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Rabbits/Sudden rabbit death/possible causes?


I rescued a baby rabbit (wild/domestic) from a dog chasing it 4 yrs ago. Was born outside but not a "hare" was from a pen in a girlfriend's neighbor's yard (they have rabbits in outdoor hutches that have breeded and kept under some control but there are rabbits all around the property etc.) Mine was an english spotted white young male with black spots-dark/brown eyes. We decided to keep him, he turned into a wonderful pet with tons of personality, loved his toys, etc. I found a very qualified rabbit vet in my town, saw him 3-4 times for runny eyes etc and would always respond well to the anibiotics. He was fed quality kaytee timothy hay-oxbow adult bunny timothy pellets-all organic veggies (parsleys-carrot-carrot greens, occasional banana & apple, all organic, nothing but bottled spring water to drink, spoiled....he was a great pet but was tough handling etc being a natural response to a somewhat wild/not completely docile lay in your lap all day rabbit, but loved to play, interact etc. He just passed away on me the other morning after only 4 yrs :.( I'm heatbroken and watched it happen. 2 days before, he didn't seem to eat much (usually hungry-alert boy every am) of his 1 cup per day of pellets, and the following day didn't eat at all, and refused his nightly plate of greens. He had gone a day before without eating much or not feeling well in the past and next day would be ok...this morning happened to fall on labor day weekend Sunday and I couldn't rush him to the vet/were not open. He hopped in my bed that morning (normal occurence) but out of nowhere was breathing heavily than normal out of his nose, quick heavy breaths as he would occasionally do when petting but this was consistent/drastic breathing and I noticed he had some white crust around his nostrils, i tried wiping it off and offered some apple, he refused, i knew now something was very wrong (the week prior he had seemed to shed a bit more than normal for start of fall-2 days before death he was huddling at times)as I was calling emergency numbers he went into his safe hidden place, then came out a cpl mins later right up to me and was then taking one big in and out nasal breath, 3-4 seconds apart, tilting while doing it, broke into some flopping seizures, i dropped the phone and held him feeling completely helpless and he urinated/deficated, took 3-5 last breaths through his mouth and was gone :..( His lips were blue after he passed...His bedding would get soiled sometimes for a day or two but never very bad etc. He lived in a bedroom with ample space/cage/litterbox etc. I'm thinking he must've gotten pneumonia or a respiratory infection of some sort? How did he just go so fast? I wish I could've rushed him to the vet. I'm heartbroken and searching for any info possible. Sorry for the length and thank you in advance for any info.

Dear Jason,

I am so very sorry about the loss of your bunny friend.

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 consistent with a severe respiratory infection, though.  These can go septic rather suddenly, and especially since rabbits tend to hide signs of illness until they are very sick, such a problem can go undetected until it is too late. Please see:  

If the body has been kept very cold (not frozen), and it has been less than 24 hours since death, a necropsy may still be possible, if you feel that would give you closure and peace of mind.  You can find an experienced rabbit vet here:

to call and find out what your options might be.  But it really does sound like pneumonia.

I am very sorry for your loss.  I hope you can take some comfort in knowing that though his life was far too short, it was full of love and happiness that you gave him.  Most rabbits never know a loving touch, but he died right there with you. Very hard on you, but a great gift to him.  He knew he was as safe as he could be in a situation like that, and even sought you out.  He loved you very much.

He will always be part of you and live on in your heart and memory.

Take care,



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Dana Krempels, Ph.D.


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:

Find a rabbit vet at 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.


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.

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

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

Ph.D - Biology
B.S. - Biology
B.A. - English

Awards and Honors
Lightspan Academic Excellence Award for web site on rabbit health and biology

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