A rabbit will do anything to prevent itself from danger. One of such funny defenses is playing dead. They do these when necessary as a form of protection. They are pets that easily get frightened, stressed, or spooked. They are creatures highly sensitive to their environment. They employ anti-predator tactics commonly known as thanatosis.
Yes, bunnies usually play dead when they are scared or need the owner’s attention. Even though it is their last line of defense. Playing dead is not uncommon in bunnies.
Is this a healthy or harmful habit? Do you think it is a preventable act, or how do you even differentiate a bunny playing dead from one having a sound sleep? Read on to find out.
Why do rabbits play dead?
Rabbits play dead when they sense their environment is unsafe for them to live at a point in time. They can lie on their side for long and remain still when they are terrified by happenings in their environment. If this behavior from the rabbit is strange to you, you can easily observe the rabbit and deduce they are playing dead and not outright death happened to them.
A rabbit is playing dead when it lies motionless for a long time in an area its owner can easily see. They lie down motionless on their side or back, often with eyes wide open. After falling for a long time, they occasionally look up to ensure their owner notices them. They can also play dead to receive extra love if they feel they are not getting enough cuddles from their owner.
Signs your rabbit may be playing dead.
Before knowing what to do about rabbits playing dead, you must understand whether a rabbit is playing dead, having a deep sleep, or practicing what is commonly known as rabbit flopping. Knowing these signs of a rabbit playing dead allows you to understand what to look for when observing your rabbit’s situation.
- A rabbit playing dead will lie motionless on the ground. While at this, it will track your movement with its eyes at intervals but won’t make it too obvious. This ensures you notice it and do what’s necessary – intense caring and protecting its environment against predators.
- A rabbit playing dead will not respond to stimuli. They are fond of lying on their side with their legs pulled into the chest. They will not move except at intervals and look out for their owner to ensure they get noticed.
- When playing dead, they have a slow metabolism, which makes their breathing rate slower. They lie lifeless with slow breathing. If not careful, they can trick their owner into thinking they have lost their breath.
- If you are unsure whether a rabbit is deceased or merely playing dead, check your rabbit’s physical signs, like movement, heartbeat, and breathing rate.
Does a rabbit play dead when scared?
The primary reason a rabbit will play dead is when in a state of abject terror and need a line of defense to protect themselves from the looming danger. This means they are frightened by the environment or they have unwelcome handling. Maybe you hold them too tight or place them in a position that makes them feel unbalanced. Rabbits like standing with their four paws on the ground. If you pick up your rabbit nonchalantly, it could scare them and make them feel unsafe. Rabbits can do this, so you will free them from mishandling and put them down where they are more convenient.
Rabbits will also do the trick when they are scared of predators. It is to make predators lose interest in killing them because they already seem lifeless. Other prey animals use this strategy against their predators. They do this in the hope that predators will leave them alone.
They can play dead when they generally face inconveniences in the environment. They are sensitive and shy creatures. Little things trigger them. That is why they prefer staying in a calm and solemn environment.
Seeing them playing dead without you or any predator being the cause means something new around them makes them terrified. An event, loud music or bang, shouting and yelling, a large crowd or anything new can be scary to them. These happenings will trigger them to protect themselves against what could be harmful. They can choose to play dead as an option for defense in any such scary situation.
Do rabbits play dead when feeling neglected?
Rabbits are such creatures that crave attention and care at some point in time. When they already share a good bond with their owner, they can play tricks on them at the slight feeling of neglect. Rabbits are highly intelligent animals and know how to attract the attention of their owners.
They are such animals that even when playing dead, they want their owner to rescue them. They usually carry out the dead trick, where they could be easily noticed and attended to by their owner.
They are cheerful creatures that always crave companionship. If you do not give them the needed attention, they can fall into depression. If they have attached so much to you, do not stop, except you will increase the attention if you want them to be healthier. Make them feel loved.
Alternatively, get them a companion; two rabbits can live and play together without issues.
However, you must make a balance and understand the extent of care you give them. Rabbits hate being held tight too long, as much as they hate being neglected. Holding them too tight for long freaks them out, and they will no longer be comfortable.
They like their paws to always be on the floor all time. They lose confidence and feel vulnerable when their paws are off the ground. They can run into a safe place and play the dead trick immediately after you release them from your hand after being held for too long.
DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A RABBIT PLAYING DEAD AND SLEEPING
It can be hard to understand the difference between a rabbit playing dead and one having a serious deep sleep. Most often, rabbits sleep with their eyes open. This is commonly known as paradoxical sleep.
They have a third eyelid that keeps their eyes moist while sleeping. However, they will keep their eyes closed when they are fatigued, lie on their back, and act as if they are dead. However, there are differences between a sleeping rabbit and one playing dead.
Rabbits will be clicking their teeth while having a deep sleep but won’t make any sound when they are playing dead. They will stay quiet and motionless. Also, a sleeping rabbit will jerk and twitch when sleeping, but the one feigning death will remain still like a statue.
Is rabbit playing dead different from Rabbit flopping?
Flopping is another defense mechanism similar to playing dead. Rabbits will also be on their back or side while flopping, but they will make no noise when pretending to be dead or move their body which may not be realistic during flopping.
Flopping is for a short time compared to playing dead. It is also made during their happy moment, especially when they want to show their owner, they are excited.
Body language is a great determinant. A flopping rabbit will lie on its side with its eyes closed, while the one playing dead will have its eyes opened.
A rabbit that takes a deep breath while sleeping on its sides or back is flopping. It is playing dead when the breathing is fast and shallow.
Finally, a rabbit playing dead will remain in the same position for a long time, but when flopping, they do it for a short time, move around more, and be responsive to their owner.
Ways to prevent a pet rabbit from playing dead
Rabbits play dead only for a few minutes. Creating a favorable environment is the only way to make your pet safe. However, do not stop your rabbit from playing dead while it is in the act. It might need more time to feel safe after being scared. Wait until it comes out of fear before rebounding with it again. Here are a few things to do to prevent such a moment from happening to your rabbit.
- Free them from the cage most of the time. Let them spread out and explore their environment. Let them spend more time with you.
- Keep rabbits off other animals. They are not big creatures. They are usually shy. Mixing them with other species of animals, like dogs, can make them feel unsafe. If other animals frighten them, they will play dead.
- Engage with your rabbits more often, and they will quickly learn your voice. Speaking soothingly is a good way of communicating with rabbits. Feed them and care for them more often. Make them feel safe and ensure they are isolated from things that can make them uncomfortable.
Playing dead is a rabbit’s last line of defense. They will first think of running away when in danger because they can run at a fast speed or instead try to fight back. This means they feel safe if they resort to playing dead as a defense.
Allow them when they are in the state of playing dead. Do not take them to a veterinary doctor because it is not a deficiency. Avoid situations that can make them into such situations by removing any environmental threat and creating more bonds with them.