5 Signs and Symptoms of a Dying Rabbit

By Josie F. Turner, Journalist specialized in Animal Welfare. Updated: October 10, 2018
5 Signs and Symptoms of a Dying Rabbit

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The death of a rabbit can be emotionally devastating for anyone who has formed a strong bond with their bunny. Unfortunately, due to the much lower life expectancy of rabbits compared to humans, the great majority of those who care for rabbits will experience their death at some point. Death is a natural and inevitable part of life, often being something out of our control.

These 5 signs and symptoms of a dying rabbit from AnimalWised is designed to assist in two ways. Firstly, if your rabbit has an illness which can be cured, monitoring rabbits for these symptoms can help you know when you should bring them to the vet for medical intervention. Secondly, when your rabbit's time is coming to an end, they can help you emotionally prepare yourself for the loss.

You may also be interested in: 10 Signs of Old Age in Dogs

1. They stop eating and drinking

One of the most obvious symptoms to look for if you think your rabbit is going to die is whether they eat or drink. If your rabbit is refusing to eat hay or is struggling to drink water, it is of grave concern to their health and well-being. A lack of appetite can be caused by different pathologies, both mental and physical. Scabies, dental malformations, hairball accumulation in the stomach and even stress can suppress their appetite and lead to dehydration. Rabbits need to consume sufficient amounts of hay regularly. If not, their nutritional deficit will eventually lead to death. It is also important to remember to vaccinate your rabbits to best avoid these situations occurring.

5 Signs and Symptoms of a Dying Rabbit - 1. They stop eating and drinking

2. They do not move

Further sigs that your rabbit is likely going to die are inactivity and apathy. This is something which also frequently accompanies stress in rabbits. In either case, when a rabbit's behavior changes radically, especially to the point they no longer engage in physical activity, we need to be aware that something is wrong. If we provide a comfortable and stress-free environment, away from noise and heat, yet they don't seem to move for some reason, you should take them to the vet for evaluation.

3. Their vital signs change

When a rabbit is close to death, their vital signs will alter. Some, such as shortness of breath are visible to the eye, others, such as a lowered body temperature, will need to have a reading taken. How do you know what are the vital signs of a rabbit? Let's take a look at the readings of vital signs in a healthy rabbit. By doing so, you can tell if there is any aberration and, therefore, a problem.

  • Body temperature: usually between 38 ºC (100.4 ºF) and 40 ºC (104 ºF).
  • Heart rate: oscillates between 180 and 250 beats per minute.
  • Respiration: between 30 and 60 breaths per minute.
  • Capillary refill time (CRT): this is an observation of how many seconds it takes for capillaries to recover their normal color once they have has pressure exerted on them. To test this on a rabbit, you can delicately press the mucosa of their gums and see if it takes longer than 2 seconds for them to resume their normal color. If we observe discoloration of the rabbit's gums, especially if they are blue, yellow or white, then we should be concerned.

When one or more of these vital signs are significantly altered, you should take your animal for consultation.

5 Signs and Symptoms of a Dying Rabbit - 3. Their vital signs change

4. Abnormal behavior

Any animal close to death is likely, although not necessarily, going to exhibit some behavioral changes. This could be due to an underlying medical issue, but it could also occur due to old age. We can observe variable behavioral changes such as increased aggression or excessive fear. Additionally, in the few minutes before dying, it is usual for a rabbit to release their bowels and to urinate uncontrollably. If your rabbit is in pain, they will likely not exhibit it through vocalizations, so ensure you pay close attention to other signs of pain in rabbits.

5. The moments before death

If you think your rabbit is going to die imminently, the rabbit's breathing will become altered, something known as the ‘death rattle’. The breathing will become agitated, perhaps coming and going in fits and starts, while their pulse slows. They may also develop stiffness in the jaw and experience some tremors. It is important to spend time with your rabbit at this stage, staying by their side to provide comfort in their last moments.

What to do if your rabbit is dying?

It is not easy to think about the end of your rabbit's life. At the same time, it is something which should be considered and prepared for. If your rabbit is dying, it won't help them to panic. Remaining calm and doing what you can to reduce their nervousness and anxiety is imperative. Avoid loud noises, do not touch or move them excessively and avoid anything which will make the moment stressful.

The best you can do is approach the situation with gentleness and tact, petting them reassuringly to help them relax. If we feel uncomfortable ourselves or are struggling to keep it together emotionally, there is no shame in asking a trusted friend or family member to take our place in accompanying them.

5 Signs and Symptoms of a Dying Rabbit - What to do if your rabbit is dying?

How do I know if my rabbit is dead?

It can be difficult to accept the death of a beloved bunny. We may struggle to accept the fact and profess doubts they have really died, preferring to believe they have entered a state of sleepiness or have just become temporarily weak.

However, you need to recognize the signs whether your rabbit has actually died. If your rabbit is unresponsive, if they have released their bowels or if there are any of the above signs, but are still breathing, they are not dead yet. You can take them to the vet, but it is likely death is imminent, so prepare for the worst.

What do you do with a dead rabbit?

The death of a rabbit is a painful process, but you should understand that it is also a natural one. After death, you may be worried about the practical concerns of what to do with the rabbit's body. There are resources available to take care of them. If you contact your vet, they should have access to an incinerator to burn the remains. If they do not, they should provide information about what services are available. Pet funeral services are available in some areas, but it is up to you whether you want to spend money on something which might end up being expensive.

It is important to know that you should never simply put a dead rabbit's body in the trash. This can cause the spread of diseases and parasites to the environment. It can also encourage animals to root through your trash. You can bury the animal as long as it is on property you own. You cannot dig up public space and bury your animal without permission. If you rent property, similar considerations need to be made. Be careful if you have dogs or other animals with access to the burial site as they may be inclined to dig up the body.

Finally, it is important to consider the emotional ramifications of experiencing the loss of a pet. You will likely have a period of mourning, but you should feel free to express your grief and sadness in healthy ways. If you want some help in this process, you can read our article on how to overcome the death of a pet. These experiences are also good learning experiences for younger children who are starting to come to grips with the impermanence of life.

5 Signs and Symptoms of a Dying Rabbit - What do you do with a dead rabbit?

If you want to read similar articles to 5 Signs and Symptoms of a Dying Rabbit, we recommend you visit our Geriatrics category.

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