Letters – Health Questions

My first questions is: How long would an outdoor pet rabbit live, and what is the total life expectancy of a pet rabbit? My second question is: Do rabbits need shots or veterinary care?

Nathan Lee Vadnais Heights, MN.

A. A well cared for house rabbit who has been spayed or neutered early in life has a life expectancy of 8 to 12 years. However, rabbits kept in backyard hutches have less than half the average life span of a house rabbit. The greatest threat is attack by predators. These occur primarily at night, but can also happen occasionally in the daytime. Hutches or cages usually do not provide enough protection to make it safe to leave the rabbit outdoors 24 hours a day.

While rabbits don’t need vaccinations like dogs and cats do, rabbits are not low maintenance pets, health-wise. They should have yearly veterinary check-ups, and they can get sick like any companion animal, in which case, they need veterinary attention. They also need monitoring by their caretakers to make sure that they’re staying healthy. Rabbits in the wild the instinctively hide illnesses and injuries to avoid detection by animals of prey. This may be a good survival tactic in the wild, but for domestic rabbits, hiding their symptoms of illness only misleads their caretakers and prevents prompt medical attention. People who live with rabbits need to be particularly attentive to subtle changes in behavior or litterbox habits. If your rabbit usually greets you with leaps and bounds and he is now lying in the back of the cage, this could be a cause for concern. Your responses to your rabbit’s needs make you his most important health-care provider.

Q. I have had Lettuce now for about 2 months and love him dearly. I have provided him with his own litter tray (filled with hay) in the dining room where he spends most of his time, which he does go in and does his number 2s. But he refuses to urinate in his indoor litter tray. He seems to wait until I put him out in the garden before he urinates. I keep a litter tray in his pen (outside) and he always urinates in this tray so it’s not as though he’s not used to using a tray. I am just really worried that he seems to hold it all night until he is put out in the garden. This cannot be doing his bladder any good whatsoever. Please help, I’m desperate for advice.

Also, I’m thinking of traveling to see my Mum (who lives about 4 hours drive from me). Would Lettuce be okay traveling in the car for such a long distance or would I be best getting someone to look after him while I am away (I know I will miss him like crazy, but I don’t want him getting stressed out with a long car journey).

Amanda Kirby West Yorkshire , UK

A. Hmmmmm. That Lettuce uses his tray indoors for his pellets (number 2), it’s clear that he understands the litter tray concept. Perhaps a few modifications to his indoor litter tray would encourage Lettuce to use it:

You might consider reinforcing his good behavior while he’s in his litter tray, e.g., leave or provide treats for him in his tray (a bit of parsley, a chunk of carrot, a chew toy) or adding a layer of fresh hay to the litter (change the hay often).

You might try adding a bit of privacy to his litter tray area (while my rabbits have the run of the house, they enjoy a small roof and/or a wall or two nearby their litterboxes).

You might also consider reinforcing the idea that his tray is HIS tray (these loves can be mighty territorial) by limiting your handling of his tray and changing the litter when he’s not nearby.

Finally, assuming that his reluctance to use his indoor tray is not related to a bladder condition (sometimes a bladder infection will cause a rabbit to refuse to use his litter tray), I wouldn’t worry that Lettuce’s odd practice is necessarily harmful to his bladder. From my own experience, two of my seven rabbits tended to hold urine overnight. It was just how their particular elimination schedules worked.

You also asked about traveling (about a four hours’ drive) with Lettuce. Such travel is by its nature stress-inducing, and each rabbit will respond differently. If you decide to bring Lettuce along on a car trip, you probably should give him an interval of peace & quiet immediately upon arrival, to let him settle down from the trip. And wait until he’s rested and looking his old self before you introduce him around. Lots of useful information and FAQs regarding such travel are available on the FAQ page.

Marvel VigilLetters Editor
House Rabbit Journal Vol. 4, Nr. 7 – Summer 2002