Domesticated rabbits who are raised as pets or show animals in a comfortable family environment can live anywhere from between eight to 12 years. Rabbits in the wild generally only live about one or two years as they are preyed upon by larger animals such as foxes or coyotes, mountain lions and eagles. Their delicate immune and digestive systems can make life nasty, brutish and short for rabbits living in the wild. Wild rabbits are also under constant stress trying to find adequate shelter and food sources and staying safe from predators.
Your best chance to ensure your rabbits have a long, happy and healthy life is by feeding them the correct diet, providing them with suitable and safe housing and showing them kindness and affection. Rabbits, just like other companion animals, cats and dogs, thrive when given lots of time and attention from their human overlords.
This article looks at your rabbit’s lifespan from the unique perspective of their breed – which can affect their longevity. We also discuss other health and pet care tips you can do to ensure they live their best rabbit lives.
Which rabbit breeds live the longest?
As a general rule, the smaller the rabbit is, the longer it will live. Rabbit breeds which have the longest lives are the Himalayan, the Holland Lop, the Jersey Wooly, the Lionhead, Mini Rex, the Netherland Dwarf and the Polish rabbit.
There are also three things you can do to increase their lifespan. Rabbits which are spayed or neutered will live longer as they are less likely to develop diseases (particularly cancers) which affect their reproductive organs. If you are not showing or breeding rabbits or if you have already had some litters from your rabbits, consider getting them sterilized as this will give them a better chance at a longer life.
Other things you can do to extend their lifespan are simply making sure that they are given excellent diets which capture all their nutritional requirements and plenty of exercise and stimulation.
Overall your rabbit’s life expectancy is determined by its genetics, breed, diet, living conditions and with good care your rabbit can live to at least 12 years or even a little longer. Their dietary and care requirements will need to be varied in accordance with each rabbit’s rabbit’s life cycle and different stages of development.
Your rabbit’s life cycle
Young rabbits are any rabbit less than 12 months old. Rabbits are considered newborns from birth until the age of three months old. They become adolescents from the age of three months until six months. At the age of six months, you can consider your rabbit to be a teenager.
By the age of 12 months, your pet rabbit is considered to be an adult rabbit. Remember that most rabbits will reach sexual maturity and be able to reproduce from the age of four to six months – so this age is a good time to consider sterilization unless you want to breed your rabbits.
Many rabbit health experts recommend feeding baby rabbits from birth to the age of 12 months, a good quality young rabbit formula using alfalfa-based pellets which will meet all their nutritional needs to support their growth. The pellet formula should be supplemented by loose alfalfa hay which not only delivers the important nutrients but also helps them keep their teeth worn to an appropriate length (and can prevent malocclusion issues later).
After your rabbit reaches adulthood (at 12 months) you will need to change your rabbit’s diet to one with less alfalfa (in pellet form or in hay). In the rabbit life cycle, rabbits are considered to be adults from the age of 12 months until around 7 years (after which they become senior rabbits with different care needs).
Adult rabbits still need a good balanced diet with lots of macronutrients (particularly protein, fiber and fats) and micronutrients (which are vitamins and minerals). Managing your rabbit’s diet is easily achievable by making sure your furry friends are given a measured amount of excellent quality hay, pellets and leafy greens.
Adult rabbits have slightly lower activity levels than young rabbits. It’s during this developmental life stage where you will need to manage their diet and exercise levels to prevent obesity. An essential part of managing your rabbit’s activity levels is making sure they have lots of enrichment opportunities in the form of toys and outdoor roaming time. Exercise and varying your rabbit’s environment is extremely important as they can become bored (and listless and lazy) quite easily.
In their rabbit hutches you can make some small changes – add some new toys, even some made out of recycled household items and cardboard – toilet rolls are particularly good. You can construct some small tunnels for them to burrow using cardboard boxes taped together and lots of chew toys. The more your rabbit gets to explore, play and chew on things, the happier they will be. A happy rabbit is more likely to have a longer life.
The final stage in your rabbit’s life cycle is when they become senior rabbits after around seven years of age. Rabbits aged five years are considered to be in later middle age and it is here where they are transitioning to their senior years. These age guidelines may vary slightly from breed to breed – noting that larger breeds have a shorter lifespan than their smaller counterparts.
Once your rabbit reaches five years of age, this is where it’s important that you are maintaining a good balance of diet and exercise to avoid them becoming overweight which puts a strain on their joints and further limits their mobility.
Senior rabbits aged over 7 can either become slimmer by losing muscle mass as they age or they become obese if they are over eating without sufficient exercise. In their senior years you need to ensure that you are continuing your regular vet check-ups for your rabbit.
Focus on giving them a balanced adult rabbit diet without too much sugar or alfalfa which can make them overweight. You may start to reduce their food portions slightly if your rabbit is showing signs of becoming chubby and continue to encourage them to exercise and stimulate their brain with lots of enrichment in the way of toys, tunnels and some outdoor roaming time.
How do pet rabbits usually die?
Scientific studies have shown that the most common causes of rabbits’ mortality for pet rabbits is:
Flystrike (or myiasis).
Respiratory illnesses (snuffles).
Gut issues and stasis.
Collapse (caused by any of the above conditions).
Flystrike (also called myiasis) is a life threatening condition for rabbits and it occurs when flies land on your rabbits’ fur and lay eggs on their bodies which later hatch into maggots and burrow underneath the rabbits’ skin. A rabbit with flystrike will most likely die within 24 hours. So it’s important that you keep their cages and rabbit hutches clean and pay attention to regular grooming to monitor for this condition.
Rabbits who stop eating suddenly and develop anorexia usually have an underlying condition which will put them off their food. Anorexia in rabbits is usually a sign of dental problems (malocclusion) or gastrointestinal disorders where they have pain when they eat or go to the toilet. Anorexia is a serious problem and if your rabbit suddenly stops eating you must immediately seek veterinary care.
Rabbits can also catch a cold or the “snuffles” which is a respiratory infection and their noses may be blocked. Respiratory illnesses in rabbits are quite common and are usually caused by bacterial infections (pasteurella or bordetella). Snuffles and colds can be spread from rabbit to rabbit very quickly and if left untreated can lead to serious illness and even death. You might see mucus from their noses and gummy eyes and sometimes a head tilt. This is where it’s important that you conduct your own regular mini-health check ups on your rabbits when you are feeding them and cleaning their living quarters.
Rabbits can also die from introduced diseases such as myxomatosis and the calicivirus. You should speak to your vet who can advise whether you need to immunize your rabbits against these illnesses which are frequently fatal in rabbits.
Senior rabbits who are not spayed or neutered are also prone to develop cancerous tumors of the reproductive organs (uterine and testicular cancers) – so consult your vet for advice about how to identify these illnesses and treatment options.
A final word
Despite all these potential health conditions, pet rabbits who are fed good diets with plenty of exercise, stimulation and care from their owners can expect to live anywhere from eight to 12 years and perhaps even a fraction longer. Your pet rabbit has a much better chance of a long life compared to their counterparts living free in the wild.
Wild rabbits live on average around 1 to 2 years and this is dependent upon their ability to evade predators and find reliable food sources for both themselves and their young. Rabbits’ short gestation period (from 31 to 33 days) allows them to reproduce quickly to ensure the survival of their species in the wild and has given rise to the expression “breeding like rabbits”. This in some way makes up for their relatively short lifespans compared to other mammals (like humans (80 years), cats and dogs (18-22 years) and parrots (40-80 years) – to name a few.