by Dr. Terry E. Reed
This is the easiest and most accepted method of determining pregnancy in the domestic rabbit.
Twelve to fifteen days after a female rabbit has been successfully mated, conception may be determined by palpation (feeling) the developing kits within the abdominal cavity (belly). This will determine if the doe is "bred" and will kindle at the termination of the twenty-eight to thirty-two day gestation period.
Palpation is the term used to indicate the actual feeling of the developing kits in the abdominal area with the thumb and fingers of one hand. First impression may indicate that this procedure is very difficult to comprehend and dangerous to the welfare of the forming kits. With time, patience and understanding most individuals, youth included, can become proficient in the palpation technique and when used appropriately, the possible damage to the young is minimal.
There are many advantages to palpating does for pregnancy at 12-15 days after successful mating. These are as follows:
1. Allows the rebreeding of the 'nonpregnant' does immediately. This increases the efficiency and the usefulness of the doe. This allows the 'nonpregnant' doe that is rebred, the opportunity to be more than half way into another pregnancy. This is beneficial in allowing the manager to have the litter born as close to the desired date as possible and to get the most possible number of kits from that individual doe per year.
2. Allows the manager to maintain the doe in proper and appropriate flesh condition. Pregnant does have increased nutritional requirements during the last one-third of gestation period and require increased feed intake to insure the healthiest offspring possible. Does that have the feed intake increased and are not pregnant have a tendency to get fat and will have excessive fat around the reproductive organs. Does that are too fat tend to have reproductive problems and many become difficult to get bred. Often these does have to be culled from the herd for lack of productivity. This is a dramatic financial loss when breeding stock is lost from the herd.
3. Saves time, money and labor. Preparing, inserting and maintaining a nest box for the doe requires sanitation, filling the box with nesting materials, and time and effort in placing the box in the doe's cage. In addition to the increased amount of feed required when the doe is not pregnant. These are all wasted expenses and effort.
4. Saves and prevents disappointment. Everyone anticipates the arrival of a new litter of rabbits.
POSITIONING THE DOE FOR PALPATION
The doe should be positioned on a flat, non-slippery surface (covered with carpet or burlap) and at a height that the elbow of the technician can be comfortably rested. A slippery surface will tend to frighten the doe and increase the difficulty of the procedure from 'tightened' abdominal muscles.
The doe must be restrained from movement by gently, but firmly, holding the head (covering the eyes) with one hand. This allows the opposite hand to be slowly and gently placed, palm up, under the abdominal area just in front of the rear legs. The elbow can rest on the examining table while the hand and forearm is elevated just enough to raise the back portion of the rabbit to a point that the rear legs barely touch the table. Simply, the doe is restrained with one hand and her hind portion is held in the palm of the opposite hand with the elbow resting on the table surface to stabilize the doe's position.
The area of the abdominal cavity that one will wish to explore for the development of kits will be from the pelvis forward and from the top of the belly cavity (bottom of loin muscle) to the bottom of the abdominal cavity (belly muscles) above the mammary gland. With the doe resting in the palm of the hand, this allows the thumb and fingers to be on opposite sides of the doe's abdominal cavity, the area that is to be explored for the development of kits.
Twelve to fifteen days after conception, the developing kits will most commonly be located in the rear portion (in front of the pelvis) and in the mid portion (up and down) of the abdominal cavity. Later in the gestation period, due to the enlargement, the developing kits will be lower and farther forward in the abdominal cavity.
The above palpation sites will be exactly the same position regardless of the size of the doe (whether Netherland Dwarf or Flemish Giant).
With the doe properly positioned, restrained and the general site located, the exploration is ready to be initiated when the abdominal muscles of the doe are completely relaxed. This is important, when the muscles are not relaxed it will be like attempting to feel a small object through a rigid wall of a tube, as compared to feeling small objects through a soft pliable tubular stocking.
The developing kits at 12 to 15 days after conception will be about the size of a grape, or marble (one-half to three-quarters inch in diameter) and will be about the same size at 1 2 to 1 5 days in smaller does as in giant does. The texture (feel) of the 'grape' or 'marble' will be rather turgid (firm) and more round than the other objects that can be palpated in the abdominal area. One may wish to imagine that they are searching for a 'night crawler' that swallowed several 'grapes' or 'marbles'. These will be the developing kits within the walls of the uterus.
Be aware that one is feeling through fur, skin, abdominal muscles, uterine wall and viscera for the above described developing kit to 'slide' between thumb and forefingers. The thumb and forefingers must rhythmically, gently and repeatedly come together and relax exploring the entire described area for the developing kits. Once the object is discovered the palpation process should be discontinued.
Should the doe tense (tighten) the abdominal muscles, stop the activity of the fingers and thumb, keeping the hand in position until the doe relaxes then continue the search. The amount of pressure between the thumb and fingers should be sufficient to the degree that the bumps and grooves of the material in the abdominal cavity can be determined and differentiated.
There is a tendency for most beginners not to exert a sufficient pressure to identify the structure for fear of injury to them, and to be very impatient thinking "all that stuff feels the same." Be cautious, thorough and allow time for the fingers to become accustomed to the materials that are being touched within the cavity.
Developing kits are most demarcated at 12 to 15 days into the gestation period and easiest to identify at this time. With experience one can determine pregnancy as early as 9 days. As the pregnancy advances the developing kits become larger, longer, softer and they lost their demarcation causing them to become much more difficult to identify and differentiate from the other abdominal cavity contents. In addition, during the later stages of development the possibility of injury to the feti increases.
When one encounters a developing feti in the palpation process, the procedure should be discontinued and the doe considered bred.
HLRSC Official Guidebook - 5th Edition 2002