Is my Bunny Dying? What You Need to Know
My Beautiful Cocoa
Cute, Cuddly, and Love-able! Cocoa's Story
I know, its super morbid, not everyone wants to read about the death of anything, but having had a gorgeous, loving and affectionate bunny, Cocoa, for 6 years, and then having to witness and console her as she was dying last week was one of the most terrifying, traumatizing and completely horrific experiences of my life. Seeing her in pain and suffering was terrifying and heartbreaking. She was a part of our family, she welcomed us when we came home, she looked for kisses and hugs on an hourly basis, and for a while she slept under our bed at night (until she started to jump onto the bed and pee on us as we slept). She loved cuddles, and would lie with us for hours just snoozing and gnawing away(a bunny version of a cat purring). She was so loved, and had free roam of the entire house, which she absolutely loved. She had her favorite spots all over the house, and certain times that she would spend in each. Her death has left us broken, and since I know there are so many bunny parents out there, I thought it would be important to show the truth about how to look after a dying bunny. Its not as easy as bringing them to the vet and putting them down when they are pain, because in truth, rabbits are prone to sickness, and will sometimes get very ill, then suddenly come out of it. We woke up one moring to find poor Cocoa lying down unable to life her head, she wouldn't eat anything and we were so worried. She was rushed to the vet and treated for pneumonia. She was so sick for about 2 days then all of a sudden, back to her bouncy self. You just never know. Cocoa is also not the only bunny I've been with as they died. When we first brought her home, we brought her brother too. They loved each other so much and spent their days grooming each other, but after around 6 or 7 months, a cat broke into their enclosure and poor Pebbles was hurt defending his sister. At first we thought he had broken his leg, so brought him to the vet. He had to stay in overnight and I collected him the next day to amazing news from the vet that he was absolutely fine, but possibly frightened. He died that night in my arms.
Having witnessed two bunny deaths now (not something I'l ever be proud of), I've noticed that both were identical, even though there were two very different causes. Its not an easy slip away, it's a long, gruelling experience that will absolutely affect you, its inevitable. If you loved your bunny, then being there for the death will impact you more than you think possible.
So before we get into the sad part, here's a little info:
Rabbits, are without a doubt an amazing animal have in your home. Affectionate and unique, they are so easily kept. Personally, I don't agree with hutches, rabbits are extremely sociable characters, and can get lonely and depressed if they are confined. we had Cocoa in a hutch in the garden for 2 years with a little enclosure for her to run around in outside and eat the grass. The hutch broke and we brought her in. After day two we vowed never to put her back! She had changed so much from being outside, she was running around the house, sitting on the couch beside us and looking for kisses, she loved her freedom, and we loved her being so happy.
I have always researched bunnies, about what to expect if they get ill, or how to look after them properly, the food they are to eat, everything. In my research I found that for some Breeds (Cocoa was one) can live to the age of 10 and in some cases 12. We were over the moon. We looked into getting her spayed but were always warned against normal vets and female rabbits. You need rabbit specialists, otherwise the survival rate is staggeringly low. We opted against in the end, as she was on her own anyway (poor Pebbles) and although every site said that it makes your rabbit easier to deal with as they can be difficult at times we thought she was a relatively easy bunny, Yes she did chew bloody everything, and scratch the floor, and kick her feet when she was unhappy, but that's what rabbits do. I wasn't going to risk possibly losing her, just so we could have an easier time looking after her.
Only recently have I been made aware that it actually increases the rabbits life if done successfully. Rabbits can indeed live to about 12, but ONLY if they are INDOOR rabbits that have been spayed or neutered. This is possibly my biggest regret. Cocoa died at 6 years of age, half of what I expected. So, if you have a Bunny that's left in a hutch, expect to live up to about 2 maybe three years if its lucky (or unlucky since an existence of being caged seems fairly unlucky to me).
Cocoa playing with a ragdoll made from old T-shirts
Yes this Hub is going to be filled with Pictures of Cocoa....
Getting to the Sad Part...
So, you've had your bunny for years, they are part of the family, you can't imagine a day when you get home and they aren't running around your feet, or jumping around. Then one day you get home and there's something wrong.
For us, we woke up, went downstairs and there she was, sprawled out on the floor, legs behind her, head not even able to move. I am not good in these situations, I'm the person who literally runs from problems, I sliced my finger open once in the kitchen, and just ran, I mean I literally ran from the kitchen to the front door, then to living room, as if I could run from the actual cut. Of course I didn't run from Cocoa, I picked her up and she flopped in my arms, Adrian ran to get a pillow, and we put her on it to bring her straight to the vet. She had to stay a few hours, so we left begrudgingly, in tears thinking it was going to be last time we would see her. That entire day was a mess, we sat around just hoping. And then the call came, but it was good news, she was treated for something with a crazy long name that I can't even remember and she was sitting up happy out.
After we brought her home, it was constant supervision, she was still unsteady on her legs, she wouldn't eat or drink, just sit there. These are important to notice, its never a good sign if your bunny refuses to eat. They eat non-stop all day, so its a massive problem if they don't. Over the course of the day, she nibbled on a few bits of apple and carrot. She wouldn't move from the fireplace, so we decided to sleep down beside her, we couldn't bear to leave her on her own, and we didn't want to risk moving her. Over the course of the night though she perked up, she was walking to her water dish and eating all night. She snuggled in beside Adrian and dozed for a few hours. By the morning she was just about her old self. Hopping around, eating well and drinking plenty of water. We brought her to the vet for a check, and the vet was delighted. She gave her one more treatment and sent us home with a rabbit on the mend.
Cocoa on the fireplace, where she stayed for most of the day
What To Expect
That same day we sat in the living room, with cocoa moving around and seeming really happy. Out of nowhere she freaked out. She jumped up, ran into the door, twisted her neck back and flopped. I ran to calm her down, tried to hold her and console her, but for a minute or two, it seemed impossible. Her little heart started beating so fast, she was breathing really heavily, and we rushed her back to the vet. We were told she was just stressed out, but when the vet shone a light on her eyes I noticed there was no reaction. Our vet didn't point it out, she just said that she thought Cocoa would be happier at home, and to bring her back in the morning. She gave us advice about putting her in a cushioned box though, to keep her comfortable and stop her from hurting herself if she freaked out again. We had to borrow one, but covered it in blankets and cushions.
I do want to say first though, that if your rabbit is showing any of these signs, bring them to the vet immediately. We had brought Cocoa back that day and were told to bring her home, which is why we didn't try to do anything drastic, we knew she was dying.
So here's what to expect: (and its not pretty):
- Not eating or drinking. Sick bunnies won't eat or drink much but this is not a sign of death, just a sign they are ill.
- A lot of groaning, and small squeaks. Its seems involuntary, and is heartbreaking to hear.
- Limp body. Usually they will be weak and unable to move, so its best to leave them rather than trying to pick them up. Bunnies that flop are in serious danger, and if they haven't been already, a trip to the vet is hugely important in these situations.
- No Reactions. Dying bunnies wont respond to anything, and will be very still for long periods of time.
- Involuntary jerks and movements. This is the most terrifying to watch. Although we had the padded box for cocoa to make sure she wasn't going to hurt herself, she jerked so much that she was hitting off the roof and was constrained at the same time. The best thing to do in this situation is to clear a large space on the floor, put down a duvet and pillows and place your bunny there carefully. You'll be surprised how far they can move when they start jerking, so we had to clear the entire living room floor so that she wouldn't hit anything. I don't recommend holding them down, this can damage and hurt them even more.
- Dribbling. A lot. Cocoa was dribbling so much the entire duvet was nearly soaked, which seems impossible, but there you have it.
- Shivering. Shivering is also a bad sign, it means they are either really cold, suffering from shock, or a combination of the two. the best thing to do is to place a small light blanket over them. DO NOT tuck them in...they need space to move.
- Heavy spasms. When they begin to jerk rapidly, squeak and move around very quickly, Im sorry to say your Bunny will not live much longer. Both Cocoa and Pebbles had massive fits right before they died.
Water should always be left in front of them when they are sick but don't try to feed it to them.
What they need during this time is simply to be comforted. Don't try to interfere as it could only stress them out more. We weren't sure whether Cocoa even knew we were there, but for the entire time we stroked and kissed her, whispered to her and made sure she knew we were there. After a long six hours she was still and we knew that she was gone.
The most important thing to remember is NOT to stress your bunny out even more than they already are. A lot of movement, and forced drinking is not good, don't try to get them to sit up, the likelihood is, if your rabbit is experiencing two or more of the above, then it is dying. Just be there for them and let them know you love them, its all we can really do as bunny parents.
Some of my previous hubs on owning a bunny:
- Bonding with your Bunny.
Do you have a bunny who doesn't want to be touched or cuddled? With some time and dedication you could have a bunny who feels safe enough in your company to be picked up or cuddled.
- Litter Training Rabbits
If you have a pet bunny tht is indoors a lot, then you probably want to know how to litter train a rabbit. It can easily be done with a little time and patience. See here to learn how.
- Is my Rabbit Happy? The tell-tale signs
Many people have rabbits as pets or for breeding, but are their rabbits actually happy? Here are the telltale signs of whether your bunny is a happy one or a sad one.
- DIY Bunny Toys
If you don't have the budget to buy toys for your bunny, no need to fret. Your bunny will love these home-made toys that you can make from things in your home!!
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.