Mar 22, 2014

Is It Dead?

Kits born on the wire.  One was chewed after it died.
Unfortunately, part of raising rabbits is having to deal with dead kits, no matter what you might have done differently.  The morning after Chesna kindled, I walked into the rabbitry to a rather gruesome sight.  There were two kits on the floor of her cage, one of which had been very chewed up.  Contrary to popular belief, most rabbits will not eat their kits unless they are already dead.  Most likely, Chesna was just trying to clean up a stillborn or a kit that had died because it had been born on the wire.

Of course, the thought did occur to me that these two might be one of the four born the previous night.  I hoped, though, that this meant that she had decided to kindle more kits.  It's not uncommon for a doe--even one that was only brought to the buck once--to kindle part of a litter one day, and then deliver the rest of the litter the following day (up to a couple days apart).

Cold kits settled away from their littermates.
There were more kits in the nest!  Three more, in fact, bringing the total (including dead) to eight (nine, if you count the undeveloped kit that was born). Unfortunately, two of them were cold and apparently lifeless.  One of them appeared to be the kit that had been cold last time (it was darker than the other kits).  Also, one of the kits in the main pile still had blood on it from its birth.  None of the kits had blood on them the day before.

Ah, but that's not the end of it!  Many rabbit raisers have a saying: "It's not dead until it's warm and dead."  While this is a good starting point, you can still save yourself a little bit of headache by looking at other things, too.

Dark red blood in the nails, indicating pooled blood.
One of the things to look for is pooled blood.  Many breeders pay particular attention to the toenails on the kits.  Sometimes, the blood doesn't pool in the nails, though.  It pools at whichever point of the body is lowest.  On other parts of the body, it often looks like a large bruise. If any blood is pooled, the kit is almost certainly dead.

Blood pooled in legs.

Nails of a potentially-revivable kit.
One of the cold, lifeless kits showed no signs of pooled blood--it wasn't even stiff--so I knew there was chance that we might be able to revive the kit.  Like many hypothermia victims, it was quite pale (even for an albino).  So, like many of my fellow female rabbit-raisers, I stuffed the kit into my bra (positioned so that it was secure, but wouldn't get squished).  Any little bit of heat can help, and the sooner the kit gets it, the better.  Putting it in a bra allows me to keep my hands free while I finish tending the other rabbits.

I've heard it asked why cold and stiff doesn't necessarily indicate that it's dead. The answer is that kits get hypothermia, relatively easily, since they have no fur to keep them warm.  They may be cold to the touch (maybe even comatose or rigid), and likely their heartbeats have slowed down drastically (it's hard enough to hear a young rabbit's heart, as is). When you warm them up, the blood and muscles thaw, and gradually, the heart rate picks up, and metabolism kicks back in so that the body is able to start keeping itself warm again.

Kit warming on a rice bag.
So, when you have a dead kit, get it to some warmth as soon as possible. My preferred method (after the initial bra warming) is to put the kit on a rice bag inside a box, and drape a towel over them.  The rice bag only needs to be heated about one minute (you should be able to grasp the bag without feeling like you're going to burn your fingers).  I put it inside a box because when the kits come to, they sometimes try to wander away from the rice bag (they start getting too warm).  The towel draped over them helps trap more heat in, just like a blanket.


Unfortunately, after being on the warm bag for an hour, the kit was warm to the touch, but still lifeless.  I suspect that it may have had internal injuries, as you can see abdominal bruising in the picture above.