even felt that her udders were swollen. These are symptoms that suggest your pet may be pregnant. However, you know that this is not possible due to a number of factors. So it could be a nervous pregnancy. Here’s everything you need to know about the condition to confirm your diagnosis and our tips for treating your rabbit.
What can cause a nervous pregnancy in a female rabbit?
There’s not just one possible cause of a nervous pregnancy in a rabbit, but several.
If you have chosen to foster a rabbit and a female rabbit and you do not wish to manage litters, you have had the male rabbit castrated. However, after the operation, he still has the reflex to ride the female rabbit regularly, to mimic the mating. However, a female rabbit does not have a heat period. Available all year round for reproduction, it is coitus that triggers ovulation. In these conditions, you understand that a mating by a male, whether sterile or not, can trigger ovulation.
The same thing will happen if there is no male, even if only females are keeping company with your rabbit suffering from a nervous pregnancy. In fact, overlapping with another female rabbit can happen because it is a behavior that allows to establish a hierarchy within a group and therefore to let the other rabbit know that she is in an inferior position, the “dominated” position. The body of the rabbit does not make the difference between a real coitus and a simulation. However, this kind of situation seems to be more frequent when rabbits live in cages, without going out for regular walks.
A nervous pregnancy can also be induced if your rabbit lives alone and is sexually hyperexcited. In this case, ovulation may be triggered only because you cuddle your rabbit a little too much.
Frequency and severity of nervous pregnancy in rabbits
The medical term for a pseudopregnancy is “pseudogestation”, which means a false pregnancy.
It seems to affect mostly young female rabbits, who have had only one real pregnancy. It does not affect spayed rabbits since ovulation is no longer possible.
This is a rare condition in female rabbits, unlike in female dogs. In the vast majority of cases, it is quite benign and evolves favorably spontaneously, without any medical intervention. A true gestation lasts 30 to 31 days and the nesting process occurs between 25 and 30 days after what the rabbit has experienced as a mating. In the case of a false pregnancy, it is only 10 days after the stimulus. Of course, if you are in doubt about whether a pregnancy is real or fake, only if you know the date of mating or similar can you tell the difference. In the case of a pseudo-pregnancy, it takes 15 days from the change in behavior for the hormones to return to their normal level and for the rabbit to behave as before.
How to behave in case of a nervous pregnancy in your rabbit
It is recommended that you let your rabbit live through her false pregnancy as if nothing had happened. The animal responds to reflexes triggered by its hormones: building the nest, which leads to pulling out hair, and chewing hay more intensely.
This does not mean that we should not remain attentive to the way she lives this period. As for the nest, if you destroy it, it is likely that the rabbit will build another one, with probably more stress and nervousness. You should therefore leave her alone in this respect. As for hay and hair, if you notice that she’s overdoing it and putting too much in her mouth, you can intervene to prevent possible transit problems by gently removing what she’s put there.
However, if the rabbit reaches the stage of lactation, it is better to take her to a veterinarian. A rush of milk is not good for her health because there will be no evacuation of the milk. It is therefore better to treat it as soon as possible. Do not hope to remedy it by yourself, to save a consultation, by giving her parsley for example: the chances of obtaining a positive effect are not guaranteed. If this does not work, it will only delay the implementation of an effective treatment with possible complications. Also, avoid touching her belly, especially her udder, as this will only keep the milk flowing.
Even if it is rare, some rabbits are more prone to this phenomenon than others. If this is the case, it is advisable to have the animal sterilized. The multiplication of nerve pregnancies seems to favor uterine infections, tumors in the uterus or udder, digestive problems, …
And if it was not a nervous pregnancy
If this is your first rabbit or if you have never been confronted with this phenomenon before, you may doubt that it is really a nervous pregnancy.
The fact that the rabbit is pulling out hair may also suggest a skin problem: rabbits can also pull out hair in cases of bacterial dermatitis, the presence of parasites, deficiencies or even poor hygiene. The difference between hair pulling in the context of a nervous pregnancy is that the areas from which the hair has been pulled remain clean and the skin pink. The rabbit does not scratch and the skin is not crusty or itchy.
You should also be aware of possible behavioral problems. In situations of stress or overly dominant behavior between other rabbits, the rabbit may also pull out hair. But this will not necessarily be localized on the belly, as is the case with nervous pregnancy.