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Hi Dana!

First, I wanted to thank you for being such a great source of info and support. I've been reading your column for years, and it saw me through a few emergencies with one of my pet rabbits. You were also kind enough to answer a few of my questions directly, which is more than I can say for most of the bunny vets in Northern California. Hoping you can help for a final time as I try to determine what happened to my rabbits.

I had two rabbits: a male Holland lop whom my ex bought at a pet store in 2006, and a female Cinnamon to whom the boy was bonded by a rabbit rescue that same year. (She was probably born in 2004 or 2005, but no one knows for sure.) I'd had both of them (indoors) for seven years, and while the boy had a number of health problems -- he had a fiesty spirit but was physically vulnerable, prey to all sorts of conditions from birth (head tilt, bacterial infections, many GI problems) -- the girl was remarkably sturdy, and never even had to see a vet, other than for the occasional checkup.

Two weeks ago, the boy bunny passed away: the cause was likely GI stasis or some other intestinal problem, and 24 hours before his death I was alarmed to see how weak and huddled he looked, though the vets here were useless and I didn't think it would move as quickly as it did (he's had so many other scares).

After he died, I kept a close eye on his widow, and while she seemed sad and scared -- who wouldn't be -- she was eating, grooming, and moving normally, and didn't give me much cause for concern. In fact, even last night she was fine: replenishing her hay and water was the last thing I did before bed, and my final image of her was one of her nibbling away at a strand of timothy hay.

This morning, however, I heard a horrible thumping, and, assuming it was my kittens running up and down the stairs, went out to check. It turned out that it was my girl bunny, who had keeled over, apparently kicked the wall a few times, then passed away - it looked for all the world like a heart attack.

Was that what really happened? She was alone and safe, there were no other animals on that floor of the house, she couldn't see out the window, the weather was cool (about 65 degrees all night), and she had been eating and otherwise acting normally. I doubt that she died of the same condition that killed her bunny husband, but I'm at a loss as to what might have triggered it. She was 8 or 9 years old at least, but isn't a bunny's lifespan 8-12? We do have two adult cats, but she's lived with them for years and years and they leave her alone. We also have four foster kittens who are a little rambunctious, but they don't attack her and one or two them even like to sit with her in her box.

Would love your wisdom here. After almost eight happy years, a morning without walking by my bunnies, scratching their ears, and fetching them some greens is hardly a morning at all. I miss them, I want to know what happened, and I really want to know what to avoid so that any future bunnies I may adopt don't meet his fate.

Thanks for anything,

Matvei

Answer
Dear Matvei,

I am so sorry about the terrible loss of your two bunny friends so close together.  

Sadly, there is absolutely no way to confidently ascertain a cause of death without a post-mortem exam, preferably including histopathology of major organ tissues.  The signs you describe are  vague, and could have been due to any of dozens of different things.

If you noticed signs of unusual behavior before he died, then please read:

www.bio.miami.edu/hare/sickbun.html

and

www.bio.miami.edu/hare/ileus.html

which might give some clues.  But unless you can provide more specific information, this is the best I can offer.  

If a body has been kept very cold (not frozen), and it has been less than 24 hours since death, a necropsy may be possible, and that might give you closure and peace of mind.  Unfortunately, it is too late for that now.  

I am very sorry for your losses.

Sincerely,

Dana

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Dana Krempels, Ph.D.

Expertise

I've lived with companion rabbits for more than 35 years, and consider them members of my family. I can answer any questions about the biology and health of rabbits, from the commonplace to the unusual. But please note:

RULE #1:
THE INTERNET IS NOT THE PLACE TO SEEK HELP IN AN EMERGENCY.

...it is an EMERGENCY.

Find a rabbit vet at www.rabbit.org/vet for immediate help, and don't risk your bunny's life by spending time asking questions online! If you can't get in touch with your vet, read these Emergency Sick Bunny Instructions.

If you have found a wild baby rabbit, please read these EMERGENCY INSTRUCTIONS FOR WILD BABY RABBITS and then use this link to FIND A LOCAL WILDLIFE REHABILITATOR who can give you the right advice.


RULE #2:
Help me help you! Please make your subject line informative if you have an urgent question. then LET ME KNOW IN THE SUBJECT LINE so I can give your question highest priority over non-urgent questions. If you don't do this, then I can't guarantee timely assistance!

For all the best, most accurate rabbit health, care and behavior information, visit The House Rabbit Society.

Experience

I have been rescuing and rehabilitating domestic and wild rabbits for about 30 years. I have written articles for many rabbit rescue publications, as well as for the veterinary journal, Exotic DVM. I own EtherBun, the internet's largest listserve dedicated to health, care, and behavior of domestic rabbits.

Organizations
Houserabbit Adoption, Rescue, and Education, Inc. (H.A.R.E., Inc.) president National House Rabbit Society (Board member)

Publications
Exotic DVM
Warren Peace (Journal of the House Rabbit Society of Miami)
Various newsletters of the House Rabbit Society, nationwide

Education/Credentials
Ph.D - Biology
B.S. - Biology
B.A. - English

Awards and Honors
Lightspan Academic Excellence Award for web site on rabbit health and biology
(http://www.bio.miami.edu/hare)

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