Your rabbit seems distressed and is panting frantically. Do you know what to do? If your rabbit is breathing rapidly, it’s essential to know what to look for and recognize rapid breathing in your rabbit.
Why is my rabbit breathing fast? A rabbit will breathe very fast when it is hungry, afraid and anxious, or ill. It is not normal for a rabbit to be in a sustained state of rapid breathing. Issues that cause rapid breathing include heart disease, tumors, fly strike, and Gi Stasis.
If you are worried about your rabbit, there are several signs to watch for.
Understand Rabbits Normal Breathing Patterns and Behavior
Rabbits exhibit additional signs that can alert owners to why they are rapidly breathing. But, it’s also important to understand what rapid breathing is for rabbits. Rabbits breathe faster than other mammals. Rabbits breathe 35-60 times a minute when at rest. Compare that to a person’s average of 16 breaths a minute, and it will seem fast.
Rabbits breathing faster than 60 breaths per minute (or one breath per second) with accompanying signs of distress often face additional health issues. Additional short-term issues such as snuffles (upper respiratory infection), pneumonia, blocked nose, bites from insects, or a nasal injury also affect the body and are exhibited through changes in breathing.
Some issues are noticeable, but other times the warning signs. The most dangerous issue a rabbit can have is one that goes untreated. Even a minor respiratory infection can prove fatal if it is not addressed. The earlier an issue is addressed, the better the chance of recovery. You must address any symptoms of illness immediately.
Danger Signs That Accompany Rapid Breathing
Occasional short spells of heavier breathing are normal. Rabbits will breathe faster after running around their cage or playing. If you don’t see anything in the area that is causing distress, then examine your rabbit for symptoms of illness.
Start by taking its temperature and heart rate. A normal temperature for a rabbit is 101.3-104 degrees Fahrenheit. A low temperature is more dangerous than a higher temperature. If your rabbit has a low temperature, then it needs urgent care.
A rabbit’s resting heart rate is 120-150 beats per minute. But, an awake, active rabbit can have an even higher heart rate. Some breeds of rabbits will have a heart rate of as much as 350 beats a minute. Ask your vet what the maximum heart rate is for your breed and age of the rabbit.
There are additional warning signs to watch for.
- High heart rate
- Low or high temperature (Lower temperature is more dangerous)
- Lethargy or aggressiveness (a change in behavior)
- Stops eating or drinking (Critical- get emergency help)
- Stops pooping (Critical- get emergency help)
- Loose droppings
- Labored breathing
- Grunting noises during breathing
- Blue tinted lips and tongue (Critical – get emergency help)
All of these are signs of distress in your rabbit. Combined with rapid breathing, your rabbit could be in mortal danger. Let’s dive into the possible causes and their severity.
1. Fear in Rabbits Triggers Accelerated Breathing
Scared rabbits often breathe fast. Watch for signs of fear in your rabbit. There are other signs of fear you can watch for. These include thumping or stomping a hind foot on the ground. Your rabbit will look very alert with its body tense, ears up, and wide eyes. You will probably notice it paying attention to its surroundings with extra care.
Scared rabbits may also try to hide. In the wild, a burrow usually serves as the ideal spot. Caged rabbits will run into a hut or run around the cage looking for something to hide inside. This frantic running from side to side is a good indicator that your rabbit is scared.
Scared rabbits may squish themselves against the ground. This is called flattening. You may also hear them grunting while breathing.
- Frantically running side to side.
- Thumping feet
- Hiding or seeking a hiding spot (such as running around a cage)
- Fattening, making themselves as small as possible.
- Alert body posture
- Wide, open eyes
- Hyper aware of its surroundings
How to Calm a Frantic Rabbit
If your rabbit is scared, do your best to calm it down. Most rabbits like to be held or petted. Make sure that you take your rabbit away from loud, sudden noises. Move pets and kids away for a while. Even the friendliest dogs will scare your rabbit because they are prey animals. If your rabbit can still smell a dog or another predator, it will stay stressed.
Soothe your rabbit by holding your hand at an angle and shielding their eyes while petting it. Distract your rabbit by providing them a vegetable treat to chew on. Consider providing your rabbit a tunnel for them to hide in like a burrow or moving their cage to a quieter area.
Medical Causes of Rapid, Distressed Breathing In Rabbits
If your rabbit doesn’t calm down after 10 minutes, continue to observe it for a while. Watch for extra symptoms. It may be sick. Illness or pain often causes rabbits to breathe heavier than normal.
2. Snuffles (Respiratory Ailments)
Snuffles is a condition that refers to a bacterial infection in a rabbit’s nasal passages and tear ducts. One of the leading symptoms is a runny nose and eyes.
You may notice sneezing in your rabbit and then discharge as well. A clear discharge doesn’t usually have an infection, but a colored discharge indicates infection.
Snuffles can also restrict a rabbit’s ability to breathe. Antibiotics help resolve the issue. Never give a rabbit amoxicillin as it’s poisonous to rabbits.
- Runny nose with a colored discharge
- Discharge from the ears
- High or Low Temperature
- Hot bunny ears
- Labored breathing
3. Blocked Nose
A blocked nose can be a part of snuffles or a separate condition. As a separate condition, it can be detected by a blue tinge in the lips and nose. Rabbits rely on breathing through their nose, so this is a crucial issue to address and resolve.
- Consistently open mouth
- Blue tinted lips indicate low oxygen levels
- May have a nasal discharge
Injuries, and the accompanying pain, can cause rabbits to breathe rapidly. Look for signs of injuries, especially around the nose. Make sure that it doesn’t look like their nasal cavity is blocked.
Blocked navel cavities can affect your rabbit’s breathing and overall well-being. If your rabbit is attacked by a dog or animal that injures its nasal passage, your rabbit’s survival is likely dependent on immediate vet care.
Most rabbit parasites are very contagious and will affect the overall health of your rabbit. If the parasite load is high in your rabbit, it could cause rapid breathing. Pinworms, roundworms, and tapeworms are problematic and common for rabbits.
Rabbits contract most parasites through contaminated poop, food, or water. Pinworms live as adults in a rabbit’s large intestine and then reproduce through eggs visible in rabbit feces. Tapeworms form cysts inside a rabbit and cause pain in the abdomen. There is no known cure for tapeworms. Prevention is key.
Most parasites can’t transmit to humans, but there can be an occasional infection.
- Rolling Eyes
- Weight loss
- Irregular breathing
6. Ear Mites
Ear mites cause pain in a rabbit’s ears, which can also cause rapid breathing. Look closely at your rabbit’s ears for signs of mites. You may also notice an odor coming from the ears. There may be a crusty, black residue.
Another sign is hair loss around the ear. Mites can cause excessive head shaking. Although ear mites look scary, they are not serious if addressed early. If not dealt with, ear mites can rupture the eardrum and lead to permanent loss of hearing.
- Hot ears
- Red dots or sores
- Mites are usually visible upon inspection
- Shaking head (from the irritation)
- Heavy breathing
- Ear odor
- Crusty, black residue in the ears
- Hair loss
- Scabs around the ears
7. Flystrike: Unnecessary Suffering
A dirty cage leads to a build-up of ammonia and may lead to flystrike. Flystrike is a maggot infestation where maggots actually begin to eat the rabbit’s flesh. If maggots burrow into your rabbit, you’ll need a vet to remove them. Don’t try to get them out yourself, as they can cause your bunny shock and seizures.
Be sure that wherever your rabbit’s enclosure is located, it is an area that is well-ventilated, cool, and dry. This will help your rabbit get the oxygen it needs barring other issues.
- High ammonia smell
- Bumps in your rabbit’s skin
- Rapid breathing
- Matted fur that’s feces soaked
- Circular holes in your bunny’s flesh
8. Sore Hocks: Poor Cage Conditions
Sore hocks, also called bumblefoot, is a painful condition caused by environmental factors. Wire cages, hard floors, and obese rabbits are risk factors for sore hocks. Another cause is a buildup of urine and droppings.
Sore hocks occur when a rabbit’s hindquarters are injured from jumping on a hard surface. Sore hocks can develop into permanent tendons and bone damage.
You may notice your rabbit limping or moving in a different pattern. You may notice an injury, bleeding, pressure sores, or localized hair loss.
- Avoiding the use of a leg or limb
- Rapid heart rate and breathing if the area is touched
- Visible external injury
- Pressure sores
- Hair loss around the hindquarters
9. Heart Disease
Heart disease often has few signs in the early stages. A slight decrease in appetite and lower activity level are subtle signs something is wrong. But, as the disease progresses, your rabbit will usually breathe more rapidly for prolonged periods.
In later stages, rabbits will struggle with breathing rapidly enough and may have occasional fainting spells. They will also have a complete loss of appetite.
Although there is no cure for rabbit heart disease, you can manage it with a low-stress environment and medication.
Heart disease can be hard to identify. A veterinarian best does the diagnosis. Heart disease usually affects older rabbits more often than younger rabbits.
- If your rabbit seems healthy one day and sick another day, it could be a heart problem.
- Sustained rapid breathing
- Lower activity levels
- Weight loss from decreased appetite
- Weight gain from lower activity levels.
Rabbits can have tumors for months before any symptoms appear. Some tumors are benign and may be identified as smaller, such as a cyst or abscess. However, cancerous tumors can shorten a rabbit’s life span to 18 months if not treated early on.
Uterine cancer is the most common form and can be detected through blood appearing in the urine. In addition, some tumors are visible and appear as scaly or bloody rough spots.
- Lumps under the skin or in the muscle
- Rapid breathing does not often occur with tumors as they may not cause pain
11. GI Stasis
If your rabbit looks bloated and is not producing any waste, they are likely in GI Stasis. This means food is no longer moving through their system due to a change in gut bacteria. Dehydration is a common part of this problem, and the first noticeable signs are gas bloating and lack of droppings. GI Stasis can be fatal and should be treated immediately by a veterinarian.
- Teeth grinding
- Soft stool (or diarrhea)
Gi Stasis can be caused by stress, anxiety, a change in hay types or diet, or other underlying health issues.
12. Myxoma Virus
The Myxoma virus is spread through mosquito bites such as mosquitoes. It causes a range of symptoms, from swelling of the eyes, nose, mouth, and genitals to seizures. The most common season for Myxoma is in the summer and fall.
13. Plant Poisoning
Many people assume that rabbits can eat any plant. But, rabbits are susceptible to poisoning from ingesting toxic plants. If your rabbit is convulsing, has diarrhea, paralysis, or even tenderness in the abdominal area, they may be showing signs of poisoning. Common poisoning occurs from the ingestion of holly, mistletoe, and ivy.
If you feel confident that your rabbit has not ingested anything but you still suspect poisoning, consider the bedding in your rabbit’s cage.
- Irregular breathing
- Stomach tenderness
14. E.Cuniculi Bacteria
E.Cuniculi is a disease caused by a tiny parasite. It causes rabbits to tilt their heads at a funny angle. It is transmitted through spores in urine. Once a rabbit contracts it, it can become a lifelong issue. The most apparent symptoms are balance loss and seizures.
You may also notice your rabbit’s head moving in circular motions at an odd angle. Because a rabbit can see almost 360, they do not need to turn their head to get a better view, and dramatic head-turning is a symptom of a problem. Head tilt infects rabbits of all ages, sizes, genders, weight, and breed.
You should keep your rabbit’s cage clean to help fight off e.cuniculi spores and other bacteria transmitted through waste.
- Loss of balance
- Rapid breathing
- Head is circling or held at an odd angle
If your rabbit is sick or appears to be struggling with their breathing, seek treatment right away. Separate all ill rabbits from your other rabbits to prevent the further spread of bacteria, and sanitize any cages or surfaces that may have become infected. If multiple rabbits become ill simultaneously, take a close look to ensure that environmental issues aren’t causing it.
A vet can give your rabbit oxygen, medication, or other treatment. Because of their size and fragile nature, rabbits can become dehydrated quickly and susceptible to minor issues escalating swiftly.
Preventing Health Issues
You can do several things as a rabbit owner to keep your rabbit healthy, happy, and breathing normally. The first step is keeping the environment clean and sanitary. Many health issues are caused by poor sanitation and cage care.
You can also keep your rabbit healthy by increasing the number of leafy greens in their diet. Leafy greens are a great source of vitamins and minerals for your rabbit and boost their response against injuries and disease.
Understanding normal respiration rates for your rabbit will make it easier to accurately diagnose when your rabbit is struggling with a health issue. After making sure your rabbit is not unusually fearful, check for additional signs of distress such as sweating, injury, or unusual movements.
For more information on caring for your rabbit, check out these articles:
As animals with limited defense mechanisms against predators, rabbits create their own defensive strategy by concealing any issues they are struggling with. Even if they have some serious underlying problems, they try to appear healthy because a weak rabbit is an easy target for predators.
Life with our new bunny has been fascinating. He has the strangest behavior. When we first brought Ponyo to our homestead, we didn’t realize just what a little character he was. My son enjoys...
My family and I recently adopted a Rex rabbit named Ponyo. He free-roams in our house, which worked out wonderfully until we introduced him to our new Labrador, Wally. A week later, Ponyo started...