Uncovering the Cause of Your Rabbit's Death: The Benefits of Necropsies for Grieving Pet Owners

Reviewed by rabbit expert Lucile Moore, PhD.

Please be advised that this blog post discusses the sensitive topics of pet loss, grief, and medical examinations of deceased animals, which may be triggering or upsetting for some readers.

Losing a beloved pet rabbit can be an incredibly difficult and emotional experience for any pet owner. When a rabbit passes away, we are often left with many unanswered questions and a deep sense of grief. When we lose a beloved pet, it can be difficult to think about anything other than our own grief. However, taking the time to consider a necropsy after your rabbit's passing can provide many valuable benefits and insights into their health and well-being.

A necropsy, also known as an animal autopsy, is an examination of an animal's body after death. Necropsies can be incredibly helpful for pet owners because they provide important information about the cause of death and potential health issues that may have contributed to the loss of a pet. While it may be a difficult decision to make, a necropsy can help grieving pet owners find closure and peace of mind after the loss of a beloved pet rabbit.

In this blog post, we will discuss the benefits of a necropsy for pet rabbits and how it can help grieving pet owners. We will also provide a guide on what a necropsy entails and how to arrange for one. If you have recently experienced the loss of a pet rabbit or are simply interested in learning more about necropsies, read on to discover how this important procedure can provide answers and closure for pet owners.

What is a Necropsy?

A necropsy is an examination by a medical professional of an animal's body after death. Similar to a human autopsy, a necropsy is performed to determine the cause of death and identify any potential health issues that may have contributed to the animal's death.

During a necropsy, a veterinary pathologist will examine the rabbit's body both externally and internally. The pathologist will look for any abnormalities or signs of disease that may have caused the rabbit's death. This includes examining the rabbit's organs, tissues, and body systems, such as the respiratory, circulatory, and nervous systems.

A necropsy can also involve sampling and testing of the rabbit's tissues and organs. The pathologist may take samples of the rabbit's blood, urine, and tissue to test for infectious diseases or other health issues. These tests can provide valuable information about the rabbit's health and can help identify potential health risks for other pets.

It's important to note that a necropsy is not the same as a biopsy. A biopsy is a medical procedure that involves taking a small sample of tissue from a living animal for analysis. A necropsy, on the other hand, is performed after the animal has passed away.

Why Should You Consider a Necropsy for Your Rabbit?

Losing a pet rabbit can be a traumatic and emotional experience. In the aftermath of a rabbit's death, pet owners are often left with many unanswered questions and a sense of guilt and regret. One way to find answers and closure after the loss of a pet rabbit is to consider a necropsy.

There are several benefits of a necropsy for pet owners who have lost a rabbit:

Understanding the Cause of Death

One of the primary benefits of a necropsy is that it can provide pet owners with an explanation for their rabbit's death. Knowing the cause of death can bring a sense of closure and peace of mind, and it can also help pet owners understand whether the death was preventable or not.

Preventing Similar Deaths in Other Pets

In some cases, the cause of a rabbit's death may be related to an underlying health issue or environmental factor that could affect other pets in the household. By identifying the cause of death, pet owners can take steps to prevent similar deaths in other pets.

This is especially important In the case of RHDV2, a highly contagious virus that can be fatal to rabbits. It's crucial to take steps to prevent the spread of the disease to other pet rabbits. This includes practicing good hygiene and biosecurity measures, such as cleaning and disinfecting your rabbit's living area, minimizing contact between your rabbit and other rabbits or wild rabbits, and vaccinating any other pet rabbits against the disease if it's available in your area. By taking these precautions, you can help prevent similar deaths in other rabbits and protect the health of your pets and the broader rabbit community.

Gaining Closure and Peace of Mind

For many pet owners, the loss of a pet rabbit can be a traumatic and emotional experience. A necropsy can provide answers and closure, which can help ease the grieving process and bring a sense of peace and comfort.

Identifying Potential Health Issues in Surviving Rabbits

If you have other rabbits in your household who are biologically related to your deceased rabbit, a necropsy can also help identify potential health issues that may need to be addressed. By identifying potential health risks, you can take steps to prevent illness and ensure that their surviving rabbits remain healthy.

Research and Educational Purposes

Necropsies can also be beneficial for research and educational purposes. In some cases, the information obtained from a necropsy can help veterinarians and researchers better understand and treat certain diseases and health issues in rabbits.

Because rabbits are considered to be 'exotic' pets, there is a significant lack of research on rabbit health and medicine compared to more common companion animals such as dogs and cats. Additionally, many veterinarians may not have the specialized knowledge and training required to provide optimal care for rabbits. By participating in necropsies and allowing researchers and veterinary professionals to study their pet's illness or condition, rabbit owners can help contribute to the growing body of knowledge on rabbit health and medicine. This can ultimately lead to better understanding, prevention, and treatment of illnesses and diseases in rabbits, as well as improved care and outcomes for rabbit patients in veterinary clinics.

Although it can be difficult for pet owners to consider the option of a necropsy for their deceased pet, it's important to remember that participating in the process can help not only your own grieving process but also contribute to the broader rabbit community. It's understandable that the decision to undergo a necropsy may be emotionally challenging, but many owners find that the knowledge and closure gained from the process are ultimately worth it.

Planning Ahead

Losing a pet can be a difficult and emotional experience, and it can be overwhelming to think about what steps to take after they pass away. It's understandable if it takes some time to come to a decision regarding a necropsy. However, it's important to be aware that there is a limited window of time after your rabbit passes away to decide if you want to proceed with a necropsy. Once your rabbit has passed, the body begins to decompose quickly.

It's essential to have a plan in place ahead of time, so you can quickly transport your rabbit's body to the pathologist. Waiting too long can result in a body that is too degraded to provide useful information, making it more difficult to determine the cause of death. Planning ahead and discussing your options with your veterinarian beforehand can help alleviate some of the stress and difficulty in making this decision.

That's why it's vital to think about the possibility of a necropsy ahead of time and have a plan in place. Talk to your veterinarian about whether a necropsy might be helpful for your pet, and ask for recommendations for a reputable pathologist who can perform the examination. Knowing what to expect and having a plan in place can make the process less stressful and overwhelming when the time comes.

How to Arrange for a Necropsy

If you've decided that a necropsy is the right choice for you and your pet rabbit, the next step is to arrange for the procedure. Here's a step-by-step guide to help you through the process:

  1. Contact a Veterinary Pathologist: The first step is to find a veterinary pathologist who can perform the necropsy. You can start by contacting your veterinarian or a local animal diagnostic laboratory for recommendations.

  2. Discuss the Procedure and Cost: Once you've found a pathologist, you'll need to discuss the details of the procedure, including what will be examined, what tests will be run, and how much it will cost. The cost of a necropsy can vary depending on the location, the complexity of the examination, and other factors. Vet schools, in my experience, tend to be the most cost effective.

  3. Transportation: Transporting your beloved pet's body can be a difficult and emotional task. It's important to ask the veterinarian for specific instructions on how to ensure that your rabbit's body is transported respectfully, with care and dignity. This may include information on how to keep the body cool and how to properly package your pet for transport.

  4. Provide Medical History: To help the pathologist understand your rabbit's medical history and potential health issues, you may need to provide information about your rabbit's diet, living environment, and any previous illnesses or injuries.

  5. Wait for Results: After the necropsy is complete, you may experience a period of anxiety while waiting for the results. The pathologist will provide a report that details the findings of the examination and any tests that were conducted. This report can be a valuable tool in helping you gain closure and a better understanding of the cause of your beloved pet's passing. Additionally, the report may contain information that could help prevent similar tragedies from occurring in other pets.

It's important to remember that a necropsy is a personal choice and may not be the right choice for everyone. If you're unsure about whether a necropsy is the right choice for you and your pet rabbit, talk to your veterinarian or a grief counselor for guidance and support. There are wonderful online communities as well where you may be able to seek some guidance from others who have gone through a similar experience.

What Happens During a Rabbit Necropsy?

If you've made the decision to have a necropsy performed on your beloved rabbit, it's natural to feel anxious or apprehensive about what the process entails. The process of having your pet undergo a post-mortem examination can be distressing. However, for some people, learning more about the process can provide helpful insights and alleviate some of the stress they may be feeling. So in this section, we'll explore what you can expect during a rabbit necropsy and how the process can provide valuable insights into your pet's health and wellbeing.

Please be advised that this section includes information on the procedure of a necropsy, which may be difficult for some readers who have experienced the loss of a pet.

Here are some of the steps that may be involved in a rabbit necropsy:

External Examination: The pathologist will start by performing an external examination of the rabbit's body, looking for any signs of trauma, disease, or abnormality.

Internal Examination: Next, the pathologist will perform an internal examination of the rabbit's body, opening the chest and abdomen to examine the organs and tissues.

Tissue Sampling: The pathologist may take samples of tissue from various organs, such as the liver, kidneys, and lungs, to examine under a microscope. These samples can help identify potential health issues or diseases.

Microscopic Examination: The pathologist will examine the tissue samples under a microscope, looking for signs of disease, inflammation, or other abnormalities.

Lab Tests: The pathologist may also perform lab tests on the tissue samples, such as bacterial cultures or viral testing, to identify specific diseases or infections.

Report: Once the necropsy is complete, the pathologist will provide a report detailing the findings of the examination and any tests that were run. It is important to consult with a veterinarian who can help you understand the report and its implications. While receiving the report can be a difficult experience, having a veterinarian to help guide you through the process can make it less overwhelming.

After the Necropsy

After the necropsy is complete, you may be wondering what happens next. Here are some things you can expect after the procedure & results:

Closure: After the necropsy, receiving the final report can provide a sense of closure for pet owners who are grieving the loss of their beloved pet. The report offers a clearer understanding of what happened to their pet and why they passed away, which can be comforting.

Burial: After the necropsy, you may choose to bury your pet or have them cremated. Many pet owners choose to bury their pets in a special place, such as a backyard or pet cemetery. If you choose cremation, you can keep the ashes in a special urn, have them hand-crafted in a special piece of jewelry, or scatter them in a meaningful location. Planning this ahead of time can also be very helpful rather than having to decide in a moment of emotional distress right after your pet has passed away. It's helpful to know if your vet offers cremation services or if you will need to make arrangements elsewhere.

Grief: Losing a pet can be a difficult and emotional experience, and it's important to take time to grieve and process your feelings. Consider seeking support from a grief counselor or support group, or talking to friends and family members who have gone through similar experiences.

Prevention: It's important to remember that you shouldn't blame yourself for your rabbit's death. Many factors can contribute to a pet's passing, and some of them are outside of an owner's control. However, there are steps you can take to minimize the risk of future health issues. Regular check-ups with a rabbit-savvy veterinarian, maintaining a healthy diet, and providing a safe and clean living environment can all help prevent health problems. By taking these steps, you can give your new pet the best possible chance at a healthy life.


Losing a pet rabbit can be a heartbreaking experience, but a necropsy can provide important information and help provide closure for pet owners. By understanding what a necropsy involves and how to arrange for one, you can make an informed decision about whether or not to pursue this option. Even though it may be extremely difficult and a less than ideal topic to consider, it is important for rabbit owners to plan ahead for a potential necropsy, as the time for decision-making is limited after your rabbit passes and it can be a difficult decision to make in the moment.

Remember that a necropsy can be a difficult and emotional experience, and it's important to seek support from your veterinarian, a grief counselor, or loved ones as needed. Take time to grieve and process your feelings, and consider the potential health risks and prevention measures that may come to light during the necropsy.

Ultimately, a necropsy can be a valuable tool in understanding the health and wellbeing of your pet rabbit and can help provide important information for future pets and the rabbit community at large.