False Pregnancy

TIP – To avoid false pregnancies it is advisable to get your bunnies neutered.
If your spayed bunny is having regular false pregnancies you must see a vet.

A false/phantom pregnancy or Pseudo pregnancy as it is sometimes referred to is a common occurrence in female rabbits.  The female rabbit develops genuine symptoms of pregnancy & goes through the motions. This can last anywhere from between 10 – 20 days, so shorter than a normal gestation period which is usually 28-31 days. It is said that it usually only occurs in unspayed females.  However, read My Experience below for a false pregnancy in a spayed female.

False Pregnancy Triggers 

  • Infertile mating.
  • Proximity of a male.
  • Mating between two females.

Behavioural Signs

  • Collecting nesting material like hay or shredded paper.
  • Pulling fur from the abdomen or chest area.
  • Aggressively defending the nesting site.
  • Hoarding of toys.
  • Developing mammary glands.
  • Generally being quite grumpy.

Some people have found their female bunny has regular false pregnancies, sometimes once a month. It is not usual for false pregnancies to be so regular. You must speak to a vet if this is happening. Here are a couple of reasons it may be occurring:

  • Your rabbit is not spayed.  Previous owners can sometimes make assumptions about their bunny especially if it is one that is on it’s second or third plus owner.
  • I believe some vets don’t remove all the female plumbing during a spay & have been known to leave the ovaries behind.
  • There could be some other illness occurring.

Whatever the reason, you must discuss the issue with a vet.

My Experience

Annie collecting hay for nesting material.

Annie was a mum at a very young age. Shortly after her babies had left home  she was spayed.  Even though she is a spayed female she occasionally has brief false pregnancies. I do not believe it is just unspayed females who have false pregnancies.  I have seen a lot of my spayed females have them.  The only difference I have noticed between an unsprayed & spayed female is that the unsprayed female tends to mimic a true pregnancy with a lot more of the symptoms than an unsprayed female & it lasts a lot longer.

In Annie’s case I find the triggers that set  her into having a false pregnancy is when Spring arrives especially when they first start to have full access to the outdoors.  Also after she has mated her male partner Thumper.  A lot of people say that when a female mounts another rabbit it is a display of dominance but I am not so sure that is the case every time. I have definitely seen Annie display the behaviours of a false pregnancy after this type of behaviour with Thumper.  Of course I have no proof or scientific evidence to support this it is just what I have observed.

Annie’s false pregnancies are very brief lasting just a few hours.  She mainly collects nesting material & will often sit about with it in her mouth. She doesn’t always start to build a nest & doesn’t show any of the other behaviours associated with a false pregnancy. She is also easily distracted from it too, if it is feeding time the nesting material is dropped immediately & completely forgotten about & she doesn’t go back to it after feeding.  She usually experiences this at least once or twice a year.

Annie collecting hay.
And more hay.
Another false pregnancy – Annie just starting to collect hay.
Then sometimes she will just sit with it in her mouth for a while.
Or wander about a little.

 

Tilly now spayed but still has false pregnancies.

I adopted Tilly  from a sanctuary where she lived with 2 unspayed females & a castrated male.  She also was not spayed.  The day I went to adopt her it was noticed that her teats were very swollen, nonetheless I wanted her & went ahead with the adoption. It was confirmed at my vets that her mammary glands were swollen & she was in full swing of a false pregnancy most probably triggered by the bunny situation she was kept in.  We waited a couple of weeks & there was no change, her mammary glands were still swollen & she was still displaying other behaviour like nest building.  Another week passed by & still no change.  As we entered the 4th week she had stopped tending her nest but still had the swollen mammary glands. The length of time was unusual, she should have got it out of her system by now.

I needed Tilly to be spayed sooner rather than later so she could be paired with her new partner.  After a discussion with my vet we decided to give her another week, which we did. Her top teats were still swollen at the end of the week & it was thought something else might have been going on.  We decided to go ahead with the spay.  My vet explained that there is a lot more blood supply around when the hormones are active so it does make the  spay operation slightly more risky.  However, the risk was still very low & we needed to know if something else was going on.

In the end everything turned out ok.  Her operation was straight forward & nothing untoward was found. Tilly made a brilliant recovery too.

Since her spay operation 2 years ago Tilly has had yearly false pregnancies.  I have to admit I am unclear as to what triggers Tilly into having these false pregnancies.  She also shows more of the behavioural symptoms  & it goes on for longer than Annie.  However, it is still a short time, generally not lasting more than a day.

Tilly collecting the nesting material.
Tilly about to take it upstairs to her bed box & make her nest.
Tilly having another false pregnancy collecting shredded paper for her nest.
Close up of the shredded paper held in Tilly’s mouth.
Tilly’s start at nest building which she didn’t progress any further.