It may come as a surprise to learn that rabbits can grieve and mourn the loss of a mate just like humans. Rabbits are capable of deep love and affection and their understanding of what is going on is greater than most people realize.
Rabbits that live in conjoined pairs of neutered males and spayed females can be compared to an elderly married couple. They live in a comfortable routine, completely in tune with each other and sensitive to the needs of others. Bonded rabbits eat together, groom each other, play together, and of course snuggle together and sleep for hours. They also know the importance of “time out” and will give each other space to do their own activities whenever they want. As the years go by, this bond becomes deeper and deeper and therefore the sudden loss of your partner can be very painful.
dealing with death
If one of your rabbits dies in its sleep, you will likely find the remaining rabbit sitting close to it, seemingly untraumatized by seeing its dead companion. Rabbits have been known to engage in a kind of dance, hopping and such; what the purpose of this is is unknown, but some believe it to be the rabbit’s way of giving his mate “a good send-off”. It is important that the remaining rabbit has the opportunity to see its dead partner so that it can understand what has happened and not think that its partner has simply disappeared.
If one of your rabbits needs to be euthanized, it’s best to do it at home so the remaining rabbit can spend some time with its mate’s body before being removed. You should leave them together for at least an hour and stay with them if you can; your rabbit will find this comforting and you can monitor its behavior at the same time. This may seem very macabre to us, but it really is the best thing for the rabbit you have left.
Even a rabbit that has had a chance to say “goodbye” to its mate will feel confused, lonely, and sad. This can manifest itself in different ways depending on the personality of the rabbit. Some rabbits may turn to you for comfort, follow you around, and lie under your chair. Others may abandon food and pine, or hide from you. They may even show aggression, even if this is completely out of character. For us as owners, this can be a very difficult time, trying to comfort your remaining rabbit while you deal with your own grievance.
While rabbits show many similarities to us in the grieving process, in one key way they are quite different from us. They can move on and accept a new partner very quickly, sometimes even the day after their partner has died. This has nothing to do with a lack of feelings for your previous partner; they simply want to be with another rabbit and this need is so urgent that their relief at seeing a new rabbit in the house is very evident. While rabbits can live happily as singles, often bonding with humans, cats, dogs, etc., a previously bonded rabbit is unlikely to be completely happy alone. In other words, they have gotten used to living as a couple and can only find true happiness again by gaining another partner.
Often we are the ones who have a hard time moving on, feeling that we would be betraying our lost rabbit by welcoming another one into our homes so quickly. Meanwhile, the remaining rabbit is suffering and we, try as we might, are unable to replicate that much-needed bond. As difficult as it is, we can learn from our rabbits in this regard; our love for a new rabbit will not diminish the love we feel, and will always feel, for our lost rabbit.
Copyright 2011 Hannah Davis / Bunnyhugga – All Rights Reserved.