There are stories all over the internet about rabbits locked up safely overnight, only to be found dead the next morning, or a rabbit scared by a loud noise that passed away hours later.
So, is it true that rabbits can die from fright? The short answer is yes, rabbits can die from fear. However, that doesn’t mean you have to tiptoe around your rabbit all the time for fear of frightening them.
This article will discuss how it happens, factors that can cause that much stress in rabbits, and what to do if you fear your little bunny may have been overly frightened.
Can my rabbit actually die of fright?
In short, yes, a rabbit can die from fright. This is especially common when a wild rabbit is cornered by a predator. Even if they manage to escape physically unscathed, the fear can cause them to pass away later. Even people stumbling across a den while working on its gardens can cause a rabbit so much fear they pass away.
In domesticated rabbits, however, this is not nearly as common. Generally, pets are kept away from excessive stress, such as predators, and they have a safe space they can escape to when something happens.
However, there are stories about rabbits kept in hutches outside that pass away when frightened by a fox or a cat, even if the cage is secure and the predator couldn’t have gotten in.
There is also the issue of heart defects. If your bunny already has heart problems, stressful situations can cause its heart to become unable to keep up with the demands, causing them to pass away.
How fear leads to heart attacks
When an animal is in a fight-or-flight situation, its body creates an abundance of adrenaline. This adrenaline is made to help ignore normal muscle limits, allowing an animal to move things that would be generally too heavy or to run further and faster than they would have been able to otherwise.
In rabbits, their heart rate increases to allow more oxygen to be pumped into their muscles. This will enable them to fight back if needed or run away faster and for longer than a predator can keep up. This adrenaline will continue to be pushed through the body until the animal feels safe and relaxed again.
When an animal is trapped, such as locked in a cage or cornered, its body continues to produce adrenaline, and they have no way to burn it off.
This causes its heart to continue beating at an increased rate until it can no longer keep up. For this reason, rabbits that have no safe space or way to run away from the thing causing them to be frightened are more likely to pass away from fright.
Even if your rabbit makes it an hour or two later without passing away, that does not mean everything is alright. Rabbits can die anywhere from instantly to a couple of days later. The situation can also cause heart issues in your rabbit, making them more susceptible to a heart attack even months later.
What can cause a rabbit to die from fear
There are various things that can cause a rabbit to become frightened.
In the wild, or with outdoor rabbits, one of the most common is predators. Animals such as cats, predatory birds, foxes, and raccoons are common predators anywhere. Whether you live in a rural or suburban area, these animals are common in any area and are the ones to be most aware of.
When locked up, even if the predator isn’t actively trying to attack your rabbit, the smell can scare them enough to cause a heart attack. With outdoor rabbits, it is hard to keep them feeling protected. Giving them enough room to run and feel safe is the best course of action.
If your rabbit is entirely indoors, the only predators would be your own pets. It is important to introduce them slowly while allowing your rabbit to run and hide when needed to avoid feeling overwhelmed. If your other pet continues to torment your rabbit, it is best to keep them separated.
Keeping vigilant is key if you let your rabbit outdoors for a walk. Stray or outdoor cats can easily jump a fence to go after your rabbit, and even if you manage to scare them off before they get to your pet, they may have already done damage by simply scaring your bunny.
Fireworks, gunshots, screaming, music, or barking. When you first bring in a new pet rabbit, it is a good idea to try and stay quiet and calm until it can adjust to its new home.
Then try to introduce sounds one at a time and slowly, always making sure they have a quiet, calm area they feel safe in if they need to hide for a little while. Be patient with your rabbit, letting them have that time alone to rest and calm down.
New objects, people, or animals
Finally, introducing anything new should be done the same way. Introduce it slowly, and let your rabbit get used to it in its own time. If it is an object, you can put it somewhere in a neutral area, keeping it in one place that isn’t your rabbit’s safe space until it can get used to it.
When introducing new people, it can be done the same way, having the person stay calm, they can stay in an area of the house the rabbit visits but doesn’t use to hide, and let the rabbit come to them.
Signs that your rabbit is frightened
If your rabbit is acting strange, it may be a sign that some loud noise might have frightened your poor pet. Remember that the fight-or-flight response is coursing through your rabbit, and they may be behaving in a way different from what you expect.
A rabbit may become more aggressive. They may thump more often than usual when something gets too close. Your rabbit may become more aggressive to other rabbits you own, even if they were getting along before.
A rabbit with excess adrenaline will also have stomach issues. Its waste pellets will look different than normal, and they may refuse to eat or drink. Other signs are excessive cleaning, heavy breathing, and overall unease.
Excessive running around
They can become frantic in trying to escape. They can lash out if they feel trapped and run around as they look for a space where they feel safe and can try and relax.
Lack of movement
One of the biggest signs that your rabbit is frightened is they become almost frozen. They will stay unnaturally still, even when there are outside stimuli.
If your rabbit behaves strangely in any of these ways, something likely scares them, and they feel too trapped or anxious to relax.
What to do if you are worried your rabbit is overly scared
Go to an emergency vet
If you feel your rabbit has been stressed for a long time and isn’t calming down, go to an emergency vet right away. They can possibly administer drugs to reduce their heart rate. Otherwise, try to minimize any further shock to the system.
Keep you and your rabbit calm
Otherwise, it is important to keep your rabbit calm. This means keeping yourself calm. Try and keep your voice even and level, avoid quick, harsh movements, and let your rabbit relax without constantly trying to check in and bother them.
Give them time
It is good to give them a quiet, dark area with a comfortable temperature. A shock to the system, even due to a dramatic temperature, can tip your rabbit’s heart over the edge.
Don’t hold your rabbit
It is important to note that while it may seem comforting to hold your rabbit, it is highly advised that you don’t do this. Many rabbits do not enjoy being picked up and held, and it can make them feel more trapped and further stressed.
Try to keep them distracted instead. If they know tricks, you can offer treats for tricks or give them their favorite toys.
Keep an eye on their eating habits
Finally, it is important to make sure they continue eating and drinking to avoid any GI issues or dehydration. Rabbits have a delicate system, and shock can already impact their stomach, and not eating or drinking will hurt them even more.
If they refuse to eat, it is another sign that they should head to the vet right away. Rabbits are not animals that can avoid eating for long periods of time.