No one likes to think about their rabbit dying. Unfortunately, sudden rabbit death is common. Knowing some of the reasons can help to bring a sense of closure. And if you’re struggling with your pet’s death, there are resources that can help.
There’s nothing like the excitement of bringing home a new bunny. At the same time, every hello means an eventual goodbye. Even with the best care, most rabbits only live between eight and twelve years. At some point, your friend will cross the rainbow bridge.
Sometimes it can take us by surprise.
Why do Rabbits Die Suddenly?
It happens more often than you might think. There are several reasons why.
Yes, rabbits can die of fright.
What could frighten a bunny to death? You might be surprised.
- Loud noises
- Seeing, hearing, or smelling a predator
- Interaction with other animals, especially if it involves chasing
- Rough or careless handling
Some bunnies are more sensitive than others, but all can die of fright.
There are several diseases that can become deadly in a matter of hours. You might never notice symptoms at all.
“Stasis” means lack of movement. GI Stasis means that the gastrointestinal tract stops moving food through. This can cause bacteria to build up. The bacteria then create gas. Unfortunately, rabbits can’t expel gas like we can. This can lead to a fast and painful death.
To reduce the chances of GI stasis, give your rabbit a high-fibre diet rich in hay, and low in both carbohydrates and protein. Keep an eye out for bloating, loss of appetite, and hard, small poops. If you suspect your bunny has GI stasis, seek a vet’s help immediately.
Viral Hemorrhagic Disease (RHDV, RHDV2)
Viral Hemorrhagic Disease is a fairly new rabbit disease. One of the most common results unexpected death. However, fever, siezures, breathing difficulties, and bleeding from the mouth or rectum can precede it.
Ingestion of Foreign Objects
Rabbits love to chew. Many will chew on anything that they can reach. Unfortunately, some of those things can break off into sharp pieces that can cause a puncture in the GI tract or even cause a blockage.
Some things that a rabbit may eat that can hurt them include:
- Carpet fibres
- Nails, needles, etc.
Always check your rabbit’s free-ranging areas for foreign objects before letting them loose.
Some things that are poisonous for a bunny are poisonous for us, as well. Other things, though, might surprise you.
In addition to keeping your garden clear of plants that are poisonous to rabbits, keep these things out of their reach:
- Bread, crackers, cereal, and pasta
- Potatoes and sweet potatoes
- Mushrooms and fungi
- The seeds of any fruit or vegetable
Flystrike happens when flies lay their eggs in a rabbit’s fur. The eggs hatch, and the maggots begin to eat the rabbit’s flesh. Death can occur before you know it.
If you notice maggots on or around your rabbit, take your rabbit to the vet immediately.
The perfect temperature for a rabbit is 70 degrees Fahrenheit (21 degrees Celsius). Temperatures above 80 degrees Fahrenheit (26.6 degrees Celsius) can cause heatstroke. And that can kill very quickly.
Rabbits are prey animals. This means that they will always try to hide injury or illness. As a result, your bunny may have a serious injury or illness that it’s hard to detect just by looking.
Rabbit bones are very delicate, for example. It’s possible for a rabbit to break a bone jumping off of a high surface. Small children can also damage a bunny without trying. And rabbits can become injured playing with other non-rabbit pets, as well.
Not only are rabbits unable to tell us about a broken bone, but they wouldn’t tell us, even if they could.
As a result, a rabbit may die of shock from suffering a broken bone or other injury, and we might never know it.
Be on the Lookout
Many causes of unexpected rabbit death have similar symptoms. If you notice these symptoms in your bunny, it’s time to see a vet as soon as possible.
- Lethargy or inactivity
- Loss of appetite
- Diarrhea or, conversely, small or few poops
- Laboured breathing
Rabbit Dying of Old Age: the Signs
Like all of us, rabbits can die of old age. How can you tell it’s happening? Often, you can’t. However, if your otherwise healthy elder rabbit begins to exhibit these signs, it’s possible that his or her time is coming to an end.
- They stop eating and drinking
- They stop moving
- The pulse slows
- Breathing becomes agitated
- A sudden release of bowels and bladder
- Some owners report their rabbit screaming as death approaches
If you think your otherwise healthy elder rabbit is dying, stay calm. Don’t move them, and don’t do anything to make this time more stressful. Help them to relax and let them know that you love them.
What Happens When a Rabbit Dies?
From the beginning of time, people have wondered what happens when we die. Many also wonder what happens to animals.
The truth is, no one knows for sure. Many find comfort in the idea of the Rainbow Bridge, which is where pets and their families will eventually be reunited.
How Do You Dispose of a Dead Rabbit?
There are a lot of answers to that question. However, the solution will be different for different owners. The only certain thing is that you must not simply put animal remains in the bin. This can attract scavengers and also spread disease.
Many people like to bury their pets in the back garden. This keeps your rabbit physically close as well as close to your heart. Your family can design a unique ceremony and erect a memorial that you can visit every day.
Before you do that, however, it’s important to take a few things into consideration.
First, is garden burial legal in your area? In many areas it isn’t.
Also, do you own your home? A landlord or rental agency might not appreciate a tenant’s garden burial.
Finally, are there free-roaming predators or scavengers in your area? Foxes, raccoons, coyotes, and other animals often dig up buried animal remains. This can be both upsetting and a health hazard.
If you decide on a garden burial, you need to bury your bunny’s remains deep — at least three feet (one metre) deep. But make sure to bury them above the water table.
You also need to wrap them in a plastic bag or sheet to reduce any smells that might attract scavengers. Also consider laying a stone or concrete slab over the grave as an additional deterrent.
Did you know that there are cemeteries for pets? There are. In fact, the Hartsdale Pet Cemetery in New York, the world’s oldest animal cemetery, has over 70,000 interments and 7,000 memorials.
This is probably the most expensive option, but if you want a safe, dignified burial for your rabbit, pet cemeteries can provide everything, from a funeral service to interment and a monument.
The International Association of Pet Cemeteries and Crematories can help you to find a facility near you.
If you’ve had to euthanize your bunny, your vet may offer cremation. But many areas also have local animal cremation businesses that can take care of the matter privately.
Cremation is sanitary and cost-effective. You can then choose to bury the remains or display them in an urn.
Some areas offer municipal disposal for animal remains. Check with your council or local government to see if this is an option in your area.
Grieving for your Rabbit: How to Move On
It’s not “just a rabbit.”
Losing a companion animal isn’t “like” losing a family member; it is losing a family member. Grief over losing an animal friend, no matter how small, is natural and right. And we all need to work through it.
Everyone grieves differently, and the process can take longer for some people than others.
Grief typically goes through five stages, which can occur in different orders:
The important thing is to allow yourself, and your family, to work through their emotions in their own way and at their own pace. There are a few things that can help, however.
Hold a Funeral
We all need to say goodbye. A funeral gives us that opportunity. It may be something as simple as sharing a few memories, or something more complex, involving ritual or prayer. Some people also like to:
- Erect a memorial, such as a sign or painted stones
- Plant a flower in a pet’s favorite place
- Put up a framed photo of your rabbit
- Write letters to your bunny and read them out loud
- Bury objects with your rabbit, such as a favorite toy or food item
Funerals can also teach children about the cycle of life, and help to ease fears of death.
Bereavement Counselling and Services
The pain of losing a pet is real. Simply talking to someone about your pain can make it less of a burden.
The Animal Samaritans organization also offers supportive listening at 0203 745 9859.
You can also find a wealth of resources, advice, and support for grieving pet owners at:
Also be sure to check with your vet, local council or nearby religious organizations regarding support in your time of grief.
Should You Bring Home Another Rabbit?
Different people may feel differently about this. Some people may want to rush out and bring home a new rabbit immediately. Others may want to mourn for a spell. Still others may decide that they don’t want a new rabbit at all.
It’s all fine.
However, if the bunny that passed was part of a bonded pair, it’s important to allow your remaining rabbit to grieve, as well.
The bond between rabbits is deep and strong. A rabbit will miss his or her partner. He or she will feel sad. And, just like you or me, your rabbit may not feel like bonding to a new partner right away.
How do Rabbits Grieve?
Some people report that when a rabbit is dying, its healthy partner may do a little dance. The reason for this is unknown, but many people believe the healthy rabbit is giving its partner a send-off.
If your rabbit dies at home, allow the living partner to spend an hour or so with the body. This will help the living rabbit to understand and process what has happened. It will allow them to say goodbye.
Sitting with your living rabbit while it says goodbye will let it know that you’re grieving, too.
Be patient with your remaining bunny, and keep an eye on behavioural changes. You might notice increased aggression, for example. Other rabbits may want to be with you all the time. Some may withdraw or hide.
These are all possible bunny grieving behaviours and should pass with time. But if you’re concerned, don’t hesitate to reach out to your vet.
Eventually, most rabbits will feel the need for a new partner. Some may not, however. When you decide the time is right to attempt an introduction, approach it with patience, kindness, and tact.
The Circle of Life
It’s always hard to say goodbye. But death is a part of life. Be gentle with yourself as you work through your bereavement. And, if your rabbit has left a partner behind, be kind and patient with them, as well.
Do you have any advice for readers who may be grieving the loss of their bunny? Please let us know in the comments.