You just gave your rabbit their favorite fresh leafy greens for dinner, but for some reason they aren’t excited about eating them. While sometimes, this is just a picky rabbit who is turning up their nose at their dinner, it’s often a symptom of something much more serious. If your rabbit ever stops eating you may need to make some quick decisions to help them recover.
When a rabbit isn’t eating, it’s usually because they are very ill or stressed. Conditions such as GI stasis, dental disease, or chronic anxiety are likely culprits. If your rabbit ever stops eating for more than 10 hours at a time, they should be brought to a veterinarian for emergency care.
If it’s only been a short amount of time that your rabbit isn’t eating, then the situation may not be serious. You can monitor their other symptoms to determine if this is an emergency that requires immediate attention. Any change in eating behaviors is something to take seriously in rabbits.
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What to do if your rabbit refuses to eat anything
A rabbit not eating is potentially a very serious situation. Their digestion is very sensitive and a loss of appetite is a common sign of many different rabbit illnesses. Since rabbits are very good at hiding when they are not feeling well, this is a subtle symptom that can clue you into your rabbit’s overall health.
When is a loss of appetite an emergency situation?
If your rabbit ever refuses to eat anything for more than a 10 hour period, you should treat this as an emergency. A rabbit’s health depends on the constant movement of their digestion. If they stop eating, their digestion comes to a halt and the rabbit will start to go into Gastrointestinal (GI) Stasis.
If left untreated, the condition can easily end up being fatal in rabbits. They need to go see a vet as soon as possible so that they can receive medication to help get their digestion moving again. You will also likely need to syringe feed them a rabbit food formula known as Critical Care until they are willing to eat enough on their own.
Steps to help your rabbit
If your rabbit has only been showing a lack of appetite for a short amount of time, then there are a couple steps you can take to try to help your rabbit before it becomes an emergency. While you take these steps, it’s also a good idea to check for other subtle signs of rabbit illness. This way you’ll have a better idea of how sick your rabbit is and whether you should bring them to the vet sooner rather than later.
Some of the common symptoms of illness in rabbits include:
- A change in eating habits
- A change in pooping and urinating habits
- Low energy levels
- Sitting in a hunched position
- Lack of balance
- Snotty nose
- Unusually aggressive behavior
Check out the article How to Know if Your Rabbit is Sick for more detailed information.
The treat test
If I notice that my rabbits are acting unusual and refusing to eat their normal food, the first test I will try is the treat test. I will get a piece of my rabbit’s favorite food and see if she will eat it. If my bunny immediately gets up, grabs the treat, and starts acting like normal, than I know there is nothing to worry about.
If my rabbit hesitantly eats the treat, but not with her normal gusto, then I will continue to watch her over the next couple of hours to see if her appetite and behavior improve. I will also grab a handful of leafy greens to try to tempt my rabbit to eat.
If my rabbit completely refuses to eat the treat, then I will give them some baby gas drops (simethicone) and a handful of leafy greens to tempt them to eat. If their behavior doesn’t improve within a few hours, I will give my vet a call and schedule an emergency appointment.
Simethicone is simply baby gas drops. It does the same thing for rabbits as it does for babies, helps them pass gas. I use simethicone if my rabbit isn’t eating because the symptoms of GI Stasis are very similar to the symptoms of gas in rabbits. Gas can be painful, but it’s not nearly as dangerous.
If you believe your rabbit is not eating because they need to pass gas (you may see them pressing their belly against the ground), then syringe feed them 1mL of simethicone every hour for 3 hours. If their situation does not improve after this, then you should assume that it’s a more serious condition and your rabbit needs to see a qualified veterinarian.
Causes of a rabbit’s refusal to eat
A loss of appetite can result from any number of illnesses in rabbits. Sometimes they will recover on their own and behave perfectly normal within a few hours. But many times you will need to get professional help to diagnose and treat the problem. Remember, if your rabbit hasn’t been eating for more than 10 hours, it’s important to get them emergency care.
GI stasis is the most common reason a rabbit will not eat for an elongated period of time. GI Stasis is the name of the condition where a rabbit’s digestional tract slows down and eventually stops. This can be an illness in and of itself, or it can be a symptom of many other illnesses.
Since pain and stress from other sicknesses can end up causing disruptions in their digestion, rabbits are commonly brought to the vet for symptoms of GI stasis when there is another underlying cause of the condition. Your rabbit will need to be treated for GI stasis as well as the underlying cause to prevent it from happening again.
Overgrown teeth are another common problem in rabbits that can cause them to avoid eating. In many cases, rabbits with dental problems will only avoid eating certain types of food that are more difficult to eat, rather than avoiding food altogether.
For example, rabbits may avoid eating the tougher hay and instead only eat the pellets you give them. You may also see your rabbit eating food, but then dropping it out of their mouth only half chewed. If their teeth are allowed to continue growing without receiving any medical attention, then the rabbit might not be able to eat at all.
If rabbits are in pain, they may refuse to eat. Whether the pain be from some underlying illness or a physical cut or scratch, it can cause a rabbit to lose their appetite. Pain that is not addressed can cause a rabbit to refuse to eat for long periods of time, subsequently causing them to go into GI Stasis. Conditions that cause pain, such as arthritis, can be addressed with pain medication prescribed by your veterinarian.
Stress can also cause rabbits to lose their appetite. This is why you will rarely see rabbits eating while they are anxious in a moving car. Stress is the most common reason for a temporary lack of appetite in rabbits. If you notice them stop eating for a short period of time, especially if there is a loud noise or scary smell in the area, then it might be because of stress. You might also notice their poops get temporarily smaller during this period of time.
A rabbit with chronic anxiety or depression may lose their appetite for longer periods of time, running the risk of developing GI Stasis. To prevent this, it’s important to create an environment for your rabbit that will help them feel safe and happy.
A change in your rabbit’s diet can also cause them to lose their appetite. Sometimes rabbits won’t eat because they don’t trust the new food, but sometimes it’s because the new food is causing problems with their digestive system. It’s important to change a rabbit’s diet slowly over a few weeks in order to avoid causing a disruption in their sensitive digestive system.
What to do if your rabbit stops eating some of their food
Sometimes the problem isn’t that your rabbit won’t eat any of their food, it’s just that they won’t eat certain types of food. Maybe they are refusing to eat their hay even though it’s so healthy for them. Or maybe they suddenly stopped eating their daily pellets. Many times these behaviors are simply signs of a picky bunny, but sometimes it’s worth getting them checked out at the vet just in case there is an underlying health problem.
If your rabbit won’t eat hay
Hay is very important to a rabbit’s diet, so we want them to eat their hay as much as possible. Unfortunately some rabbits can be pretty picky about hay. They’d much rather eat the softer, tastier pellets, but too many pellets will cause an imbalance in their digestion and contribute to rapid weight gain.
Some tips to help encourage a picky rabbit to eat their hay:
- Mix in different types of hay with the timothy hay (such as orchard or oat hay)
- Look for fresh brands of hay. I prefer to get my rabbit’s hay from an online store Small Pet Select because they always send me fresh and tasty hay for rabbits. (You can also get 15% off your first order by using the code BUNNYLADY at checkout)
- Avoid overfeeding pellets. Rabbits should only get about ¼ -½ a cup of pellets per day.
- Place the hay bin next to the litter box. Rabbits like to munch and poop at the same time.
If your rabbit used to eat hay, but is now suddenly refusing, then it may be the result of a health problem. Overgrown teeth is a likely culprit since rabbits usually have a more difficult time eating hay than pellets. If you notice any kind of sudden change in your rabbit’s eating habits, then it’s worth bringing them in for a vet visit.
If your rabbit won’t eat pellets
Some rabbits will refuse to eat pellets too. This is a less serious issue, since pellets are not 100% necessary as part of a rabbit’s diet. They do provide your rabbit with a number of vitamins and nutrients that they might not get in their regular diet, but giving your rabbit with a wider variety of leafy greens can help them get the nutrients they are missing from the pellets.
If your rabbit used to eat pellets but has suddenly stopped, then it’s worth getting them checked out at your veterinarian’s office. A change in their eating habits could be an indication of an underlying health problem and not just a picky rabbit.
What to do if your rabbit stops drinking
If your rabbit doesn’t seem to be drinking enough, there are some steps you can take to encourage them.
- Provide your rabbit with a bowl instead of a bottle. This is a more natural way for rabbits to drink, so it encourages better hydration.
- Put a few drops of unsweetened apple, carrot, or pineapple juice in their water. This gives it a little sweet flavor to make it more enticing.
- Leave extra drops of water on their leafy greens so that your rabbit will consume more water as they are eating.
- Krempels, Dana M. “Gastrointestinal Stasis: The Silent Killer.” House Rabbit Society. February 2013. https://rabbit.org/gastrointestinal-stasis-the-silent-killer-2/
- Woodnutt, Joanna. “Why is My Rabbit Not Eating?” Vet Help Direct. June 2019. https://vethelpdirect.com/vetblog/2019/06/21/why-is-my-rabbit-not-eating/