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Ask A Vet: Can Rabbits Die From Stress? (Updated 2023)

Can Rabbits Die From Stress

Bunnies are nervous by nature.

Sudden movements easily startle them.

Plus, new situations can turn their world upside down.

So with their delicate heart, you might be concerned…

“Do rabbits handle stress well?

And would it be life-threatening for them?”

Keep reading to discover:

  • If stress can kill rabbits.
  • 9 common stress signals in bunnies.
  • 7 shocking facts about rabbits dying from stress.
  • And so much more…

Can rabbits die from stress?

Rabbits can die from stress. They’re easily scared, and they have a fast heart rate, to begin with. So sudden loud noises or predators can put a bunny into shock or have a heart attack. Also, stress reduces their appetite. And this may lead to gut stasis, stomach ulcers, and kidney or liver failure.

Thus, you need to act quickly.

And notice the 9 common signs of stress in rabbits:

  • Freezing.
  • Restlessness.
  • Hunched back. 
  • Heavy breathing.
  • Lack of appetite.
  • Sudden aggression.
  • Over/under grooming.
  • Lethargy or lack of energy.
  • Compulsive behaviors (e.g., constant circling, head bobbing).

Rabbits dying from stress: 7 facts

#1: Heart attack

This happens when the blood supply to the heart isn’t enough or gets blocked.

Stress is often the cause of it in bunnies.

And they’re more prone to heart attacks for the following reasons:

Rabbits are prey animals

For them to flee quickly from danger…

Bunnies are always aware of their surroundings.

It’s an instinct that keeps them safe from predators.

But since they scare easily, their stress levels will be high too.

Rabbits have a fast heart rate

At rest, a bunny’s heart beats around 140-180 times per minute.

Vets even say that a stressful trip to the clinic can boost this up to 300 beats.

That’s 5 beats per second. Which is too rapid and could put them at risk of stroke or heart attack.

So a rabbit can indeed die of stress and fright.

Usually, loud noises are the cause of this, such as:

Rabbits Have A Fast Heart Rate
  • Thunder.
  • Lightning.
  • Fireworks.
  • Barking dogs.
  • Running children.
  • Screaming people.

But they may also have a heart attack due to fear of predators. Especially big, aggressive ones.

Think about this.

If a bunny’s in a cage and a dog’s about to attack them.

They would feel trapped inside.

Then being not able to flee could stress them out. And this can put them into shock, resulting in a heart attack.

Reading tip: 17 Weird Reasons Why Baby Rabbits Die Suddenly + 5 Tips

#2: GI stasis

Due to stress, rabbits will also eat less than usual.

This is dangerous as they must regularly graze food to keep their gut moving.

Because if not, it can lead to life-threatening conditions.

And one of those is ‘ileus’ or ‘gastrointestinal stasis.’

“What is it?”

Based on VCA, it’s when the intestines stop moving correctly.

You’ll often see this in rabbits and guinea pigs.

And a study found that ileus is the top 4 cause of death in bunnies, with 4.3%.

Meanwhile, the other culprits are:

  • Collapse – 4.9%.
  • Anorexia – 4.9%.
  • Flystrike (a condition due to fly’s eggs) – 10.9%.

“How does this happen?”

If a stressed bunny refuses to eat for days…

The bacteria in their digestive system will change.

This now favors other organisms. Especially ones that produce painful gas.

And when those bacteria multiply…

It’ll cause more pain to the rabbit. Which can make them stop eating at all.

Warning: GI stasis is known as a silent killer in bunnies. You won’t notice them being sick until it’s too late. Plus, you may confuse its signs with bloat, which is another deadly illness.

So, to tell the 2 conditions apart, watch the short clip below:

You might also want to know: Why does my rabbit shake?

#3: Liver failure

Aside from gut stasis…

Stressed rabbits who aren’t eating are at risk of liver damage. And this can also lead to death.

“But how?”

At night, bunnies usually produce ‘cecotropes.’

Those are dark, sticky droppings.

And rabbits eat those poop to get the nutrients they need.

I know it sounds disgusting.

But hear them out first.

Since bunnies digest things differently from us…

They don’t absorb all the nutrients in their food at once.

That’s why the cecum,’ a part of the colon, creates those half-digested pellets.

This is so rabbits can reingest them. And take in all the vitamins and proteins.

Besides these, they also have fatty acids.

Based on specialists, the liver uses them for energy.

But if rabbits stop eating, they’ll produce fewer or no cecotropes.

So when this happens, their body will use reserved fat instead.

Then these will go into their liver. 

However, since something’s already wrong with their system…

Fat may constantly fill up their liver. And this can cause it to fail in the long run.

So watch for the usual signs of liver failure in rabbits, like:

  • Lethargy.
  • Weight loss.
  • Dehydration.
  • Smaller and fewer droppings.

#4: Kidney damage

Experts say severe stress can also cause kidney issues in rabbits.

And it’s the same thing for:

  • Shock.
  • Trauma.
  • Heart failure.
  • Blood infection.

Kidney failure can be ‘acute.’ Or a condition that appears suddenly in a short period.

But it could also be ‘chronic.’ Which is constant and slowly progresses over time.

The latter type might be hard to notice.

So keep these common signs in mind:

  • Fever.
  • Diarrhea.
  • Seizures.
  • Depression.
  • Not pooping.
  • Increased thirst.
  • Pain around the kidney area.

#5: Stomach ulcer

This is a painful condition wherein the lining of the tummy gets damaged. 

And one research in rabbits shows that stress often causes it.

“How does it affect their tummy?”

When anxious, the body releases more acids than needed.

Thus, it can result in high acidity levels in the gut. Which is one of the main causes of stomach ulcers.

So here are the usual symptoms to look out for:

  • Teeth grinding.
  • Abdominal pain.
  • Hunched posture.
  • Reluctance to move.

#6: Stress of a new environment

Apart from noises and predators…

The things that usually worry rabbits a lot are new places.

Moving to a new home is highly stressful for most bunnies. Especially to older rabbits. And when it’s done all of a sudden.

Well. Isn’t it the same case for most humans?

Being in an unfamiliar situation can make some people anxious. As well as having a stranger beside you.

So imagine how hard it would be for a tiny bunny who’s already naturally nervous.

To become comfortable and relaxed…

They must get used to the new space, scents, sights, and people.

And this is easier to say than done.

Note: Usually, some rabbits can adjust to a new environment as early as 2 days. But others may take up to 2 weeks or more.

#7: Stress of losing a special someone

Last but not least, if your bunny recently lost a fur buddy or partner…

The sudden event will have a strong impact on their life.

And this is usually the case for rabbits who have bonded together for a long time.

Bunnies might look timid at first. But they thrive on social interaction.

So most of them don’t do well alone.

Thus, if they suddenly lost a companion…

It’ll stress them out. And it can lead to:

After the incident, the grieving rabbit may become aloof.

But some bunnies might do the opposite.

They’ll be clingier. And follow their humans everywhere.

However, others can also act aggressively

And if you ignore these signs…

The rabbit’s stress may result in some of the health problems above. And they might die from too much loneliness.