Bereavement in Rabbits: How Rabbits Cope With the Loss of a Bonded Partner

Rabbits living in bonded pairs of neutered male and spayed female can be likened to an old married couple. They live in a comfortable routine, completely in tune with each other and sensitive to each other’s needs. Bonded rabbits eat together, groom each other, play games together and, of course, snuggle up together and sleep for hours. They also know the importance of “time out” and will give each other space to pursue their own activities when they feel like it. As the years go by, this bond becomes deeper and deeper and therefore the sudden loss of their partner can be very painful.

If one of your rabbits dies in its sleep, you will likely find the remaining rabbit sitting close by it, seemingly un-traumatised by the sight of its dead partner. Rabbits have been known to engage in a kind of dance, leaping around and so on – it is unknown what the purpose of this is but some believe it is the rabbit’s way of giving its partner “a good send-off”. It is important that the remaining rabbit has the chance to see its dead partner so it can understand what has happened and does not think that its partner has simply disappeared.

If one of your rabbits has to be euthanized, it is best to do this at home so your remaining rabbit can spend some time with its partner’s body before removal. You should leave them together for at least an hour and remain with them if you can; your rabbit will find this comforting and you can monitor its behaviour at the same time. This may seem very macabre to us but it really is the best thing for your remaining rabbit.

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