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What I found so incredible when researching this article was how the numbers have changed in the past, say, 20 years. Five used to be considered a great age for rabbits, and now it’s extremely common to see healthy ten-year-old rabbits on Reddit and Facebook groups.
We love to see it.
Do house rabbits live longer than outdoor rabbits?
Yup, it’s one of the best arguments for keeping rabbits inside rather than in a hutch.
Not only do house rabbits live longer, they live MUCH longer. Outside rabbits don’t tend to live that much longer than wild rabbits. Wild rabbits live to be two if they’re lucky, outside rabbits might live a couple of years longer.
Now, there will be exceptions to this. A lot of people choose to keep their rabbits in their garage or a big shed for various reasons, and these CAN be great habitats. The issue is that a lot of rabbits kept outside aren’t given enough space to exercise, aren’t socialised enough, and aren’t given enough attention, so illnesses pass unnoticed.
There’s a lady in a Facebook group I’m in that has the most incredible bunny set up in her garage. The rabbits have a tonne of room and it’s temperature controlled.
The lady and her family spend hours in there every day. Those rabbits are likely to have a similar life expectancy as a house rabbit, the problem is that setups like that are the exception, not the rule.
Does rabbit breed affect longevity?
Yes, to a point. I couldn’t definitively say that a Dutch rabbit will live longer than German lop, but there are some (extremely) general rules of thumb to be aware of.
- Giant breeds tend not to live as long as smaller breeds and aren’t so great under anaesthetic as they get older.
This isn’t something unique to rabbits – large dog breeds like Great Danes rarely make it to 10, whereas chihuahuas and terriers can live twice that long.
- The less ‘bred’ the rabbit breed is, the longer they’ll live, and with fewer health issues. Fancy breeds are more likely to have health issues bred into them (such as cataracts and ear infections).
Dutch rabbits look pretty similar to wild rabbits and tend to live a pretty long time. Basically, the more strictly you breed something, the more likely you are to accidentally make it more prone to a certain health issue.
Please bear in mind that health issues don’t always equal death, so don’t be put off adopting a REW (red-eyed white) because they’re known for having poor eyesight. They also TEND (no guarantee) to be pretty friendly.
This isn’t as much as an issue in rabbits as it is in dogs, since rabbits tend to be bred for their fur or their meat, rather than to perform a particular task.
That being said, there is a bit of a trend to breed ‘cuter’ rabbits with shorter snouts, which is the same thing that happened with French bulldogs and other brachycephalic breeds, with many of the same issues.
Please please please, adopt a rabbit. There one of the few pets where you can be VERY specific with what you want and be able to find one, due to the sheer volume of rabbits that are given up.
How to maximise your rabbits chance of living a long time
Don’t worry, it’s not rocket science. Please remember that rabbits are very delicate animals, and sometimes, er, they just die. If you’ve looked after a rabbit well and they passed at a young age, sure it sucks, but it happens. Don’t beat yourself up.
Mostly hay, a handful of veggies, a spoonful of pellets. Treats can be nice, but aren’t necessary. Mine are perfectly happy to accept pellets as treats.
Ensure your rabbit has a lot of room to exercise
I can’t give you specific measurements, because a French lop will need considerably more room than a Netherland Dwarf, but they need enough room to be able to zoom about like a mad fool. We have a small living room, with a large pen (about 2 metres by 1.5 metres I think) thats set up in such a way that our rabbits can run circuits. There’s a door at each end of the pen so they can run in circles (which they love to do).
Get your rabbit neutered/spayed
This is usually touted as being beneficial for improving your rabbit’s temperament, but it’s not a silver bullet that’ll turn an aloof rabbit into a snuggle bunny. It is, however, the best way to ensure your rabbit won’t contract a whole host of cancers in the reproductive systems.
I know it’s scary, especially when you have a female rabbit, but it’s so, so important.
Minimise the risk of your bunny getting frightened
Rabbits can die of fright very easily. Luckily, as we’ve bred them they’ve become less scared of humans (wild rabbits can still die of fright if captured) and can liv with us happily.
When you bring your bunny home, they need to get used to all the new noises. Make sure they have a safe, dark space to retreat to (a cardboard box is fine) and make sure you’re there to comfort them when a new noise frightens them (washing machine/TV/vacuum cleaner).
You don’t need to actively comfort them.
In fact, dragging them out of their safe space, or reaching in to stroke them won’t help, if it doesn’t make things worse. Just sit there, calmly. Rabbits are social animals, and you being calm will show them that you’re not frightened, so they don’t need to be either.
My rabbits don’t like fireworks, but they’re not terrified of them. I put this down to them living in the same room that my boyfriend plays video games (which doesn’t bother them at all), so they’re used to gunfire.
Even if your rabbit doesn’t live in the same room as the TV or radio, I advise that you get them used to it, because when fireworks or some other scary noise is happening, you can try to cover the noise with the TV.
Get used to observing your rabbit for any changes in behaviour
As I’ve said a million times, rabbits are prey animals. If they show they’re compromised in the wild a predator will snap them up.
Often by the time a rabbit is showing that they’re ill, it’s too late.
You need to get used to watching your rabbit. The easiest way to do this is have your rabbit live in a room or rooms that you’re in a lot. That way you can tell when you’re rabbit is acting differently.
Rabbits do differ a lot. Holly likes to sit all hunched up, which is usually a position a rabbit sits in when they’re in pain. Only by watching Holly a lot did I realise that she sits like that for about five minutes before and after washing her tummy. Kind of like when you sit on the bed in your towel after a shower.
Check your rabbit over regularly
This doesn’t need to be a full on pick-them-up-and-turn-them-over type thing. Just sit with them, stroke them, and consciously check for any lumps, bumps, weird smells, long nails, whatever.
Don’t let a rabbit not having much time left be an excuse not to adopt it. Especially a rabbit that seems old (like, maybe 6) but will still have a good few years left.
Like with adopting dogs, there are definite benefits to adopting an older rabbit – they tend to be more chill about things like chewing (though you will need to provide them with some chewing material, they’re less likely to chew everything in site for fun) and they’re more settled in their personality.
When you get a baby animal, whether it’s a puppy or a rabbit or whatever, their personality is unknown. Whilst training, socialisation, and even diet can impact an animal enormously, personality is always…there. So if you want a cuddly rabbit, go to a shelter and ask if they have one. Sit in with them and check. Since all baby animal are distractingly cute, it’s hard to tell if you’ve really gelled with them.
I’ve mentioned dogs and rabbits, here, but it’s so important with cats. I would NEVER get a kitten. If I found a kitten (which happens quite often actually) and wanted a cat, I still wouldn’t just keep the kitten*. I’d take it my local shelter and swap it for an adult cat. I’d find an old cat that suited me, rather than risk ending up with a predator that wants to eat all my birds.
*Please don’t test me on this. I live in a rural-ish area and have rescued maybe three kittens in the last few years (mostly dumped near my boyfriend’s work).
I can’t have a cat at the moment (I live on a VERY busy road) but if I could I like to think I’d swap it for an older cat, but in reality kittens are so damn cute.