Having a rabbit put to sleep because of old age or ill-health is a very difficult decision to make and should not be taken lightly.

A good rabbit owner will notice changes in their pet’s behaviour that signal illness, pain or discomfort and will immediately consult a rabbit friendly vet. As prey animals, rabbits will instinctively hide signs of pain as long as they can so when it becomes obvious then they are in a very bad way. If the vet advises that the condition is untreatable and the expected quality of life is poor, then the kindest course of action is euthanasia.

Deciding when to put your rabbit to sleep

Rabbits are put to sleep (or euthanised) to avoid unnecessary pain and suffering.

Consider arranging some time to talk with your vet. They will help you assess your rabbit’s quality of life. They will consider whether the rabbit is in pain (which can sometimes be difficult to assess), has stopped eating, is showing changes in behaviour or is unable to display natural behaviours. Your vet will be able to guide you through the options of when the time is right and what is best for you and your rabbit.

Euthanasia – The process and what actually happens

Euthanasia typically involves an injection into a main vein which will quickly and painlessly send the rabbit to sleep. Their breathing and heart will stop within a minute or so, and they will gently slip away. Your vet will help you to choose options to have your rabbit put to sleep at the surgery, or at home if this is an available service from your practice.

Staying with your rabbit during euthanasia

This is a very personal decision and only you can decide if this is the right option for you and your rabbit.

Sometimes owners find it comforting to be there at the time of euthanasia as this can help with coming to terms with the loss, whilst others find it too distressing. Keep in mind that your rabbit will pick up on your feelings of distress. Veterinary nurses are wonderful at these times and help to provide love and end of life support to many animals, so don’t feel guilty if you decide not to be there.

Some owners feel more comfortable spending time with their rabbit after euthanasia, this can help with acceptance of loss when seeing your rabbit at peace and free from pain. vets normally set aside a quiet room at the practice where you can spend some reflective time with your rabbit. Your vet will be very supportive of whatever you decide is right for you and your rabbit.

Laying your rabbit to rest

Once your rabbit has been put to sleep, your vet will ask you if you would like to it cremated or buried. If you need further time to decide just let your vet know and they will look after your rabbit to give you time to decide.

Cremation

You can choose to have your rabbit cremated at a pet crematorium, either alongside other companion animals or individually. If you choose individual cremation, the ashes will be carefully collected and returned to you in a casket, scatter box or urn. The veterinary practice may arrange this or they may put you in touch with the pet crematorium to talk through the options.

If your rabbit has died from an infectious disease then cremation is the correct choice to prevent spreading illness to other rabbits.

Home burial

If you choose for your rabbit to be buried at home, please be aware that certain restrictions can apply so it’s best to check with your local council’s environmental health department.

You should not bury your rabbit near a water source such as a stream or spring.

Grieving

Our feelings of sadness can be overwhelming following the loss of a beloved rabbit. We are all individuals and there is no right or wrong grieving period. Feeling tearful is natural and expressing these emotions can help the healing process.

Grieving develops gradually and cannot be forced or hurried. Initial reactions to a loss can include numbness and shock, followed by intense feelings of sadness, despair, pining and anxiety.

In time hopefully you will treasure good memories and, share them with friends and family. You may like to create a memory box with photos, favourite toys etc. There are many excellent animal memorial websites which may bring you comfort. Animal ash memorial beads, bracelets are very popular and can help you feel close to your lost animal friend.

Talking about grief

Talking to someone can help enormously and can also initiate the healing process. It often reduces the pain and guilt felt after the loss of a rabbit.

If you are facing the difficult decision to have your rabbit put to sleep or have recently lost or had to face parting with a rabbit under circumstances, the following organisations provide a wealth of information and support.

The Ralph Site is a not-for-profit website that provides support to companion  owners around the loss of a beloved companion. 

It provides extensive companion bereavement resources including a listing of independent bereavement counsellors.

The PDSA provides comprehensive advice about how to say goodbye, and the process involved. They also have some very supportive advice on loss including downloadable leaflets.

Blue Cross provides free of charge companion bereavement support by phone, email, and web chat and offers helpful downloads.

Please note that by listing these websites and resources, the RWFA is not directly endorsing or recommending their services and it is highly recommended that you conduct your own research into the nature and quality of the services provided.