How To Know If Your Rabbit is Dying
Determining if your rabbit is dying can be difficult, as rabbits are prey animals and have evolved to hide signs of illness and distress. However, there are several key signs that may indicate your rabbit is nearing the end of life. Being aware of these signs can help you provide comfort care and prepare for saying goodbye.
The most telling sign is a significant change in your rabbit's normal behavior and activity levels. A dying rabbit will often withdraw from social interaction, move less, and sleep more. Your rabbit may stop grooming itself properly and seem generally disinterested in things that used to bring them joy.
Monitor your rabbit's eating and drinking habits closely. A decreased appetite and reduction in pellets consumed is common as a rabbit's health declines. However, complete anorexia is a very bad sign. Likewise, a dying rabbit may drink less due to fatigue.
It's important to note that rabbits can deteriorate very quickly once ill. Any significant changes in behavior or eating that last for more than 12 hours warrant an immediate vet visit. Never assume your rabbit is simply "having an off day." Trust your instincts if your rabbit seems off.
While none of these signs guarantee a rabbit is dying, they do require urgent veterinary care. Only a vet can accurately diagnose the cause and determine if your rabbit's condition is reversible or not. With prompt treatment, some rabbits can recover even from very serious illnesses. Have hope, but act quickly at the first signs of trouble.
Refusing To Eat Food
Rabbits must eat frequently to stay healthy. Their digestive systems are designed to process large amounts of plant matter continuously. When a rabbit stops eating, things go downhill fast.
A dying rabbit will often lose interest in food altogether. You may notice uneaten pellets accumulating in your rabbit's bowl. They will not eagerly come running for treats or mealtimes. Your rabbit may sniff its food, take a small bite, but then walk away disinterested.
While healthy rabbits may occasionally skip a meal, refusal to eat for 12 hours or more is cause for alarm. Likewise, if your rabbit's appetite seems decreased for multiple days in a row, something is wrong.
A dying rabbit loses the natural drive to eat. This results from extreme fatigue as the body starts shutting down. Pain or nausea can also suppress appetite. And in the final days, your rabbit may lose the strength to chew and swallow food.
You can try syringe feeding critical care formula or blended pellets to dying rabbits. But if they consistently refuse or spit it out, forcing food will cause more stress. At that point, keeping your rabbit comfortable is the priority.
Never withhold food from a sick rabbit! Offer fresh hay and encourages eating until the very end. But anorexia in rabbits is usually irreversible and requires humane euthanasia. Saying goodbye is better than prolonged suffering.
Unusual Level of Lethargy
Rabbits are naturally active creatures and tend to only sleep deeply for short periods. A pronounced lethargy or inability to keep their head up is therefore a very concerning sign.
A dying rabbit will spend more and more time laying down in one spot. They may no longer have enough energy to move around their enclosure freely or interact with you.
Your rabbit may still waddle over to food and water, but then quickly return to rest. Or they may stop leaving their hideaway or nesting area entirely.
It's normal for a rabbit to sleep more as they age. But a dramatic increase in time spent inactive signals health issues. Make sure to monitor your senior rabbit closely for other symptoms.
Along with lethargy, you may notice your rabbit struggling to get into a loaf position. Their back legs may slide out behind them rather than staying tucked. This decreased muscle tone and balance is a red flag.
Contact your vet if your formerly energetic rabbit now seems to "crash" for extended periods. Frequent napping and low activity levels can progress quickly in small pets. Time is critical when dealing with sudden lethargy.
Skin problems are common in rabbits as their health fails. This includes ulcerated sores, abscesses, and infected tumor sites.
As a rabbit stops grooming itself, their coat may become matted and dirty. You may see dandruff flakes accumulate. Their nails can overgrow and curl without proper maintenance.
Check your rabbit's body thoroughly each day when ill. Look for any areas of red, swollen, or tender skin. Also watch for weeping wounds, crusty scabs, and thick discharge. Hair loss around the nose and eyes is also of concern.
Skin conditions allow dangerous bacteria to enter a rabbit's bloodstream. This causes systemic infection which can be fatal.
Even minor wounds need immediate veterinary treatment in rabbits. Antibiotics, anti-inflammatory medication, and pain control are often necessary.
Make your rabbit as comfortable as possible. You can gently wipe any discharge from their skin with a warm, damp cloth. Keep them on soft, clean bedding to avoid pressure sores.
Skin problems indicate an immunocompromised state. Do your best to limit stress and keep their environment sterile until the vet can be seen.
Myiasis is a disturbing condition that can affect dying rabbits both indoor and outdoor. This results when fly larvae infect open wounds and start eating the rabbit's necrotic flesh.
Rabbits suffering from myiasis develop ugly, oozing sores riddled with maggots. The larvae burrow holes into their skin, causing great pain and tissue damage.
Though deeply upsetting to witness, remember myiasis is not the rabbit's fault. Maggots only infect already decaying tissue. This condition develops when an ill rabbit can no longer groom or care for its wounds.
Myiasis must be treated by a vet immediately. The larvae must be fully removed and antibiotics started. Your rabbit will also need pain control and wound care.
To help prevent myiasis, keep your sick rabbit indoors away from flies. Monitor their skin vigilantly and treat any injuries. Never use rabbit fleece or fabric bedding outdoors.
While grim, myiasis is often a factor in geriatric and terminal rabbits. Focus on relieving your rabbit's suffering versus the disturbing appearance of the infection. Keeping them comfortable is what matters most.
Change in Vital Signs
Measuring your rabbit's vital signs helps detect changes signaling health crisis. As your rabbit dies, you will see deterioration in:
Body temperature – Hypothermia below 99 F is a dire sign.
Heart and breathing rate – Bradycardia and respiratory depression occur closer to death.
Nose and ear color – Pale colors indicate blood flow issues.
Capillary refill time – Press on the gums and time how long it takes blood to return. Anything over 2 seconds is abnormal.
Your rabbit's initial disease may actually elevate vitals like heart rate, temperature, and breathing rate. But as their body starts to shut down, these levels eventually drop.
Get familiar with your rabbit's normal vitals when they are healthy. This makes deviations easier to identify when ill.
Sudden temperature crashes, severe lethargy, and heart rates under 150 bpm are all critical warning signs. Contact your vet without delay to begin supportive care.
Monitor vitals multiple times daily in sick rabbits. Write the numbers down to track changes over time. This helps your vet determine how quickly disease is progressing.
Labored breathing and respiratory distress are common in dying rabbits. This results from lung congestion, infections, cancer, heart issues, and simple exhaustion.
You may notice your rabbit breathing with an open mouth. Their sides may move irregularly in and out. Wheezing, gurgling, or crackling sounds are also concerning.
Lack of strength means a dying rabbit cannot clear fluids from their airways. This causes choking episodes and panic. Their nose may discharge thick mucus tinged with blood.
Try to keep your struggling rabbit calm. Gently wipe away any nasal discharge with tissue. Speak softly and stoke their head to provide comfort.
Prop your rabbit's head up on soft towels to facilitate easier air flow. Keep their enclosure at a comfortable temperature and humidity level. You can run a humidifier to help loosen mucus secretions.
If breathing stops entirely, immediately perform rescue breaths and chest compressions. Then rush to the emergency vet for oxygen therapy.
Change in Urine or Feces
Monitor your rabbit's waste closely for signs of organ failure. Urine and stool changes indicate the dying body can no longer process waste.
You may notice a drastic reduction in fecal pellets as food intake decreases. Diarrhea or very small and misshapen poops are of concern. Discontinuing cecotropes also signals health crisis.
Likewise, your rabbit may pass no urine or only small amounts of concentrated, dark yellow urine. Odd color urine like red, orange, or brown indicates organ damage or cancer.
Urine scald from soiled fur around the hindquarters is another red flag. It signals a dying rabbit is too weak to clean itself properly.
If your rabbit stops urinating for 12 hours or more, this is an emergency. Take them to a vet immediately because toxins build up fast. The kidneys have likely shut down.
While gross to manage, keep your rabbit's hind end clean during incontinence. Change soiled bedding promptly to avoid scalding. Your vet can prescribe medication to encourage waste passage until the end.
Listen closely for any strange vocalizations from your dying rabbit. Unfamiliar sounds may indicate breathing trouble or pain.
Wheezing, gurgling, crackling, and whistling sounds signal respiratory distress. Your rabbit may grunt, gasp, or cough when struggling to breathe.
Tooth grinding or purring can signal nausea, gut pain, or neurological issues. Screaming or crying out is a sign of severe pain requiring emergency vet care.
Buzzing indicates snot or mucus obstructing the airways. Use a towel to wipe away any discharge around the nose. Keep your rabbit's face clean.
Moaning or groaning may occur when shifting position due to arthritis or muscle wasting. Dying rabbits vocalize more from general discomfort.
Do not dismiss odd sounds your rabbit makes as insignificant. Any change in vocalization warrants a medical workup. Relieving any suffering is top priority.
Noticeable drooling or wetness around your rabbit's mouth is abnormal. Rabbits cannot vomit, so excess salivation signals distress.
Drooling may occur along with tooth grinding as nausea develops. Your rabbit may spit up cecotrophes rather than eating them.
Dental pain from infection also leads to profuse drooling. Abscesses, overgrown molars, and ulcers all hurt badly. The mouth waters in response.
Neurological conditions like stroke can impact swallowing. Your rabbit may pool saliva without being able to swallow it down.
Cancer or trauma to the jaw results in extreme mouth pain. Anything preventing chewing leads to drool dripping down their chin.
Wipe your rabbit's face gently but frequently to prevent drool matting the fur. Have your vet examine their mouth for injuries or dental issues.
You can provide relief by syringe feeding Recovery Support food for rabbits. This liquid diet bypasses the mouth to provide nutrition and fluids.
If your rabbit starts shivering, trembling, or twitching abnormally, take immediate action. Do not write this off a temporary chill.
Uncontrolled shaking signals your rabbit's body is under severe stress. Causes can include shock, organ failure, hypothermia, blood toxicity, and neurological damage.
Shivering may start sporadically, but worsen quickly. Your rabbit's legs and head may shake and spasm without control. Their teeth may chatter constantly.
Wrap your shivering rabbit in a blanket fresh from the dryer for immediate warmth. Place plastic bottles filled with hot water near their body as well. Preventing hypothermia is critical.
Get to an emergency vet without delay. IV fluids, oxygen therapy, and injectable medication are needed to manage shock episodes.
Do not try to force feed or handle your rabbit during violent shivering. Focus only on passive warming methods. Medication must treat the underlying cause.
In the final days, you may notice your rabbit experiencing seizures or involuntary muscle spasms. This results from multiple organ failure.
Your rabbit may cry out and fall on their side as spasms take over. They may seem unable to breathe during the episode. Foaming at the mouth is also common.
Try to cushion your rabbit's body during seizures. Place towels or blankets under them to prevent injury. Do not restrain or restrict their movement.
Time the episodes using your phone's stopwatch. Brief focal seizures under 2 minutes do not require medication. But if convulsions last over 5 minutes, this is a dire emergency.
Blood toxicity from kidney failure causes most end-of-life seizure activity in rabbits. Their brain functions start to deteriorate as toxins build up.
If your rabbit experiences clusters of many seizures in a row, humane euthanasia is recommended. At this point, their suffering is too great.
While scary to witness, remember seizures are involuntary. Your rabbit is not aware or scared during convulsions. Stay calm as you comfort them.