Rabbits seem to be eating constantly, whether it’s their pelleted food, leafy greens, treats, or hay. They have a unique and delicate digestive system that moves very quickly in order to use the nutrients from their foods.
Table of contents
- The Rabbit’s Unique Digestive System
- What is GI Stasis?
- What Are the Signs of GI Stasis?
- How Much Food Should a Rabbit Eat?
- How Long Can Rabbits Go Without Food?
- How Long Can Bunnies Go Without Food?
- What Causes a Lack of Appetite in Bunnies?
- What Are Signs That A Rabbit Isn’t Eating?
- Will A Rabbit Willingly Starve Itself?
- Can A Rabbit Free Feed?
- Final Thoughts
Rabbits can go about 12 hours without eating any food before they start to become ill and they can either starve to death or die from a digestive issue called Gastrointestinal Stasis or GI Stasis in a matter of 3 to 4 days.
The Rabbit’s Unique Digestive System
Rabbits have a digestive system that is quite different from most all other pets. They eat constantly and poop constantly too. The food they eat moves quickly through their system so that they get all the nutrients really quickly from their diet.
Food is sterilized in the stomach and smaller pieces move to the small intestine while the larger food particles move into the large intestine. The food sources in the large intestine make their round ball-shaped feces and the smaller particles move to the cecum to make cecotropes as small clusters of poop. The rabbit will immediately eat the cecotropes to get all of the nutrition out of them and digest it.
Since this process happens so quickly and continuously, rabbits must have food and water at all times to remain healthy.
What is GI Stasis?
Gastrointestinal Stasis is caused when the digestive system is slowed down by a lack of food. It causes dehydration in the stomach and makes stools harder to pass. It can also cause bacteria buildup that gives your rabbit gas and makes it very uncomfortable. This condition can be resolved if you act quickly and take your furry friend to the vet.
What Are the Signs of GI Stasis?
If your rabbit has GI distress, you will be able to observe several signs so you can take it to the vet immediately. If he lacks appetite and thirst, has small or loose fecal matter, is hunched up in his posture, bloating in the stomach area, or not passing feces at all, then it’s an emergency situation and you need to seek help.
How Much Food Should a Rabbit Eat?
An average 6-pound rabbit should have a diet that is mostly fiber to keep the digestive system and intestines working properly. An approximate amount of food is unlimited hay in the form of oat hay, grass hay, or timothy hay and they will eat a quantity of about the same size as their body on a daily basis.
Rabbits should also have about 1/4 cup of pelleted food, 1 to 2 ounces of fresh fruit each day, and 2 cups of fresh veggies per day for every 6 pounds of weight.
These amounts of the correct types of food help to aid in the digestive process of any rabbit. If you notice your bunny is getting overweight, you can cut back on the pellets and the fruit. Senior rabbits tend to lose weight easily, so you may need to increase their rabbit pellets to maintain their weight.
Baby rabbits or kits can have unlimited pellets and alfalfa hay after they are weaned at about 8 weeks old until they are a year old. At this point, you want to start rationing their food for their size.
How Long Can Rabbits Go Without Food?
An otherwise healthy rabbit should never go without food for more than 12 hours or it can result in GI Stasis and be fatal for him in the short time span of 3 to 4 days. It should also not go without water for 24 hours or more for the same reason.
How Long Can Bunnies Go Without Food?
Baby bunnies (see also ‘How To Care For A Baby Bunny‘) get their nutrition from their mom in her very rich milk. Most babies will eat somewhere between midnight and 5 am and the richness of the milk will sustain them for 24 hours until they eat again. So, young bunnies can go longer than adult bunnies without food in the form of their mother’s milk.
A baby bunny or a senior bunny may not make it past the 12-hour mark depending on their condition and weight. It’s best just to assume that your rabbit shouldn’t go more than 12 hours without any type of food for nourishment and dietary health.
You should also check your rabbit’s water twice a day. Fill their bottle up with fresh and clean water each time so they have good hydration in their digestive system.
What Causes a Lack of Appetite in Bunnies?
The most common reason why your furry friend isn’t eating properly is ileus, when the contractions in the intestines aren’t pushing food through the digestive system.
Many things can cause this to occur, such as abscesses in the body, dental disease or overgrown teeth, parasites in the intestines, lice, and fleas as external parasites, and joint disease. Other items such as stress, urinary tract infections, organ disease, insufficient fiber in the diet, and upper respiratory tract infections or tumors can cause this condition.
Signs of ileus are overgrown front teeth, lumps that you can feel in the body, eye or nasal drainage with stained front legs from wiping his eyes or nose.
What Are Signs That A Rabbit Isn’t Eating?
Many signs occur when you suspect your rabbit isn’t eating or isn’t eating enough. He may grind his teeth and be lethargic while consuming less water and you will see more leftover food. He can be losing weight, refuse to eat his favorite treat, have sticky, runny, or very hard stools, or have a decrease in stool quantities and sizes.
Will A Rabbit Willingly Starve Itself?
Occasionally, a rabbit will not eat because you are changing his food and he puts up a fight over it. Rabbits can have temper tantrums at times, just as children do. You can try a different type of hay or add extra tasty treats and chew sticks for him.
You can mix the original food with a bit of the new food and slowly increase the amount of new food until he is eating all the new food. Remember if your bunny suddenly refuses food, there could be an underlying medical issue that needs attention.
Can A Rabbit Free Feed?
The answer to this question is sometimes yes and sometimes no. It all depends on your particular furry friend. Some rabbits will gobble up their food quickly and free feeding them can result in obesity or other intestinal issues. Overweight rabbits with voracious appetites should have a sitter to feed and water them twice a day so they don’t become ill if you are going out of town.
Other rabbits will naturally just pace themselves if they are free-fed and will be perfectly healthy as they regulate their own food intake. In this case, if you are leaving town for a few days or more, you can leave enough water and food for the time you will be gone and your bunny should be just fine.
It’s best to always assume that your rabbit needs to eat high fiber hay continuously and he should ideally be fed his other foods twice a day. If you need to leave for some reason and can’t be at home to feed him, you can easily get a neighbor or a friend that lives nearby to check on your beautiful bunny at least once a day.
You may also be interested in some rabbit sleeping habits.