Bunny Rabbit
Weaning Worries

There is a reason for weaning worries when weaning young bunny rabbits or purchasing them. Rabbits age 3 weeks to 10 weeks are at an elevated risk for bunny diarrhea which can be fatal. It just so happens that weaning falls in this time period.

It is tempting, then, to assume that weaning causes bunnies to die of diarrhea. But not so – it is the stress at weaning which, if not handled wisely, can upset the bunny's digestive processes and result in a bunny’s death. And since death from diarrhea can strike at any age, including before weaning and throughout adulthood, I wanted to help you set the record straight as regards bunny weaning worries. 


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It started with a Misguided Craigslist Post

We discovered the following misguided Craigslist post aimed at both bunny buyers and bunny sellers, which linked to Raising-Rabbits as though we supported their argument:

http://portland.craigslist.org/mlt/grd/2858963924.html.

(The post has since been removed, but in case it returns with a different posting number, we thought it best to leave this info here for now.)

Why should we care about a confused post on Craigslist?

Because the opinions of the poster seem to be widespread across the worldwide web, and because Raising-Rabbits exists to help present the truth about raising rabbits.

Here is the content of the post:

"ANYONE INTERESTED IN PURCHASING BABY BUNNY'S [sic]:

"Please, PLEASE! Be sure to ask the age! Bunny's [sic] sold before the age of 6 weeks will usually die due to lack of milk and their body not processing food (they get diarrhea) also called Enteritis. Do your research (http://www.raising-rabbits.com/rabbit-diarrhea.html) before buying a bunny and watching it suffer until death. An honest rabbitry will not knowingly sell a rabbit before 8 weeks of age because does not have a good chance of survival. Once a rabbit gets Diarrhea it is hard to save and usually considered gone. There is a reason for a weaning age! IT IS THE LAW a bunny is NOT sold before 8 weeks of age!!!

"I have seen bunny rabbits before the age of 8 weeks all over Craigslist lately. Just because someone says they are weaned does not mean they are of correct age! Many will selfishly sell rabbits before weaning age because they are "CUTE" at that age and sell quickly but only to doom them for death in the end. Even at 8 weeks some bunnies are not ready to be weaned. Look for diarrhea on the bottom to see if bunny's (sic) are truly ready to be weaned."


Weaning Worries Explained

I certainly sympathize with the person who wrote this. Problem is: the post is nowhere near accurate.

  • Death due to lack of milk? No. Bunnies are fully capable of feeding themselves without mother’s milk by age 4 weeks.

  • “Will usually die…?” Nope, not true, at least not among experienced rabbit breeders. Selling a weaned bunny younger than 6 weeks old does not by itself doom a bunny to death.

  • Weaning worries do not stem from a lack of food or a failure to process the food. They stem from STRESS. Stress is known to be able to cause dysbiosis (bloom of disease-causing bacteria) in rabbits of any age. It is dysbiosis that results in enterotoxemia and then death if severe. If the stress can be minimized, the bunny is far less likely to get sick. See how to minimize weaning stress at Weaning Rabbits.

  • An experienced breeder recognizes the stress to a bunny that occurs at weaning and at the point of sale, and doesn’t combine these two events on purpose if it can be helped. THIS is the key to excellent post-weaning survival rates.

  • The honest breeder knows better than to believe that 8 weeks is a magical age after which a rabbit is immune to death.

This 2.5 week old rabbit died overnight of sudden enterotoxemia. Fine in the evening, dead in the morning.This 2.5 week old unweaned rabbit died overnight of sudden enterotoxemia. Fine in the evening, dead in the morning. Weaning worries were not a factor in its death.
  • "Once a rabbit gets diarrhea it is hard to save..." So much depends on the kind and the severity of the diarrhea. My bunny above was not salvageable. He wasn't even weaned. If you're feeding tons of sweet apples every day to your recently weaned baby rabbit and it dies, don't blame its death on weaning.

    If you can catch the diarrhea before the bunny dies, and if you stop feeding it the sweet treats and give it some grass hay, chances are great its droppings will miraculously normalize.

  • It's less about the laws, and more about excellent animal husbandry practices. Wise stress management will help minimize weaning worries and bunny deaths.

  • Every single baby rabbit alive at 8 weeks of age has already been physiologically weaned and is capable of surviving without its dam. 100% of them. Even if the litter is still in the cage with the dam getting occasional milk snacks (the poor doe is probably frustrated as all heck by 8 weeks with the litter!). Whether a person recognizes it or not is in question.

  • There is nothing magical about the age of 8 weeks since the possible susceptibility to diarrhea exists up until the age of 10 weeks in some bunnies.

  • If you see signs of old diarrhea on the bunny’s bottom, I would consider this a good thing, as long as the evidence was clearly old evidence. This would mean the kit’s intestines have become balanced and that the danger has already passed. And in fact, the danger can pass as early as 5 weeks of age.

The remnants of a mild bunny diarrhea in a 5 week old kit.


At right: This 5-week-old kit shows the remnants of a mild bunny diarrhea. It was
not weaned at the time. This kit never showed any other signs of illness and never experienced any loose stools later. 

It is impractical to lay down dogmatic rules about when you can and cannot wean and/or sell baby rabbits.

It is far better to understand exactly WHY a rabbit might get diarrhea after weaning and to prevent it as much as is possible through excellent husbandry practices.


The point is not to see how early one can wean, but to identify the biological realities of weaning rabbits in order to establish best practices and to allay any unfounded weaning worries.



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