Rabbits are easily spooked and frightened, so everything is perceived as a threat. A rabbit will do anything it can to avoid a potentially dangerous situation, including playing dead, if necessary.
A rabbit will play dead when she’s terrified. She will lie on her back and remain perfectly still. This line of defense will rarely be used to avoid predators as they are largely scavengers, like foxes and coyotes.
Sometimes, a rabbit looks like she is playing dead when she is just sleeping or contented. A happy rabbit will click her teeth/purr. If she is frightened, your rabbit will not make a sound.
Do Rabbits Play Dead When Scared?
Playing dead is a rabbit’s last line of defense when in a state of abject terror. A rabbit pretends to be dead by lying on her back or side and not moving a muscle.
A common reason for this is unwelcome handling. Rabbits like to keep all four paws on the ground. If you pick your rabbit up, it may frighten her. Eventually, if she’s scared enough, she will play dead.
This is done so that you’ll put her down. If you do so, you’ll likely find that your rabbit flees from the room. If your rabbit plays dead, always return to the ground straight away.
There are some theoretical advantages to a rabbit playing dead. Rabbits are rarely still for more than a few seconds. If you need to clean or inspect your pet for injury, this can be problematic. This leads to the controversial practice of ‘trancing’ rabbits.
What is Trancing a Rabbit?
This is the act of laying the animal flat on her back. This appears to relax and hypnotize the rabbit. In reality, it scares her senseless. It’s not unheard of for a rabbit to have a heart attack while tranced.
Trancing should only ever be a last resort, in an emergency situation. An example might be that you notice your rabbit bleeding, but cannot see where from. Alternatively, you may need to apply a bandage to your rabbit, and she will not remain still. If you must trance a rabbit, follow these steps.
- Place a towel or soft blanket in your lap.
- Pick up your rabbit, and hold her in the crook of your arm. As gently as you can, turn her over so she is lying on her back. Her bottom should be higher than her head.
- Your rabbit will fight this initially. Keep her calm with soothing speech and petting.
- Before long, your rabbit will enter a trance. She’ll stop moving completely.
- Do what you do need to do quickly. Your rabbit looks calm, but remember that she is terrified.
- Keep hold of your rabbit after you’re done. At some point within ten minutes, she will leave the trance. This will feel like she is exploding into life.
- Reassure your rabbit, and place her on the ground. Offer her a favorite treat, if she’ll let you.
You should also never trance older or baby rabbits, or those with existing health concerns. The hearts of these rabbits can’t cope with the stress. They are likely to suffer cardiac arrest.
Do Rabbits Play Dead When Attacked by a Predator?
If a rabbit suspects that a predator is approaching, she will rarely play dead. Rabbits have governed by a strong fight-or-flight instinct. Playing dead will make the rabbit an easy target.
If backed into a corner, a rabbit will fight for her life. Despite being small and frail, rabbits can be tough when they need to be. A rabbit will stand on her hind legs and box. She may also use her claws to scratch and fight.
When she suspects that she is in danger, a rabbit is more likely to run. Rabbits can move at almost 30 mph, according to Speed of Animals. A rabbit is confident that she can outrun most predators.
In a desperate scenario, a rabbit may play dead and hope for the best. Usually, she will dive underground first for extra protection. She’ll be hoping that the predator will pass her by.
Rabbits understand that this will not necessarily help, though. Most predators of rabbits are scavengers. A hungry fox will not think twice about eating a dead rabbit. Playing dead is not an effective defense mechanism in the wild.
Do Baby Rabbits Play Dead?
Playing dead is a behavior that is ingrained in rabbits of all ages. Baby rabbits receive little in the way of ‘life coaching’ from their mothers. Any habits they pick up will come from imitation or instinct.
This means that a baby rabbit may well play dead. Life can be frightening for a small rabbit, after all. Loud noises, new experiences, and other household pets can all be terrifying. A baby rabbit (kit) will cope in whatever way she can.
Be mindful, though. Kits are also particularly frail. The rabbit may not just be playing dead. Warm the rabbit up. Wrap her in a blanket. If the rabbit starts to move, return her to the nest.
My Rabbit Plays Dead After Exercise
You may notice a strange habit. Your pet is playing outside her hutch, running around. She appears to be the picture of contentment. Then, suddenly, she drops to the ground and plays dead.
Your rabbit may have been frightened. Although rabbits have good long-distance vision, depth perception is lacking. She may have seen an airplane and mistaken it for a swooping bird of prey.
It’s more likely is that your rabbit is just flopping. This is a term for when exhaustion overcomes a rabbit, and she falls asleep on the spot. It’s common in younger rabbits that play until they drop.
Flopping can look frightening at first. Your rabbit will drop like a stone, and her eyes will be closed. It’s easy to mistake this for a heart attack. Do not rouse your rabbit, though. She is shattered, and needs to sleep.
Instead, carry your rabbit to her hutch. Lay her down in her favorite sleeping area and leave her alone. Your pet will have a long nap and wake after a few hours.
Rabbit Playing Dead vs. Sleeping
It can sometimes be tough to tell the difference between playing dead and deep sleep. Rabbits often enjoy what is known as paradoxical sleep. Your pet will keep her eyes open during this doze. She has a third eyelid that keeps her eyes moist.
If a rabbit is particularly tired or relaxed, she’ll sleep with her eyes closed. This can look similar to playing dead. A relaxed rabbit can often be found on her back, legs in the air. This pose is not dissimilar to a tranced rabbit.
Listen out for any sounds. If your rabbit is clicking her teeth, she is purring. This means that she is relaxed and contented. A rabbit that plays dead would make no such sound.
In addition, look out for any twitches in your pet’s body or face. When tranced, a rabbit remains as still as a statue. It’s a conscious decision. A sleeping rabbit will twitch and jerk in her sleep. She may even run on the spot if she’s dreaming.