Gender checking rabbits
Warning: this post involves pictures of rabbit genitalia. If this is something you are uncomfortable with, or don't want your kids to see, this is not the post for your family.
Knowing the sex of your rabbits at as early an age as possible is important for pretty obvious reasons. I see many, many rabbit owners who buy a pair of "does" only to have kits a few weeks later. Some breeders may not know how to check the gender of their rabbits. Other, less scrupulous, breeders may see a quick way to get rid of an unwanted buck. Being able to know for your self is best. Practice if you already have rabbits, or can borrow a friend's.
The first thing you need when learning is a cooperative rabbit. This little one has been held a lot, and we have made sure with all our babies to get them used to being upside down, handling their feet, etc so they don't get scared when we do medical checks.
We will start with an older male and female however, since they are easier.
Hold the rabbit upside down, cradled in one arm like a baby. If you have someone else who can do this for you, even better. For me, head end up under the right elbow, which leaves my right hand free to do the check. I use my ring and pinkie fingers to hold one leg out of the way and expose the genitals.
Older males are the easiest to tell. After they are full matured, the testicles become easily visible. The penis (see below) also is much more distinct in an older male
As a side note, breeding a male too young can cause issues in development, so smaller breed males and females should not be bred until at least 6 months. Larger breeders, like our American Chinchilla, take until at least 8 months to fully develop
As a male rabbit's genitalia is partially internal until use, until you are used to the difference it can be hard to differentiate between male and female, especially in smaller animals. However, in a male, when you press against the sides of a mature male's hole, the penis will emerge, making for little doubt that this is a male!
Females, on the other hand, when matured have a longer, thinner opening. When we took this picture, the doe had decently been pregnant and apparently miscarried. We were checking for damage and signs of infection. Her vagina is rather red and swollen here, and her nipples are far more prominent than they are in our unbred rabbits.
The younger the animal, the more difficult it is to tell gender. Especially very early in development, tiny rabbit parts can be a struggle! We are lucky to have large rabbits, which makes telling the genders apart at an early are easier. I have seen postings by people who claim to be able to tell gender at a day old with perfect accuracy, but I certainly cannot!
These rabbits were about 5-6 weeks when these pictures were taken. They are not sexually mature, but we attempted to take pictures that would make the difference very clear.
It may be harder to get a good visual on the smaller rabbits genitalia, so placing forefinger and thumb on either side will often help push fur back and get a betting visual.
The doe here has a longer hole than her male counterpart (see the next picture) and it lacks the slight bump an immature penis has.
The male, even when young, will protrude lightly more than female genitalia. However, it can be very difficult to see the difference unless looking at them side by side. Sometimes, when they are very small, even when side by side it can be tough! As they begin to mature, one may be able to see the slight bumps of immature testicles as well
If colony raising rabbits, or raising rabbits together it is always better to be safe than sorry. If you are not sure of the breed and you do not intend to breed, or with rabbits too young to breed, keep the rabbits separated. Many an unwanted litter has come from a mistaken gender check! Does anyone remember this classic commercial?
Also, always check yourself! Every breeder can make mistakes (in a colony environment it's hard to get the exact rabbit you are after!) and some are newer breeders. If you are buying a young rabbit, double check that you know what you are getting! The alternative?
Rabbits will be rabbits....