What To Do If Your Rabbit Stops Eating

bunny sitting on a white blanket

Rabbits are typically very good eaters especially when it comes to their favorite foods. But what do you do if your rabbit stops eating or taking an interest in his or her favorite foods? It’s important to take action quickly as appetite loss can be a serious issue for bunnies.

If your bunny usually races to his bowl the second the pellet or hay bag is rustled, then you have a bunny who thoroughly enjoys his or her food! Which is a very good thing because eating is a very important part of a rabbit’s well being. Eating and pooping go hand in hand in a bunny’s world. They do a lot of both!

But what if one day you notice your bunny hasn’t eaten? If they just aren’t showing an interest in their food or the veggie bag rustling or their dish being touched? Then you might have a problem on your hands. It’s important to know what signs to watch for and what to do to get your rabbit eating again. Fortunately there are some immediate things you can do to get a jump on a potentially serious problem…

Dangers of a rabbit not eating

Rabbits are in a class of their own when it comes to food. Whereas dogs and cats will eat and the majority will not starve themselves, rabbits may starve themselves. And it’s critical to act quickly because their GI track will shut down if they are not nibbling on hay and eating consistently. This can lead to GI stasis which will require a trip to a knowledgeable vet to get medication. (We are not vet’s but have made many trips to the vet for this very condition!)

two rabbits eating grass

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Why has my rabbit stopped eating?

Some rabbit resources will say to judge if your rabbit has not eaten in a 24 hour period. But from experience with a bunny that has stopped eating, I would suggest no more than 6 hours. If you’ve noticed that your bunny has not eaten their morning meal or at least nibbled on hay, veggies or pellets by, say, 1 pm, it’s time to do a bunny check. Often, going through these questions will give you the answer as to why your bunny has stopped eating. Other times the answer isn’t so obvious.

Things to consider with rabbits not eating:

  • Have we changed his or her pellets?
  • Have we changed his or her hay to a different kind, brand or cut?
  • Did we move his or her food dish to a different location?
  • Did we change his or her litter to a different kind, brand, type, scent?
  • Did we change / add / take away anything in his or her pen?
  • Did we change / add / remove anything in his or her cage?
  • Has there been a lot of activity / stress on him or her lately?
  • Have there been a lot of visitors who have handled or tried to handle him or her lately?
  • Did we introduce a new pet, baby, person to the household?
  • Is he or she being hurt by someone or something?
  • Could he or she have gotten in to something that isn’t bunny appropriate – drywall, cardboard, paint, fuzz (the list goes on and on)?

If you answered yes or even maybe, to any of these questions, that could be the reason why your bunny is not wanting to eat. If they are all a firm no then it may be something physically wrong.

Check to see if he or she has a visible injury or sickness:

Pick him up and place him on your lap.
Stroke his back, sides, top of his head – does he flinch or even try to bite?
Did a paw get stuck somewhere?
Does he look visibly sick? Are his eyes watering?

Note from Every Bunny Welcome: We are not vet’s so these checks are just to see if there is something physically wrong that you could pinpoint.

If you see something that doesn’t look right, scoop him up, put him in a pet travel bag and take him to the vet. It’s important to get injury and sicknesses addressed immediately.

trying to feed a rabbit hay

How to get a rabbit to eat

If any actual injuries or illnesses have been ruled out, then you can move on to getting some food into your bunny. There’s a couple ways to approach rabbits and eating. On the one hand, you have to get them eating again to get things moving and to prevent their system from coming to a complete stop. On the other hand, what and how do you feed a rabbit who won’t eat?

There’s a handy food that I’d encourage every bunny owner to keep on hand – it’s made by Oxbow and it’s a powdery, formula type food called Critical Care.

Critical Care is a food that you feed to a rabbit using a syringe (you’ll see why you have to use a syringe in a minute). But this is what’s known as ‘force feeding’ because you are essentially holding your rabbit and forcing him or her to eat. It’s not a pleasant thing, for either you or him, but when they aren’t eating, it’s necessary.

Critical care can be purchased online but from our experience you’ll want to make a trip to the vet to find out how much they should be eating first. Then it’s a matter of mixing it up in a bowl and filling up the syringes.

Steps to feeding

  1. Get the food ready first – warm the water slightly, just so it’s not cold. Then mix it in a bowl with the critical care powder. The consistency should be thin enough to easily squeeze through a wide tip syringe. We suggest filling multiple syringes to be completely ready, rather than refilling one as you go.
  2. Use a table or long counter and place a towel to cover the surface. Other bunny owners have success with just holding their buns – that has never worked for us, we place him on a towel-covered counter.
  3. Gently hold his face and squeeze a small amount of Critical Care in the bunny’s mouth. Pull the syringe away to give him a chance to eat. (Don’t be surprised if it seems like a lot of it is getting on the towel or on his face!)
  4. Repeat with small amounts of food and wait for him to swallow before feeding more.

After giving him the entire amount, it may look like everyone is wearing more than he ingested. But be assured he did get some. And the next feeding will get even better/easier.

Depending on what your vet recommends you may be feeding Critical Care several times a day for several days.

Rabbit and eating FAQs

How long can rabbits go without water?

Not long. As a general rule of thumb, rabbits should be drinking water several times a day. If it’s been 12 hours and they haven’t had a sip, it’s a good idea to watch them closely for the next couple hours to be sure they have something to drink.

How long can bunnies go without food?

It depends on the situation but in most cases, no longer than 4 hours. If a bunny is within a few feet of their food dish, they will eat or nimble quite often. If they’re free roaming and have hopped into another area to sit and sleep for a while, then it may be 4 hours before they hop back out.

If they’ve been hiding all day, it’s a good idea to try to coax them out with some of their food.

What if my rabbit is eating hay but not pellets?

Eating hay is great – it’s a necessary part of a bunny’s diet – but they should also eat their pellets too. If they have been refusing pellets for over 24 hours, start with why they might be refusing them. Check out the first section with ‘Why has my rabbit stopped eating’. As long as they are eating, there’s no need to panic just yet. It could be something as simple as not liking them. Eating hay and leafy greens is a good sign though.

More on rabbit diet

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