The loss of your pet rabbit is heartbreaking. Your sweet bun was a bright spot of joy in your life. The two of you went through so much together, but now whether it’s through illness, accident or old age, your rabbit has passed on.
Having grown up with rabbits, I have experienced a number of sad times saying goodbye to those my bunny friends. In these moments of grief it’s not easy to know what to do. No one wants to think about their beloved pets passing on. When the time comes, we may not have a plan in place.
My wish is to provide you with some steps you can take to treat your rabbit with the respect and honor they’ve earned in their life with you. I also hope that you will be able to find comfort and emotional support for yourself and your surviving rabbit family as you grieve the loss of your bouncing bundle of joy.
Options for rabbit funerals
When a pet rabbit dies, you will obviously want to treat their body with dignity and send them off in peace. This doesn’t have to be a complicated affair, but you can have a full formal funeral if you choose to. It can be a private way for you to give your rabbit their last resting rights. It’s a chance for you to say goodbye and remember their life with you.
The first thing you have to consider is what to do with your rabbit’s body. Depending on where you live, you may have more options available. Pick a burial and funeral method that works for you in your living situation.
Do you want a necropsy?
If your rabbit dies suddenly or unexpectedly from an unknown cause, you may want to get a necropsy (an autopsy for animals) done so you can determine the cause of death. This is not always necessary, but it may give you more information about the cause of death. If an unknown or sudden death is something that brings you greater grief, it may be worth getting a necropsy to learn more.
If you want a necropsy to determine the cause of death for your rabbit, speak to your veterinarian. They may be able to perform the procedure themself, or they may refer you to another facility that can help you. Unfortunately, this procedure can be prohibitively expensive, and may not be an option for everyone.
If you do not want a necropsy for your pet rabbit, then there is no reason to ask about this procedure. Even if your vet asks for permission to perform a necropsy, you have the right to refuse.
When would you want to get an autopsy for your rabbit?
- You have other rabbits in the home. When a rabbit dies from an unknown disease, you may want to get a necropsy. This can ensure it is not contagious to other rabbits or animals in your home.
- If your rabbit suddenly died. If your rabbit suddenly died, you may want a necropsy to determine the cause.
- Your vet may ask for permission. If studying the disease or injury that caused your rabbit’s death would provide value to your veterinarian, they may ask for permission to perform a necropsy.
- It will give you peace of mind. Sometimes you just want to know what it was that caused your rabbit to pass on and it will give you some peace to know the cause.
- If there is a public health concern. It’s very rare for a rabbit’s death to cause a public health concern. However, if there is any chance that your rabbit had rabies, for example, they may need a necropsy for confirmation of the disease.
An outdoor burial is the first option to consider when deciding on a funeral for your pet rabbit. Growing up, this is what my family and I chose to do to honor our fallen friends. This is an ideal option if you have a house with a yard or property that you can use for burial. But even if you live in an apartment, you may be able to find a pet cemetery where you can bury your rabbit.
In most cases you cannot bury a pet rabbit (or any other pet) on public property or private property without permission of the owner. The rules may vary depending on your country, state, or local laws. It’s best to assume a burial on property that you do not own is not allowed.
For those of you who do own property or have a house with a yard, a home burial might be the easiest option. You can decorate a box for your rabbit and gently place them inside. Then have a loving ceremony for your companion as you lay them to rest underground. You can make this a private affair, or invite friends and family to have a funeral in memory of your precious rabbit. You can even mark the grave with a personalized gravestone for your friend.
However before you go forward with your home burial, you need to check with your local laws to make sure it is allowed. Even if you own the property where you plan to bury your pet rabbit, it might not be legal.
For health concerns, some state or local laws do not allow residents to bury their animals in a residential area. Other areas will have laws detailing how deep the hole for the burial must be, to prevent floodwaters from washing the animal away, or to keep wild animals from digging them up. Always check your local laws to be sure you can legally bury your pet on your property.
Depending on where you live, it may also be difficult to bury your rabbit at home during the wintertime. In many areas, the ground will become frozen and covered in snow. This will make it difficult or impossible to dig a hole deep enough for your pet. In this situation you may want to look into your other options.
Buy a funeral plot in a pet cemetary
If you do not own any property or cannot bury your rabbit in your yard for whatever reason, there is the option of buying a plot in a pet cemetery for your rabbit. This can also be a valuable option if you wish to have a more formal funeral for your rabbit.
While they can be much more expensive, pet cemeteries will also take care of your rabbit’s remains forever. You won’t have to worry about wild animals disturbing the body. You also don’t have to be concerned about what would happen when you move away and sell your current property.
When my elder-bunny, Tenshi, died after I moved into an apartment, I chose to get her body cremated. She had been my partner for a very long time, and I wanted to make a little memorial for her. I keep her ashes in a small urn next to a photograph. It acts as a gravestone, to honor the memory of my wonderful partner.
If burial is not the option for you, there is also the possibility of getting your rabbit cremated. Some crematories even have space for you to hold a small funeral for your fallen pet. You may also choose to get a decorative urn or have a small memorial service after you bring your rabbits ashes home.
You could set up a place on a shelf in your house to mark the memory of your beloved companion. Or some people will choose to scatter their pets ashes in a yard, forest, or river to symbolically set their rabbit free.
If your rabbit was euthanized or died in veterinary care, they may be able to help you find a crematory service. Many times veterinary offices partner with these facilities. You can ask if they will be able to send your pet to be cremated and returned to you.
Private or communal cremation
There are some considerations you need to make before choosing a cremation option. You will need to choose whether you want a private or communal cremation for your rabbit.
- A private cremation is when your rabbit is cremated separately from other animals. It will ensure that you receive only your own pet’s ashes back.
- A communal cremation is when many animals are cremated together. If you would like the facility to cremate your rabbit’s remains and then scatter the ashes rather than return them to you, this will likely be a cheaper option.
Be sure to ask what type of cremations are offered before picking a facility.
Cremation services when you don’t drive
When my rabbit passed on, I ran into the dilemma of not having a car. There were no facilities near enough to walk, and bringing a deceased animal in a taxi or on public transportation is not usually an option. Luckily there are cremation services who are willing to pick up and drop off your animal before and after the cremation.
If this is not available, you may also be able to find an emergency pet ambulance in your area. These services will usually transport sick or recently deceased pets.
Providing support for a bonded rabbit
Many of us have rabbits as bonded pairs. When one rabbit passes on, it’s not only us humans that will grieve, but also their partner rabbit who survived them. Sometimes it will seem like a surviving rabbit is getting on as usual. But there are usually some subtle signs that will show just how upset your rabbit is.
It’s important to remember that rabbits don’t grieve the way humans do. It’s possible that they will become withdrawn without the presence of their friend, but most rabbits will express their grief in very different ways.
Signs of a grieving rabbit:
- Drinking more than usual. Some rabbits will appear to be behaving perfectly normally, but their water consumption will have increased significantly. This can be a sign of stress in rabbits.
- Increased troublesome behaviors. Increased digging and chewing could be ways that your rabbit is showing their frustration or releasing their pent up emotions.
- Fur chewing or excessive grooming. If your rabbit is chewing on their fur or overgrooming themself, they may be stressed out and lonely.
What to do to help your grieving rabbit
Although it may seem gruesome or unnecessary, you want to try to give your surviving rabbit some time with the body of the rabbit who has passed. This will give your rabbit a chance to see that their partner has gone on and won’t be coming back.
While they still get lonely without the presence of their partner, rabbits (and other animals) are able to accept death more readily than humans do. If you take the sick rabbit away before your surviving rabbit can confirm their death, they may get confused.
They can end up waiting for months for their bonded friend to come back. They won’t understand that the other rabbit is gone, and will be more reluctant to move on and bond with other bunnies who would be able to comfort them.
What to do if you rabbit dies away from home
If your rabbit dies in the veterinary office or away from home, it will understandably be difficult to allow your surviving rabbit to spend some last moments with their friend. Sometimes it is possible to bring the rabbit home and give your surviving rabbit some hours with the body. Other times this is not possible.
If you cannot give your surviving rabbit some last moments with their friend, you will want to give your rabbit some extra comfort and attention over the next weeks and months. Give your rabbit some extra petting sessions and don’t be stingy with the treats.
Be patient with your rabbit. If they are more of a trouble maker than usual, digging into the carpet or into the sofa, understand they they are also dealing with grief. They will be confused because their friend never came home and will need some time to adjust.
Bringing a new rabbit into the family
The best thing you can do to help a grieving rabbit adjust to a new life is to bring home a new friend for them. For humans, bringing home a new rabbit right away may seem like it’s too soon. But for rabbits, this can be a way to move on and recover.
A rabbit who understands their old partner has passed on will more readily accept a new partner. But, even if you expect the bonding process to take a long time, it’s important to try bringing a new bun home to comfort your lonely rabbit.
Grief and emotional support
You will also need time to grieve. Our pets are part of our everyday lives. When they pass on, everything changes and it can become difficult to cope. You will need time to express your grief and may require emotional support from loved ones or a community of people. Do whatever you need to to seek out support and comfort in this difficult time.
Grieve in whatever way you need to
Everyone expresses their grief differently. When my bunny, Tenshi, passed away, it was suddenly very difficult to get out the door in the morning. I would always give her breakfast as soon as I got out of bed, and now this pillar of my morning routine was gone. As soon as I got up, I would see her empty space and all I would want to do was cry and go back to bed.
For me, I found that by thoroughly cleaning her area and recycling her old enclosure, I was able to give myself some peace. It was still many months before I was able to move on. But the act of cleaning was at least able to give me some closure and help me take one step forward.
You also should feel open to grieve in whatever ways you need to. Our pets are an intimate part of our families. They bring us happiness every day, and you need to take the time to deal with their loss in whatever way is significant to you.
For some of you, this will mean throwing yourself into your work to distract yourself. For others, you may want to look into volunteering your time with other animals. Maybe you’ll eventually adopt one to bring home with you. You can have a big memorial service for your pet, or you can privately spend time going through the photos and memories you have with your rabbit.
Never feel guilty about doing what you need to help give yourself some peace. Likewise, don’t feel guilty if you are able to move on “too quickly.” Everyone deals with death differently, so respect yourself and your process as you find ways to move on.
Create a memorial for your rabbit
For many people, it is helpful to have a memorial or ceremony in honor of the memory of your rabbit. There are many options available for you to help keep your rabbit’s memory alive. Pick whatever options speak to you and will help bring you peace.
- Pet funeral service: This can be a private service in your home or a more formal service in a pet funeral facility.
- Cremation jewelry: There are many different types of jewelry you can put some of your rabbit’s ashes into and wear, to keep them with you all the time.
- A paw print of your rabbit: Before burying or cremating your rabbit, you can get a clay relief of their paw print.
- Get a picture commissioned: Commission a picture of your pet with your favorite artist, or print out some of your favorite photos.
- Make a donation to your animal shelter: Sometimes passing the love forward and making a donation to a local animal shelter is the best way to put your heart at peace.
- Create a memory box: Collect a few of your rabbit’s favorite toys and keep them in a memory box or arrange them on a shelf together.
Find a supporting community
If you are struggling to deal with the grief of losing your sweet pet rabbit, then you may want to consider turning to others for support through this hard time. If you have understanding family and friends nearby, you can lean on them to help you through. You can even seek out the support of an online community that can help you during this sad time.
If you need to, don’t be afraid to see an emotional support counselor. They will be able to help you work through your feelings of grief and guilt to help you heal and move forward. I know it’s easy to feel like you are all alone when your wonderful rabbit passes on. But if you reach out to those around you, I’m sure you will find many shoulders to lean on.
You loved your rabbit, and you did everything you could to give them a good life. Keep them in your heart and let the love of a rabbit teach you how to bring that bouncing joy into all your other relationships as your rabbit lives on in your heart and memory.
- Harriman, Marinell. “Pet Loss Support For Your Rabbit.” House Rabbit Society. https://rabbit.org/journal/2-1/loss-support.html.