Why Do Rabbits Breathe Fast and When is it Dangerous?

Your rabbit’s nose is twitching as its chest rapidly pumps up and down. Its breathing seems quicker than usual. Should you be concerned? For most pet owners, understanding a rabbit’s unique respiratory patterns can be confusing. Unlike humans, rabbits naturally breathe faster – but when is their rapid breathing normal and when is it a red flag? Join me as we dive into the world of rabbit respiration to unpack what’s considered healthy and learn to identify the warning signs of trouble. You’ll gain veterinarian-approved techniques for measuring breathing rates and detect when it’s time to seek emergency care. We’ll unravel the mysteries behind your bunny’s swift inhales and exhales so you can keep their airways happy and healthy. Let’s hop to it!

The fast does a healthy rabbit breathe?

A rabbit's normal respiratory rate is typically between 30-60 breaths per minute, with the average resting rate around 40 breaths per minute. This is considerably faster than the normal respiratory rate for humans, which is 12-20 breaths per minute. There are a few reasons why rabbits breathe so rapidly:

  • Smaller size – Rabbits have a smaller lung capacity and higher metabolism compared to larger animals. Their small size requires them to breathe faster to supply their body with oxygen.
  • Prey species instincts – As prey animals, rabbits are wired to be alert and ready to flee from predators. Their rapid breathing helps deliver oxygen quickly for fast getaways.
  • Higher blood pressure – Rabbits have higher blood pressure than humans, needing more oxygen circulation. Faster breathing facilitates this increased blood flow.

So a resting respiratory rate between 30-60 is perfectly normal and healthy for the average rabbit. Slower or faster rates may indicate an underlying issue. It's important for rabbit owners to familiarize themselves with their pet's normal breathing patterns to detect when something may be off. Monitoring can be done by observing the rise and fall of the chest and/or feeling for inhales and exhales. A healthy rabbit's breathing should seem calm and effortless, without distress. Any breathing that seems labored or difficult could signal a potential problem.

How to check your rabbit's breathing rate

Checking your rabbit's respiratory rate regularly is a good way to detect potential health issues early. Here are some tips for accurately measuring your bunny's breathing rate at home:

  • Create a quiet, familiar environment. Rabbits may breathe faster if stressed, so minimize environmental disturbances.
  • Gently place one hand against the side of the rabbit's chest. Feel for the rhythmic rise and fall.
  • Use a timer to count the number of breaths in 15 seconds. Multiply this number by 4 to calculate breaths per minute.
  • Take 2-3 measurements and average the results. The respiratory rate can fluctuate slightly.
  • Aim to check the resting breathing rate 2-3 times per week and note any changes.
  • Perform checks when the rabbit is calm and relaxed, not sleeping heavily.
  • Repeat measurements at the same time of day for consistency.

Ideally, healthy rabbits should have a resting respiratory rate between 30-60 breaths per minute. Significantly slower or faster rates, or any sudden changes in breathing patterns, should prompt a veterinary visit. It's helpful to establish a baseline breathing rate for your rabbit when healthy to more easily identify deviations from normal. Monitoring respiratory rate is an excellent way to catch signs of illness early on.

When is it typical for a rabbit to breathe faster that usual?

While rabbits naturally breathe more rapidly than humans, there are some common situations when your bunny's respiratory rate may temporarily increase above their normal baseline. This is usually not cause for alarm as long as the accelerated breathing resolves once the triggering activity stops. Common reasons for temporary faster breathing in rabbits include:

During and after exercise

Like humans, rabbits will breathe faster during physical exertions to meet increased oxygen demands. You can expect your rabbit's breathing rate to elevate during bouts of high activity such as running, jumping, or playing. Their breathing should return to a normal, resting pace within a few minutes of calming down.

When they are afraid

Rabbits are prey animals wired to either fight or take flight in the face of perceived danger. These survival instincts can kick in if a rabbit feels threatened, stressed, or frightened. You may notice them breathing rapidly and appearing alert. Try to soothe your bunny and remove the source of fear. Their breathing should slow once they feel secure again.

When they are not feeling well

Illnesses can stress the body and prompt a faster breathing rate. Infections, diseases, GI stasis, heat stress, and other ailments may cause a rabbit to breathe more rapidly to compensate. Once the sickness resolves, the breathing rate usually returns to normal. Seek medical treatment if it remains elevated.

If they are feeling hot

Since rabbits cannot efficiently sweat, fast breathing is a key mechanism for releasing heat. On very warm days or if stuck in direct sunlight, your rabbit may breathe faster to cool its body temperature down and avoid overheating. Be sure to monitor your pet closely in hot conditions.

When to seek medical attention for your rabbit

While temporary faster breathing during certain situations is normal, a persistently elevated respiratory rate can signal potentially serious health issues requiring veterinary attention. Seek prompt medical care if your rabbit displays:

When the breathing rate is fast for a long period of time

Breathing that remains rapid well beyond the end of an activity requires investigation. An elevated rate sustained for over an hour, without explanation, could indicate illness or distress.

When the fast breathing is accompanied by other signs of illness

Fast breathing coupled with lethargy, loss of appetite, unusual vocalizations, or other concerning symptoms are red flag signs of sickness. Immediate medical care is crucial.

In addition to fast breathing, specific symptoms that warrant an emergency vet visit include:

  • Labored, open-mouth breathing or gasping for air
  • Making rattling or gurgling sounds when breathing
  • Abdominal breathing with exaggerated chest movements
  • A blue or purple tinge visible on the ears, tongue, or lips
  • Bleeding from the nose or mouth

Rapid respiratory rates paired with any of these acute symptoms indicate breathing difficulty or respiratory distress. This constitutes a medical emergency requiring swift veterinary treatment to prevent devastating outcomes like organ damage or death. If your rabbit is struggling for breath or unable to breathe comfortably, seek help immediately.


A healthy rabbit's normal resting respiratory rate is 30-60 breaths per minute, which is considerably faster than human breathing. Temporary increases can occur during exercise, fear, illness, or heat stress, but the breathing should return to a normal pace once the trigger resolves. Persistently fast breathing, especially combined with other symptoms, signifies an urgent need for veterinary assessment. Monitoring your rabbit's rate and rhythm of respiration can help detect concerning changes that allow early medical intervention when appropriate. Pay attention to your bunny's breathing every day to safeguard their health and wellness.


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