4 month old New Zealand rabbit dead overnight

by Judy

I fed her the night before and in the morning I checked her and she was dead. She looked like she was a bit blue around her mouth and her ears also looked a bit blue. She had eaten some of her food through the night.

I wondered if she had been bitten by anything. Her cage is off the ground. Any ideas why she died? Others are ok.

***** Karen Sez *****
Sorry to hear it! The blue hue around the mouth and in the ears is due to death, and the fact that there is no more blood circulation or oxygenation of the blood; it is not a disease symptom, in this case anyway.

Probably the best guess as to why your rabbit died is enterotoxemia, meaning an acute case of internal inflammation of the intestines. An imbalance - dysbiosis - of intestinal bacteria sometimes occurs when the diet contains too much simple carbs and not enough fiber. With dysbiosis, disease germ populations soar. The germs make toxins which are poison to the rabbits. The toxins flood the blood stream, causing the circulatory system to collapse, the blood pressure to plummet, and as soon as 12 hours after the disruption of the bacterial population, death.

While the main symptom of enterotoxemia is severe diarrhea, in extreme cases, the rabbit dies before the diarrhea presents itself.

Because I only know what you tell me, I am only guessing at this diagnosis for your rabbit. Did your rabbit receive antibiotics by mouth? (This would kill her normal bacteria resulting in death.) Did she eat any pesticide-sprayed foods? Did she get into the apple orchard and eat 28 apples off the ground? Did she have a habit of refusing to eat the hay and begging (successfully) for sweet treats? If you answered 'yes' to any of these questions, then maybe we now know WHY the dysbiosis and death.

But even if all answers are negative, it is known that enterotoxemia can be triggered by stress, for example, any disruption in the rabbit's life or environment that was perceived as frightening to the rabbit. Does the dog like to stand and pant under her cage? Did any loud ruckuses occur recently? Did you purchase her within the last week?

Heh, just trying to help you brainstorm causes.

If you have any droppings from this rabbit, you could take them to the vet for testing, to find out exactly why your rabbit died.

If other rabbits end up getting sick, you would be very wise to quickly obtain a proper vet's opinion so you can solve the problem and limit your losses.

If I'm right, the problem is dietary rather than infectious, and correcting the diet - no sweet treats and offer a handful or two of straw or grass hay several times a week - will help to prevent deaths from enterotoxemia going forward.

In the case of a finicky rabbit that refuses to eat the hay, remove all of its feed for a day or two (or even three - always provide water 24/7) so it will get hungry enough to learn to eat the hay. As you can see, the willingness to eat the less-tasty but fiber-rich fodder may end up saving its life one day.


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Dec 05, 2013
by: Judy

Thanks Karen. I reckon you are right about the enterotoxemia. I did have another N Zealander die a couple of days later. Same. No sign anything was wrong.I will google enterotoxemia. Don't ya just love the internet. Regards Judy. Merry Xmas and a safe and happy New Year.

Dec 02, 2013
by: Judy

Thanks very much. I will keep that in mind. I make sure my rabbits have fresh hay nearly every day. I know roughage keeps their gut in good working order. They always have fresh water and I scrub out their containers. I am very fussy with my bunnies. I just love them.

I thought maybe calici virus also. What do you look for in a dead rabbit. If I cut it open would I be able to see if it was calici. Regards Judy.

***** Karen Sez *****
Calici virus is a possibility, but since you said your other rabbits were okay, I put that idea on the back burner. Calici virus (Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease) is highly contagious. Rabbits can suddenly die, or can exhibit high fever, malaise, and bloody froth at the nose and mouth just before they die. Mortality can rise above 90% during an outbreak. Usually multiple rabbits are affected, but youngsters under 8 weeks of age might get a mild form of the disease, then recover and be forever immune to the virus.

If you did a necropsy on a rabbit that died of calici virus, you might notice hemorrhages in multiple organs, for example, lungs, kidneys, gastrointestinal tract, and liver. You might notice congestion in the airways, plus there would be many more changes that the lay person such as you and me would not know how to recognize. You'd find it far easier to 'see' when something is wrong (even if you cannot fully define it) when you know what healthy rabbit insides look like.

How are your other rabbits now? Any signs of fever or sickness in your other rabbits, even if they recovered okay?

If all your other rabbits have been in good physical condition with no transient signs of illness, I'd suspect enterotoxemia over calici virus.

Coccidiosis might be another possibility, if the strain of parasite was extremely pathogenic. (I'd still expect a symptom or two rather than a suddenly dead rabbit.)

We can "guess" to our heart's content, and it's even helpful to be educated about rabbit diseases and to try to figure things out. But bottom line - a vet visit is usually necessary to obtain a definitive diagnosis.

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