Has your rabbit been acting strangely lately? Do they seem jittery or tremble for no apparent reason? If your bunny can’t stop shaking, don’t ignore this concerning behavior! Shaking and tremors in rabbits can indicate something is very wrong. Your pet could be in danger from heatstroke, illness, stress, or toxicity. As a caring rabbit owner, it’s up to you to get to the root cause of the problem quickly and obtain life-saving treatment. In this comprehensive guide, learn about all the potential reasons your rabbit shakes and how to expertly care for your pet. From prevention tips to emergency first aid, we cover everything you need to confidently manage shaking episodes and keep your bunny happy and healthy!
Why Is My Rabbit Shaking?
It can be concerning when you notice your rabbit shaking or trembling. However, there are many potential reasons why your rabbit may be exhibiting this behavior. Shaking and trembling can indicate that your rabbit is too hot, frightened, stressed, suffering from an illness, or has an underlying medical condition.
Rabbits are prey animals, so their first instinct when frightened or feeling unwell is to hide it. This means that sometimes the shaking may be the only outward sign that something is wrong. As a rabbit owner, it's important to watch for any behaviors that seem abnormal and contact your veterinarian if the shaking persists or occurs frequently.
Some common causes for shaking and trembling in rabbits include:
Rabbits Shake When It’s Hot
One of the most common reasons pet rabbits shake and tremble is because they are too hot. Rabbits are unable to sweat like humans do to cool themselves down. The only way they can try to lose heat is through their ears.
When temperatures reach over 80°F, rabbits are at risk for heat stroke. Signs include rapid breathing, lethargy, and shaking as they try to cool down. Their thick coats mean even lower temperatures can cause them to overheat.
If you notice your rabbit shaking on a hot day, there are steps you can take to help:
Move them to a cooler area of the house and switch on fans or air conditioning. Place frozen water bottles in their enclosure for them to lean against.
Give them cool water and wet their ears with a damp cloth. Avoid submerging them fully in water as the shock could make things worse.
Brush out excess fur to promote better air circulation. Consider a summer haircut if temperatures will remain high. Lionshead and angora breeds need frequent brushing and shedding.
Limit exercise on hot days and move playtime to the cooler morning/evening hours. Monitor for signs of heat exhaustion like heavy panting and skin flushing.
Place ceramic tiles in their enclosure for a cool place to rest off the ground. Digging and burrowing under blankets can also help them stay comfortable.
With proper prevention, most cases of overheating are mild. But if shaking persists and your rabbit collapses or seems disoriented, call your vet immediately as they could have life-threatening heatstroke.
How to Treat Heatstroke in Rabbits
If your rabbit is showing advanced signs of heatstroke such as excessive drooling, seizures, or unconsciousness, this is a medical emergency. Follow these steps to try and reduce their temperature until you can get to an emergency vet:
Move them to the coolest location possible and direct fans to blow on them. Apply ice packs or cool water towels to their neck, ears, and paws (areas where blood vessels are close to the skin). Avoid wetting their entire body.
Offer cool, wet vegetables like cucumber or celery to help rehydrate them. Avoid cold water as this could shock them.
Monitor their breathing and heart rate closely. Gently rub their ears and body to promote circulation.
Transport them to the vet immediately. They will likely administer IV fluids and monitor their temperature until stable.
Once their temperature is down, the vet will suggest steps to avoid another episode of heatstroke. Tragically, many rabbits do not survive once their temperature rises to dangerous levels. Prevention is key to keep your pet safe in hot weather.
Rabbits Shake When They’re Frightened
Rabbits are naturally skittish animals, so it’s common for them to shake or tremble when they become scared or startled. Anything unfamiliar or stressful can cause this reaction. Some common triggers include:
A New Habitat
Bringing your new rabbit home or moving their cage to a new room are big changes that can frighten them. It may take a few days for them to adjust to new sights, smells, and sounds. Try to make changes gradually and stick to their normal feeding schedule to help ease the transition.
Rabbits feel safest when they can survey their surroundings and escape to hide if needed. New people, children, loud noises and pets can scare them, causing shaking fits. Introduce new experiences slowly and provide hideaways. Never force contact if they seem overwhelmed.
Not Spaying or Neutering Rabbits
Unfixed rabbits tend to be more territorial and skittish. Hormones and the drive to mate make them more likely to become frightened, especially by other pets. Spaying or neutering can improve temperament and help soothe jittery behavior.
In most cases, the shaking will stop once the perceived threat goes away. Offer treats and petting to reassure them everything is okay. If the behavior continues or seems extreme, consult your vet as stress can impact their health. Providing mental stimulation and hiding spots can also make your rabbit feel more secure.
Like humans, rabbits can get the hiccups too! Hiccups cause involuntary contractions of the diaphragm which results in the classic “hic” sound. They usually resolve on their own after a few minutes. But if your rabbit has prolonged or frequent hiccups it could indicate:
Eating too fast – Slow down their feeding and make sure their diet has enough fiber.
Stress or excitement – Try to minimize loud noises or other stimuli until the episode passes.
Gastrointestinal issues – See the vet if it happens regularly as it may point to underlying conditions like acid reflux or dysbiosis.
Respiratory infection – Hiccups combined with nasal discharge or trouble breathing warrants a vet visit to test for pneumonia.
Hiccups that last more than a few hours are abnormal. Seek medical attention if they also have lethargy, poor appetite or show signs of discomfort. Otherwise, no treatment is needed beyond addressing the underlying cause.
Mites are a common parasite that can infest your rabbit’s skin and ears. There are several types of mites including:
Also called psoroptic mange, ear mites cause intense itching and irritation in the ears. Your rabbit will shake their head and scratch at their ears excessively. You may see dark crusty discharge that looks like coffee grounds. Ear mites are highly contagious between rabbits and can cause damage and infection if left untreated.
Fur mites lead to dandruff-like skin and patchy fur loss along their back. Your rabbit may have dry, flaky skin and constantly shake to relieve itchiness. Fur mites are passed through direct and indirect contact. All rabbits in the household should be evaluated.
These mites tunnel into the skin usually around the legs and neck. Signs include small raised scabs and intense itching leading to shaking. Without treatment, they can spread to cause mange in severe cases. like other mites, transmission happens through contact.
Mites should be treated by a vet to ensure proper diagnosis and medication. Topical acaricides, anti-parasitics like revolution, and antibiotics if the skin is infected are typical treatments. All bedding and toys should also be cleaned to prevent re-infestation.
Ear infections are common issues in rabbits that can cause head shaking due to irritation and pain. The thick hair in rabbit ears traps moisture, creating a breeding ground for bacteria and yeast. Signs include:
- Head tilting – They tilt their head to relieve pressure in the infected ear.
- Loss of balance or rolling – Inner ear infections impact their sense of equilibrium.
- Discharge – Look for wetness or crusty buildup around the ears.
- Hair loss – Inflammation and scratching leads to bald patches around the ears.
- Decreased appetite – They may stop eating due to discomfort.
See your vet promptly if your rabbit is showing these symptoms. Ear swabs, cultures, and staining can pinpoint the type of infection to guide treatment. Medicated ear drops, oral antibiotics, and pain medicine help resolve most ear infections. Untreated infections can rupture the ear drum or lead to abscesses.
Laying Down and Shaking Due to GI Stasis
Gastrointestinal (GI) stasis is a dangerous condition where the gut slows down or stops working. It requires emergency vet care as it can be fatal if not treated promptly. Signs include:
- Small, infrequent poops or none at all
- Lack of appetite
- Laying down and shaking from pain
- Sitting hunched up
- Grinding teeth from discomfort
The most common cause of GI stasis is a diet lacking fiber or dehydration. Stress, dental issues, gastrointestinal disease, and certain medications are other risk factors.
If your rabbit is showing signs of GI stasis, call your vet immediately. They will likely administer fluids and motility drugs to get the gut moving again. Pain medication and appetite stimulants help support recovery. Prevent reoccurrence by identifying and addressing the underlying cause.
Eating Something Poisonous
In some cases, rabbit shaking is caused by ingesting toxic substances. Rabbits are incredibly sensitive to toxins and poisoning can occur rapidly. Some common poisons include:
Pesticides – Both insect and rodent poisons are highly toxic. Keep these locked away securely.
Plants – Lilies, oleander, and rhododendron are a few of many poisonous plants. Remove any unknown plants from their environment.
Cables – Chewed electrical wires can cause electrocution. Use cable protectors or block access.
Prescription medication – Never give your rabbit human medications without consulting a vet.
Moldy food – Mycotoxins from moldy produce or feed causes tremors and seizures.
If you catch your rabbit eating something suspicious or see signs of poisoning like vomiting, seizures, or convulsions get them to an emergency vet immediately. Swift treatment is needed to prevent serious damage or death. Prevention through rabbit proofing their space is key.
How to Prevent Shaking in Rabbits
While occasional trembling isn’t unusual, frequent or prolonged shaking is a sign something is wrong. Here are tips to minimize episodes of shaking:
Spay/neuter your rabbit to decrease hormonal behavior and aggression.
Clean their environment frequently to prevent illness from bacteria and parasites.
Avoid sudden loud noises, children, or pets overwhelming them.
Introduce new experiences gradually to avoid frightening them.
Give them places to hide and get off the ground when afraid.
Brush and groom them regularly to find skin issues early.
Feed a healthy diet high in hay to prevent GI issues.
Provide lots of clean water and limit sugary fruits/veggies.
Install wire protectors on electric cables so they can’t chew.
Rabbit proof your home by removing houseplants and securing chemicals.
Place ceramic tiles in their enclosure to cool down on.
Set up fans and A/C during hot spells and limit exercise midday.
By being attentive to your rabbit's needs and environment, most causes of shaking can be avoided! Contact your vet promptly if the behavior seems abnormal or excessive to get them the care they need. With some detective work and prevention, you can have a happy and healthy hopper.