How To Comfort A Dying Rabbit


Our pets are not just animals they are family members. They give us love, company, and many wonderful memories.

Rabbits are not the exception. However, with a shorter lifespan than humans (rabbits can live on average 10 to 18 years depending on the breed), all rabbit owners would have, or will, suffer their loss at one point or another.

When that dreaded time comes, all we can do is make them feel comfortable and loved.

5 ways to keep your rabbit comfortable while he/she approaches the rainbow are:

  • Keeping them and their environment at an optimal temperature, 
  • Provide them with a clean, calm and quiet sleeping quarters, 
  • Keep them fed and watered to prevent them from developing GI stasis and  dehydration,
  • Give them loads of attention,
  • Provide pain management medication (only if prescribed by the vet) 

Below we expand further on the 5 ways you can make your beloved rabbit comfortable before they cross the rainbow, and provide you with a guide on what are the signs of a dying rabbit. 

5 Ways To Make Your Dying Rabbit Comfortable 

Below are 5 ways to make your furry long ear friend comfortable as he/she approaches the rainbow.

Keep Them And Their Room At A Comfortable Temperature

To make your sick or dying rabbit comfortable, ensure their body and ambient temperature is optimal.

The optimal body temperature for a rabbit ranges between 100 °F to 103 °F (38.3 °C to 39.4 °C). However, sick or dying rabbits may experience lower or higher temperatures.

Higher temperatures will signify fever, lower temperature hypothermia. Neither is good and both can make your rabbit uncomfortable and potentially be life-threatening.

If your rabbit’s temperature is low (below 100 °F (37 °C)), immediate attention is required or your rabbit will go into shock.

To bring their temperature up:

  • Place a hot water bottle or heating pads (wrapped in towels to avoid burning your rabbit) under their bedding, 
  • Turn on a heater in the room, but ensure the temperature does not go higher than 70 °F (21 °C) or your rabbit will be too hot and may dehydrate, and 
  • Place a blanket on top of the rabbit. Ensure you do not wrap your rabbit with the blanket or they won’t be able to get away if they start to get too hot.

If your rabbit’s temperature is high (especially if it is above 106 °F (41 °C)), bring their temperature down immediately or your rabbit may suffer permanent physical damage. 

To bring their temperature down: 

  • Place a cold pack (wrapped in blankets to avoid frostbites) under their bedding, 
  • Cool your rabbit’s ear with an ice cube or cool water. If using ice cube be very careful not to cause frostbite.
  • Place a fan near the rabbit, or if available turn the air conditioning on in the room, but ensure the temperature of the room does not go lower than 55 °F (12 °C) or your rabbit may get too cold.  

As the body temperature of a rabbit may vary during the day, their temperature should be taken at different times of the day. 

To take your rabbit’s body temperature use a plastic thermometer and insert it in their rectum. Please ensure this is done correctly or you can hurt your rabbit. 

In this post, I have added a youtube video on how to take the body temperature of your rabbit. However, for better results, I suggest you ask your vet to show you how to do this. 

Provide Them With A Clean, Calm and A Quiet Sleeping Quarters 

As your beloved long-eared friend approaches death, he/she will need to sleep more to preserve the little energy they may have.

To keep them comfortable as they rest, ensure they have a place that is clean, dark, and away from noise, draught and/or dampness. 

The resting area also needs to be big enough to allow your rabbit to stretch out comfortably in all directions, and high enough to allow your rabbit to stand up on its back legs without their ears touching the top of their enclosure.

Bedding is essential to provide insulation, a place to hide, something to nibble on and to give them comfort and safety. 

This should consist of:

  • A lining material such as newspaper,  
  • A deep overlay of shredded paper, straw and/or hay to provide warmth, insulation and the possibility to hide under it if the rabbit needs it, and
  • A 5cm layer of peat or cat litter to absorb any urine away from the rabbit’s skin. Do not use wood shavings as this may contain pine or clay which is harmful to rabbits.

Rabbits often urinate and defecate regularly. Although most rabbits tend to urinate and defecate in certain areas away from where they sleep, a sick rabbit may not be able to move as often and thus may have to urinate and defecate in the area he/she is resting. To avoid them laying in their urine, clean their sleeping quarters daily.

Provide Them With Easy Access To Food And Water

Rabbits need to eat constantly and drink on average 50 to 100 ml of water per 1 kg of body weight daily.

A sick or dying rabbit may refuse to eat or drink, however, this will cause them discomfort and in turn be deadly. 

Rabbits can go without a big meal or their favorite treats for up to 12 hours. However, rabbits are grazers, if they stop eating completely for over 12 hours they run the risk that their metabolism will stop working, this is called gastrointestinal (GI) stasis, and it is a medical emergency. To avoid your rabbit from developing GI ensure they are eating regularly. 

This is the chance to spoil them with their favorite foods, offer them a carrot or a cauliflower, or whatever food they love the most, this is a great way to say goodbye.

If their favourite foods are not enticing them to eat, ensure they are at least grazing on the hay you have in their cage with them.

Drinking is also essential for your furry friend to be comfortable. A rabbit that goes for over 24 hours without drinking can experience organ failure, dehydration, and intestinal blockages.  

If your rabbit is refusing to eat or drink speak with your veterinarian straight away.

If there is no access to your vet, for a short period of time, it may be that you will have to force-feed them until you have a chance to speak with your vet. 

To force-feed your rabbit purchase two feeding syringes from a pet store. One to feel it with their favorite pure vegetables or specialized nutritional food, and the other one to fill with water. 

Put the rabbit under your elbow (be careful you do not squish them) and secure its head with your index finger, finally insert the syringe in their mouth. 

Go slowly to prevent your rabbit from choking. Give them 1 ml of food followed by 5 to 10 ml of water.

Below I have added a YouTube video to give you an indication of how to force-feed your rabbit.

Warning – Force-feeding your rabbit is only a temporary solution, please ensure you speak with your vet as soon as it is possible as they need to check your furry friend.

Give Them Loads Of Attention

Rabbits are very sociable creatures and like loads of attention, and now that they are unwell, it is the perfect opportunity to show them how much you love them and how much they mean to you. 

Cuddle them, pet them and groom them; but also allow them to retreat if they need to.

Let them set the pace of how much attention they want and how often they want it.

Pain Management

Pain management is crucial during those final days to make your fairy friend feel comfortable. The problem here is that rabbits never vocalize pain, instead, they hide it, and hide it well.

This is because rabbits are at the bottom of the food chain, so they will attempt everything to not advertise that they are an easy meal.

Some signs that will tell you that your fairy friend is in pain are:

  • Increase in respiration, 
  • Reluctance to move, 
  • Sudden aggression, 
  • Persistently squinting the eyes, 
  • A loss of interest in the surroundings or an inability to rest or sleep normally, 
  • If there is abdominal pain, a rabbit may sit in a hunched posture, 
  • A rabbit with sore feet may lie stretched out. However, a rabbit stretched out with feet kicked back can also be showing that he is content and relaxed. So look for any of the other signs to confirm if he/she is in pain.
  • Loud tooth grinding can indicate pain. However, rabbits can normally exhibit quieter, infrequent tooth grinding as a sign of contentment. So look for any of the other signs to confirm if he/she is in pain.

If your rabbit expresses any of the above signs take them to the vets, to ensure they have the correct medication to alleviate their pain and make them feel comfortable. 

Please do not give any medication to your rabbit unless it has been prescribed by a qualified vet.

Why Do Rabbits Scream When They Die?

The scream of a rabbit will send chills down your spine, this is because: 1) they sound like a terrifying child, and 2) it is often for something severe. It is never a false alarm.

It is unusual for rabbits to vocalize anything that will put them in danger, but when they experience sudden pain, anxiety or a seizure they may give a high-pitched squeal, quite unnerving to any person hearing it. 

So, if your rabbit is dying and you hear the unnerving scream, stay close to them and contact your vet. It may be time for them to cross the rainbow. Your vet can help your rabbit do this in a painless and dignified way.

How Do Rabbits Act Before They Die

Every rabbit’s behaviour will vary depending on their personality, and whether they are dying from an illness or an old age.

Below we have highlighted 7 signs your rabbit may experience as they approach the end. 

Refuse Food or Drink

Rabbits are grazers, this is an essential part of keeping their metabolism and digestive system functioning in top-notch.

A rabbit that stops eating for more than 12 hours is at high risk of developing bad bacteria in their intestines. These bacteria will release gas into the system, causing very painful bloating and further decreasing your rabbit’s feeling of wanting food and/or water. 

These bacteria will not only starve them but it will increase the risk for life-threatening infections taking over their digestive tract.

If your rabbit is not eating his/her favorite foods or grazing in the hay you put on their cage in the morning/evening, take them to the vets straight away.

If access to your vet is limited, you can try to force-feed them. In the first section of this article, I have added a video on how to do this. However be warned, this is only a temporary solution. The vet is ultimate your best solution.

Lose Interest In Grooming 

Rabbits are clean creatures, and grooming is a way to keep themselves clean. But if your rabbit is not eating or drinking, or is in pain; the chances are that he/she may not have the necessary energy to keep themselves clean.

Instead, this is something you can do for them, what a great way to spend with your furry friend, what a great way to show them how much they mean to you.

Remember that rabbits have sensitive skin and that your rabbit may be in pain form whatever illness he/she is dying from, so ensure this is done gently and carefully.

Become Lethargic

A healthy and happy rabbit will want to run, jump, play, and explore.

However, when a rabbit is in pain or lack food in their system; they may become lethargic and uninspired to do anything.

If your rabbit is lethargic, see your vet straight away as medication to control the pain may be required.

Change In Vital Signs

When a rabbit is close to death, they may experience a change in their vital signs such as:

  • Shortness of breath (respiratory frequency in a healthy rabbit is 30 to 60 breaths per minute), 
  • Lower temperature than usual (<100 0F/38 0C), and 
  • Changes in their heart rate (in a healthy rabbit the heart rate oscillates between 180 and 250 beats per minute).

Behavioural Change

If your rabbit is ill or old and suddenly they become aggressive or starts to hide and doesn’t want to interact, it may be that the end is near. These changes in behaviour may be attributed to fear as they realize the end is coming.

If however, your rabbit is young and healthy and suddenly there is a change in behavior, take them to the vets straight away as there may be an underlying illness lurking around.

Alteration To Breathing

As your rabbit approaches the end, their breathing pattern will change causing a rattling sound; this is known as the death rattle.

This is one of the last symptoms your rabbit will experience before death.

If your rabbit starts to experience this behaviour; stay close to them, speak to them in comforting tones, pet them and show them how much they mean to you; this is your last chance to say goodbye.

Release of Bowels

Another last symptom your rabbit will experience as dead approaches, is a sudden release of their bowels.

If this happens, stay calm, don’t get frustrated and remember this is something they can’t help.

What Are The Illness That Can Kill Your Rabbit

Upper Airway Disease

A healthy rabbit will only breathe through their nose. If your rabbit is attempting to breathe through their mouth, they may be battling an upper airway disease.

The signs that your rabbit is breathing through their mouth are:

  • Tilting back their head to try and get more air in their lungs,
  • Breathing is very loud, and
  • Your rabbit is drooling. 

If your rabbit is breathing through their mouth, take your rabbit to the vet straight away as urgent attention is required.

Runny Eyes, Nose, and Sneezing

If the discharge is whitish and thick, it may be an indication of a bacterial infection in the upper respiratory system. If your rabbit is experiencing this discharge, take them to the vets for a diagnosis.

Extreme Changes In Body Temperature

A healthy rabbit’s temperature will be between 100 °F to 103 °F (38.3 °C to 39.4 °C). 

However, sick or dying rabbits may experience lower or higher temperatures.

Higher temperature will signify fever, lower temperature hypothermia. Neither is good and both can be life-threatening.

If your rabbit experience lower temperatures than 100 °F or higher temperatures than 106 °F, stabilize their temperature straight away (see first section (5 ways to make your rabbit comfortable) for tips on how to bring up or down the temperature of your rabbit). 

Once their temperature has been brought up or down (depending on what is required), take your rabbit to the vets straight away.

Seizures

Seizures can be caused by infectious agents, toxins or metabolic disorders. So if your rabbit starts experiencing sudden seizures, take them to the vets straight away.

Vocalization

Rabbits do not usually vocalize when they are in pain, this is so they protect themselves from predators. This is their way to prevent becoming an easy meal.

However, when a rabbit is in a lot of pain or is very scared, they may start squeaking, whimpering, grunting, and/or whining.

If your rabbit seems unable to control their vocalizing, coupled with other signs from this list a visit to the vets is warranted.

Tooth Grinding

Loud tooth grinding is a sign of pain. Be aware that this tooth grinding is different from the less-loud “tooth purring” you may hear when your rabbit is snuggling with you. 

Wet Chin or Drooling 

This action is known as slobber, and it is often caused by tooth problems or malocclusion.

If your rabbit is experiencing drooling, and you noticed a decrease in appetite and ability to eat hard foods such as a whole carrot; see your vet straight away.

If this is left untreated your rabbit can develop an infection in the jaw bone potentially costing them their life. 

Tularemia

Tularemia, also known as Rabbit Fever, is a bacterial infection that can be passed from rabbits to humans and can be deadly to both species.

Symptoms are: 

  • Fever, 
  • Lethargy, 
  • Loss of Appetite, 
  • Increased heart rate
  • Increased breathing rate, and
  • Confusion

If you or your rabbit are experiencing any of the above symptoms see the doctor/vet straight away.

Conclusion

Rabbits are sensitive and delicate creatures, but when they are suffering they will try to avoid at all costs telling us that they are in pain and that they need our help. This is their instinct telling them to remain strong and avoid advertising to potential predators that they are an easy meal. 

As death approaches your role is to be present and provide comfort to your beloved furry long ear friend, to help him/her reach the rainbow in a calm and dignified way.

To make your rabbit comfortable during his/her final months, weeks and days:

  • Keep them and their room at a comfortable temperature
  • Provide them with a clean, calm and a quiet sleeping quarters
  • Provide them with easy access to food and water
  • Give them loads of attention
  • Provide pain management (if prescribed by the vets)

And remember, if in doubt, talk to your vet. They are the best people to help you keep your beautiful furry friend as comfortable as humanly possible during his final time on earth. 

Carolina

I'm Carolina and created this blog, to provide practical advice and emotional comfort for those dealing with pet loss.

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