Nutrition

My Rabbit is Not Eating (Here’s What You Need to Do)

rabbit not eating

Rabbits are known to be continuous grazers. Munching on food all day is beneficial for their teeth and more importantly, their gut health. So when your rabbit is not eating, it can be a huge concern for a pet owner like you. If a rabbit goes for an extended period without food intake, it can lead to an emergency situation pretty fast.

While this can warrant a clinic visit, there are a few things that I want to share that you can do to help your pet rabbit feel better before taking a trip to the Vet.

Normal Appetite and Gut Health

Let’s start by discussing what rabbits normally eat and how their diet can keep them healthy.

Rabbits love to eat. They pretty much eat all day long. Constant eating helps them stay alive by keeping their gastrointestinal tract functioning normally and it also helps keep their teeth healthy. Because they are herbivores (plant-eating animals), their GI system requires the ingestion of large quantities of digestible fiber (like grass and hay) to maintain the normal movement of their bowels.

The majority of a rabbit’s diet (~80%) should consist of hay and grass, with the rest made up of raw vegetables (~15%), then pellets, and a tiny amount of fruit.

Timothy hay and orchard hay are good options, and vegetables such as fresh greens (romaine lettuce and spinach), carrots (of course!) celery, and green beans are suitable for rabbits. Click on the link below to get some ideas on what a rabbit should eat.

Feeding a high-quality pelleted food is ideal because it contains vitamins, minerals, and nutrients that are beneficial. Try to pick one that is high in fiber and low in protein, and does not contain seeds, as they contain very little nutritional value.

While fruits are considered pretty healthy, they are very high in sugar and too much fruit can cause a rabbit to be overweight. Limit fruits to one small piece a day. A few examples of fruits that rabbits can eat are berries (raspberries, blueberries, and blackberries), pineapple, pears, apples, and bananas.

A good indicator that your rabbit is eating regularly is the presence and appearance of her fecal pellets (called cecotropes). Normal fecal pellets are small, dark brown, slightly soft, and rounded. It is normal for a rabbit to constantly pass cecotropes and even eat some of them. Eating the fecal pellets actually helps the gut repopulate with healthy bacteria.

It is important to monitor the presence and amount of their fecal pellets.  Loose or poorly formed pellets are a sign of gastrointestinal upset. Also, if your rabbit stops producing fecal pellets for a period of time (4-6 hours), that is concerning and you should call your veterinarian.

Why Do Rabbits Stop Eating?

When a rabbit stops eating, it is usually because they are sick or stressed. If your rabbit stops eating for longer than 6-8 hours, that is usually an emergency situation. The most common reason that a rabbit will lose their appetite is because of ileus. Ileus occurs when normal contractions of the small intestines decrease or stop altogether. Another name for this ileus in a rabbit is called gastrointestinal (GI stasis). Below are some common reasons why a rabbit might develop ileus or GI stasis:

  1. Dental disease, including overgrown teeth
  2. Environmental changes and stress (different cage, recent move, new pet in the house)
  3. External or internal parasites
  4. Abscess or some type of trauma or injury
  5. Joint disease
  6. Insufficient fiber intake
  7. Upper respiratory infection (URI)
  8. Urinary tract infection (UTI)
  9. Toxin
  10. Neurologic disease
  11.  Cancer

Look your pet rabbit over closely to see if you notice any obvious problems like:

  • Eye or nasal discharge
  • Abnormal lumps or bumps on their body that wasn’t there previously. Gently stroking your bunny may help you feel something that may be abnormal.
  • Overgrown front teeth (incisors) that you can see by lifting up your rabbit’s lips

If your rabbit is not eating its hay or veggies, that is an obvious sign that they have lost its appetite. If you can’t tell by looking at their food, other signs to look for include:

  • Lethargy or decrease in activity level
  • Weight loss
  • Decrease or absence of fecal pellets
  • Decrease in the size of fecal pellets
  • Sticky, hard, or water fecal matter
  • Refusal to eat even treats
  • Increase in leftover pellets, veggies, and hay
  • Decrease in water intake
  • Teeth grinding

What Remedies Can You Try at Home?

If you don’t see anything obviously abnormal with your rabbit, you can try to make sure everything about their environment and diet is appropriate.

Many of the rabbits that I see in the clinic are sick because of basic husbandry issues that can be easily corrected. So make sure their cage is inspected and clean, completely change out all food, food dishes, and water bottles, and monitor them closely in the first few hours after you notice that your rabbit is not eating. At this time, you can also try a few home remedies that I have listed below:

  1. Increase the amount of water your rabbit takes in.
    1. You can fill a clean bowl with water – this is a more natural way for rabbits to drink and it encourages hydration. 
    2. You can also try to syringe small amounts of unflavored Pedialyte into their small. Just don’t overdo it. Make sure they are swallowing each mouthful well. 
    3. Put a few drops of unsweetened fruit juice (like carrot, pineapple, or apple) in the water bowl. This can help give their water a better taste.
  2. With rabbits (and guinea pigs) it is HIGHLY RECOMMENDED that you have Oxbow Critical Care for Herbivores on hand. Mix 1 part Critical Care Formula with two parts water. Mix until the consistency is like a smoothie and give 2mL to 3mL at a time.
  3. If your rabbit is still eating a little, you can offer fresh greens with a higher water content like celery or romaine lettuce, and leave extra drops of water so that your rabbit will consume more water as they are eating.
  4. If you are not having any luck with getting your bunny to eat, it is time to take them to a Veterinarian for an exam.
rabbit not eating

Treatment at a Veterinary Clinic

Once you have taken your rabbit to the hospital, the doctor will look them over and make recommendations regarding diagnostic tests and treatment. The most common tests that are run are abdominal x-rays and lab work. X-rays may show dilated loops of bowel consistent with GI stasis. Lab work may be normal or could show evidence of an infection or organ disease. IV fluids are typically done to rehydrate your rabbit, and they may be given medications to help with pain, gastric mobility, and gas production. Most treatments for rabbits will include nutrition like Oxbow Critical Care to help get their gut moving again.

How You Can Prevent a Loss in Appetite

As I mentioned above, many issues that cause a loss in appetite in your rabbit are related to husbandry. To keep your rabbit healthy, be sure to take good care of her! Here are some basic things you can do:

  1. Deep clean your rabbit’s cage at least once every two weeks. Sweep up fecal pellets and remove leftover food and hay every 1-2 days. Your cleaning schedule of course will depend on how big your rabbit’s cage or hutch is, and how many rabbits you have. The more rabbits, the more often you will need to clean.
  2. Refill water bottles as needed and clean them with a mild dish detergent and warm water every time you refill them. This will help prevent bacteria from growing.
  3. Provide an adequate amount of grass hay and fresh leafy greens. Hay is very important as it is an important source of fiber for their gut and also helps them grind their teeth down and prevent dental problems like malocclusion (teeth don’t meet properly) or abnormal wear.
  4. Limit stressors like loud noise, fluctuating temperatures, and moving their cage or hutch frequently. Rabbits are very sensitive to their environment and abrupt changes can cause them to eat less.

Take these simple steps to promote a healthy appetite for your rabbit. And if you notice anything amiss, try my recommended tips first. If there is no improvement in your bunny’s situation, seek care from a veterinarian as soon as possible.

For the love of pets,

Dr. Gina

 

 

Dr. Georgina Ushi is a veterinarian and freelance medical writer. She received her Doctorate from the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine in 2009. She currently works in the Tampa Bay area, providing compassionate care to dogs and cats. Alongside her clinical work, Dr. Ushi consults for pet well-being brands and writes health articles for her blog, Pet Health Love. She is passionate about sharing her knowledge to educate and inspire fellow pet owners. Dr. Ushi’s professional interests include emergency and critical care, wildlife medicine, nutrition, and hospice and palliative care.

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