European polecat kills rabbit, then dies of injuries inflicted by the rabbit

Polecat and rabbit in rabbit pen
Foto: Femke Koedijk

Earlier in december, the DWHC was notified of a European polecat found in a rabbit pen. The polecat was still breathing, and it looked as if the polecat was sleeping next to the dead rabbit (see picture). The polecat died an hour later and was collected for post-mortem examination.

The European polecat was an adult male in good body condition. The polecat died of a fracture of the first cervical vertebra (the atlas) and hemorrhages in the surrounding muscles. Further hemorrhages were found in the brainstem, cerebellum and thoracic cavity.
This damage was most likely caused by kicks of the rabbit when the polecat tried to kill the rabbit. The polecat had eaten parts of the rabbit, as was shown by the stomach contents: pale muscle, hairs and a single bone fragment. The polecat had minor liver and long inflammations caused by parasites (worms), but given the nutritional status, this would not have influenced the fitness of the polecat.

Picture of dead polecat next to dead rabbit
Foto: Femke Koedijk