One of the first things I’m always asked during a veterinary visit is how long is my rabbit going to live? The answer to that question depends on how the rabbit is cared for each day. If rabbits are taking care of properly, and receive proper health care and the proper nutrition, which is key to keeping them healthy, they can live even into their teens. I used to say seven to nine years, but I really am seeing more rabbits live these days to be 10 to 13 years of age. I never thought I would say that, but I really do think it’s because people are more aware of how to take care of these animals and to make them live longer, happier, healthier lives.
What You Should Feed Your Rabbit
The two biggest health concerns that we see in rabbits today are related to nutrition and dental health. Rabbits teeth grow continuously. They’re open rooted, meaning they just grow and grow, and they need to chew on fiber and rough, coarse hay to help prevent this condition. In the wild, they’re chewing on shrubs and all kinds of other coarse material. In captivity, we give them hay and that helps grind down their continuously growing teeth so that the teeth don’t become impacted. This can lead to infected and abscessed teeth and painful sharp edges that cut into their gums.
These are all problems that we do see when rabbits are not getting enough hay and not chewing for long periods of time. Remember, rabbit pellets are good in very small quantities. Usually we say no more than about a quarter of a cup per four to five pounds of bunny weight per day. So if your bunny weighs to five pounds, that means that he or she should not be getting more than a quarter of a cup of pellets each day to provide some nutrients like vitamins and minerals. Most pellets do crumble when easily when rabbits chew on them. And as such, they’re not helping grind down their teeth.
Importance of Hay
The other reason for hay is that rabbits basically need fermentation from their food. They rely on a very happy and healthy population of normal bacteria in their GI tract to digest food. It’s very complicated, but it’s related to fiber and separating long strands of fiber from short strands. The right source of hay provides the long strand fiber.
Ideally, they need unlimited quantities of lower calcium hay. Lower calcium hay is required because rabbits who are not growing or not lactating, don’t really need excessive amounts of calcium. Rabbits are very good at extracting calcium from their diet. If you give them high calcium hay or high calcium pellets like those that have alfalfa in them, they tend to sediment out or suck out all that calcium from their food. This causes sediment to go into their bladder, kind of like a snow globe, and all the sandy stuff in the bottom. It can stick together and actually form bladder stones.
Unless rabbits are producing milk for babies, nursing rabbits or they’re growing themselves, they should have lower calcium hay things like Timothy Hay, Orchard grass hay, Oat hay, and meadow hay. All of those kinds of hays have lower calcium than alfalfa.
Also, when rabbits don’t get enough fiber and they often get too much carbohydrate in their diet, which is the case when excessive pellets are fed. This tends to cause a condition called G.I. Stasis. The bacteria that normally happily ferments in their food cause their intestinal tract to slow down allowing the gas producing bacteria to take over, slowing down digestion. These gas producing bacteria produce a lot of toxins as well as gas and make rabbits feel like they have an upset stomach. So they stop eating and as they stop eating or slow down what they eat, their whole gastrointestinal is off track and their digestion slows even further. That is what we mean by G.I. or Gastrointestinal Stasis.
Some people are still calling it Will Block or. hair balls. Rabbits do grooming themselves, so they do ingest some hair normally. While it is true they can form hairballs, their stomach actually has a normal amount of hair in it. That’s just part of normal digestion from when they ingest food and it sits there. Unless they eat a lot of hair or they chew on something inappropriate, it’s really not truly an obstruction of due to hair.
Proper Diet For Rabbits
A proper diet for your rabbit will keep him healthy and happy. So again, no more than a quarter cup of pellets per four to five pounds of bunny per day, fresh water every day. Leafy dark greens are great and there are some of the greens that you can feed. Also unlimited amounts of lower calcium hay.
Greens provide a great source of water and micro nutrients and they also provide some fiber. We always hear that rabbits should eat carrots. In the comics and cartoons where we see Bugs Bunny eating carrots. Now, rabbits can eat a little bit of carrot, but carrots are actually very high in carbohydrate. Just like pellets, they can cause gastrointestinal Stasis if you feed them in excess. A carrot or two every once in a while is fine if they’re the small baby carrots. You want to really focus on the leaf part of the greens. For example, the carrot top’s, dark leafy greens, Romaine, Green leaf lettuce, and red leaf lettuce.
You can do some other greens like dandelion greens and kale and spinach and parsley. Those are fine, but those also have lots of calcium in them. You can also feed a little bit of peppers and squash. Stick to low carbohydrate and not starchy vegetables. So potatoes and parsnips and things like that really should be limited, if at all, because those are higher in carbohydrate.
In terms of fruit, we like to stick to the higher fiber fruit like apples or pears and occasionally berries. Those are fine in limited amounts but those have higher carbohydrate or higher sugar content. So excessive amounts of those as well can contribute to gastrointestinal Stasis.
Importance of Vet Check Ups
If you have questions about your rabbit’s diet, you should be talking to your veterinarian. I do get asked all the time, should rabbits go to the vet? The answer is rabbits should have annual checkups, just like dogs and cats do. They don’t get vaccines typically as dogs and cats do. It is really important to have them checked out so that we make sure that there are no problems going on. We often don’t notice problems in our pet bunnies because bunnies are prey species. They are meant to hide their signs of illness. When they can’t hide them anymore, that’s when they start to become visible to us. At that point, rabbits are typically very sick.
We want to have our rabbits checked out certainly first after you adopt them, or you get them from a breeder. We want to certainly have them checked out to make sure they’re healthy. Then we want to check them out annually at the vet and if they’re ever ill.
Things to Look Out For Concerning Your Rabbits Health
Bunnies do groom themselves normally. If you should see excessive hair loss, problems with the coat, with the skin, you should have your bunny checked out by the vet. Signs like lack of appetite, slowing down of appetite, becoming lethargic. Sometimes we see rabbits become imbalanced and wobbly. They get a lot of inner ear infections that can affect their balance. If you see any of those signs, those are signs to go to the vet as well.
You should be paying attention to your rabbit’s litter box. You really want to see that your rabbit is making normal fecal droppings. They should have a softer stool either early in the morning or late at night. The cecotropes, as they’re called, that contain all the vitamins and nutrients that rabbits pass in their stool. They normally eat these so that they get those nutrients back in their diet.
Spaying & Neutering Your Rabbit
If you have a female rabbit, you want to make sure 100 percent that you get that female rabbits spayed. Somewhere around 70 to 80 percent of female rabbits after age three typically develop uterine cancer, which is completely preventable if you spay your rabbit. You should spay a rabbit after six months of age if you want to prevent a lot of spraying with male rabbits or potentially other behavioral problems or certainly breeding if you have a male and female.
You want to talk to your vet about neutering your rabbit as well. These are routine procedures that are done by rabbit vets all around the world. If you’re comfortable seeing rabbits as a veterinarian, you should know how to spay and neuter rabbits. So if you do all these things, as I said, you can prolong your rabbit’s life, make that rabbit happy and healthy. You will have more time to enjoy your bunny and they could potentially live, 10 to 13 years.