Rabbits/Rabbit death

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Question
Hi, this is a pretty terrible question and I'm sorry to ask it, but I need to do so for my own peace of mind. Our gorgeous pet rabbit died unexpectedly a few days ago and I am still incredibly upset - I loved her so much. :-( To make matters worse, I now have this horrible fear that we buried her too soon and she wasn't really gone. We buried her about 5 hours after we found her, and we had last seen her alive about 2 hours prior to that point, so she couldn't have been dead for more than 7 hours. Is it possible that a rabbit could play dead for that amount of time, or is there a type of rabbit coma that could have rendered her completely lifeless? I know they do it for short amounts of time to fool predators, but could it last for hours? The thing that really threw me was that she still felt a bit warm, but we held her almost non-stop during those 5 hours, so I'm wondering if it was our body heat keeping her warm. Her ears and paws were cold. Her paws and hocks were going stiff, but her body was not entirely rigid, though it kind of felt like all her weight had shifted to the bottom part of her body and the top part of her was ultra light. She wasn't breathing and we also checked for a heartbeat and stomach sounds several times... there was nothing. Her usually pink nose looked purple. I even held some of her favourite food to her nose, and nothing. :-( Deep down, I am pretty sure that she was indeed gone, but I'm still wondering if I could have missed a sign of life.

Thank you so much in advance for answering my question. I am so glad I was able to ask and I hope it didn't upset you. :-(

Answer
Hi Julia,

I am so sorry for your loss.  It is so hard to lose a beloved pet.  I can promise you that if her legs and paws were going stiff that she was indeed dead.  I worked as a paramedic for over 15 years.  There are conditions in which we could confirm death on scene instead of transporting an obviously dead person to the hospital and giving their family the burden of a bill when they were beyond hope.  Rigor mortis can take up to 6 hours to affect every muscle and organ in the body.  If there is any signs of rigor mortis (the stiffness in the legs) you can be assured that your precious baby had been dead for at least 30 minutes.  If she was in a coma or playing dead this would not have happened.  Also no matter how good someone is at playing dead you would have noticed signs of life.  The shifting of the blood is called dependent lividity and this is another sign that causes incapability of life.

I am going to add that I know exactly how you feel.  A few weeks ago my grandchildren lost their pet bunny that lived with me.  He was alive when I found him unconscious but within a few minutes he had completely stopped breathing.  I sent my husband out to bury him and for several days I was scared of the same exact thing you are.  I wondered if perhaps he wasn't really dead.  I then realized that I just have to trust that I would have known.  Animals need oxygen and even if he had been in a coma when I listened to his lungs and heart, I would have heard something.

It is never easy losing a pet.  It is also normal to question if you did the right thing.  These are things that people ponder and you will drive yourself crazy if you think to much into it.  I don't know if you are willing and nothing would ever take the place of your beloved bunny, but sometimes getting another animal helps to ease the pain.  There are thousands of homeless bunnies in the world.  It would be a fabulous tribute to your lost friend if you went and saved a bunny in her honor.  Not only would you be saving the one you are adopting but you would also be opening up a space for another stray or abandoned animal to be rescued.  If you are not ready to adopt you could consider making a donation to a shelter of your choice in honor of your lost friend.  These are the things that help us feel better when we lose someone.  I strongly believe that our animals have souls and that we will see them again someday.  Again I am sorry for your loss and I wish you well.

Paula Murdock
President
Little Angels Animal Sanctuary, Inc.
Sherman, NY

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Paula Murdock-Briggs

Experience

I am a licensed American Rabbit Breeders Registrar. I do not show rabbits anymore nor do I breed them. I do believe it is important that people that chose to breed rabbits do so with only purebred and genetically sound animals or that they have a thorough understanding of genetics prior to breeding. I have chosen to keep my registars license to help the 4H youth in my area. I do stay current on all breeds, varieties, show rules, regulations of the ARBA. I have spent the past 8 years focusing on rescuing and caring for PET bunnies who were no longer wanted. I am the current CEO of Little Angels Animal Sanctuary, Inc. I was appointed CEO of the rescue organization and sanctuary in 2008. We gained our 501(c)3 IRS tax exemption status in 2012. We have taken on the task of rescuing unwanted PET rabbits as well as some farm animals. I teach genetics and health to the local youth as well as register and promote the breeding of only purebred and genetically sound animals. I rescue PET rabbits. These are rabbits that lived in peoples homes and were either surrendered to us or sent to the auction for meat. While I believe that all bunnies should be pets, I understand that people raise them for other reasons. I will answer questions from anyone, regardless of their purpose. I will reject any questions that are considered unethical or inhumane.

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Little Angels Animal Sanctuary.

Education/Credentials
President and CEO of Little Angels Animal Sanctuary, Inc. I have over 10 years of experience working closely with a veterinarian that treats rabbits. We have studied and treated nearly every illness that can affect rabbits.

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