NZ White rabbits had kits and I'm not sure what happened...

by Brittany-Mari Sullivan
(Greensboro, NC)

Can anyone help please
My husband has 2 New Zealand white rabbits - a doe and a buck and shockingly enough, there have been at least 2 litters prior to this April. We're not exactly sure what happened, but they were all dead by the time we found them and didn't look like they were much cared for after birth by the Momma rabbit.
Anyway, on April 22nd we happened to be outside when the doe started giving birth so we kept an eye on what was going on and it seemed like she did not have an interest in taking care of her kits. (Let me mention here that my husband was VERY unprepared for the necessary upkeep and work - there was no preparation for the next litter at all - no nest box - nothing. The bottom of the cage is open wire? I think it's called and there is an area of the cage that has a covering, but the hay doesn't last long there.)
My husband took all 4 kits and took care of them in a shoebox with a toddler sized plush blanket. He get some kitten replacement milk and started feeding them with a syringe. He kept the open can of kitten milk replacement in the refrigerator. He had done some research and I guess determined that they only eat a tiny bit and once a day. (Having done my own research after the fact, I read that their bellies are supposed to be round and protrude past their ribcage... I never once noticed any sign of fullness in the kits like that.)
Anyway, they were active and seemingly healthy despite what I thought was not a great call - taking them away from their Mom. When I handled them, I noticed the tiny balls of poop and would brush them away, but I never saw them urinate or saw any signs of them urinating until the 25th. When my husband checked on them, there was like... an amount of urine soaked through the bottom of the shoe box that a small cat would leave. Several of the kits were soaking wet from... I guess peeing on one another. My husband got a pot of warm water to bathe them would submerge them up to their heads for about a second or splash the water around their bodies to clean off the urine. Then he put them in a cotton blanket with parts of the blanket wrapped around each one of them.
No one thought anything of it because it was an extremely hot day.
When he checked on the kits maybe 20 to 30 mins later, one of them was barely twitching and eventually died. I immediately thought they had gotten too cold and basically carried the others partially in my shirt and partially in the box with the plush blanket and heat lap to warm them up. They were burrowing and snuggling up on one another and seemed okay. They seemed fine but the next morning when he checked on the remaining kits - 2 others had died. The space where they were kept at that time after one had died was warmer than the area they had been kept in the previous nights so I didnt understand how that could be hypothermia. And it had been at least 12 hrs since they had gotten wet.
The remaining kit seemed to be doing better - was active and squeaking... when it was the feeding time of the day, he seemed to eat. But my husband kept checking on him and eventually his movements started to slow... he seemed slightly colder than he had been in the first couple days when they had all seemed okay. His belly did hiccup movements sometimes.. and breathing seemed hard for him. Later that night (this was last night - April 27th) our last kit slipped away.
This was one of the worst experiences of my life. I had never taken part in the rabbit breeding.. or rather my husband just letting them breed, but it seemed like we were so ignorant and ill prepared that we caused this to happen. What could it have been? Could it h ave been hypothermia from the bath even though it was a fair amount of time later after they had warmed up? Could their lack of urination had anything to do with it? We held them gently alot - or let them nuzzle in our laps - could we have injured them? Or is it a bad idea to take away kits no matter if the mother is disinterested and rejecting them or not? Or did the lack of a nest box pretty much make their mother not be able to nurture them? Im just looking for possibilities- like I said, I know nothing about all this, its my husbands hobby but im not entirely sure he knows what hes doing. I just don't want to have to watch another litter suffer because we were ridiculously stupid.

Thank you

Brittany-Mari Sullivan

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