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Do Rabbits Play Dead?

Do you want to know if rabbits play dead and how to differentiate it from sleep, actual death, or shock?

Rabbits are intelligent animals who have evolved various survival techniques throughout the ages. A rabbit may choose to ‘play dead’ when faced with a potentially dangerous situation.

In this article, we discuss why and when rabbits might play dead and how to differentiate it from similar behavior like sleep, shock, or contentment.

Do Rabbits Play Dead?

Yes, rabbits can and do ‘play dead.’

You should note that this behavior is not akin to playful pretense in humans or even certain bird species.

For rabbits, playing dead is a survival instinct often triggered by high-stress situations, fear, or perceived threats.

Rabbits would ONLY play dead as a defense mechanism as last resort when they feel they are stuck in a position and unable to flee.  When rabbits are threatened, they typically freeze, hide, or try to escape.

Playing Dead vs. Sleeping vs. Shock

It can be challenging to differentiate between a rabbit playing dead, one merely asleep, and one in shock, especially for first-time rabbit owners.

When a rabbit plays dead, it often rolls onto its back, extends its legs, and remains motionless, with eyes wide open or slightly closed.

This posture is known as “tonic immobility” or “trancing,” it’s generally a sign of severe stress or fear rather than relaxation or contentment.

In contrast, rabbits usually tuck their bodies into a compact shape or stretch out comfortably when they sleep. Their eyes are generally closed, and they breathe normally.

A rabbit in shock, however, may also appear motionless but will often have a rapid heartbeat, cold ears, and may exhibit shallow, rapid breathing. It’s a critical state that necessitates immediate veterinary attention.

Reasons For Playing Dead

So, why would rabbits play dead?

1. Predator Avoidance

Rabbits, being prey animals, have evolved various mechanisms to evade their predators. Playing dead is one such survival tactic.

By appearing dead, they aim to trick potential threats into losing interest, allowing them a chance to escape when the predator’s guard is down.

2. Fear Response

Rabbits can also play dead when extremely frightened or stressed, even if no apparent predator is in sight.

Triggers can range from sudden loud noises or music to an unfamiliar environment or even the approach of an unknown person or animal.


Here are some frequently asked questions.

How Can You Tell If a Rabbit Is Really Dead?

It can be difficult to confirm whether a rabbit is dead, especially for those unfamiliar with handling rabbits.

Generally, you should look for signs like no breathing and no heartbeat (rabbits have a resting respiratory rate of 30-60 breaths per minute and a heart rate of 130-325 beats per minute.).

No pulse when you listen to their chest with a stethoscope, a fixed and unmoving stare, a lack of response to stimuli, and rigor mortis, which typically sets in a few hours after death.

What Are The Signs Of a Rabbit In Shock?

Rabbits in shock may show signs like rapid breathing, cold ears, lethargy, collapse, an abnormal heart rate, dilated pupils, unconsciousness, and in severe cases, even death.

What Are The Symptoms Of a Rabbit Heart Attack?

Although it’s not common for bunnies to have heart attacks, they can suffer from heart disease.

Rabbits suffering from a heart attack may show signs like lethargy, difficulty breathing, loss of appetite, sudden collapse, or even sudden death.

Can Rabbits Play Dead As a Defense Mechanism?

Yes, rabbits can and do play dead as a defense mechanism but as a last resort.

When confronted by a perceived threat, a rabbit may play dead in the hope of being overlooked or dismissed as non-prey by predators.

Do Rabbits Play Dead In The Wild?

Wild rabbits, like their domestic counterparts, play dead as a last resort when faced with a potential threat or extreme fear. It’s a survival tactic ingrained in their behaviors.

How Long Do Bunnies Play Dead?

The duration for which a bunny plays dead can vary depending on the individual rabbit and the intensity of the threat or fear stimulus. It can range from a few seconds to several minutes.


Rabbits indeed can play dead, a behavior rooted in their survival instincts.

Understanding this aspect of rabbit behavior can help owners provide a safer, less stressful environment for their pets.

Repeated incidents of a rabbit playing dead indicate high levels of stress, which can negatively impact their health.

We hope this article helped you know if rabbits play dead. If you have any questions, comment below, and we will answer them.


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