Whenever we take our rabbits into public (for a festival or for therapy visits) one of the most common questions we get is on their expected lifespan.
To get the most accurate answer possible, we posted that question on several forums and asked several other breeders and friends that raise Angoras. What we learned; An Angora rabbit can live up to 12 years old (very rare) but, in general, a well-cared for Angora rabbit kept indoors can be expected to live eight or nine years, while those kept out doors can expect six to seven years.
There are many factors that affect their lifespans so to get a more complete answer you need to keep reading.
I said “can expect to live” not “average lifespan”.
Rabbits, in general, are fragile animals. Angora Rabbits are among the frailest of rabbit breeds. Rabbits “Breed like rabbits” because they have a high mortality rate. Many kits don’t survive the first couple of weeks. So if we were to include all births and gave an average lifespan it would be much lower than stated above. But most people get their rabbits after they are at least 8 weeks old and past the most critical period.
We talked to several people that tell us they had an angora live up to 10 years and in our last inquest, one person said that she had one live to 12 years. We don’t know what breed of angora she was referring to and we couldn’t verify the age, but if true that’s an exceptional case.
Wild rabbits live 2 to 4 years on average but due to the care and protection humans can provide to domestic rabbits they have a much longer life expectancy. Most sources will state 7 to 12 years. But Angoras are different!
Why are Angoras Lifespans Shorter than Other Rabbits?
Angora rabbits are not the result of natural evolution. They were selectively bred over many generations into Fiber Growing Machines that never stop growing their long soft fiber. Some, like the English, French and Satin Angoras “blow their coats” (shed their fiber) every 3 to 4 months. While others like the German and Giant Angoras do not shed and must be sheared or clipped. Either way, their fiber never stops growing! Without humans periodically removing their fiber, Angoras would not survive 6 months. Even the breeds that do blow their coats, don’t do it all at once, and without regular grooming it would be matted to their bodies like a felt jacket. Their legs can get “felted” or tangled to their bodies and their rear end can get covered over and saturated with urine and feces.
Angora’s fiber can grow more than an inch a month. According to Lebas, Thébault and Allain “The Angora rabbit produces 1.0–1.4 kg/year of pure fine animal fibre”. For you non metric folks, that’s 2.2 to 3 lbs. of fiber per year! Angora fiber follicles are hollow so 3 lbs. is a large mass! It’s because Angoras put so much of their metabolism into growing their luxurious fur coats that they are frailer than most other breeds.
Commercial vs. Small Scale vs. Show vs. Pet Angoras
A Vet once told us (and we have seen it in our research) that there isn’t that much medical research into Angora rabbits because there just isn’t that much money in curing them. I’m not saying that they are disposable but when a commercial fiber farmer has fifty or one hundred rabbits, and a couple get sick the first reaction would be to get rid of them fast so they don’t get the rest sick, not to cure them.
Some Small scale fiber farmers (that name their bunnies like us) will pay to cure a sick rabbit. But if they are seriously trying to make money, they have to balance a $100 rabbit (free if you breed your own) against medical bills that add up fast!
Some serious “Show” breeders will “cull” any kits that show deformities, small size, or even bad coloring. If they are going to put time and money into raising show winning rabbits they want to start with only the best. If one of their adult rabbit’s gets sick, and they can’t continue to show it or breed it then there is little chance that they would pay to cure it. Although, most of the people that enter rabbits in competitions more or less show their “Pets” and would pay to help them. But again, medical bills can add up quick and there is a limit to what they can afford.
The people that keep Angoras as pets (and only have one or two) are the most likely to ignore the cost and pay whatever is necessary but this is where the sad truth hits home. Rabbits are fragile and often, by the time you realize there is a problem it could be too late, or your vet may have to shrug his or her shoulders and say “We can try X but there are no guarantees.
The study, mentioned above, that states Angoras (most likely German or French) grow between two and three pounds of fiber per year was a study of commercial fiber rabbits focused on the nutrition necessary “To provide all the nutrients the rabbit needs to realize its genetic potential for wool production.” And “To avoid any disorder that may reduce the life-time performance of the animal.” The next line of the study states “Individual productive longevity (3–4 years on average) is an important economic parameter in the Angora production system.” They do not tell us what happens to the rabbits after their “Individual productive longevity” is up.
In short, commercially farmed Fiber rabbits would (most likely) have the shortest lifespan and Pet rabbits kept indoors would have the longest lifespan.
Different breeds of Angora rabbits and their longevity.
I have to get off track for one minute. My wife and I live in the USA. Here the accepted authority on rabbits and rabbit breeds is the ARBA (American Rabbit Breeders Association). The ARBA currently recognizes four breeds of Angora rabbit, “English”, “Satin”, “French” and “Giant”. The German Angora is widely recognized by many people in the US even though they can’t be shown at an ARBA sponsored show. I only recently learned that In Europe these breeds aren’t recognized the same as here in the USA. In Europe, there are just Angora Rabbits but people understand that different national organizations have different standards of what the perfect Angora rabbit is. If you go to a rabbit show in Germany, you would see “Angorakaninchen” which translates to “Angora rabbit” but you would probably only see what we consider “German Angoras” because that is what the Germans consider the top standard for an Angora rabbit. In France you would see “Lapin Angora” or “Rabbit Angora” but, oddly enough, The French Standard looks more like our “German Angora” then our “French Angora”. Incidentally, the German and French standards focus on the best fiber producing rabbits.
We (The Fuzzy EAR) started with English Angoras and then got some Satins and one French. English Angoras grow long fiber everywhere! Including on their face, ears and paws. English Angoras also have the least amount of the thicker guard hairs. These two things make the English the most difficult to care for and the frailest of the three. I had assumed that the larger German Angoras and the even larger Giant Angoras would be big and hearty rabbits that would outlive them all. From our research we discovered something quite different! Many people told us that the larger rabbits had shorter lifespans. The general opinion is that the French Angoras (what Americans call French Angoras) have the longest lifespan, followed by Satins, Germans, Giants and then the English.
Two Main things to watch out for!
Rabbits constantly clean themselves just like cats and dogs but because of Angoras extra-long fur and specialized intestinal tract, ingesting too much fur can kill them. Unlike cats; rabbits cannot cough up a fur ball instead it must pass through their Gastro Intestinal Tract (GIT). If the GIT gets blocked the rabbit will feel full, stop eating, not get adequate nutrition and will basically starve. This can happen much quicker than you would think!
If it happens the first thing to do is take away their food pellets, make sure they have fresh hay and plenty of fresh water. Many people feed the rabbit pineapple or papaya and add a bit of meat tenderizer to its water in the belief that the enzymes will help break down the blockage.
The best practice is to be proactive and prevent wool-block before it happens.
- Make sure your rabbit always has quality hay and plenty of clean water!
- Make sure your rabbit is pooping! This is serious, check your rabbit’s tray or litter box regularly. The droppings should be round, consistent in size, and they should only look moist if they are freshly excreted. Don’t confuse this with cecotropes.
- Make sure your rabbit is eating (especially hay).
- Many commercial fiber farms withhold their rabbit’s food pellets one day every week. They are still given hay and water and can be given treats like dark greens or pineapple. This gives their GIT a chance to cleanse itself.
Keep your rabbit properly groomed. After an Angora has its fiber harvested, wool-block isn’t an issue, but once their wool begins to grow back they should be kept combed and free of matting or loose fibers. This is a very big concern just before it is time to harvest especially in the breeds that shed!!
Due to their thick coats, Angoras are very sensitive to heat. Rabbits don’t have sweat glands so the only way they can regulate their temperature is through their ears and by panting. On hot days, make sure they have some way to cool down. We keep water bottles in our freezer that we put in a sock that we put under them when we go out on warm days. On hot days, they never leave their air conditioned bunny hut. Once again, after their coat is harvested, this isn’t as big of a worry but still a concern. In the winter they are usually safe unless their coat has been harvested, then we put a “Bunny coat” on them. Take an old sweat shirt, cut off the sleeve, make two holes for the front feet just behind the wrist cuff and cut the back side so it isn’t under their back feet. The wrist cuff is now a neck cuff for your bunny. Even though our bunny hut is heated it can still get drafty so this protects them until their coat grows back a bit.
The best way to protect your Angora rabbit is to learn to speak Bunny!
Although Rabbits can grunt, grind their teeth (sounds like purring) and even scream or squeal when hurt, they usually don’t make much noise at all. But that doesn’t mean they don’t communicate!
You must learn your rabbit’s posture, ear positions, eye signals, and overall behaviors! When your rabbit is scared it will flatten out to the ground and lay his ears back flat on its back and eyes wide open. When happy they will have ears up and just look relaxed. Every rabbit has different a language, you just need to pay attention and learn to read them! Watch how much they eat and how much they poop! This may sound silly or gross, but it is important to know what “Normal” is for each rabbit.