The answer to ‘how long do rabbits live‘ will firstly depend on whether we are talking about wild rabbits or domestic rabbits.
Shockingly, in the wild, rabbits can only expect to live a year or two at most. This is because of the pressures of predators, disease, food scarcity and harsh winters.
How long do rabbits live in captivity?
For house rabbits, things could not be any different, with pet rabbits able to achieve between 8 and 12 years if given opportune conditions. Rabbits that are farmed for meat have the shortest lifespan of all, finding themselves earmarked for the plate after only 8 short weeks!
Multiple factors make some rabbits live longer than others
In addition size, sex, breed and living conditions all make their contribution to the lifespans of a pet rabbit.
- Males are far more long-lived than females
- Like dogs, larger breeds do not live as long as smaller rabbit breeds.
How long do rabbits live as pets?
Definitive answers and insights on the average lifespan of pet rabbits have been made available by a landmark study by veterinarians in the UK. In 2019 The Royal Veterinary Society (RVS) undertook an extensive investigation into the health and longevity of over six and a half thousand British bunnies receiving veterinary care. They collated data from over 100 clinics. They found that:
- The average lifespan of a pet rabbit is only 4.3 years.
- Males were living for 5.2 years on average and females lived for 3.7 years.
What do rabbits usually die from?
The RVS team were able to provide valuable understanding on the main causes of death for pet rabbits.
- 10.9% of the rabbits died from flystrike. This is a gruesome condition which is also known as myiasis. It is caused by flies laying their eggs deep within the fur of the rabbits and afflicts them with nasty sores that eventually cause an overwhelming infection.
- 4.9% died from anorexia. This can be due to a variety of causes but is most often because of dental disease.
- 4.9% succumbed to collapse. This is the end stage of a range of stressors on rabbits such as infectious disease or neglect.
So, why are captive rabbits having such short life spans?
This groundbreaking study clearly showed that there is a long way to go in improving the health of pet rabbits so they can reach their full potential. The veterinarians uncovered a number of conditions that cause poor health in rabbits and can shorten their lifespan.
It may shock you, but these are a sample of the problems that precipitated illness and death in the pet rabbits the veterinarians saw:
- Overgrown nails If regular, correct trimming of a house rabbit’s claws is not undertaken they will simply grow and grow. The activities of wild rabbits, such as digging or scratching, keep their nails short. Owners need to do this for bunnies as overgrown claws eventually deform the feet and limbs and cripple the rabbit.
- Overgrown molars Bunny teeth also just keep on growing throughout life and are usually kept in check by the hours upon hours of grinding down vegetation. A poor diet, jaw problems or injuries can prevent this with overgrowth of the teeth.
- Overgrown incisors Dental problems like this are common in rabbits and should not be remedied by DIY attempts to clip down the teeth. Incisors that become overgrown can be worn down with a dental burr by your veterinarian.
- Dirty behind This is usually indicative of an underlying problem, but dirt bottoms on the rabbit can cause chemical burns and lesions which can then become infected.
Overlooking tasks as simple as basic grooming can trigger disease in rabbits.
The vast majority of these problems are essentially down to poor care and conditions. It seems that the level of attention and care that a pet rabbit needs may be grossly underestimated. It has also been suggested that problems in rabbits don’t show up until they are very ill.
This is not always due to neglect but rather because as wild rabbits, they would have to be careful not to show any signs of disease or weakness for fear of predation. Therefore, although rabbits are very sensitive to life-limiting disease and stressors, they may not show it meaning that owners have to be careful and vigilant.
4 ways in which you can help your pet rabbit live longer
- Housing Don’t skimp on space with rabbits, the more the better! Opt for a large spacious hutch with food ventilation and clean regularly changed bedding with fresh hay. A decent run outdoors also helps your bunnies get the exercise they need. Toys and treats are great for mental stimulation too.
- Food The right nutrition is vital for the all round health of your rabbit. A domestic rabbit’s diet has to take into account the level of activity of the animal, how it is meant to feed and supply all of the necessary vitamins and minerals.
- Vigilance for disease The veterinarians who undertook the study, were emphatic about the need to take pet rabbits to the vet for regular checkups and not leave problems to progress to a stage where successful treatment could not take place.
- Companionship Rabbits are social creatures which would naturally be running wild in a packed warren. Owning a single rabbit may be convenient, but it can be very stressful to a bunny to be isolated as they may feel exposed.
Rounding up: How long do rabbits live?
It’s clear that life for even the fluffiest of bunnies is not always easy. Some rabbits will always live longer than others. Pets are reliant on their owners for providing the conditions they need to remain healthy. Stressors and disease as we have explored here will shorten the lifespan of rabbits.
With the right care and attention, the longevity of your rabbit will certainly increase. As the UK vets suggest, educating yourself on what rabbits need will make your better equipped as an owner to provide a good quality of life for your pet Who knows? They may become as long-lived as Mick, the world’s oldest rabbit who celebrated his sweet 16 in 2019!