How to Know When to Euthanize Your Pet Rabbit

Learn how to know when to euthanize your pet rabbit in this Howcast video featuring bunny lover Amy Sedaris and rabbit expert Mary E. Cotter.

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Rabbits make wonderful pets. If you're thinking of getting one, check out these videos: Actress Amy Sedaris, who is a loving mom to her own pet bunny, helps rabbit expert Mary E. Cotter, Ed.D., LVT answer all your questions about how to take care of a pet rabbit. It's not always easy, but it's worth the work.

 
 

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So, today we're going to talk about a sad topic which is when is it time to euthanize your rabbit. Euthanize means to give a good death to. That's literally what it means from the Greek. It's a very tough topic to talk about. Many people have rabbits for many, many years and the rabbits are healthy and then the decline starts. Sometimes it's very hard to tell when a rabbit's quality of life has dropped enough that you want to consider letting him go. I think for human beings, letting go is a really, really hard thing for anybody that you love whether it's a human or a pet, whatever. It's tough to say goodbye and you put it off as long as possible, but the reason we want to talk about this today is that some people put it off too long and I've watched animals suffer terribly because their owners couldn't say goodbye. It's heartbreaking to watch. I've watched animals struggling to breathe, but their owners couldn't say goodbye. I've watched animals in severe pain, but the owners couldn't say goodbye. So, it's a good thing to think about in advance, so that you've had a little bit of time to absorb the thought and the possibility of euthanizing your rabbit when the time comes. What criteria can you use to decide whether to euthanize your rabbit? Well, our House Rabbit Society founder, Marinelle [SP] Herriman [SP] has written a lovely article called, Quality of Life where she uses three criteria, appetite, affection and attitude. That means, is the rabbit still eating? Is the rabbit still interested in food and enjoying food? That's one criterion, but it can't be the only one because I remember years ago I had a wonderful rabbit named Sam who was in kidney failure. He could barely move and when I called the vet to euthanize him, the vet actually came to my house, did a house call to euthanize him for me. Sam, while the vet was delivering the euthanasia, was mouthing a piece of vegetable. It was the only thing he could move at that point was his head and he had an appetite, but he didn't have anything else going on in his life. He was no longer able to be aware. He was kind of toxic from all his kidney waste products that were circulating in his body. It was definitely time to let him go, but appetite could not have been the only criterion or I would not have let him go them. The second criterion is affection. Can the rabbit enjoy receiving and giving affection? Marinelle's really an expert in this. She took care of disabled rabbits for many years. Rabbits that were paralyzed from the waste down. Couldn't hope around anymore, but definitely enjoyed life and showed that in many ways. They could give and receive affection. They love to be cuddled. They would sit in the window sill and watch life outside with great interest and they had a lot of 'joi de vive" or joy of living still left in them. It's lovely to let a rabbit live as long as possible as long as that is there. So, that's the second criterion. The third one is attitude. Is the rabbit interested in his surroundings, in his human being? Is he still willing to sniff at things? Is he curious about things? As long as you see this going on with the rabbit, even if he's old and in firm, that's a rabbit that's still enjoying life enough to let him continue doing that. When you get a rabbit who's seriously debilitated in agonizing pain or for me, the very worst is the rabbits who can't breathe. Then it's time to seriously consider letting a rabbit go. This is not a horrible thing to do. Many owners are so scared at the topic of euthanasia, they don't even want to think about it, but it's actually a very, very peaceful process. Typically, what will happen is you will take your rabbit to the veterinarian or you will have the veterinarian come to your home if you have a vet who makes house calls. The veterinarian will give the rabbit an injection of a sedative to just calm him down, quiet him down before administering the euthanasia drug. The euthanasia drug is given IV just like an IV drip that you see in a hospital. Usually, when the rabbit is sedated the veterinarian will put a little catheter in so that the euthanasia drug can be delivered pretty much when the owner wants it to be delivered. The rabbit will be sedated, peaceful, have time to say goodbye to his owner and then when the owner feels ready, the veterinarian will deliver the euthanasia drug and it acts very, very fast. Almost by the time the needle is withdrawn the rabbit is gone. There's just no pain involved. It just makes you wonder why we can't do this for human beings, but that's a political topic so we won't go there. Anyway, I would say as far as euthanasia goes, think of your rabbit if you can more than yourself. It's really tough because we grieve terribly when a rabbit goes, but if you can keep your rabbit in mind and let your rabbit be the first consideration you might make a different kind of decision in a more timely manner.

Expert

  • Mary E. Cotter

    Mary E. Cotter, M.A., Ed.D., LVT is the founder of the NY-based Rabbit Rescue & Rehab. She serves as chapter manager of the NYC House Rabbit Society and is vice president of the International House Rabbit Society. Involved with rabbit rescue since 1982, she speaks and writes frequently on rabbit-related topics, addressing owners, veterinary professionals and shelter workers. Mary is an adjunct assistant professor in the veterinary technology department of LaGuardia Community College (City University of New York) and co-manages a 7,000-member Internet mailing list focused on rabbit health, care and behavior.