Why Do Baby Rabbits Die Suddenly? 13 Vet-Verified Reasons

5 views 9:12 pm 0 Comments June 3, 2024

Losing a pet is something all pet owners will eventually have to go through, and it’s always a heartbreaking time for everyone. Losing a pet before their time while they’re young and healthy is even more shocking, especially if it is a surprise. Baby rabbits are cute and fluffy, but they’re also fragile creatures susceptible to many dangers and things that could cause them to die suddenly. This article looks at why baby rabbits die suddenly and how you can help protect them against sudden death.


The 13 Reasons Why Baby Rabbits Die Suddenly

1. Physical Trauma

Rabbits are very fragile at any age, but newborns (neonatal) and young rabbits are particularly delicate. Many baby rabbits can die from external or internal injuries caused by falls, having things fall on them, being held too roughly, and even being hurt by their mothers. Does (female rabbit mothers) that are younger, inexperienced, and have only had one pregnancy all have a higher risk of accidentally hurting their babies.

Something as simple as a mom thumping her feet in annoyance can crush baby rabbits, and careless movement in the nest can cause internal injuries to even slightly older baby rabbits.

little dead white rabbit
Image Credit: Raman Saurei, Shutterstock

2. Cannibalism

Another unfortunate turn of events for a mother rabbit and her babies is cannibalism. Does can eat their own babies when they are stressed; this stress can be from a large event such as a party or unfamiliar people going into her nest box, but it can also be from something as simple as a predator (like a dog) or other animals meandering past her cage, especially soon after she has given birth. An insufficient diet can also cause mother rabbits to cannibalize their young; a diet deficient in calories or nutrients or lacking drinking water can cause her to turn on her own kits.

3. Infection

Baby rabbits are susceptible to infections as their immune systems are not yet fully developed, similar to other pets of the same age. Gastrointestinal infections are particularly dangerous to baby rabbits, as a baby rabbit who develops diarrhea will dehydrate incredibly quickly.

A condition called mucoid enteropathy is a common cause of baby rabbit deaths, and it shows as a large amount of jelly-like diarrhea that’s full of mucus.1 The causes of mucoid enteropathy are thought to be bacterial, imbalance in the cecum or environmental, but they aren’t entirely known. Baby rabbits are also susceptible to colibacillosis, a disease caused by an infection of E.coli bacteria.

In non-weaned rabbits (1 to 2 weeks old), it causes yellow diarrhea. In weaned rabbits over 4 weeks old, it causes green-brown diarrhea and fluid-filled intestines. This infection can kill rabbits that appear healthy within 48 hours.

Baby rabbits can also be prone to viral infections and parasitic infestations, particularly coccidiosis and protozoan cryptosporidiosis.2

4. Congenital Diseases

Congenital diseases can also be the cause of sudden death in baby rabbits. Congenital diseases are diseases and malformations inherited through genes from the parent rabbits to the baby, and the most common of these is malocclusion of the incisors seen in dwarf rabbits. This is not immediately obvious in very young kits but will lead to dental issues as they grow up. Congenital heart defects, such as ventricular septal defects, can cause sudden death in baby rabbits, and rabbits are very good at hiding signs of illness and pain.3

netherland dwarf rabbits sitting on the nest
Image Credit: QBR, Shutterstock

5. Hypothermia

Baby rabbits are tiny and are at risk from hypothermia if their environment isn’t managed correctly, or if they are ill. It is a significant risk for young rabbits kept outside, as the temperatures are often much less regulated than they are for inside rabbits. Baby rabbits are hypothermic if their temperature drops below 100.4°F, which is the lowest end of the normal range of temperatures.

Hairless, non-weaned rabbits are the most at risk of hypothermia, as they have no hair to help keep them warm. However, even adult rabbits can succumb to being too cold if they’re kept outside in freezing temperatures, or they are sick, so keep an eye on the temperature so you can keep your baby rabbit warm.

Signs of hypothermia include:
  • Lethargy
  • Cold ears and feet
  • Pale gums
  • Rapid, shallow breathing
  • Coma
  • Death

6. Dehydration

Dehydration is a big killer of baby rabbits, not yet weaned from their mothers, and of older babies that don’t have access to water in their environment. Dehydration can occur very quickly in rabbits, particularly baby rabbits with diarrhea. The signs of dehydration in unweaned rabbits include being restless and taking on a ‘wrinkled’ appearance, as their skin is less elastic due to dehydration. Signs of dehydration in older baby rabbits are similar to those in adults and include:

Signs of dehydration include:
  • Thickened saliva
  • Dry sticky gums
  • Sunken eyes
  • Reduced appetite
  • Small, very hard poops
  • Reduced peeing
  • Lethargy
  • Collapse

Common causes of dehydration in baby rabbits are inability to suckle sufficiently from the mother, illness such as diarrhea, accidental blockage of the water source, or stress leading to them not drinking. In cases of diarrhea, dehydration can occur overnight, and baby rabbits can die by morning.

7. Bloat

Bloat, or gastric dilation, is the slow but progressive and very painful bloating and expansion of the stomach. In rabbits, this is usually caused by something obstructing the normal passage of gas and food through the gastrointestinal system, or by a severely reduced motility of the intestines due to gut stasis. Bloat is an extremely dangerous condition that can quickly become fatal; most often, a baby rabbit will die from bloat due to the pressure the enlarged stomach places on the body’s systems.

The stomach presses on blood vessels and nerves and cuts off the blood supply. While this condition doesn’t occur rapidly, rabbits are so stoic and good at hiding the pain that owners may not notice anything is wrong until the rabbit collapses and their bloated abdomen can be seen.

Hand holds baby white rabbit
Image Credit: Roselynne, Shutterstock

8. Stress

Stress is a significant factor in baby rabbit mortality and can affect almost all of a rabbit’s bodily systems.4 Stressful situations cause a rabbit’s body to release substances into their bloodstream, such as cortisol, which has a knock-on effect on the rest of the rabbit. Baby rabbits can die from a heart attack if stressed! Stress can cause baby rabbits to stop eating and urinating (which can cause damage to their kidneys), and can reduce the motility of their intestines, leading to life-threatening gut stasis. All of this can culminate in a rabbit suddenly passing away from any problems that stress can directly cause.

9. Poisoning

There are many plants and hazardous items around the homes that can poison your baby rabbit, which is why rabbit-proofing any space they spend time in is so important. In addition, some poisons commonly found in the home can cause severe illness in rabbits and even kill them if not treated immediately. Ingestion of the following common household and garden poisons could be the reason your baby rabbit suddenly passed away:

Common Poisons:
  • Ivy: Often used as a decorative plant, ivy is very toxic to rabbits. The plant, including the leaves, stems, and berries, is poisonous if eaten. Signs of ivy toxicity include diarrhea, anorexia, and lethargy. Severe cases of ivy poisoning are often fatal and can cause seizures, paralysis, and collapse.
  • Rat Poison: Not all rodenticides have anticoagulant (blood thinning) properties, but many do. The pellets are often very attractive to rabbits by design, and fatal internal bleeding can occur if treatment isn’t initiated immediately.
  • Glyphosate herbicide: Rabbits that accidentally ingest herbicides can suffer various signs, such as lethargy, breathing difficulties, abdominal pain, and death.

10. Gut Stasis

Gut stasis is a potentially fatal condition for all rabbits, including baby rabbits. Gut stasis is the slowing down or halt of movement inside the gastrointestinal system (ileus). Baby rabbits can experience gut stasis for various reasons, including stress and a diet rich in sugars or deficient in fiber, or as a consequence of pain and other illness. Gut stasis is painful, and rabbits will often stop eating and passing feces when it occurs. This can cause imbalance in the gastrointestinal system, dehydration, and a build-up of toxin and gas-producing bacteria. Because rabbits are excellent at hiding illness, this fatal condition is often not picked up until the rabbit is almost deceased.

two baby lilac bunnies rabbits on gray background
Image credit: Eloine Chapman, Shutterstock

11. Pneumonia

Baby rabbits not yet weaned and are hand-reared are very susceptible to aspiration pneumonia, which is a lung inflammation, and secondary infection caused by irritation from inhaling milk or food into the lungs. Hand-reared rabbit kits can easily inhale milk. Signs of this kind of pneumonia include gasping, a blue tinge to the skin or tongue, milk bubbles in the nose, and milk or fluid coming from the nostrils. Older baby rabbits (and adults) can also suffer from pneumonia, often due to bacterial, viral, parasitic, or fungal infection or illness. All types of pneumonia are hazardous and quickly become fatal. They are often contagious to the other rabbits, as well.

12. They Are a “Peanut”

A “Peanut” is an anecdotal, rather than a scientific, term given to baby rabbits who inherit two “dwarf” genes, which are recessive. Dwarf rabbits that are healthy receive one of these dwarf genes from one parent and express the small features and stature. If a baby rabbit receives two of these genes (one from each parent), they’re known as homozygous dwarfs and will usually die within a few days of birth. These babies are impossibly small and suffer other physical problems. Sadly, they’re not able to survive.

13. Hyperthermia

Overheating is a real danger for baby rabbits, as much as hypothermia. If your baby rabbit is kept in a warm, humid, poorly ventilated cage or hutch, they can very easily develop hyperthermia. Heat stroke can kill very quickly and is a major cause of rabbit deaths in those kept outside in hot weather.

Signs that your rabbit is overheating:
  • Drooling
  • Panting or shallow breathing
  • Weakness and lethargy
  • Red, warm ears (rabbits lose heat through their ears)
  • Collapse
  • Seizures

baby rabbits
Image Credit: Kassia Marie Ott, Shutterstock


How Can I Find Out How My Baby Rabbit Died?

While it is always distressing to find your rabbit dead, it can be challenging to determine the cause. The only way to determine how your baby rabbit died is by asking your veterinarian to perform an autopsy. It can sometimes reveal telling signs that your rabbit suffered from a particular problem, such as a respiratory disease or gut stasis, but autopsies cannot always determine the cause of death.

How Can I Protect My Baby Rabbit From Sudden Death?

Good husbandry, environmental management, and understanding of rabbits are the key to keeping them well and happy. Unfortunately, raising baby rabbits without a doe is very difficult; and mortality of kits may be high. However, keeping your older baby rabbit at the correct temperature, ensuring they have a diet high in fiber, with hay making up 85% of their daily food intake and vegetables no more than 10%, and keeping them as stress-free as possible can all help to protect them from sudden death. Vaccinations and health checks are also vital, as many diseases and bacterial infections can be avoided by providing good and preventative healthcare.

Most importantly, keeping your baby rabbits calm and happy is the most important thing you can do to protect them from sudden death. Stress has a profound effect on their bodies which can cause many of the issues we’ve mentioned above.

Common causes of stress in baby rabbits include:
  • Pain
  • Handling
  • Transporting
  • Unfamiliar surroundings (common in recently rehomed rabbits)
  • Change of Food
  • Poor husbandry
  • Being near potential predators, e.g., cats, dogs
  • Noise



When we look after our pets, we hope they’ll live long and happy lives with us. That is usually the case, but sometimes our pets leave us too soon, and baby rabbits are unfortunately very delicate and can easily die. Even handling a baby rabbit the wrong way can cause a heart attack, which is why it’s crucial to understand them and keep them relaxed and happy in our care. It can be challenging to read about the loss of pets, but we hope this article has informed you of possible reasons why baby rabbits die and what you can do to prevent it. If you are planning on hand-rearing a baby rabbit, speak to your vet about the best way to do this.


Featured Image Credit: auenleben, Pixabay

The post Why Do Baby Rabbits Die Suddenly? 13 Vet-Verified Reasons appeared first on PangoVet.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *