A couple of weeks ago, one of my rabbits died. I’d owned him for more than eight years and he was as big a part of my family as just about any relative so, of course, I was devastated. His bonded rabbit partner, my lovely Miss Poo, was even more upset, however. So upset I wondered if she’d survive herself. After all, the rabbit who died was her father and she’d been bonded to him since she was just a few weeks old. Now, at almost seven years old, she was alone for the first time in her life.
Luckily, I’d gone through the grieving process with a bonded rabbit before, as I’ve been a rabbit owner for years. Every time it happens, there are a few things I do immediately to make sure the grieving rabbit gets the care he or she needs, so that they don’t die as well.
Make sure the surviving rabbit gets time with the body – As odd as it might seem, one of the best ways to make sure your surviving rabbit doesn’t grieve herself into an early grave is to make sure she gets time to spend with the body of her bonded partner who died. If she doesn’t, she will probably never understand why her partner isn’t coming back and keep waiting for him to reappear. That alone can make her stop eating, and she’ll soon die herself.
When my rabbit died, I wrapped him in a blanket and laid him back down on the floor of the pen so his girl could take care of him. She groomed him, licked his face and then sat down next to him and tried to get him to respond. When he didn’t, it only took her a few minutes before she seemed to realize he wasn’t going to, and she moved off to sit by herself. That was the signal to remove him from the cage and make sure he was buried in a garden near my home.
Extra attention – The worst thing for any grieving rabbit is to be left alone to grieve. Remember, they’ve gone from being partners with another living being, often for most of their lives, only to suddenly be thrust back into the world alone — and lonely. Giving them extra attention won’t miraculously take away the pain, but it will make sure they don’t feel entirely neglected.
My rabbits are house rabbits and, as I’m a writer that works from home, they are around me for most of the day and night. It was easy, therefore, for me to give extra attention to my Miss Poo and to make sure she didn’t feel ignored. A few extra pettings or nose scratchings, an extra treat here or there, a big cuddle and talking to her every time I’m in the room, and she soon started to look a little less dejected.
If you don’t have the luxury of having house rabbits so you keep yours outside, it may still behove you to move the bereaved one inside for a day or two, so it can get the extra attention it deserves and needs.
Make sure your rabbit is eating and drinking – A grieving rabbit can stop eating and drinking quickly and, as rabbits can get sick and die only a day or two after that happens, you should make sure you monitor your rabbits eating habits and be sure he stays hydrated. If he stops either eating or drinking, giving him food and drink with a syringe can often get him back on the road to recovery. If not, a trip to the vet is in order.
A new companion – While some people wait weeks or even months before they introduce a new companion to a grieving rabbit, I never do. A rabbit who has been bonded to another bunny, especially from an early age, will feel grief the like of which you can hardly imagine. From my experience, one of the best ways to help them get over this grief quicker, and to stay healthy, is to introduce a new companion.
The day after my Mr. Boo died, I went to my local market in Bangkok to buy another pet rabbit. A couple of hours later, I came home with an 8 week old baby and slowly introduced her to Miss Poo. In this case, they bonded quickly and, only four days later, were almost as inseparable as Miss Poo had been with Mr. Boo.
Of course, she’ll never forget her dad and how much she loved him but, with a brand new girl to play with, at least she won’t be lonely.