February 07, 2020
Rabbit Life Stages
Rabbits often live much longer than most people realize. Gone are the days of the “disposable pet” mentality and the belief that a rabbit’s natural life expectancy is only a few short years. With proper nutrition, husbandry, and medical care, most rabbits will live long, happy, healthy lives. As your pet grows and matures, each life stage comes with some specialized and tailored care. Keep reading to find out more about properly supporting each stage of your bunny’s life.
How Long Will My Rabbit Live?
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.
A “young rabbit” is typically classified as any rabbit under the age of 12 months, though some giant breeds may be considered an adult around 9 months of age. During this first year of life, rabbits will go through three distinct stages:
- Baby (newborn – 3 months)
- Adolescence (3 months – 6 months)
- Teenager (6 months – 12 months)
We strongly encourage feeding a uniform young rabbit formula until a rabbit reaches 12 months of age. All of Oxbow’s complete and balanced young rabbit pellets are formulated to meet the specific nutritional needs of young, growing rabbits. These alfalfa-based pellets contain a diversity of ingredients nutritionally-focused on supporting the specific needs of growing animals. 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.
In addition to a uniform, fortified, alfalfa-based pelleted diet, loose alfalfa hay provides added vital nutrients and fiber for tooth wear in the daily diet of young rabbits. Though alfalfa is a good base, it is equally important for them to have access to a variety of grass hays (Western Timothy, Oat Hay, Orchard Grass, Botanical, etc). Eating a variety of hays adds nutritional enrichment for young herbivores and will make for a much smoother transition to a grass hay-exclusive diet when your rabbit 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 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:
- Gradually transition your senior rabbit to Essentials Senior Rabbit Food.
- In addition to making the switch to a senior formula, consider supplementing with loose alfalfa hay.
- Depending on your rabbit's health and nutrition status, 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.
As your bunny reaches their elder years, you may also consider speaking with your trusted veterinarian about adding supplements to their daily regimen. Based upon your senior pet’s overall health, and any underlying health conditions, your veterinarian may suggest our Natural Science Digestive Support, Joint Support, and/or Skin and Coat, as all have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant ingredients to help in aging animals.
Don’t Forget the Good Stuff
Regardless of what stage of life your rabbit is in, a variety of fresh, low oxalate, dark leafy greens should always be on your rabbit’s daily menu. In addition to vitamins and minerals, fresh greens provide your rabbit with another source of hydration and plenty of nutritional enrichment by better mimicking the wide array of vegetation they would consume in the wild. We suggest introducing new greens gradually and in small amounts. This will allow your rabbit’s sensitive system time to acclimate to the new food and help avoid any soft stool or gastrointestinal upset.
Though treats are not an essential aspect of your rabbit’s daily diet, they are a wonderful way of building and maintaining that unique human-animal bond. When choosing treats, make sure to choose varieties that are hay-based and nutritionally appropriate for your rabbit. Avoid anything containing artificial colors, preservatives, or refined sugar, and remember that treats should not make up any more than 2% of your pet’s overall diet.
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.
Learn More About Rabbit Care
Download Oxbow's Rabbit Care Guide
How to Litter Train Your Rabbit
How to Tell If Your Rabbit Is Sick