If you have a pet rabbit, one of your main concerns is likely, how long can I expect my pet rabbit to live? Although the rabbit does have an average lifespan, just like other animals that are kept as pets, it is not as publicized as the lifespan of cats or dogs.
Rabbits are not low-maintenance pets, however. They require fresh food and water, and mental and physical stimulation daily, as well as daily cleaning of their living quarters. Keep reading to find out more about rabbits, how to keep them healthy and prolong their lives, and, if you own one, just how long you can expect your fluffy friend to live.
Rabbits Kept as Pets Are Different from Wild Rabbits
Rabbits who are kept as pets, otherwise known as domesticated rabbits, are different from the wild rabbits you see hopping around outside. In fact, pet rabbits have their own species, Oryctolagus cuniculus. Wild rabbits’ species is Lepus sylvaticus. Wild rabbits and pet rabbits are different species, but are from the same family, Leporidae, and order, Lagamorph. This simply means that both wild and pet rabbits have long ears, teeth that gnaw, large back feet, and a short tail.
Rabbits didn’t become humans’ pets until the 19th century, and this practice became more common in the late 20th century. Today, there are 14 million pet rabbits worldwide, with 900,000 rabbits kept as pets in the United Kingdom, and an estimated 3 million pet rabbits in the United States.
Lifespans of Rabbits
Domesticated (pet) rabbits live from 5 to 10 years. Wild rabbits, on the other hand, typically live just a few years, due to the predators and problems they encounter in the wild. Some breeds of pet rabbits live longer than others. For example, dwarf rabbits and other miniature rabbits live to be 10 to 12 years old. Other breeds, such as Flemish giants and French lops, don’t live as long, lasting about 5 years.
The Guinness World Records says that the oldest rabbit on record was named Flopsy, in Australia, and he lived to be 18 years, 10.75 months old.
Can I Help Extend My Pet Rabbit’s Life?
With the proper care, you can help your pet rabbit to live longer. Here are some ways you can help:
Feed Them Right
Pet rabbits should eat loose grass hay and high-fiber leafy greens. Commercial rabbit pellets that are sold in pet stores don’t have the nutritional value that rabbits need, and should be fed to them sparingly, if at all. You can give your rabbit slices of vegetables or fruit as an occasional treat, but stick to the high-fiber nutritious greens as much as possible.
House and Exercise Them Properly
Indoor rabbits should be housed in a room that has been rabbit-proofed or a 16-square-foot pen. If you do keep your rabbit in a pen, allow it to be active outside of the pen for three to four hours each day. Rabbit-proofing your rooms/house includes covering wires, moving books from bottom shelves, and making sure they can’t get on special furniture. Don’t allow your rabbit access to stairs or high places, as they can hurt themselves jumping down from them. Rabbits should always be kept indoors due to the threat of predators and weather conditions. This will help your rabbit to live longer than its companions in the wild, too.
Rabbits should have exercise and stimulation. Give them toys and things to chew on, such as a cardboard toilet paper roll stuffed with hay. Rabbits who receive mental and physical enrichment will live longer.
Rabbits thrive in calm environments. Stress in a home– such as being relentlessly taunted by a cat or dog, constantly grabbed by a child, or being hurt — can cause a rabbit to go into shock and die.
Speaking of grabbing, it’s a myth that rabbits like to be handled and picked up. Many do not like this, and will nip at whomever is trying to pick them up to protect themselves.
Keep Them Healthy
Although rabbits in the U.S. do not require vaccinations, they still need proper, regular veterinary care in order to live longer. Find a veterinarian who specializes in rabbits if you can, and take the rabbit in for regular check-ups. Spaying or neutering your rabbit can also increase its lifespan, by preventing it from potentially developing cancer. As your rabbit gets older, they will need to see the vet more often to keep them healthy.
Rabbits are extremely clean animals who don’t like to be dirty or to soil their living quarters. Always wash your hands before and after handling your pet rabbit, to help keep them healthy and illness-free. Make sure to keep your rabbit’s cage clean, too. Rabbits can be trained to use a litter box, and if you do so, make sure to keep that clean, too.
If you are going away, be sure to board your rabbit or, better yet, have someone come into your home to care for them in the environment with which they are most familiar. They need daily monitoring, feeding, and help keeping clean. If they don’t eat properly even for a day, rabbits could die.
What Are Common Causes of Rabbit Death?
Rabbits can die from a variety of things:
- Shock, as mentioned above, from stress which could be a dog or cat taunting them, being grabbed by children, or being hurt. This can quickly lead to death.
- Gastrointestinal stasis, which can be caused by stress, dehydration, or blockage in the digestive tract. Possible indicators include rabbits who aren’t eating or whose droppings are smaller than usual.
- Infectious disease
- Heart attacks (due to stress)
Rabbits tend to hide their sicknesses. As soon as you notice that your rabbit is acting differently, take them to the vet.
Fun Facts About Rabbits
Here are some fun facts you might not know about your pet rabbit:
- Rabbits are social, territorial animals who form complicated social structures.
- Rabbits have an unusual digestive system. They eat food, create droppings (called caecotrophs), eat the droppings, and re-ingest the food.
- A rabbit’s teeth continue to grow throughout their lifetime. Their top front teeth grow 3 mm per week.
- Rabbits are very smart, and can be taught to respond to commands using positive rewards-based training.