How long do rabbits live?
A rabbit's lifespan is influenced by breed, living conditions and healthcare but the average lifespan is likely to be around 8 to 9 years. It can be helpful to think of one year in a rabbit's life as ten years in a human's life, so an 8 year old rabbit could be thought of as approximately 80 years old in human terms. As with humans, improvements in rabbit medicine and healthcare are enabling rabbits to reach very old age, in some cases as much as 12 years old, or 120 in human terms.
How much influence does age have on a rabbit's behavior?
Once other factors such as breed, neutering/spaying, living conditions and healthcare have been factored out, age is probably the greatest influence on a rabbit's behavior. While all rabbits have different personalities and may mature at different rates, this article aims to give a rough overview of the different life stages of a rabbit.
0 - 3 months old: BabyhoodBaby rabbits should be kept with their mother until they are at least 6 weeks old, preferably 8 weeks old. Sudden changes in diet at this age may well lead to enteritis which is usually fatal and baby rabbits should always have access to fresh grass or hay and water, as well as dry food.
A rabbit's behavior at this age is lively and playful and regular handling from the age of 4 or 5 weeks is important to socialize the rabbit. Baby rabbits should be checked frequently for potential health problems as this is a particularly vulnerable age for them. Regrettably, this is also the 'cute' phase when many are purchased on impulse.
3 - 6 months old: AdolescenceMale rabbits will often spray urine as a sign of courtship, circle your feet and mount them.
Female rabbits tend to become very territorial over their personal space and may growl or lunge at you. They may also start to go through phantom pregnancies, where they pull hair from their tummy to line a nest. All this behavior is distressing for rabbits, as well as their owners, but happily has a very simple solution. Both males and females can be neutered / spayed as soon as they reach sexual maturity and this very often virtually eradicates the troublesome behavior.
6 months - 1 year: TeenagersOnce rabbits have been de-sexed, they tend to exercise less and put on weight easier and we should begin to limit their dry food to about an eggcup a day. At this age, rabbits are still fully maturing and 'filling out' and if a rabbit has hereditary dental problems they are likely to become apparent at this age, so set good habits young and ensure that their diet is at least 80% good quality hay or grass.
At this age, rabbits can be a little moody and less inclined to socialize with us. They are trying to figure out their place in the hierarchy, whether this is with another rabbit or rabbits, other pets or with you. Be patient with them and don't take it personally - just think of them as teenagers!
1 - 3 years: Young AdulthoodThis is probably the most active phase of a rabbit's life. They require plenty of exercise, preferably in a secure free roaming environment, and will often 'binky' (jump in the air and race around) to let off excess energy. They like to dig, chew and explore and for house rabbit owners this can be a trying time! Give them lots of attention, play with them and offer them plenty of toys, chew sticks, digging boxes and so on.
3 - 5 years old: Middle Age
5 - 7 years old: Late Middle Age
7 - 9 years old: Old AgeMany rabbits can still be quite active at this age while others may slow right down to the point where they will need a different litter tray or access routes through their enclosures, due to an inability or disinclination to hop or jump. A large proportion of rabbits at this age may be dealing with chronic illness and require regular medication and/or care. This often leads to a very close bond between rabbit and owner and it is truly a privilege to care for a rabbit in its twilight years as so few of them make it this far due to poor care. Rabbits of this age put a huge amount of trust in their owners.
It is perhaps one of the ironies of living with rabbits that the older they are and the more we are required to care for them, the more we love them. Losing a rabbit at any age is hard, but despite the satisfaction of knowing you have given a rabbit the longest possible lifespan, the pain of losing them at a very old age is all the harder to cope with due to the very close bond which has formed.