Whether you’re keeping a pet rabbit or found one in a precarious situation, what circumstances they can live under can bring up a multitude of questions. We’ve all been there, when we’re stuck away from home or find a wild animal somewhere it shouldn’t be. The good news is, there are answers for your concerns!
How long can a rabbit live without food or water? Roughly 3 to 4 days. However, rabbits are grazers that need to eat constantly. If they stop eating for even 12 hours, they can risk going into GI stasis, a medical emergency.
What Is GI Stasis?
GI – or gastrointestinal (the stomach and gut) – stasis is the result of the metabolism slowing down until it reaches a stasis and mostly stops.
This is a medical emergency in rabbits.
With the metabolism stopping, the rabbit will lose its appetite and bacteria can grow and cause gas that lowers the bunny’s appetite further. Not only is your bunny starving, but it is at risk for life-threatening infections taking over its digestive tract. In addition, not moving any food through its tract could cause those pellets to solidify and become difficult to pass, causing another sever condition: An obstruction.
A symptomatic bunny should see a vet immediately.
GI stasis can be caused by the following:
- Poor diet (not enough fiber, too many carbs or fat, etc.)
- Stress! Rabbits are very sensitive to stress due to uncomfortable situations, losing a partner, or changes in their environment
- Underlying illnesses such as dental pain
- Long-term use of antibiotics
GI stasis may be entirely avoidable, but it is a common issue with rabbits, and any vet who handles rabbits should be able to easily treat it. In the meantime, feed your rabbit a balanced diet, frequently, with enough fiber to keep their bellies happy.
What Does GI Stasis Look Like?
GI or gut stasis shows most commonly in not eating. However, there are a few symptoms that can let you know if a rabbit is in an emergency situation:
- Lack of appetite and thirst
- Small, loose, and/or malformed fecal pellets
- Not passing feces
- Hunched up posture
- Difficult rabbits accepting handling
Sometimes, these symptoms are blamed on a hairball. However, many vets believe the hairballs are instead caused by GI stasis, with fur that normally passes through getting stuck when the bunny’s metabolism slows. In any case, a hairball could cause a serious obstruction and shouldn’t be taken lightly.
While these symptoms can seem minor, they are a sign of a very serious issue. If you’re ever in doubt, call your vet immediately. Your vet can take x-rays and do physical exams to diagnose the cause of these symptoms and determine if it is GI stasis. If it is GI stasis, the vet will administer the appropriate drugs, any antibiotics, and IV fluids to help your rabbit recover. Your vet will also advise you on how to help your rabbit recover and stay healthy!
Could a Rabbit Starve Itself?
Possibly. If a rabbit goes even 12 hours without eating, it could risk going into GI stasis. If you are trying to adjust your rabbit’s food and it is putting up a fight, try compromising.
If it doesn’t like hay, try other kinds. Whatever your bunny is resisting, try mixing it with foods it does like, or if you don’t know what it likes yet, a variety of rabbit-safe options.
If you do know what it likes, you could even take the new food in small quantities and mix it with the favored foods.
Get your bunny used to the new food before making it a primary source of food.
If you’re really having trouble getting your rabbit to eat, and you’re not sure what to do, it’s best to give your vet a call. Especially in cases where the bunny is suddenly refusing foods it previously liked, it could be that your bunny is suffering from another health issue such as a dental problem, bloating or other stress and pain-causing woes.
Can a Rabbit Safely Free Feed?
It depends on the rabbit. Some rabbits are more likely to overeat than other rabbits.
If your rabbit scarfs down its food and has a tendency to eat more than it should and gain weight, it’s better to actively manage their portions. If you have a bunny that self-regulates its food intake, eats moderately, and doesn’t have a problem with weight gain, then your bunny is a prime candidate for free feeding.
If you have one of each and have difficulty getting your light eater to the food, try setting up food for them at separate ends of the enclosure. This should give your light eater a chance to dig in before the fast eater finishes.
Of course, long-term, your bunny should have a salad made up for it regularly. If you’re on vacation, you could pre-make these for your bunny watcher!
Can a Rabbit Overeat?
Some rabbits are enthusiastic eaters and are happy to not just graze but inhale anything they find.
These rabbits should have their daily intake of food monitored and proportioned to a healthy amount. These foods should minimize treats high in sugar and fats like fruits and nuts and focus on other sources of nutrients like grass hays and dark leafy greens such as romaine lettuce and bok choy.
If your rabbit is obese, it’s not just cute, it’s dangerous. It’s not a bad idea to talk to your vet about what your bunny should be eating. Your vet can advise you based on your bunny’s size, breed, age, and what is available in your region. Monitoring your bunny’s intake and managing their diet if they’re prone to overeating is important because obesity is just as bad for rabbits as it is humans. They are more susceptible to serious health issues and aren’t as able to care for themselves when they’re overweight.
Can a Bunny Drink Too Much Water?
Generally, if your bunny is drinking too much water, it’s a sign something is not quite right. Unlike being an enthusiastic eater, being an enthusiastic drinker might indicate something you need to adjust or talk to your vet about.
In general, a rabbit should be drinking 50-150ml per kg a day. That’s about 1-5 oz per 2 pounds a day.
If your rabbit is drinking in excess of this, make sure your rabbit isn’t overheating. If it’s too hot, your rabbit will, of course, need more water. However, too high of a temperature can be dangerous for your rabbit as well. Bring your rabbit to a cooler space, dampen their ears with cool but not cold water, and offer them cold water to drink while you call your vet.
Otherwise, here are some common concerns with a rabbit overdrinking:
- Kidney disease
- Liver disease
- Territory marking
If you really aren’t sure what’s causing your rabbit to drink too much water and it seems like too much, it’s a good time to talk to your vet.
How Can I Get My Rabbit to Eat Pellets?
In general, pellets aren’t the recommended food source for rabbits. They’re calorie and nutrition dense without the fiber that your rabbit needs. However, sometimes it’s needed to give your rabbit pellets.
If your rabbit isn’t interested, try other brands as well as mixing them with hay and vegetables they do prefer. It’s best to not wait it out with a rabbit as they can make themselves sick in the fight to avoid eating those pellets. Once they’re used to the taste of a pellet, they’ll more readily accept it as food.
If you’re just hoping to get your rabbit to have food on hand while you’re out of the house, look for some grass hay. Timothy is a popular and usually easy to find variety. Since it’s high in fiber and low in calcium, this is a great frequent source of all the fiber your bunny needs to keep healthy and happy. Hay is fairly inexpensive and can sometimes be purchased for very cheap in agricultural areas.
What Can You Feed a Wild Rabbit?
If you have grass hays or fresh grass available, that will be the best for a wild rabbit. You can also offer it most things a domesticated rabbit will eat such as fruits and leafy greens like lettuces (no iceberg or light-colored leaves), spinach, and bok choy.
Can a Bunny Drink Tap Water?
Yes! Most bunnies are offered tap water to drink. Good quality tap waters have traces of minerals that are good for many mammals (including us!). Of course, if you have concerns about your local water, check with your vet.
What Kind of Hay Should I Feed My Bunny?
Grass hays such as Timothy and meadow hays are best. They are much more fibrous and lower in calcium than legume hays like alfalfa and clover. Too much calcium can cause health problems in a bunny, so stick with the grass hays.