Walking into your bunny’s room and finding them lying motionless on the floor will make anyone panic. What’s even worse is if they do this often.
So why do rabbits play dead, and what can you do about it?
Rabbits play dead as a last resort to avoid an uncomfortable or dangerous situation. They will lie on their back or side without moving at all. Rabbits display this behavior, especially when they’re handled. This is not a typical response in the wild, as scavengers will still try to eat them.
This comprehensive guide will give you all the information you need on why your rabbit is playing dead and what you can do to stop this habit.
Is It Normal for a Rabbit to Play Dead?
Your bunny rabbit was born with an instinct to play dead, and this behavior is common in all ages. Playing dead is a defense mechanism your bun uses when feeling stressed, frightened, threatened, or uneasy.
By playing dead, your bun hopes that you’ll leave them alone or that they’ll deter a predator. Even mother rabbits teach their kits (baby rabbits) to play dead when danger is near. A baby rabbit will learn to play dead through imitation and instinct.
If your bun plays dead too often, try to identify the situation stressing them out and remove it. Playing dead constantly is not normal behavior.
Top Tip: Baby rabbits are very skittish and frail. If the kit looks dead, wrap them in a warm blanket, just in case. When they start moving around, return them to their nest.
How Do You Know If a Rabbit Is Playing Dead?
Rabbits love to flop down onto the ground after running around or when they feel hot. The action of flopping down is very similar to playing dead.
Let’s take a closer look at how to know if your bunny is flopping or playing dead:
- When a bunny is flopping, it’ll close its eyes and lie on its side, whereas if your bun plays dead, it’ll lie on its side with open and alert eyes.
- When your bunny is flopping, it will respond to your voice and sit up, whereas if your bun plays dead, it’ll remain in the same position for quite some time.
- When a bunny flops, they typically take slow and deep breaths, whereas when they play dead, its breathing is more erratic and shallow.
- When a bunny flops, it will click its teeth (known as purring) to show they are content, whereas a bunny playing dead won’t make any sounds.
When your bun is playing dead, they want to ensure you have seen them. The trick is to watch them closely, as they’ll often look up to make sure you’re paying attention to their “demise.”
Fun Fact: A rabbit will also flop down next to you as a sign of absolute trust.
Paying attention to your floppy-eared friend’s body language and breathing will help you determine if they’re playing dead or flopping.
How Long Will Rabbits Play Dead?
Your floppy-eared friend can play dead for as little as a few seconds to as long as 10 minutes.
The duration of them playing dead depends on what causes your bun to react. Speak softly to your bun and reassure them that they’re safe.
Reasons Why Rabbits Play Dead
Let’s take a closer look at why your rabbit is playing dead:
Your bunny may be playing dead as a way to get your attention. A rabbit can become very self-centered and demanding if they feel you’re neglecting them.
Your bun is intelligent enough to know that if they play dead, you’ll rush to them to see what’s wrong.
Your bun may also look for attention by scratching your clothing and nipping you.
A rabbit’s instinct is to run away and hide when a predator is near.
Rabbits will try to escape and sometimes even fight off a predator by standing on their hind legs and boxing and scratching at them.
If they are pushed into a corner and they know there’s no way out, a rabbit will play dead.
However, this usually doesn’t end well for the rabbit as many predators are scavengers and don’t mind eating something “dead.”
Feeling Anxious or Uncomfortable
Another reason your bunny may play dead is if they feel anxious or uncomfortable. Bunnies look super cuddly, and sometimes all you want to do is pick them up. Most rabbits don’t enjoy being lifted into the air.
This motion feels like a predator is swooping them off to their lair or nest. In general, bunnies like to keep all four paws on the ground.
How to Stop Your Rabbit From Playing Dead
A bunny playing dead can be very scary (and frustrating). Here are some tips to stop your rabbit from playing dead:
1. Let your bun roam around your house or spend some time in the garden (supervised). This will prevent them from becoming bored and acting out. Exercise, fresh air, and a change of scenery will do your bunny good.
2. Spend time with your bun as often as possible (especially if you only have one bunny). By getting to know your voice, they won’t be as anxious when you approach them.
3. Keep other pets away from your rabbit, especially if their presence triggers the play-dead response.
4. Speak to your bunny in a calm and soothing tone. If they’re playing dead, they should relax once they understand you mean no harm.
5. If your bun is lonely and looking for attention, consider adopting another rabbit to keep them company.
My Last Bunny Thoughts
Wouldn’t it be nice if your bun could tell you when something is wrong? Yeah, same.
Unfortunately, these gorgeous animals cannot communicate with you in words, so paying attention to their body language is important.
If your bun is playing dead when you pick them up, it’s time to respect their boundaries. Not all rabbits enjoy being handled.
Instead, try giving your bun a head massage (just a friendly warning, your bun may fall asleep, and this is not the playing dead but rather a sign that they are super happy and chilled).