I was devastated when my Brad bunny died after a short illness.
I had done everything I could for him, but rabbits can be fragile. He didn’t survive the surgery for a blocked digestive tract.
What was worse, the day after Brad died, I noticed that his bonded mate, Sam, was not looking healthy, refused to eat, and soon, she also became ill and died.
Concerned that it was something contagious, I asked the vet to do a necropsy, but they found nothing wrong with Sam at all. Why had my bun suddenly died?
The vet had a suggestion that made sense, but was also really strange—Sam died of a broken heart. Really? Can rabbits die of a broken heart?
Can Rabbits Die of a Broken Heart / Loneliness?
Yes, Rabbits can die of a broken heart and being alone.
Since rabbits are highly social animals, their bonds to each other are really strong.
When one member of the bond suddenly dies, the surviving rabbit may mourn and refuse to eat.
Rabbits have very sensitive digestive tracts, and they can easily sicken and die when they don’t eat well or stop moving around.
What Causes a Rabbit to Die From Loneliness
Rabbits bond deeply with a partner.
The bonding process isn’t easy, and it takes time, but when two rabbits have been bonded, they become inseparable.
In the wild, rabbits are social animals that rely on each other for mutual grooming, mating, safety, and security.
One rabbit may even risk themselves by warning their family in their underground warren of an approaching predator by thumping (and actually drawing the predator away from the warren).
When a bonded rabbit dies, its mate or bonded partner will suddenly feel isolated. Rabbits don’t do well in isolation.
Even if you’d previously kept only one rabbit, they were probably bonded to you, relying on you for scratches and massages, food, social time, and all of their other social needs.
Rabbits can die of loneliness.
Suddenly being all alone, rabbits suffer the following symptoms:
Fear and Nervousness
Since they are now alone, instinct tells your rabbit they are vulnerable to attack by predators (even if they live in your home).
This causes fear, and your rabbit will choose to cower in one corner of its cage, too afraid to eat.
Because your rabbit no longer has their partner rabbit for playtime and to hang out with, they will begin to focus on their surroundings more, and any environmental factor that feels even slightly threatening will stress them out.
Rabbits do get depressed (as do most animals) when their friends die or get removed.
In the wild, rabbits have a much larger community they live with, and this supports them to survive the loss of a bonded partner.
In captivity, rabbits have only one partner (in most cases), and the loss of that partner is devastating.
After losing their partner, rabbits will display tell-tale signs of depression, including loss of appetite, lethargy, sleeping too much or not at all, agitation, and stress.
How Rabbits Die After Loss
When rabbits suddenly experience fear, stress, and depression, it affects their delicate immunity first.
This opens them to becoming sick, and since they lack the will to live, they don’t fight to stay healthy or heal.
Death happens due to strain on the heart, organ failure, or gastrointestinal complications. Sometimes a depressed and grieving rabbit will simply stop living.
Also read: 5 Ways to Comfort a Dying Rabbit?
How to Prevent Your Rabbit from Dying From a Broken Heart
I wish I had seen the signs with Sam and taken action to help her get through her grieving process.
It wasn’t necessary or inevitable for her to die. Now I know better.
It is possible to prevent a rabbit from dying from a broken heart.
Here’s what to do:
Give Them Time With the Body
In the wild, unless the rabbit is eaten by a predator, their bond mates can say goodbye.
Seeing the body helps the surviving rabbit process what has happened. They accept their partner is gone and will not be coming back.
Seeing the body helps the remaining rabbit let go. They realize they can’t wait.
Be There for Them
Spend extra time with your surviving rabbit. Play with them, distract them, or simply sit with them if they don’t show interest in anything.
Help them realize they are not alone. You are there, and they can bond with you.
Make sure they are eating and drinking. If you notice they don’t eat or drink, be sure to quickly report it to the vet.
Supplementation or a change in diet may be necessary to get them through their loss.
Use Distraction and Replacement
A grieving rabbit may not want to bond with another rabbit right away.
However, you can help them get over their grief by giving them a rabbit-friendly stuffed animal to cuddle with and groom with.
Perhaps the deceased rabbit used to wear a bell? Then you can tie the bell to this toy so your rabbit can still smell and be reminded of its partner.
Moving on With a New Bond Partner
Your rabbit will have to move on to survive. Wait a few days or even a week after the death of your rabbit’s partner before getting a new rabbit to bond with.
Take it extra slow. Your rabbit will either be very curious about the new rabbit, or they can become aggressive. Follow the bonding process carefully.
Start by placing the two rabbit cages close together but not touching. When the rabbits happily lie next to each other in their cages, you can move the cages to touch.
If there are no signs of aggression, you can open the two cages to the playpen, allowing the rabbits supervised interaction.
Break up any fights or squabbles by spraying a light mist of water at the rabbits.
Keep it short, and don’t let the rabbits sleep together yet.
Only once you see them engage in mutual grooming and eating together without problem can you trust they have successfully bonded.
What to Do When One of a Bonded Pair of Rabbits Is Sick
If one of your rabbits is sick, the temptation is big to remove their partner to prevent the sickness from spreading.
If they have a contagious disease, you may have no other option.
However, if it’s not contagious, be sure to keep your bonded rabbits together.
Emotional support is vital for their recovery and to prevent the other rabbit from becoming stressed.
Should you need to take one rabbit to the vet for a procedure or treatment, take their bonded partner with them.
This will help your rabbits stay calm and handle the stress better.
Some Common Questions about Rabbit and Grief
Q: How long does it take for a rabbit to grieve?
Rabbits can grieve for several days before getting over their grief.
Some rabbits never quite get over their loss, and they may quickly sicken and die.
Q: How do you comfort a lonely rabbit?
A rabbit that is grieving may be lonely too. It is best to comfort them by spending time with them and not leaving them alone.
Even when your rabbit is grieving in its cage or hutch, be sure to let them know you are near.
Find another rabbit to bond your grieving rabbit with. Make sure your rabbit has time outside its cage each day to dig, jump, and play.
Q: Can a rabbit die of a broken heart?
Rabbits can die of being lonely and broken-hearted.
Suddenly losing their bonded partner, having their owner die or move away or abandon them can also cause depression and eventually lead to death.
Final Rabbit Grief Thoughts
A grieving rabbit will sicken and can become immunocompromised.
This can result in them losing their appetite, becoming lethargic, not wanting to interact with other rabbits or people, and losing their condition.
It won’t be long before the grieving rabbit weakens and dies.
Be sure to support your grieving rabbit, helping them socialize and adapt, while making sure they don’t get sick and die too.
Other articles you may also like: