Pet rabbits are known for their friendly, happy, and sociable nature. But bunnies can experience sadness and negative emotions too. Rabbits can become depressed if their environment isn’t right, or if they’re sick or stressed.
There are many reasons why a pet rabbit might be depressed. We’ll help you recognize the signs of depression in rabbits, and go through the most common triggers. We’ll also share tips on how to cheer up a depressed rabbit.
Do Rabbits Get Depressed?
Rabbits are more intelligent than most people realize. They are sentient beings that can experience a wide range of emotions, both positive and negative. They can also detect negative human emotions.
If you provide the correct care for your bunny, they’ll have a happy life and live for a long time. However, rabbits can become depressed if they experience trauma, or if something’s wrong with their environment.
Pet bunnies need more than a hutch, food, and water. To be happy, rabbits require social interaction, mental stimulation, and physical exercise. They also bond strongly with other rabbits and their caregivers, and can become sad if separated from them.
Rabbits can also experience stress and anxiety. If there’s something wrong in their environment, stress can occur together with depression.
Prolonged stress and depression can be dangerous for rabbits. It can cause them to avoid exercise, and eat less than they should. This can cause them to develop health problems, and even die.
Veterinarians can’t do much for rabbits with depression. There aren’t any medications or therapies for sad rabbits. So, it’s up to you to recognize the signs that your rabbit is miserable.
How Can You Tell When a Rabbit is Sad?
Rabbits don’t speak the same language as humans. They can’t tell us when something is wrong. The symptoms of depression in rabbits can be subtle and easy to miss if you’re not paying attention.
Rabbits are energetic animals that love running around and playing, particularly in the morning and evening. Rabbits with depression are often listless and inactive, showing little motivation to play.
Sad and stressed rabbits usually prefer to hide away from the world. They may hide for hours in their bed, or somewhere secluded and covered.
Rabbits are ordinarily social creatures that love interacting with other rabbits and humans. If your rabbit is showing no interest in social interaction, they may be depressed.
Lack of appetite
Bunnies usually spend a significant portion of their day eating hay. Depressed rabbits can have smaller appetites, and may not get excited when offered treats, such as fruit.
Pacing around in a small space can be a sure sign of stress, anxiety or depression.
Rabbits love to chew and nibble, to keep their teeth filed down. However, rabbits with depression often spend excessive amounts of time biting things obsessively. This could be the bars of their cage, for example.
Rabbits groom themselves to keep themselves clean. However, if they are grooming so much that bald spots appear, they may be stressed or sad.
A sad rabbit will sit hunched up most of the time, with their eyes half-closed. They won’t often stretch their legs out and relax.
Each rabbit is different. Your rabbit may display all of the above signs, or only a few of them. Any change in their normal behavior and temperament should be noted.
Why Is My Rabbit Depressed?
If your rabbit seems sad, it’s time to figure out the underlying issue.
Rabbits don’t develop depression for no reason. There’s almost always a problem which is triggering it. You won’t be able to alleviate your rabbit’s sadness unless you know what the cause is.
Depression in rabbits is usually caused by one of the following things:
- Rabbits bond strongly with other rabbits and their human owners. If a rabbit loses their companion, they will grieve, just like a human. They can be depressed for a long time.
- When a rabbit experiences perpetual stress, this can take a toll on its mental health. Changes in routine, such as moving house, can cause stress. Being cooped up in a cage which is too small can also cause anxiety and sadness.
- Sickness and injury can often trigger depression in pet rabbits. Pain and malaise can make rabbits reluctant to move, eat or play.
- Rabbits have an innate need for social interaction. Pet bunnies kept alone can often become lonely without another rabbit for company. This is particularly likely if their owner doesn’t spend much time with them.
- Bunnies are intelligent and require regular mental stimulation. If there aren’t enough things for them to do, they can become bored. Over time, this can lead to depression.
If your rabbit is depressed all of a sudden, it’s usually easy to identify what’s changed in their life. However, it often comes on gradually, with no clear-cut cause.
Below, we’ll explain in more detail about some of the most common causes of depression in rabbits.
Rabbit Depressed After Death
As rabbits are social animals, they form strong bonds with other rabbits. They can even bond with other animals, such as guinea pigs, cats, and humans.
A companion provides valuable social interaction and company for a rabbit. So, when their companion dies or leaves home, it can harm their mental health.
You can’t explain to your rabbit why their friend has suddenly disappeared. For several days, you may notice your rabbit searching everywhere for their missing buddy. When they realize they’re not coming back, it’s common for a rabbit to feel miserable.
If this has happened to your rabbit, you need to let them grieve. It can help to shower them with lots of extra love and attention until they’re feeling better again. Offer them lots of tasty veggies to help inspire their appetite, though be careful not to overfeed.
The best long-term solution is to get your rabbit a new friend. Introducing a new bunny to bond with can perk a grieving rabbit right up again. Contact a shelter near you to see if they have any suitable rabbits for adoption.
Rabbit Depressed After Spay or Neutering
It’s normal for a rabbit to seem depressed or not themselves after being spayed or neutered. After all, both procedures are operations. Their sex organs are removed, and along with it, a considerable hormone change takes place.
If your rabbit seems depressed after neutering, it’s probably not a cause for concern. Lethargy and lack of appetite is normal after surgery. They’ll likely prefer to stay still and avoid excessive movement.
They may also be in some pain while their wound heals. Pain medication will help with this, though it may cause them to feel strange, affecting their behavior.
Your rabbit’s wound will have healed entirely within two weeks. However, it takes several weeks for the last of the hormones to leave their bodies. Until this point, their personality may still seem subdued.
If your rabbit’s behavior doesn’t return to normal after a few weeks, contact your veterinarian. It may be that their wound hasn’t healed properly, causing pain or discomfort. It’s always better to be safe than sorry.
Seasonal Depression in Rabbits
If your rabbit seems miserable in the winter, it’s possible that they have seasonal depression. This is a form of depression that takes hold when rabbits are not exposed to much natural light.
In humans, seasonal depression is triggered by a lack of serotonin, according to Depression Research and Treatment. Serotonin is the “happy chemical” that regulates our moods. Though seasonal depression hasn’t been scientifically researched in rabbits yet, it likely acts in the same way.
If this is the case for your rabbit, you may notice their behavior start to change in the fall. They may begin to act sad or listless, and may not return to their old selves until the springtime.
This can also tie in with a rabbit’s molting cycle. Rabbits go through a big shed around twice per year, coinciding with the changing seasons.
It takes a month for a rabbit to shed all their fur. During this time, they can become more reclusive, groom extensively, and seem miserable overall.
To help your rabbit through their seasonal depression, give them lots of attention and things to do. Brush them every day when they’re molting, to help rid them of loose fur and prevent hairballs.
Installing a special light that mimics the natural color of the sun’s rays can also help. Talk it through with your veterinarian beforehand.
Loneliness and Boredom in Rabbits
Rabbit boredom and loneliness are the most common causes of depression in pet bunnies. Many owners aren’t aware of just how much attention and stimulation bunnies require. You may be neglecting your rabbit’s needs without even knowing it.
Because they are social animals, rabbits need social interaction to be happy. The ideal companion for a rabbit is another rabbit. They’ll keep each other company all day long. Without any company, rabbits can become depressed.
If you only have one bunny, you’ll need to personally play with them for at least two hours per day.
During this time, give your rabbit undivided attention. Sit or lay on the floor with your rabbit, hand-feed them and pet them. You can even try teaching them tricks using a clicker. This will help provide them with mental stimulation.
It’s also important that when you’re not spending time with your rabbit, they do not become bored. Rabbits need mental stimulation and opportunity for physical exercise.
You should house your rabbit in a pen or run that is large enough for them to run around. Rabbits need at least 32 square feet of space. As well as this, they also require toys and activities to keep them occupied. Without this, depression can quickly set in.
How to Cheer Up a Depressed Rabbit
If you aren’t sure why your rabbit is depressed, you should first take them to a veterinarian for a checkup.
Sometimes, pain and discomfort can masquerade as symptoms of depression in rabbits. Listlessness, hiding, aggression, and loss of appetite could all be signs of an undiagnosed illness. Because rabbits are prey animals, they naturally try to hide their pain, to avoid looking weak to predators.
If your veterinarian can’t find anything wrong, it is most likely a loneliness or boredom issue. These are the leading causes of depression in bunnies. Rabbits are intelligent animals, and can become depressed quickly if they are under-stimulated.
Here are some ideas for how to cheer up a sad rabbit.
- Get a second rabbit. Rabbits are highly social animals and should never be housed alone. Two rabbits can play together, groom one another and provide valuable company. Often, depression in rabbits can be alleviated just by giving them a playmate.
- Spend more time interacting with your rabbit. If you only have one rabbit, you should spend at least two hours each day playing with them.
- Give your rabbit more space. Most hutches and cages sold at pet shops are too small for a rabbit to live in. Rabbits can become depressed if they are cooped up. They need access to a 32-square-feet enclosure for at least three hours per day.
- Vary your rabbit’s surroundings. Take them into a different room to allow them to explore the new smells. Offer them different foods to keep things fresh.
- Give your rabbit more to do. Sitting in an empty room with nothing but food and water would be depressing for any rabbit. Ensure your rabbit has plenty of activities and toys to keep them entertained.
Below are some ideas for toys and activities to enrich your rabbit’s life.
Enrichment Ideas for Rabbits
Mental and physical stimulation is vital to keep a rabbit happy and healthy. The more things you give your rabbit to do, the happier they’ll be. Here are some examples.
- Planters filled with earth or shredded newspaper. Rabbits love to dig, as they would naturally burrow in the wild. Be aware that eating too much paper is bad for rabbits.
- Balls made from wicker that they can chase around and chew on.
- Cardboard boxes. Rabbits love to dive inside and climb on top of them. As a bonus, they’re great for chewing on.
- Treat puzzles. These are toys which you can hide treats inside. The rabbit has to use logic to figure out how to get to the treat.
- Treasure hunts. Rabbits have an excellent sense of smell. Hide tasty treats such as raisins, and your rabbit will enjoy foraging for them.
- Things to jump on, such as stools. Maximize your rabbit’s vertical space as well as horizontal. They love to get high up (as long as they can get down easily).
- Homemade hay feeders. Stuff hay tightly inside toilet roll tubes, for example. Your rabbit will enjoy pulling it all out.
Every day, rotate the toys and activities that you offer your rabbit. This will help prevent your rabbit from becoming bored with their surroundings.
You can even switch up your rabbit’s food by offering them different vegetables each day. Introduce new foods slowly and one-at-a-time, and avoid overfeeding. Always allow your rabbit unlimited access to water and grass hay.
Why is My Unhappy Rabbit Not Eating?
It’s common for rabbits to eat less when they’re depressed. Unhappy rabbits can lose interest in all of their favorite activities, including eating.
Usually, a depressed rabbit’s appetite can be stimulated by offering them some tempting treats. Try offering them a more luxurious type of hay, such as second or third cut timothy hay.
Many rabbits also go crazy for a small piece of fruit, such as banana or apple. Few rabbits can resist the sugar. Don’t offer them too much, as excessive fruit can be bad for their digestive systems. It can also lead to weight gain.
Sometimes, however, a rabbit’s depression can become severe enough that they stop eating altogether. This is a bad sign, as a rabbit that isn’t eating won’t survive for long. It can lead to fatal gastrointestinal stasis, where the digestive system stops moving.
It’s possible that your rabbit’s depression has a serious underlying cause, such as illness. Rabbits that are sick or in pain can often act depressed.
If your depressed rabbit hasn’t eaten in 12 hours, take them to a veterinarian straight away. Ensure that the vet you choose is experienced with rabbits, as not all of them are.