One of my rabbits stopped eating a few weeks ago. In the eight years I’ve owned him, this has happened twice before, usually because he has an upset stomach from eating too many pellets and not enough vegetables. Every time, I have used the same techniques to get him to eat and, within 24 hours, he’s back to normal and eating me out of house and home again.
A rabbit that stops eating can die within 24-48 hours. This is because as soon as he stops ingesting food, his intestines slow down and begin to seize up. Gas then gets trapped in his stomach making him feel uncomfortable and even more unlikely to eat. The vicious cycle continues with bad bacteria building up in his stomach and, if not treated almost immediately, it will overwhelm the good bacteria a rabbit needs to have a healthy digestive system.
Once this happens, it’s usually only a matter of hours before a rabbit dies.
This is why you, as a loving rabbit owner who believes his rabbit isn’t eating properly, should know how to get your sick rabbit to eat as soon as possible or at least make a valiant effort until you can get him to a vet.
These are the techniques I use whenever any of the rabbits I own don’t eat. Sometimes it takes just one. Other times two or three. Eventually, however, my rabbits will begin to eat again and, if you try them, hopefully yours will as well.
Remember, though, if your rabbit is in severe pain or obviously distressed, get him to a vet immediately as he may just have an intestinal blockage and forcing him to eat could literally kill him.
Hydration – When any of my rabbits stop eating, I notice every time they often stop drinking as well. As hydration and appetite go hand in hand with rabbits, the first thing I do is make sure my rabbit is well hydrated which, if he won’t drink water from his normal bowl, requires me syringe feeding him a mixture of water and a teaspoon of pineapple juice.
Normally, I feed him a syringe full of this mixture every hour for a total of about four hours until he starts eating again. If he doesn’t, I then move to step two.
Treats – Sometimes a rabbit can just be slightly off their food, so presenting them with their favorite snack like a piece of apple, banana or some water melon can often perk up their appetite and get them back to normal. I always make sure whatever treat I offer my sick rabbit is packed with water (so apple, watermelon or pineapple is often best) and try to get him to eat a couple of pieces.
I’ve noticed after he’s eaten them, he’ll then go back to his normal pellets, hay and vegetables in an hour or two and soon be eating just as normal. Monitor him to make sure he does. If he doesn’t, it’s time for step three.
Mashed up pellets – As long as you don’t suspect a blockage, syringe feeding your rabbit some rabbit pellets mashed up in some hot water is a good way to get a sick rabbit eating again. I sometimes mash the pellets up with a little piece of banana, his favorite treat, and most of the time the syringe feeding goes easily as he’ll just gobble it off the syringe.
If he won’t eat the mash voluntarily, push the syringe tip gently into the side of his mouth (not the front, as he could choke), and ease the food slowly in. Make sure you give him enough time to chew and swallow, though, before you give him the next portion or he’ll choke.
Massage – Once I’ve made sure my rabbit is hydrated, he’s eaten a treat or been fed mashed up pellets, I will usually spend 15-30 minutes giving him a tummy massage.
A tummy massage is an amazing thing as, not only does it completely sooth your rabbit and ease any tummy pains he may be having, it also helps the gas escape his stomach, thus easing his pain even more.
For my rabbits, often the last thing they need is a few minutes tummy massage and, within an hour or two of that, they’ll be back to eating like normal. You can find out more about how to give a rabbit a massage in this excellent University of Miami Gastrointestinal Stasis article.
These techniques were told to me by a vet several years ago and, as long as I don’t suspect it’s anything more serious than an upset stomach or he’s eaten too little fiber, they’re very safe to use.
If there is a possibility he may have a blockage in his intestines, however, I wouldn’t even attempt to get him to eat. I would just hydrate him with a few drops from a syringe of water and pineapple juice and take him immediately to my vet. Luckily, up to now, I haven’t had to.
Do also be aware, even if your rabbit starts to eat soon after trying any or all of these techniques, it’s still a good idea to take him to your vet for a check up. That’s because, if whatever caused him to stop eating in the first place is something major like teeth problems or an infection, he could stop eating again soon after and, the next time, it very well might kill him.