Is your beloved pet rabbit acting strangely lately? Have you noticed it sleeping more, eating less, or vocalizing in pain? These could be subtle but serious signs that your rabbit’s health is failing. As prey animals, rabbits instinctively hide illness making it hard to know if they are dying. But educated rabbit owners can spot the symptoms that indicate a rabbit is nearing its final days. This essential guide covers the 10 major signs to look out for if you suspect your rabbit is dying. From changes in appetite and breathing to hair loss and seizures, understand the key indicators that your rabbit’s body is shutting down. Learning to make your pet’s last days comfortable takes vigilance and care.

How To Know If Your Rabbit is Dying

Determining if your rabbit is dying can be difficult, as rabbits are prey animals and instinctively hide signs of illness. 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. Some general signs include lack of interest in food, lethargy or immobility, labored breathing, and a change in feces or urine output. Your rabbit may also demonstrate more obvious signs like vocalizations of pain or distress. It's important to contact your vet if you notice any concerning symptoms, as some conditions are treatable if caught early. You know your rabbit best – any significant changes in behavior warrant a call to the vet. With care and attention, you can make your rabbit's final days as comfortable as possible.

Refusing To Eat Food

Rabbits require a constant supply of food to keep their gastrointestinal system functioning properly. As obligate herbivores, rabbits have evolved to essentially eat continuously. So when a rabbit stops eating entirely for an extended period of time, it is a major red flag that something is seriously wrong. There are a few reasons why a dying rabbit may go off food completely:

  • Loss of appetite – As rabbits become more ill, they often lose interest in food. This is a natural part of the dying process, as the body begins to shut down.

  • Difficulty eating – Dental disease,口腔疾病, or neurological dysfunction can make it physically difficult or impossible for a rabbit to eat. As it becomes weaker, a rabbit may not be able to chew or swallow effectively.

  • Gastrointestinal stasis – In some cases, the cause of anorexia is gastrointestinal stasis or a blockage that prevents the rabbit from digesting food. This can lead to a dangerous condition called ileus.

  • Pain – If a rabbit is suffering from significant pain due to illness or injury, it may go off food due to stress or discomfort. The inability to eat then exacerbates the problem.

You may notice your rabbit nibbling at food but not actually eating, or showing no interest in favorite treats. Provide fresh greens, hay, and water, but don't force food if the rabbit refuses. Seek emergency vet care, as anorexia can quickly lead to liver and GI problems. With supportive care, appetite may return. But if underlying illness is causing the anorexia, it is a sign of impending death.

Unusual Level of Lethargy

Rabbits naturally spend large portions of their day resting, but they also have periods of activity and play. So if your rabbit is sleeping more than normal and showing no interest in interacting with you or its environment, take notice. Excessive lethargy and immobility can signal that your rabbit's health is in decline.

Some potential reasons for lethargy in a dying rabbit include:

  • Weakness – As the muscles lose strength, rabbits become reluctant or unable to move on their own. You may see them lying down much more than normal.

  • Lack of stimulation – With a reduced appetite, rabbits tend to move around less. And as they become more ill, they lose interest in external stimuli.

  • Pain – Discomfort due to illness or injury causes rabbits to limit their movements.

  • Neurological dysfunction – In some cases, nerves become compromised, affecting the ability to stay upright and coordinated. The back legs are usually affected first.

  • Low body temperature – As rabbits near death, their ability to maintain body heat declines. Lethargy helps conserve energy and keep the body warm.

Check for other symptoms if your rabbit is unusually inactive. Provide soft, warm bedding to help maintain body temperature. Gently massage limbs and change position periodically to prevent sores. Appetite stimulants may also help improve alertness. Consult your vet if lethargy persists.

Skin Conditions

A dying rabbit's skin and fur often show marked changes. This reflects the declining health of the body's major organ systems. Some skin conditions to look for include:

  • Dehydration – As rabbits stop drinking, their skin loses elasticity. You may see tenting of the skin over the shoulders or base of ears when gently pinched.

  • Jaundice – Liver disease causes a yellowing of the skin, gums, and whites of the eyes. Yellowing starts at the ears and hind legs.

  • Diarrhea stain – Chronic diarrhea due to gastrointestinal stasis leads to staining of the hind legs. The fur appears wet or matted.

  • Mite infestation – Weakened immune systems cannot fend off mange mites. You may see crusty skin patches and bald areas.

  • Bedsores – Paralysis or the inability to move leads to ulcerated sores over bony parts of the body.

  • Abnormal odor- As rabbits stop grooming, skin secretions and dead skin cells build up. This causes a characteristic odor.

Gently clean soiled fur with waterless shampoo. Avoid bathing rabbits when ill. Check for wounds daily and provide soft bedding to prevent pressure sores. These measures can help maintain your rabbit's comfort and dignity even as the body begins to shut down.


Myiasis is the disturbing condition when flies lay eggs on a rabbit's skin, and these eggs hatch into maggots that eat the rabbit's necrotic flesh. It most often affects outdoor rabbits in warm regions. Very old, ill, injured, or immobile rabbits are prone to developing myiasis. The areas around the anus, genitals, and wounds are common sites.

Signs that maggots are infesting your dying rabbit include:

  • Small white larvae crawling on or boring into skin. Maggots may be visible around sores or soiled fur.

  • Foul odor coming from the infected area. There may be a smell of decay or necrosis.

  • Irritation and inflammation around the infested area. There may be redness, swelling, or pus.

  • Increased lethargy. The rabbit declines rapidly as the maggots invade tissue.

To treat maggot infestation:

  • Remove visible maggots using tweezers. Take care not to rupture them.

  • Apply topical medication containing ivermectin to kill maggots. Get prescription product from your vet.

  • Keep wounds clean to discourage future flies. Ask vet about antibiotic ointment.

  • Use Elizabethan collar to prevent rabbit licking and chewing wounds.

  • Provide palliative pain medication prescribed by vet.

Maggot infestation indicates severe neglect and often accompanies the death process. But treating the infection may provide some comfort to your dying rabbit in its final days. Consult your vet immediately if you suspect myiasis.

Change in Vital Signs

Checking your rabbit's vital signs can give important clues about how close it may be to death. As the major organ systems start to slow down and shut off, you will see changes in:

  • Body temperature – Hypothermia develops as the body loses the ability to regulate heat. Temperature may drop from 101-103F to below 99F.

  • Heart and respiratory rate – The heart beats more slowly and breathing becomes shallower. A normal heart rate is 130-325 beats per minute.

  • Mucous membrane color – Gums and inner ears become pale or gray as blood flow decreases. Normal color is bright pink.

Tools to monitor your rabbit's vitals include:

  • Rectal thermometer

  • Stethoscope to count heart rate

  • Timer to measure breathing rate by chest movements per minute

  • Penlight to see gum color

Check vitals a couple times per day if concerned about your rabbit's health. Call the vet immediately if your rabbit's temperature drops dangerously low. Tracking vital signs provides insight into your pet's comfort level and prognosis.

Difficulty Breathing

Labored, shallow, or otherwise impaired breathing is a common and very serious sign as rabbits approach the end of life. The technical term is dyspnea. Underlying causes include:

  • Congestive heart failure – Fluid builds up in lungs, causing shortness of breath.

  • Pneumonia – Lung infection impedes oxygen exchange.

  • Cancer – Lung tumors or metastases make breathing difficult.

  • Pain – Movement of the chest is painful due to trauma, musculoskeletal issues, or lung disease. Rabbits limit breathing to minimize discomfort.

You may notice your rabbit's stomach and sides heaving as it fights for air. There may be audible wheezing, coughing, or sneezing. Extreme lethargy accompanies breathing distress. In the terminal stage, some rabbits adopt a hunched stance with elbows splayed outward to facilitate chest expansion.

Emergency medical intervention includes:

  • Oxygen therapy

  • Diuretics or pain medication to allow deeper breathing

  • Antibiotics for pneumonia

  • Steroids to reduce inflammation

If the condition is irreversible, keep your rabbit calm and comfortable. Consult your vet about euthanasia criteria if your pet is struggling profoundly to breathe. With after-hours help, your rabbit can have a peaceful passing.

Change in Urine or Feces

Monitoring your rabbit's output of urine and feces provides important clues about its health status. As death nears, you will very likely see changes in your rabbit's litterbox habits:

  • Increased urine production – Kidney dysfunction leads to the excretion of dilute, pale urine. Urine scald results.

  • Dark, bloody urine – Some cancers and infections cause hematuria or blood in the urine.

  • Lack of urine – Dehydration and kidney failure result in little or no urine.

  • Small, misshapen feces – Gastrointestinal stasis causes the digestive system to slow down. Fecal pellets become smaller and irregularly shaped.

  • Diarrhea – Mucoid diarrhea indicates intestinal disease. You may see it matted on the hind legs and feet.

  • Loss of bladder and bowel control – Neurological impairment leads to urine dribbling and fecal smearing.

  • Straining to urinate – Tumors, sludge, or stones cause difficulty urinating. Signs of straining include crying out, teeth grinding, and squatting frequently.

Check the litterbox at least twice daily. Collect urine and stool samples for your vet to analyze. With IV fluids, medication, and hydration support, some rabbits can recover from acute renal or GI episodes. But in general, elimination changes signify systemic deterioration as death approaches.

Unusual Noises

Rabbits are normally very quiet animals. When they begin making unusual noises, it often means they are unwell or in pain. Here are some sounds that can indicate a dying rabbit:

  • Crying or screaming – These shrill vocalizations suggest acute pain. Something like a fracture, rupture, or torsion causes severe discomfort.

  • Grinding teeth – Tooth grinding, called bruxing, communicates chronic discomfort. Ongoing illness erodes quality of life.

  • Choking or gurgling – Fluids or blood in the airways cause choking noises. This occurs with congestive heart failure.

  • Wheezing – Airway constriction results in a high-pitched whistling sound called wheezing. Asthma, pneumonia, and cancer can cause it.

  • Moaning – Low moans demonstrate malaise. As the end nears, rabbits lose the energy to cry out sharply.

  • Heavy breathing – The lungs work harder to take in oxygen. Breathing becomes ragged, wet, or noisy.

  • Sneezing – Upper respiratory infections cause repeated sneezing. If severe, the rabbit may display discharge.

Unfamiliar vocalizations warrant an urgent vet visit to diagnose and alleviate suffering. But repeated episodes indicate progressive decline. In the terminal stage, keep your rabbit comfortable and remain by its side for reassurance.


Drooling or excessive salivation is an alarming symptom in rabbits, since healthy rabbits do not typically dribble or foame at the mouth. Possible causes for drooling include:

  • Malocclusion – Misaligned or overgrown teeth prevent normal swallowing. Saliva pools in the mouth.

  • Oral pain – Ulcers, infections, or cancer in the mouth and throat are irritated by normal saliva flow.

  • Esophageal blockage – Obstructions in the esophagus prevent swallowing. Saliva overflows from the mouth.

  • Esophageal dilation – Paralysis of the esophagus results in accumulated saliva.

  • Toxin exposure – Some plant toxins, like oleander, stimulate excessive saliva production.

  • Respiratory difficulty – Open-mouth breathing due to airway obstruction causes drooling.

  • Nausea – Impending vomiting or gastrointestinal disease makes rabbits drool.

To help a drooling rabbit:

  • Clear airways and clean face frequently with a damp cloth.

  • Provide hydration with fresh produce and subcutaneous fluids.

  • Investigate and treat oral health problems if possible.

  • Ask your vet about antiemetic medication for nausea.

  • Consider euthanasia if suffering seems severe.

While drooling alone doesn't necessarily mean death is imminent, it often appears in the late stages as the body starts shutting down. Keep your rabbit clean and calm if drooling is uncontrollable.


A dying rabbit may experience intermittent bouts of shivering as its body loses the ability to regulate temperature. When a rabbit's temperature drops below 99°F, muscles involuntarily contract in waves to generate heat through increased metabolism. But this process takes quite a toll on a rabbit's limited energy reserves.

Causes for shivering and low body temperature in an unwell rabbit include:

  • Hypothalamic dysfunction – The brain's temperature control center stops working properly.

  • Sepsis or toxemia – Bacterial infection leads to dangerous blood poisoning, causing shivering.

  • Trauma or blood loss – Hemorrhage reduces circulating blood volume and heat distribution.

  • Cancer – Tumors disrupt temperature regulation. They also weaken the immune system.

  • Poor nutrition – Inability to eat leada to compromised fat and muscle stores. Shivering then accelerates weight loss.

  • Damp conditions – Wet fur loses insulating properties, allowing heat to escape from the skin.

To help a shivering rabbit, provide warm, dry bedding away from drafts. Cover it with a blanket, offering food and fluids when interested. Address underlying infection and get nutrition levels up if possible. If shivering precedes death, handling gently and using heating pads or hot water bottles may help soothe your pet.

Involuntary Spasms

Twitching, tremors, and seizures all point to serious neurological dysfunction in rabbits. When involuntary muscle movements and spasms appear in a sick rabbit, it suggests the central nervous system is failing as death approaches. Causes include:

  • Viral infection – The calicivirus that causes rabbit hemorrhagic disease attacks the liver and nervous tissue. Seizures often occur right before death.

  • Toxins – Ingesting toxic plants like foxglove or experiencing organ failure leads to toxin buildup in the blood. These poisons disrupt neural pathways.

  • Cancer – Brain, bone, and sinus tumors are common in older rabbits. They interfere with normal nerve signalling.

  • Stroke – A stroke or seizure from epilepsy leads to temporary spasms and paralysis. They progressively worsen.

  • Electrolyte imbalance – Dehydration and malnutrition disrupt the balance of sodium, calcium, and magnesium needed for smooth muscle contractions.

  • Trauma – Spine or brain injury directly impairs nerve function.

If seizures or tremors occur, cushion your rabbit on soft bedding to avoid injury during spasms. Medications may reduce frequency and intensity. But recurrent episodes typically indicate irreversible decline in brain function as the rabbit nears death.

In Summary

Determining if your beloved rabbit is dying can be heartbreaking. Look for changes in appetite, activity levels, breathing, and elimination as key indicators of overall health. Skin, fur, and vital signs also provide insight into your rabbit's condition. Unfamiliar behaviors like vocalizations, shivering, and seizures are cause for alarm. While some symptoms can be palliated, progressive decline on multiple fronts likely signals impending death. With attentive home hospice care and pain management, you can ensure your rabbit's final days are as comfortable and peaceful as possible. Saying goodbye is always hard, but take heart that you are easing your friend's suffering and providing a gentle transition. Your trusted rabbit vet can guide you in making difficult end-of-life decisions. Cherish the special moments with your pet in its remaining time.


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