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Depression in Rabbits: Signs, Causes & Care (Vet Answer)

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Dr. Joanna Woodnutt Photo

Written by

Dr. Joanna Woodnutt

Veterinarian, BVM BVS

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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Clinical depression is a medically recognized and common mental health disease of humans. Feelings of sadness and behavioral changes such as lack of motivation to perform regular activities, or disruption of sleeping patterns are some of the signs of this disease. Clinical depression can be also caused by chemical imbalances in the brain. What is certain, is that depression in humans can be easily diagnosed due to our ability to verbally express our feelings.

Behavioral changes like those experienced by humans with diagnosed clinical depression are the reason why some rabbit owners think their pet is suffering from depression.


Can My Rabbit Suffer from Depression?

rabbit on grass
Image Credit: MabelAmber, Pixabay

Just like any other animal, rabbits are sentient beings and can suffer from mood disorders. Because rabbits are not able to express themselves verbally, it is wiser to avoid evaluating them using humanized adjectives or characteristics and instead focus on evaluating them from a more rabbit-friendly perspective. This will help you better understand and provide the needed solutions for your beloved rabbit’s “depression”.

What are The Signs of “Depression in Rabbits”?

  • Reduced activity
  • Lack of energy
  • Reduced curiosity
  • Lethargy
  • Reduced appetite
  • Dull coat due to lack of grooming
  • Antisocial behavior
  • Aberrant behaviors
  • Aggressive behavior
  • Self-mutilations

It is common for concerned rabbit owners to deduce their rabbits are suffering from depression upon observation of one or more of these behavioral changes. However, all these signs can have several different causes. To be able to better help our beloved furry friends, we need to collect as much information as possible. This will allow us to have a clearer idea of what is going on.

What is definitively very important is to address the issue as soon as possible for two reasons:

  • If the issue is behavioral: It is way easier to address the problem and take actions to correct and change the behavior before the issue of concern turns into a habit. The faster we respond, the less habituation of the specific behavior and the easier it will be to work towards eliminating them.
  • If the sign is due to a medical condition: there are greater chances for successful treatment and recovery when the cause of the disease is found earlier. Medical issues tend to complicate over time, or, in the worst-case scenario, in a matter of hours.


What Can I Do If My Rabbit Shows “Signs of Depression”?

Once we identify that the rabbit shows any of the mentioned signs, it is important to start gathering information systematically. Rabbits do not speak about their emotions but what is certain is that the change of behavior has a cause, and we must find out what is going on.

Baby Rabbits
Image Credit: jatocreate, Pixabay

The Following Guide Is a Suggestion to Help You Gather Relevant Information for This Case.

Your rabbit has reduced or lost appetite. Reduced appetite and anorexia are generally linked to medical conditions. If your rabbit is refusing to eat, it is important to take him to the veterinarian for a health check immediately. You can bring very helpful information to the veterinarian by clearly differentiating between the following scenarios:

1. My rabbit refuses to eat pellets, it joyfully accepts leafy greens and hay.

When a rabbit discriminates against one food over other, it tends to be a behavioral issue more than a medical condition; however, this needs to be addressed.

The veterinarian will help you to formulate a balanced diet that is adequate for your rabbit’s specific needs considering his breed, age, weight, environment, etc. A varied and appropriate diet that is rich in vitamins and nutrients will aid in keeping your rabbit in an optimal health state.

2. I have noticed that lately, my rabbit is leaving some of his daily diets behind.

Reduced appetite could be an indicator of an underlying disease. If you have noticed your rabbit has a reduced appetite, please bring him to the veterinary clinic for a check-up. If the veterinarian finds out that the animal is in good health condition, then you can proceed to address the problem as a behavioral problem without putting your beloved rabbit’s life at risk.

Castor rex rabbit
Image Credit: HolySource, Shutterstock

3. My rabbit is refusing to eat any food at all.

The medical term for this condition is anorexia. Anorexia in rabbits should be considered a medical emergency. If your rabbit is refusing to eat any food at all, please take him to the veterinarian as soon as possible. If you noticed today that your rabbit did not eat, please do not wait until tomorrow when it might be too late. In the case of an anorexic rabbit, the risk of dehydration and organ damage increases as time passes. Rabbit medical cases tend to develop complexity over time and the resolution treatment options and chances of recovery are reduced accordingly.

As a rule, it is better to visit the Veterinarian sooner rather than later because while some diseases have a slower course, others complicate within a matter of a day or two such as in the case of rabbit’s gastrointestinal stasis.

Regardless of these three possible scenarios, it is always very helpful to try to evaluate if there has been any change with regards to the diet for example:

  • Has there been a change in the rabbit’s pellet food brand?
  • Are you offering different vegetables than before due to seasonal change?
  • Has there been a change in the rabbits the plate, the placement of the plate, or anything you can identify as different from before?

The Physical Environment:

Identify if there is any change in the environment that happened just before or around the time when your rabbit’s behavior started changing.

Here are some examples:
  • Have changed your rabbit’s enclosure for a new one?
  • Has there been a very dramatic temperature change?

The Social Environment

  • Has a new rabbit been added to your collection recently?
  • Does your rabbit have other companions to interact with?

4. Your rabbit is less active than usual:

Rabbits tend to be more active during the mornings and evenings. Meanwhile, older rabbits tend to gradually become less active. However, if you can identify that your rabbit’s overall activity levels have dramatically and suddenly reduced, this could be a sign that your rabbit is in pain. Take your rabbit for veterinary consultation and check-up to rule out any underlying medical issue. Once the veterinarian has confirmed that your rabbit is not suffering from an underlying disease or pain you can address the problem as a behavioral issue.

dwarf rabbit in grass_JackieLou DL_Pixabay
Image Credit: JackieLou DL, Pixabay

5. Your rabbit is less curious than usual:

Rabbits are naturally curious creatures that love to investigate their environment and discover their surroundings. If you notice that your rabbit has lost its curiosity this could be a sign that your rabbit is in pain. Take your rabbit for veterinary consultation and check-up to rule out any underlying medical issue. Once the veterinarian has confirmed that your rabbit is not suffering pain or an underlying disease you can address the problem as a behavioral issue.

6. Your rabbit’s coat seems to be dirty; it looks dull, and you have noticed reduced grooming behavior.

In general, rabbits are very clean animals they spend some time every day grooming themselves to keep their fur clean and healthy. If you have noticed your rabbit’s fur looks dirty and he has stopped grooming this is a clear indicator of an underlying illness, take your rabbit for a veterinarian consultation to rule out any medical issue. Some of the common medical issues causing rabbits to stop grooming are:

  • Dental problems
  • Being overweight makes grooming impossible
  • Arthritis makes grooming painful or impossible

In any of these cases, you will have to assist your rabbit in grooming to avoid any secondary skin infection or infestation with parasites. Your veterinarian will recommend you an appropriate treatment following the underlying cause of your rabbit’s lack of grooming.

dwarf rabbit_tmh_Pixabay
Image Credit: tmh, Pixabay

Good Rabbit Owners Practice Tip

Rabbits will normally groom constantly to keep themselves clean and tidy. The grooming behavior makes rabbits very susceptible to ingests their hair and develop hairballs inside their stomach. Hairballs can cause gastrointestinal obstructions or infections. It is a good practice to groom your rabbit with a brush at least once a week to reduce the risk of hairball ingestion.

In addition, approximately every 90 days, rabbits shed a large amount of fur. During the shedding periods it is recommended to brush your rabbit several times a day.

Your rabbit is presenting antisocial behaviors.

Rabbits are naturally social animals that enjoy a companion. If your rabbit has suddenly started to present antisocial behaviors towards you or a previously positively socialized companion, this could be a clear indication that your rabbit is in pain or suffering illness.

Your rabbit is presenting aberrant behaviors such as aggression or self-mutilations.

Aggression between un-spayed male rabbits is well-recognized behavior that seems to intend the protection of their territory and the access to females. Hormonal aggression during springtime has been documented in both male and female rabbits (towards humans or other rabbits) and it is believed to be territorial. However, if your rabbit is presenting aggression, this could also be an indicator of pain or fear. Contact your doctor immediately if you notice something in your rabbit that concerns you.

Self-mutilation could be caused by a variety of medical conditions such as:

  • External parasites
  • Bacterial or fungal skin infections
  • Injuries
  • Hypersensitivities
  • Dermatitis
  • Foreign objects
  • Neurological conditions
  • And others

In the case of aggression and other aberrant behaviors, it is recommended to take your rabbit for veterinary consultation and check-up to rule out any underlying medical issue. Once the veterinarian has confirmed that your rabbit is not suffering from disease or is in pain, you can address the problem as a behavioral issue.

jersey wooly rabbit_laurendotcom_Shutterstock
Image Credit: laurendotcom, Shutterstock

Important Recommendations

Rabbits evolved as prey animals for millions of years, one of the survival strategies of prey animals is “masking disease”. Rabbits tend to hide signs and symptoms of the disease for as long as possible. If you notice a change in the behavior of your rabbit, this could be a clear indicator that something is going on.

Good Rabbit Owner Practice Tip

It’s a good idea to have a previously identified rabbit-savvy veterinarian, to whom to bring your rabbit for routine check-ups and in the case of medical issues. Veterinary medicine is a very extensive field and not all veterinarians are specialized in all animal species:, the last thing you want is to be losing valuable time trying to find a doctor the day your rabbit needs emergency assistance.

Related Read: How To Tell If Your Rabbit Is Happy (5 Signs to Look For)

Veterinary Examinations, and Test

The vet gives an injection to a rabbit
Image Credit: Anna-Kharchenko, Shutterstock

By now it should be very clear to you that if you think that your rabbit is suffering from “depression”, bringing your rabbit to the veterinarian is the right thing to do.

Collect all the possible details the following information is very useful:

  • What is your rabbit’s age?
  • What are the exact signs you have noticed on your rabbit that concern you?
  • When did the signs start?
  • Make sure to mention all details about the housing, environment, diet, and the daily routines of your rabbit.
  • Tell the veterinarian about any other relevant information you have gathered about the case as suggested earlier in this article.

With this information, the veterinarian should be able to build a very complete medical history of the case.

The veterinarian will proceed to perform a physical examination checking the nose, eyes, mouth, teeth, ears, body, fur, limbs, and nails of your rabbit. The weight and body temperature of the rabbit might be measured. The veterinarian might also collect a blood sample, a fecal sample, and maybe even a urine sample from your rabbit. In some cases, the veterinarian might need to perform some X-ray from your rabbit.Divider-rabbit2

Treatment Possibilities

If the veterinarian finds out the cause of the “rabbit’s depression” is pain or an underlying disease the treatment would be according to the primary cause of the problem. Depending on the specific case anything ranging from a simple change of diet to oral medications and surgery might be what brings your rabbit back to normal.  If the veterinarian rules out any disease, then it is safe to start treating the problem as a behavioral issue. Rabbits make good pets, but they still have basic rabbit needs that must be met and considered to keep them healthy and thriving.

Featured Image Credit by Mary Swift, Shutterstock

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