Last Updated on December 21, 2022 by Rei Garnet
I recall returning home one day to find my rabbit, Freya, lying on the floor, shaking. I was so scared that something was wrong.
But after I came close to her, the little furball started running and binkying towards me!
So if your rabbit is just shaking a little while lying down, then there’s nothing to worry about. Rabbits do shake a little when sleeping. But it could also be a sign of something serious like parasites, heatstroke, GI stasis, or bacterial otitis if accompanied by other symptoms.
Now that I’ve given you the gist of the article, read on as I explain in more detail the possible reasons why your rabbit is shaking while lying down:
Common reasons why a rabbit would shake while lying down
In order to properly know what to do if you find your rabbit shaking while lying down, you must first understand what’s causing it. Here are the most common reasons why a rabbit would shake while lying down:
One of the reasons why your rabbit might be shaking is heatstroke. Rabbits don’t have any sweat glands except for a few on their lips. They are therefore more prone to heatstroke, especially in the summer.
They also cannot pant like dogs and other animals to signal to their owners that it’s too hot. Rabbits primarily breathe through their noses.
One of the most common symptoms of heatstroke in rabbits is rapid breathing. Which can be mistaken for shaking.
By watching for other symptoms, you can tell the difference between heatstroke and normal shaking. Here are the most common symptoms of heatstroke in rabbits:
- Rapid breathing
- Gasping for air
- Loss of appetite
- Bluish or grey lips
Here are some things you can do to protect your rabbit from heatstroke and what you can do if they already have it:
- Never place your rabbit in direct sunlight.
- Place a bottle of cold water near them during the summertime.
- Provide them with shade when they are outside.
- Wrap your rabbit’s body with a moistened towel. Don’t wrap their ears because it helps them regulate the temperature.
- Don’t soak your rabbits in water if you suspect them of heatstroke because it could provoke shock.
2. Gastrointestinal stasis (GI Stasis)
Gastrointestinal stasis, or GI stasis, is one of the most common reasons why rabbits die. It’s often hard to tell when a rabbit has this problem because they seem normal, then all of a sudden they get dangerously ill.
There are many causes of GI stasis, like high starch or low fiber diets, injuries, stress, and lack of exercise.
When a rabbit has GI stasis and is shaking, it’s important that you immediately bring your rabbit to a vet. It’s possible that at that point, GI stasis has progressed to what’s called the “end of life stage”. This is the stage where the rabbit is shaking due to difficulty breathing.
Parasites could also be the reason why your rabbit is shaking. A parasite called Encephalitozoon cuniculi, or E. cuniculi, can cause tremors or seizures when it spreads to the nervous system and brain.
Here are the symptoms of E. cuniculi:
Brain symptoms of E. cuniculi
- Facial paralysis on one or both sides
- Weakness or paralysis in one or more limbs
- Stiffened hind leg gait
- Head tilt
- Walking in circles or rolling over
- Jerky eye movements
- Lack of appetite
- Behavior changes and/or depression
- Tremors or seizures
- Collapse or coma
- Death, sometimes sudden
Kidney Symptoms of E. cuniculi
- Lack of appetite
- Generalized weakness
- Drinking a lot of water
- Smell of ammonia on the breath
If you suspect your rabbit of having E. cuniculi, you should immediately bring it to a veterinarian.
4. Bacterial otitis media/interna
Another reason why your rabbit might be laying down and shaking is due to a condition called bacterial otitis media/interna. Bacterial otitis is an infection in the middle ear from the upper respiratory tract.
Head tilt and scratching of the ear are the main symptoms of bacterial otitis. In severe cases, it could cause seizures and encephalitis.
If you suspect that your rabbit has this condition, you should immediately take them to a vet to be treated.
What to do if your rabbit is shaking while lying down?
If you find your rabbit shaking while lying down, you must first find out the reason why it’s happening. Is it hot where you live (> 85°F )? Because rabbits do shake a little when experiencing heatstroke.
If the problem is heatstroke, you need to cool down your rabbit. You can do that by placing a cold water bottle wrapped in a towel near your rabbit.
You should also provide as much airflow to their cage/hutch and avoid direct sunlight.
Here’s a great video on how to properly cool down your rabbit on a hot day:
If it’s not humid where you’re living, and you notice any additional symptoms like changes in their behavior or changes in your rabbit’s poop/urine, you need to bring your rabbit to a rabbit-savvy veterinarian.
Rabbits shaking a little when laying down is normal.
What’s not normal is when there are other symptoms accompanied by the shaking, which is called the “End of life stage”.
There are a few medical reasons why a rabbit might be shaking while laying down. It could be a heatstroke, which can be solved by placing a water bottle wrapped in a towel near your rabbit.
But it could also be a parasite or a bacteria that affects the nervous system of the brain which could induce shaking or seizures. If this is the case, immediately bring your rabbit to a veterinarian.
Cite this article:
Sources and Further reading
- Patry, Karen, et al. The Rabbit-Raising Problem Solver: Your Questions Answered about Housing, Feeding, Behavior, Health Care, Breeding, and Kindling. Storey Publishing, 2014.
- Otitis Media and Interna in Animals
- Meredith, Anna, et al. BSAVA Manual of Rabbit Medicine. British Small Animal Veterinary Association, 2014.