By Elizabeth Xu
Everyone wants their pet to live a long and healthy life and, by now, the lifespan of cats and dogs is fairly common knowledge. Rabbits, on the other hand, are a little trickier, though they do have an average lifespan just like other animals.
Whether you’ve had a rabbit friend for years or you’re just contemplating getting one, read on to discover how long they generally live and learn some tips for keeping your rabbit the healthiest he or she can be throughout his or her life.
Average Rabbit Lifespans Explained
Domestic rabbits usually live between 8-12 years, in contrast to wild rabbits, which may only live a few years because they deal with disease, starvation, and predators, said Judith Pierce, adoptions director at the San Diego House Rabbit Society.
Though there are a variety of rabbit breeds, it’s difficult to determine whether specific breeds live longer than others, Pierce said. However, larger breeds often have a shorter lifespan than smaller rabbits. “You can’t make too much of a generalization because some rabbit will come along and always prove you wrong,” she said.
Overall, rabbits are living longer these days thanks to a combination of specially trained veterinarians and better knowledge of how rabbits should live and what they should eat.
“When I started Bunny Bunch over 35 years ago, it was thought that rabbits live maybe three to five years,” said Caroline Charland, founder of Bunny Bunch, a rabbit rescue and educational organization. She says that during her years working with rabbits, she’s seen people start feeding them better and keeping them inside more often, which protects them from weather and predators and can help them to live longer.
How to Make Your Rabbit Live Longer
Rabbits aren’t as low-maintenance as they seem and much of a rabbit’s longevity depends on how well an owner cares for them. Many of the tips to help your rabbit live a long life fall into four important areas:
1. Food: The majority of a rabbit’s diet should be loose hay, Charland said, and not the commercial pellets that used to be popular in the past. Rabbits need a high-fiber diet full of leafy greens like endive and kale. Treats should be given sparingly (and think twice before you grab a colorful box in the grocery store). Tim Patino, president of the Great Lakes Rabbit Sanctuary, recommends mint, or a slice of carrot or fruit as an occasional treat.
2. Housing: A rabbit-proofed room or a large pen is a must-have. Pierce recommends a 16-square-foot pen, but notes that rabbits should still have plenty of time to be active outside of the pen, about three or four hours a day. But before you let your rabbit roam freely in your home, cover all wires, move books from bottom shelves, and make sure your rabbit won't have access to any special furniture. Ensure your rabbit can’t access stairs or high places, as they can jump up but often injure themselves trying to get back down. Keeping your rabbit indoors is also key. While it’s true that wild rabbits live outdoors, they usually live fewer years than domesticated rabbits. Keeping rabbits outside is not ideal due to weather conditions and the threat of predators, Charland said.
3. Veterinary care: Another reason rabbits are living longer today is that veterinarians simply know more about them; many have special training to care for rabbits. Patino recommends taking your rabbit to the vet as soon as you get it and returning for yearly check-ups, as long as there are no apparent health issues, in which case you may need to see your vet more often. Frequent veterinary visits are especially important for elderly rabbits, which can experience rapid changes in a small amount of time. Spaying and neutering can also increase life expectancy, as females are at high risk for uterine and mammary cancer. Pierce said that before deciding on a vet, ask about their experience, including how many rabbits they usually see a week: “You want to be certain to always take your rabbit to a vet who is very experienced in treating them,” she added.
4. Toys and mental stimulation: Rabbits tend to get bored with toys easily, Patino said, and if they’re not mentally stimulated you can expect to find them digging holes in your carpet or chewing at your baseboards. He recommends giving your rabbit new toys to discover whenever possible. Toys don’t necessarily need to be store-bought, either. A cardboard toilet paper tube stuffed with hay can be endless fun for a rabbit, Pierce said.
Common Causes of Death in Rabbits
One common cause of death in rabbits is gastroIntestinal (GI) stasis, which can kill rabbits quickly. GI stasis can have numerous causes, from stress to dehydration to a blockage. Pierce said signs to watch out for include a rabbit that’s not eating or has smaller droppings than usual. Other frequent causes of death include heatstroke (for rabbits that are outside), injury, poisoning, infectious disease, cancer, and heart attacks due to stress.
Overall, it’s important to pay attention to your rabbit’s health and consult your veterinarian if something seems wrong. “Rabbits tend to hide their illnesses, so when you notice a rabbit isn’t doing well, it probably hasn’t been doing well for a while,” Charland said. “It’s important to be very in-tune with your rabbits.”