What is it that makes some rabbits live longer than others? There are so many factors at play. From genetics to mental health, from diet to veterinary care, rabbit lifespan isn’t exactly black-and-white. What we do know for a fact is that how you care for your rabbit can have a great influence on his or her longevity. An animal’s genetics are predetermined from the moment he or she is born. But there are steps we can take to maximize rabbit lifespan and manage health issues.
Wild rabbits can lead tough lives! Like all wild prey animals, rabbits are constantly vigilant against predators. Birds of prey, raccoons, snakes, foxes, bobcats, and coyotes all act as predators of rabbits across North America. Wild cottontail rabbits who make it to adulthood typically live less than two years. In captivity, this same species can live up to nine years. Nearly half of all wild baby rabbits will not make it beyond one month after birth.
Wild rabbits have large and frequent litters to make up for such a high mortality rate.
These rabbits are impacted by human activity, too. You can help wild rabbits live their fullest lives through the care of your own pets. Respecting leash laws and perfecting your dog’s recall skills can help save rabbits while out on the trail. Keeping your cat indoors or on a leash saves the lives of songbirds as well as vulnerable baby rabbits during spring and summertime. Cats are cute, but they’re natural-born killers!
Planting native grasses and other plants will help increase the biodiversity in your neighborhood and can offer natural shelter and food for wild rabbits. Learning how to spot wild rabbit nests and giving them plenty of space is immensely helpful to mother rabbits caring for their tiny kits.
Domestic Rabbits and Genetic Factors
On average, domestic rabbits live 8-12 years. This is similar to a dog’s lifespan!
Sadly, a major factor in a rabbit’s longevity is genetic health. Most pet rabbits come from large, inhumane breeding mills, or are born in private homes by accident. In these circumstances, no planning or consideration is put into genetic health. Rabbits are often bred in stressful conditions exclusively for aesthetic appearance. Genetic screening and health testing are nonexistent at these operations.
Uterine tumors, hypertension, cardiomyopathy, and epilepsy are just a few hereditary conditions for rabbits. Spaying a female rabbit can reduce the risk of tumors, and neutering males eliminates the risk of testicular cancers. Routine veterinary exams and excellent rabbit care can also help prevent some of these conditions from becoming too serious.
You can help stop inhumane breeding conditions by refusing to buy rabbits from pet stores. There are countless rabbits in shelters and rescue groups who need loving homes!
Increasing the Rabbit Lifespan
We can’t control genetic factors with rescued rabbits, but as their caregivers, we can manage many factors that impact longevity.
Many rabbits meet the end of their lives through stress, extreme weather, and predators. Either keeping rabbits in a safe, insulated, sturdy, and humane enclosure or keeping rabbits indoors full-time helps eliminate those dangers.
A healthy diet with limited sugars (such as fruit), small daily servings of leafy greens, and unlimited fibrous grasses (hay) sets up a rabbit for a long, healthy life.
Stress, depression, and boredom can shorten the lifespan of animals and humans alike. They need the companionship of their own species to thrive. Rabbits should live enriched lives with access to free-range time, food puzzles, and plenty of wooden and cardboard toys to exercise their need to chew.
Reducing exposure to unnecessary stress is critical. Whether it’s picking them up non-mutual snuggles or dressing them in “cute” outfits, before you do anything to your rabbit, you should ask yourself: How will this benefit my rabbit, and will this cause my rabbit stress? Feeling safe, consenting to interaction, and having their autonomy respected keep animals mentally sound. A relaxing life is a joyful life!
Regular wellness checks with your local rabbit veterinarian can increase your odds of catching a health issue before it advances.
The Oldest Recorded Rabbit
Believe it or not, the oldest rabbit ever recorded was a wild rabbit. Flopsy was a wild rabbit who was raised as a kit in captivity. Flopsy lived an astounding 18 years and 10.75 months. The Australian rabbit earned a Guinness World Record at the time of his passing. Wild rabbits are not native to Australia and are considered an invasive species. Introduced from Europe, these animals have a massive impact on Australia’s native wildlife. Sadly, killing off invasive species can be a necessary evil.
Flopsy’s caregiver decided to take the young rabbit in and care for him rather than kill him. One life was spared that day, and Flopsy certainly made the most of his opportunity!
Following close behind Flopsy was Mick, an agouti rabbit from Illinois. Mick lived to be sixteen years old. His wonderful caregiver attributes his long life to having plenty of rabbit companions, an abundance of exercise, a joyful environment, and plenty of veterinary care. Mick was rescued from an animal shelter with his bunny companion, Bianca.