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Q&A: Why Did My Baby Rabbit Die Suddenly?

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Dr. Mark is a veterinarian. He works with dogs, cats, exotics, and livestock.

Unfortunately, there are many possible causes of sudden death in rabbits.

Unfortunately, there are many possible causes of sudden death in rabbits.

What Caused My Baby Rabbit's Sudden Death?

"My baby female bunny died suddenly on Friday afternoon. She was smaller than the male sibling. They live in a large cage inside our garage with their parents at night. On warm days, we allow the two babies out in a small run to eat and exercise with their parents. If it’s nice out, usually twice a day.

I picked her up to put her back in the cage (as you know, bunnies hate being picked up) she struggled a bit as usual but was fine. I left them in the garage with food, water, and hay, and when my son checked them to feed them after school she was lying half in half out of her plastic hideout on her side with one eye open and the other side she was lying on was shut.

I thought maybe she had GI stasis so I sent my son out for the baby gas drops, but as I picked her up I realized she was dead and obviously had been for some time as she was quite stiff.

There were no obvious signs of trauma at all. There was a little bit of mucus around her mouth, but it was closed. The cage was clean and perfectly safe, she ate well, and her diet was hay and fresh grass with a bit of salad and a few pellets.

We do not have any dogs or cats and the other rabbits are all fine.

What could possibly have happened? They’re not afraid of loud noises as I have two boys who play music around them and my family are noisy anyway." —Tracey

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Stress Is a Common Cause of Sudden Rabbit Death

It certainly does not sound like anything from the home since you do not have a dog or cat, but are there many strays around? One of the reasons baby bunnies die suddenly is from stress, and if there was a stray cat around the cages bothering her it may have been from that.

This can happen days later, so even if the cat was not in your garage, it still may have been the cause of death. In my last house, a neighbor's cat used to come over to my place and torment my babies nightly. Many died without any signs of trauma.

Stress can also be caused by people, but since the rabbits are used to your sons and hearing noise and music, this is less likely.

Other Common Causes of Death in Bunnies

There are many other causes of sudden death in young rabbits. Diarrhea is a problem if they are eating lettuce, but you would normally see signs around the tail. Fly strike is also common this time of year but since you looked her over and did not find any wounds, that is unlikely.

The only definitive way to diagnose the cause of sudden death is by an autopsy. (1) Even then, there may be a viral cause of death (2) or stress that does not show up when the animal is necropsied.

Sometimes we just have to watch the other rabbits and investigate further if a second animal dies. If one of her brothers dies, be sure to take him to your vet as soon as you find him so that he can be necropsied.

Sources

  1. El-Ashram S, Aboelhadid SM, Abdel-Kafy EM, Hashem SA, Mahrous LN, Farghly EM, Kamel AA. Investigation of Pre- and Post-Weaning Mortalities in Rabbits Bred in Egypt, with Reference to Parasitic and Bacterial Causes. Animals (Basel). 2020 Mar 24;10(3):537. doi: 10.3390/ani10030537. Erratum in: Animals (Basel). 2020 Apr 10;10(4) https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32213946/
  2. Lee CS, Park CK, Shin TK, Cho YJ, Jyeong JS. An outbreak of rabbit sudden death in Korea suspected of a new viral hepatitis. Nihon Juigaku Zasshi. 1990 Oct;52(5):1135-7. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/2280498/

This article is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from your veterinarian. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.

© 2022 Dr Mark

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