10 Signs That Your Rabbit is Dying

If your rabbit is getting old, or if it has been sick, you might be concerned that your rabbit is nearing death. As you’ve taken care of and gotten to know your rabbit, you will have learned what its normal behavior is like. Changes in that behavior are a sign of a change in health, and even death.

A pet rabbit will live for between 6 and 12 years. Signs that a rabbit is near death include refusing to eat, an unusual level of lethargy, difficulty breathing, or a sudden change in vital signs. A rabbit should have a body temperature between 100 degrees Fahrenheit and 104 degrees Fahrenheit, as well as a heart rate between 180 and 250 beats per minute. Skin conditions such as myiasis, or “flystrike,” are also signs that your rabbit’s life is in danger. Many rabbits experience involuntary muscle spasms as they near the final minutes of life.

As much as we love our rabbits, death is a natural part of life. It is vital that you understand the common signs that let you know your rabbit is dying. This will help you know when to take your rabbit to the vet for care, and this knowledge will also prepare you for the worst when it comes. We will now look at the factors that will warn you that your rabbit is dying.

How To Know If Your Rabbit is Dying

You can give your pet rabbit a long and healthy life. In captivity, rabbits can live anywhere between 6 and 12 years if kept indoors.

Smaller rabbits live longer than bigger rabbits. The world record for the oldest living rabbit not surprisingly belongs to a 16-year-old miniature (dwarf) grey rabbit named Hazel.

As your rabbit nears the end of its life, its body will change in ways you can notice and respond to. Any of these symptoms alone is likely a sign of illness, but not necessarily the imminent death of your rabbit.

However, if more than one of these symptoms is present, it may be near the end of your rabbit’s life. Understanding the signs that your rabbit is dying will help you decide how to handle the end of your pet rabbit’s life.

Refusing To Eat Food

The most easily noticeable sign is if it will not eat its food. A rabbit needs to eat plenty of hay, grass, and green vegetables to meet its nutritional needs. If your rabbit is not eating at all, something may be wrong.

According to the University of Edinburgh, you can expect a fully adult rabbit to eat less than a younger rabbit. A growing rabbit needs more energy and can eat up to twice as much food as an adult.

If your grown-up rabbit isn’t eating quite as much as it did when it was a baby, this is not necessarily a need for concern. A healthy animal is driven to take in the nutrients it needs to survive, and there’s no need to force your rabbit to eat more than it wants if it is getting the food it needs.

However, if your rabbit no longer has any appetite, this can be a sign of illness or being near death. Many illnesses, both physical and mental, can suppress a rabbit’s appetite. Lack of appetite could also be a sign of old age. If you are concerned that your rabbit is eating so little that it is not getting the nutrients it needs, take it to a veterinarian for a check-up.

dying rabbit behavior

Unusual Level of Lethargy

Rabbits are typically physically active animals. Of course, the activity level can vary between individual rabbits. The longer you’ve owned your rabbit, the more familiar you will be with what is a normal amount of hopping and running around for your pet. You will also know how typically playful your rabbit normally is.

If your rabbit becomes unusually inactive, apathetic about playtime and unwilling to perform much physical activity at all, this could be a sign that your rabbit is dying.

Sudden lethargy may also be a sign of stress. To find out how serious this lethargy is, take your rabbit to a more comfortable environment, free from stressors such as excessive heat and noise. If your rabbit calms down and gets up to play again, then their stillness was due to stress.

If the rabbit still does not seem to want to move at all, then it may be ill or near death. You may wrap it in a blanket and try to give it small amounts of water to drink through a syringe. If your rabbit refuses to drink, do not force it. You want to avoid making your rabbit choke in its weakened state.

Skin Conditions

Rabbits are very good at keeping themselves clean. However, a rabbit that is not feeling well will pay less attention to grooming itself. While a healthy rabbit will have soft, clean fur and skin, a rabbit that is getting sick may have excessively greasy or matted fur. This lack of fur care can be an early sign of a skin condition.

According to an article in Veterinary Clinics of North America: Exotic Animal Practice, rabbits are vulnerable to a variety of skin diseases. These include parasitic diseases, infectious diseases, and skin tumors. Some of these conditions can lead to death.

Symptoms of these skin conditions include bald patches in your rabbit’s fur, dandruff, and also scaling or flaking of the skin.

Myiasis

One potentially fatal skin condition for rabbits is myiasis, also commonly called “flystrike.” This condition comes from flies laying eggs in a rabbit’s fur. This tends to happen if the rabbit’s fur is dirty with urine or feces, when a rabbit is wet, or when the rabbit is letting out more pheromones from its scent glands.

The fly eggs hatch, releasing maggots. The maggots can then eat down into the rabbit’s skin. This can cause death for your rabbit as quickly as 24 hours. As such, a buildup of moisture, feces, or urine on your rabbit’s skin can be a sign it will die. Visible maggots on your rabbit’s skin are the most imminent sign of death.

If you notice eggs or maggots on your rabbit’s skin, take it to a veterinarian immediately. Some maggots may have already entered your rabbit’s skin, so simply picking off the visible maggots will not be enough.

Myiasis can be cured with antibiotics. However, if this condition is not caught early enough, then the rabbit may still die.

Change in Vital Signs

As a rabbit nears death, its vital signs will move out of normal ranges. An animal’s vital signs include its temperature and heart rate. Here are the normal vital signs for a healthy rabbit:

  • Temperature: 100-104 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Heart Rate: Between 180 and 250 beats per minute
  • Breathing Rate: Between 30 and 60 breaths per minute
  • Capillary Refill Time: 2 seconds or less

You can test the rabbit’s body temperature with a thermometer. Its heart and breathing rate can be observed with careful counting and a timer.

To test capillary refill time, open the rabbit’s mouth gently press against the gums around its teeth. As you add pressure, the color will lighten. After you remove the pressure, how long it takes for the gums to come back to their normal color is the capillary refill time.

If these vital signs are out of the ordinary, especially if this was a sudden change from one day to another, it is time to take your rabbit to a vet.

Difficulty Breathing

Healthy rabbits do not breathe very noisily. This is because rabbits breathe only through their noses, rather than their mouths.

This means that a stuffy nose is an unhealthy sign. If your rabbit sounds like it has a cold, that can be a sign of illness, including illnesses that leave it close to death. Signs of difficulty breathing include the following:

  • Gasping
  • Wheezing
  • Coughing
  • Mouth breathing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Flared nostrils
  • Sneezing
  • Runny nose

Rabbits will also breathe harder when they are stressed. Causes of stress for a rabbit can include hearing loud noises, experiencing overcrowding, the presence of predators, being chased, and being handled roughly.

Try to remove any sources of stress and see if your rabbit’s breathing returns to normal. If not, there may be a more serious underlying cause.

A rabbit which is near death will have noisy, agitated breathing. Its breaths may come in fits and starts. This is often referred to as a “death rattle” for its unsettling sound and its association with the end of the rabbit’s life.

Change in Urine or Feces

Keep an eye on how often your rabbit urinates and defecates, and what the waste looks like afterwards. A change in urine or feces can be a warning sign for a dying rabbit. With feces, watch out for changes in texture, color, or smell. With urine, traces of blood is a sign that something is wrong.

If your rabbit is not defecating at all, this may be gastrointestinal stasis. GI stasis is a common sign of illness or poor health. It usually happens when a rabbit stops eating, and the digestive system as a whole slows down.

This may be a sign that your rabbit is not getting sufficient nutrients from its diet and is related to the symptom of refusing to eat. A rabbit needs a moving digestive system in order to survive. If your rabbit has not defecated or urinated in over 6 hours, you should contact a veterinarian to find out if treatment is necessary.

Diarrhea, or excessively loose feces, is a typical part of a rabbit’s declining health as it nears the end of its life. This is also a sign of dehydration. It is common for a rabbit to uncontrollably release its bowels in the minutes before it dies.

Symptoms of a Dying Rabbit

Unusual Noises

If your rabbit is making unusual noises, this can be a sign that it is not well. A rabbit that feels uncomfortable may grind its teeth audibly. When it is in pain, especially if it is frightened, a rabbit screams. As a rabbit nears the end of its life, especially if an illness is a part of its death, then it may let out involuntary groaning or squeaking sounds.

Other sounds to keep an ear out for are the sounds associated with difficulty breathing. This include sneezing, snuffling, gasping, and wheezing.

Drooling

While dying, a rabbit will often begin to drool. It can let out a lot more saliva than you would expect from such a small animal, especially if the rabbit has not been drinking much water. The rabbit’s fur will absorb some of the drool, but it may still make a mess.

Your rabbit may also have a swollen face or mouth as the apparent cause of the drooling. If you look inside the rabbit’s mouth and its gums are pale white, yellow, or blue, this may be a sign of additional illness.

Shivering

If your rabbit is shivering even though the room is nicely warm, this can be a sign of shock. A rabbit will also shake as it nears death if it is frightened. This fear may be because of an external stressor, but it may also be a response to the rabbit’s own symptoms. A rabbit’s dying symptoms can be just as unsettling for the rabbit as they are to you.

You can put a light blanket over the rabbit to give it some comfort. However, do not tuck the blanket around the rabbit. Allow it room to move around if it needs to.

Involuntary Spasms

A rabbit near death often experiences involuntary spasms in which its body jerks uncontrollably. This may look like a fit.

During one of these fits, the rabbit may hit itself against any nearby objects or walls. For the comfort of the rabbit, it is best to clear a large space out on the floor and set down a blanket for the rabbit to lie on.

Your rabbit may also demonstrate a loss of control over its limbs, or a sudden lack of coordination. It will not be able to walk straight, and may bump into things. Often when a rabbit reaches this stage, it will hide away under whatever cover it can find. This is a good instinct for a sick prey animal in the wild, though it may make it difficult for you to find and comfort your pet.

Taking care of your rabbit extends all the way through its life, until its final moments. By making yourself familiar with your rabbit’s normal behavior and checking for these signs, you will know when your rabbit is dying and be able to give it the comfort it needs right up to the end.

Lou Carter

I’ve loved rabbits for as long as I can remember, so it felt natural to share my passion for lagomorphs with a much wider audience. My objective is to help owners to keep their pet rabbits happy and healthy.

14 thoughts on “10 Signs That Your Rabbit is Dying”

  1. this post was extremely helpful . Even thou my rabbit is 2 years of age and i dont enjoy the thought of losing her .I still want to prepare myself because life is short

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  2. My Dexter, a Netherland Dwarf, passed away three weeks ago. I still wake up every morning expecting to see him in his cage waiting for a breakfast treat. I miss him. Still debating about getting another one. Dexter was six years old.

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    • in the same exact situation right now waking up walking out and coming home to the thought that my boy would be here but remembering he isn’t … hope all is well

      Reply
    • I feel you. My rabbit died 20 days ago. He was 5

      I still wake up in the middle of night hoping to see him on my bed near me, grooming himself, staring at me sometimes.

      Reply
  3. My white rabbit was 4 years old
    and suddenly it stopped eating, stopped asking for cuddles, stopped urinating. It died after suffering for 4 days.

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    • mine was 4 as well 🙁 my little angle baby its so important to catch them early and to be by their side as much as possible when we have the ability to of course I know life gets busy.. Ive had so many scares and was always to catch early excluding this thanksgiving week :c binky on all the buns who have left this world these guys and all pets have such a way of teaching us touching our hearts leaving many changed forever <3 I still think how he could have easily still been here with his brother …

      Reply
  4. My gorgeous lop eared rabbit is 11 years and 3 months. She is now very near to passing away. Her legs can no longer support her and she keeps falling over. She has lost so much weight, it is heart breaking. I hope she passes in her sleep tonight so she is no longer suffering. I will miss her so much.

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    • wow this happened to my bun he was still quite young and was previously strong despite having a splayed leg I loved him and still love him so much he also displayed symptoms of gi stasis the timing was all wrong as vets were closed until the next day and I inconveniently had expired critical care! luckily I woke up extra early day of and he came out of hiding to see me to say his goodbyes because in a few moments he left in my arms … I wondered what had cause him to lose his balance …

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    • I have a miniture lop her name is Callie i am afraid she is getting close to passing she is 11yrs old also. I was afraid she was going this evening. She got very lathargic,making noises as she was breathing,just not at all herself. I wrapped her in a blanket. Held her on my lap for a couple hrs. Put her back in her cage she started moving around a little ate some. She is resting again same very loud breathing. I don’t know . I am afraid to she will leave when i am in bed tonight. I am sorry you to are going through a similiar experience. Rest and hopefully not too much suffering.

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    • Our Lop Eared Bunny Boy was 10 years and 6 months old and had all the symptoms you described your Precious Bunny Girl having, he passed Sunday morning, he lived in our house and had a cage but was free to roam our living room, he would lay by my chair at night and I would rub him for hours, I’m 75 and this has been the most hardest lose I’ve ever experienced, my Wife said you are more sad than when you lost your Parents, I told her I spent every evening with him in our home for 10 and. half years, I feel like a piece of my heart has been ripped out, as he was crawling under the ottoman he liked my hand and a few minutes later he was gone, Prayers for you Sandra and your Precious Bunny Girl.

      Reply
  5. We are getting two rabbits from a rabbit breeder. One of the ones we picked won’t move and shakes and sometimes falls over. He won’t open his eyes, and he needs milk. I really hope he’ll be okay. I hope he gets better or passes peacefully. I will miss him!

    Reply
  6. Moño’s 9.

    He stopped eating this morning, but will drink some water through a syringe. He keeps clumsily half crawling and hopping around in my room, looking for a place to loaf or lie down. He isn’t being his usual responsive self.

    I think this may be it, although I hope it isn’t. This has been him having gas a few times in the past and those only lasted a couple hours, but this is so much worse.

    It sucks because not only did I raise him from a literal baby—the only survivor of a rabbit meat farm—but also because he was being super affectionate just the other day. Hopping onto my bed and giving his kisses, demanding I wake up and feed him more like the bottomless pit he is. It’s just such a dramatic change to go down in one day.

    We just put down our 12-year-old dog on my birthday because of her intensifying epilepsy and twisted stomach and if he goes like this, it would be too soon.

    My precious Chub.

    Reply
  7. Thank you for this detailed article.My polish rabbit, Cosmo Kramer is 13yrs& 5 months today.hes has some health challenges just in the last 2months.i am seeing some signs coming our way to show me he is probably going to heaven soon.nothing the vet has given us has really helped.i suspect he may have a nasal polyp or tumor.i am a retired RN.giving him palliative care and many cuddles & I am singing to him.my heart is heavy and I am exhausted but so grateful.hes been like a therapy rabbit at church and in AA for many people.he also wears outfits(he was only 2lbs/2 Oz when I adopted him 4 yrs ago.he has lost weight-just under 2 now.) Many will miss this Lil Prince.What a great personality.never thought he was really a rabbit.maybe a puppy in a rabbit suit.after 25 yrs of rabbits in my FURmily, Cosmo has been so unlike any rabbit I have ever adopted.God bless his last days here on earth.just had to share how amazing my Mon Ami is and always will be.thx again.😔😥

    Reply
  8. Sadly my 8 year old bunny Dudley passed away this evening, he would have been 9 in February.
    He always looked so young, loved his food especially blueberries and Basil, also many Rabbit treats.
    The last 10 days he was not his normal self, went off food.
    I am devasted he was the last of our Bunnies.
    It is heart breaking I wanted him to live forever.
    R.I.P Dudley, always remembered, never forgotten.

    Reply

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