If you’re considering adopting a rabbit, it’s important to understand their lifespan and the different stages of their lives. In this article, we’ll explore the average lifespan of pet rabbits, the unique life stages they go through, how to properly care for them to support a long, healthy, life, common health issues to be aware of, and how to support them in their senior years.
Average Lifespan of Rabbits
A rabbit’s life expectancy depends on many factors. Breed, genetics, diet, gender, living conditions, and consistent healthcare all play a role in determining lifespan, but on average, most rabbits live 8 to 10 years. That being said, through good nutrition and quality wellness care, many rabbits are living to see 11, 12, or even older. Similar to other species like dogs and cats, rabbits mature at a much faster rate than humans. Knowing that your little one will mature rapidly, it is important you have a plan in place to address their needs as they age.
Life Stages of Rabbits
Birth and Infancy
Rabbits are considered babies from birth to around 3 months. During this stage of life, bunnies rely on their mother’s milk for nutrition. It’s vital to ensure the mother rabbit has a nutritious diet during this time to provide the necessary nutrients for her babies’ growth and development.
Rabbits are considered young from birth to about 12 months of age. Some giant breeds of rabbits may be considered an adult around 9 months of age. Rabbits are considered adolescents between 3 – 6 months and teenagers between 6 – 12 months.
Rabbits grow and develop quickly during adolescence. A young rabbit’s rapid development requires additional calories and nutrients. To meet these needs, feed young rabbits a nutritionally complete, alfalfa-based food. Alfalfa provides optimal protein and calcium to support healthy muscle and bone formation, as well as good amounts of fiber which all rabbits need for proper digestion and overall health. While your youngster is still on the young formula, we recommend feeding an unlimited quantity of pellets. The goal is to provide enough pellets that there are always some available, without giving your little ones the option to “gorge” themselves. This helps ensure your little one will get plenty of the micronutrients and protein they need during this phase of quick maturation.
We also recommend offering young rabbits unlimited amounts of alfalfa and other grass hays such as western timothy and orchard grass to provide essential fiber, protein, and calcium. Eating a variety of hays adds nutritional enrichment for young rabbits and will make for a much smoother transition to a grass hay-exclusive diet when your pet reaches adulthood and their growth demands begin to slow. Offering a variety of grass-hays will also increase exposure to different tastes and textures which will help limit picky eating down the road.
It is important to ensure your young friend has a large, safe area in which to live and play. Young rabbits are especially curious and active, and they need plenty of time outside of an enclosure to stretch their legs and help build strong, healthy muscles and bones. Since rabbits are often quite simple to potty train, many rabbit parents allow their furry friends free roam of their home for at least a few hours each day. If you opt to allow your bunny to roam freely, it is essential to make sure your house is completely “bunny-proofed” before allowing them to do so.
Rabbits are considered adults typically between the ages of 12 months and 5 years of age (depending on breed). Though growth has slowed or ceased, adult rabbits still have specific nutritional requirements. Balanced macro-nutrients (such as fiber, protein, and fat) and micro-nutrients (like vitamins and minerals) are essential to ensure your furry friend maintains their good health.
Providing a controlled amount of high-quality, grass hay-based fortified pelleted food is a great way to ensure your little one is getting all of their nutritional needs met. Though we encourage feeding an unlimited volume of pellets to young rabbits, it is essential to feed adults a measured volume daily based upon their ideal weight and body condition. This will help ensure your friend gets those nutrients they need but will help limit the risk of obesity.
In addition to a fortified, high-quality adult pelleted diet, it is essential to provide your rabbit with a wide variety of free-choice grass hays. Nutritionally, all of Oxbow’s grass-hay varieties (Western Timothy, Oat, Orchard, Organic Meadow Hay, and Botanical) are nearly identical and provide your companion with essential fiber to keep their delicate gastrointestinal system running smoothly and their constantly growing teeth worn down to a healthy level.
Though nutritionally similar, each hay variety has a unique flavor and texture profile, which in turn provides your little one with natural, healthy nutritional and mental enrichment. Though rabbits love to eat hay, they also find comfort and enjoyment in using the hay as nesting material, or even as something to nibble upon while in their litter box, so ensure fresh hay is available at all times.
Once rabbits hit adulthood, they tend to slow down and may even gain a propensity for laziness, so it is important that they are consistently encouraged and provided opportunities to run, jump, and explore. Allowing rabbits time to stretch their legs and feed their natural curiosity provides them with a healthy dose of physical and mental enrichment. Be aware, however, that rabbits can become bored when exposed to the same environment day after day.
Rearranging your rabbit’s habitat and all the various environments they may interact in can help limit boredom. Simple actions such as providing a new hide-out, tunnel, or cardboard box can certainly pique a bunny’s interest, as can the addition of new chew toys. The more they chew, hide, explore and play, the happier they will be!
While rabbits are all unique individuals, they generally ease into their “golden years” starting around 5 years of age. When it comes to our senior bun friends, feeding suggestions should truly be focused on the individual pet’s overall condition and observed health concerns. It is always smart to include your veterinarian in this discussion, as they will be able to provide useful feedback in determining the overall nutritional profile that best suits your little one’s needs.
While not always the case, many senior rabbits tend to go one of two very opposite directions as they age; they either lose weight and muscle mass or they become obese. Always start by seeking the advice of a trusted veterinarian, and ensure their annual wellness exam and bloodwork all check out before discussing the nutritional adjustments outlined below:
The gradual addition of young rabbit pellets to his existing adult rabbit pellets (up to and not exceeding a 50/50 ratio) while feeding loose grass-hay varieties. This should be done slowly, over the course of a few weeks.
Keeping them on an adult formula and supplementing with loose alfalfa hay.
In some cases, a combination of the above may be used, or your veterinarian may suggest the inclusion of other calorie sources, like Critical Care – Herbivore.
The addition of alfalfa will provide your bunny with a tasty snack that happens to include a caloric boost as well as additional protein and calcium to help maintain muscle mass and bone health.
If your senior friend happens to be on the chubby side, it is still essential to work with your veterinarian to rule out any underlying health concerns. If your slightly pudgy pal gets a clean bill of health, they can continue eating their favorite, high-quality adult rabbit food, but your vet may suggest slightly reducing the daily volume of pellets they are fed (by only 10 – 20%) and attempting to find new, interesting ways to keep your bunny moving. Encouraging exercise at this stage of life is important regardless of their weight, as it promotes mobility and helps sustain muscle mass and healthy joints. It is also essential to continue feeding unlimited volumes and varieties of grass hays.
Important Lifespan Considerations
Regardless of a rabbit’s age, there are some health issues to be aware of that can impact their lifespan. Prevention is the best medicine when it comes to rabbit health, so regular veterinary visits are crucial.
As rabbits age, you may also consider speaking with your trusted veterinarian about adding supplements to their daily regimen. Based on your pet’s overall health and any underlying health conditions, your veterinarian may suggest high-quality supplements to support areas such as urinary, skin and coat, joint, or digestive health.
Senior rabbits may develop physical changes and face new challenges as they age. Senior rabbits may experience weight loss, changes in appetite, and a decrease in activity levels. It’s important to be proactive in supporting your senior rabbit to ensure the best quality of life possible.
Regardless of your rabbit’s age, they are certain to add their quirky charm to your life. Proper nutrition, mental enrichment, and routine vet care are essential throughout every stage of your pet’s life. Ensuring their needs are met from babyhood through their senior years will help them experience the highest quality of life possible and will ensure their companionship in your life for many years to come.