When Rabbits Play Dead: Why NOT To Trance Your Rabbit

Have you ever cradled your pet rabbit on his back like a baby, stroking his belly while he lies still in your arms? At first glance, he seems calm and relaxed. But looks can be deceiving! Your rabbit’s unresponsiveness is actually a state of severe fear known as a trance. By forcing him into this vulnerable position, you are terrifying your beloved bunny and putting his health at risk. Discover the chilling truth about trancing and why this common practice is so hazardous. We’ll explore the dangers, alternatives, and proper handling to nurture the bond with your rabbit. Read on to learn why trancing can destroy your rabbit’s trust and how to cuddle without causing harm!

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Many pet rabbit owners love to cuddle and hold their rabbits. Rabbits often go still and seem peaceful when cradled on their backs in our arms. It can be tempting to think they enjoy being petted in this position. However, this stillness is actually a fear response called a trance state. Rabbits only enter a trance when they feel they cannot escape, and it is very stressful for them. There are much better ways to bond with your rabbit! Read on to learn why trancing is harmful, and what to do instead.

What is a rabbit trance?

A rabbit trance, also called tonic immobility, occurs when the rabbit feels threatened and frightened. Rabbits are prey animals, so their natural instinct is to freeze and appear dead in hopes that the predator will lose interest. Their heart rate and breathing slow down, and they become still and unresponsive. This gives the impression that they are relaxed and enjoying the contact, but they are actually terrified. The longer they are kept in this state, the more stressed they become. It can take hours after being tranced for their stress hormones to return to normal levels.

Can wild rabbits also be tranced?

Yes, wild rabbits can enter a trance state as well. You may have seen viral videos of people trancing wild rabbits by rolling them over on their backs. But just like domestic rabbits, wild rabbits only become stiff and still like this when they feel severe stress and fear. They are not enjoying the contact with humans at all. Trancing is very disorienting and frightening for a wild rabbit. If possible, you should gently flip them back onto their feet and allow them to hop away.

What is NOT trancing?

It's important not to confuse trancing with some other normal rabbit behaviors. When relaxed, rabbits may flop over on their side. They often sleep with legs stretched out behind them. And they enjoy being petted while cradled in our arms, as long as they feel secure. These are all healthy behaviors, unlike the stress response of trancing. Watch for signs that your rabbit is tense, twitchy, or withdrawn, and stop any contact that seems to scare them.


Rabbits display a behavior called a "flop" when they feel safe and comfortable in their environment. The bunny gracefully drops down onto their side, legs stretched out behind them. They may casually groom themselves or even take a nap while flopped over. This shows the rabbit is happy and secure. It is very different than the stiff, terrified trance state.

Cradling a rabbit

Many rabbits enjoy being held against your chest and gently stroked while they relax in your arms. This allows close bonding time between you and your bunny. Make sure to support their hind legs and bottom fully so they feel secure. Watch for any signs of tension like squirming, digging claws into your shirt, or twisting their head around. These indicate discomfort. Let them go immediately if they seem to dislike being cradled. Proper handling will not induce a trance.

Why you should NOT trance your rabbit

Trancing is very stressful and frightening for domestic rabbits. Here are some key reasons why it should be avoided:

  • It induces a fear response rather than relaxation. The unresponsiveness is the rabbit "playing dead", not enjoying the contact.

  • The longer they are tranced, the more terrified they become. Their heart rate elevates and they cannot move to escape.

  • Frequent trancing causes ongoing anxiety and stress for the rabbit, even when not being held.

  • Trancing can lead to dangerous breathing and cardiac issues. Rabbits have delicate respiratory and cardiovascular systems.

  • Deaths have occurred from rabbits being tranced and the owner not realizing the distress signals.

  • Trancing destroys the bond of trust between rabbit and owner. The rabbit sees the owner as a predator.

How does a rabbit feel while being tranced?

Everything about the trance state is unpleasant, uncomfortable, and scary for the rabbit:

  • Fear and panic: The rabbit feels mortal peril since they cannot escape. Their body freezes in instinctual "play dead" mode.

  • Elevated heart rate: The rabbit's heart pounds as their stress levels rise from being trapped in an unnatural position.

  • Constrained breathing: Gravity pushes their organs against their lungs, making it difficult to get enough air. Their breath slows.

  • Muscle stiffness: Being frozen in an awkward pose with their spine bent causes muscle tension and cramps.

  • Disorientation: While tranced, their eyes dart around frantically trying to find an escape route.

  • Loss of control: The longer they are tranced, the more profound the feeling of helplessness becomes.

  • Anxiety: Even after being released, residual stress hormones remain elevated, causing ongoing anxiety.

What happens to a rabbit who is tranced frequently?

Rabbits who are frequently tranced by their owners can suffer many problems:

  • Increased baseline stress, anxiety, and fear levels

  • Deterioration of the human-animal bond and loss of trust

  • Development of aggressive or defensive behaviors like biting, lunging, scratching, etc.

  • Refusal to be held, lifted, or interact cooperatively

  • Depression, resignation, learned helplessness, and ceasing to struggle when tranced

  • Muscle tension, spinal misalignment, and nerve pain

  • Gastrointestinal disorders like reduced appetite, stasis, and diarrhea

  • Weakened cardiovascular system and irregular heart rhythms

  • Respiratory disease from compressed lungs

  • Eventual severe neurological effects or sudden death

What are the exceptions?

The only times a trance state may be deliberately induced are:

  • Emergency veterinary procedure when no anesthesia is possible. This should be done minimally and only by a qualified rabbit veterinarian.

  • Brief trancing by an experienced handler to examine the rabbit's teeth and clip nails. This should not be attempted by owners without proper training. Trancing for grooming should be very rare.

  • When transporting injured rabbits and certain positioning is vital. However, trancing should still be kept as brief as possible.

Owners should never intentionally trance their rabbit outside of these emergency medical situations. It is cruel and hazardous for a pet rabbit. Vets may trance or even anesthetize rabbits for their wellbeing during exams, but they take steps to minimize stress and monitor their state closely.

In summary, it is never acceptable to trance a rabbit for prolonged periods just for "cuddle time" or to keep them still. There are far better ways to interact positively with your pet bunny!


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