Common Causes of Sudden Death in Healthy Rabbits
We all remember the happy day we got our pet bunnies. Sadly, some rabbits that appear perfectly healthy die for no apparent reason. There is always a cause of death, no matter how sudden. As heartbreaking as it is, the bunny must have suffered from some illness, stress, or injury.
The Life Cycle of a Domestic Rabbit
Rabbits are born in litters of 1-14. They start eating what their mother eats at around three weeks and can leave their mother at eight weeks. Most male rabbits (bucks) become sexually mature at around four months. This is a good age to have your male neutered. Females (does) can die from being spayed as it is a major operation. I suggest only sterilizing male rabbits.
Most rabbits stop growing between 18-24 months of age and a healthy rabbit can live for 9-12 years. While giant breeds will not usually live to eight years, a healthy standard or dwarf rabbit will live to a full life span provided it is cared for properly. Rabbits become senior citizens at 7-8 years of age. The Holland Lop and Netherland Lop have the longest life span, with most living past ten and even into their early teens.
Why Would a Seemingly Healthy Pet Rabbit Suddenly Die?
Ten Causes for Sudden Rabbit Death
The bunny was an indoor pet that could not handle outdoor temperatures.
Myiasis, or deadly fly-strike.
Injured during improper handling by children.
Fear-related heart attack.
Injured by another pet.
Swallowed a sharp object.
Bunny was older than you thought.
Pre-existing health condition.
Pet Store Rabbits Should Stay Indoors
Most pet store staff will tell you to keep your rabbit inside until summer, when the weather is warmer. Pet shop rabbits have been inside the warm store for a few weeks or more and cannot live outside right away. Rabbits have delicate systems and a drop in temperature could kill them. It is not a good idea to keep pet store rabbits outside at all. They are indoor animals and must be kept indoors.
Deadly Fly Strike and Rabbits
Many new rabbit owners are not aware of deadly fly strike. This happens when a germ-infested fly lands on a rabbit and lays eggs on them. The eggs hatch quickly and can literally eat a rabbit inside and out.
A rabbit with deadly fly strike gets a dirty bottom and has a foul smell. If caught early enough, treatments can save the rabbits life but their lifespan will be shorter than usual.
The best way to prevent this fatal condition is to regularly check your rabbit's bottom and keep it clean. Use a fly guard in your rabbit's environment and keep your pet on a proper diet: no carrots, lettuce, or bread.
Rabbits Should Not Live With Children Under 12
Rabbits often do not like children and can be very fearful of them. If a child does not handle the rabbit properly, the rabbit may jump about so the child can't hold them or lets go. If the rabbit falls to the floor they may break their backbone or neck. Their bones are very delicate and break easily. Children running around screaming can cause stress and anxiety for rabbits. If a child ran out into your garden yelling and a few days later your rabbit died, then you have your cause: Rabbits can die of shock (see below) and are not suitable for children under 12 years of age.
Rabbits Can Die of Fright!
It is possible for a rabbit to die of fright. Loud sounds, such as cats, dogs, loud music, or screaming can lead to a heart attack and put a rabbit into shock, causing sudden death. It can day several days for the rabbit to die this way, and it does not happen often, but it is quite possible.
Other Animals or Pets Can Kill a Rabbit
Do not even consider a rabbit if you have aggressive dogs, large dogs, young untrained puppies, ferrets, or cats. Ferrets are hunters and cat are wild animals will will hunt, frighten, or severely injure a pet bunny. Large dogs can easily induce shock and heart attacks. Puppies don't mean to be naughty, but of course they can hurt or frighten your rabbit to death. If you are planning to get a bunny, train your dog beforehand and keep them away from each other. Slowly introduce them to one another. Do not buy a terrier such as a Westie or Schnauzer, as these are hunting dogs and are extremely hard to train to leave a rabbit alone.
An Aborted Late Pregnancy Can Be Fatal
If a rabbits aborts a pregnancy and cannot reabsorb the fetus, the baby rabbits will simply die inside her and create a toxic situation. A normal miscarriage can be absorbed harmlessly, but if the pregnancy is further long when the miscarriage happens, the mother rabbit may die.
Poison Ingested Inside or Out in the Garden
It is possible for a pet rabbit to suffer poisoning and die very quickly. They may not show any symptoms and behave normally, but if there is discharge from any area, especially the eyes, mouth, or anus, they may have eaten something poisonous in the garden. They will have very little appetite for food or water. If your rabbit dies and you suspect poison, be sure to remove the body and sterilize the area. If you have another rabbit and that one seems fine, take them to the vet just in case.
Possible sources of poison include gardening products, pesticides, washing powder, and other cleaning products.
What You Should Know Before Buying a Rabbit
Bunny Is Older Than You Thought
Once a rabbit is past three, it can be very hard to precisely identify the age. Be very careful to check a rabbit over before purchasing or adopting. Rabbits stop growing at 18-24 months of age, but read up on the breed of rabbit you are looking at so you know typical sizes for babies and adults of that type. Some rabbit sellers may pass an older rabbit as younger. Unless you are sure the rabbit is young, think twice about buying or adopting. The stress of moving to a new home might cause a very old rabbit to die sooner rather than later.
Did Your Bunny Have Health Problems?
It is hard to tell a rabbit's history. If you do not know the person who is selling the rabbit, ask a vet or veterinary nurse to come along so they can give a proper examination of the animal. Ask the seller for medical records.
Swallowing Objects Like Glass Can Kill a Rabbit
Before your rabbit forages in the garden, make sure to remove any sharp objects, especially pieces of broken glass or anything that could be potentially very harmful to your pet. Rabbits will sometimes ingest things they shouldn't and in many cases it does them no harm. Swallowing a sharp or large object can literally tear a rabbit's insides, causing severe internal bleeding. If you notice blood around the anus, this may be a sign of internal bleeding. If this happens, take it to the vet to have it examined immediately.
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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.