Your rabbit is lying limply in her hutch, breathing rapidly. There's uneaten food and no new droppings. Panic sets in. An emergency? What should you do? Your exotic vet is closed. Don't despair! Arm yourself with knowledge before crisis strikes. Recognize symptoms, assess the situation, and respond quickly. Time is critical for your bunny's survival and recovery. Understand the common types of rabbit emergencies. Know when to call the vet or go to emergency care. Administer appropriate first aid. With this guide, you'll be prepared to handle a rabbit emergency. Stay calm, act fast, and get your bunny the expert care he needs – it could save your rabbit's life!
Is this an emergency situation?
Determining if your rabbit's condition warrants an emergency veterinary visit can be tricky. Rabbits are prey animals that instinctively hide signs of illness, so changes can be subtle. Take note of any deviations from your rabbit's normal behavior or appearance. Loss of appetite, lethargy, grinding teeth, sitting hunched over, mounting discomfort/pain, and abnormalities in breathing, urination, defecation are red flags. Monitor closely and don't delay calling your vet if you notice anything unusual. Trust your instincts – you know your rabbit best. When in doubt, it's better to err on the side of caution with a vet visit. A rabbit's condition can deteriorate rapidly, so early intervention greatly improves the chances of recovery.
How aware is your rabbit?
Your rabbit's level of alertness and awareness is a key indicator of how serious the situation is. A bright, alert, and responsive rabbit is reassuring. Lethargy, disorientation, lack of reaction to stimuli, or unusual unresponsiveness signal an emergency. Check your rabbit's awareness by gently stroking its forehead and calling its name. Note if your rabbit moves, responds, or acknowledges your presence as usual. Shine a light in your rabbit's eyes and see if the pupils constrict normally. Lack of response, extreme lethargy, disorientation, comatose-like states, or seizures warrant immediate emergency veterinary care. Don't delay – prolonged altered mental status can have serious health consequences.
When was the last time they ate? Pooped?
Monitoring your rabbit's eating and pooping habits provides important clues. Rabbits are grazing animals, so changes in eating or pooping frequency indicates a problem. Ask yourself: Is your rabbit eating and drinking normally? Are they consuming the expected amount of hay, pellets, and vegetables? Check your rabbit's habitat – is there uneaten food or an unusual absence/reduction of fecal pellets? Loss of appetite or decreased eating are red flags. So is reduced fecal output or unusual changes in the size, number, consistency, or smell of droppings. If your rabbit hasn't eaten in over 12 hours, can't keep food down, has dramatically reduced fecal output, or no bowel movements for over 24 hours, these are signs of gastrointestinal issues and require prompt emergency veterinary attention.
How is your rabbit breathing?
Watch your rabbit's breathing closely. Normal rabbit breathing is relaxed and effortless, around 30-60 breaths per minute. Fast, labored breathing, wheezing, open-mouth breathing, noisy congested breathing (crackles/rattles), or breathlessness are emergency signs. Check that both sides of your rabbit's chest are rising and falling evenly. Uneven movement or favoring one side indicates trouble. Flared nostrils, neck/head extension, or hunched posture are also warnings of breathing difficulties. Abnormal breathing needs quick veterinary intervention as it can point to heart problems, infections, blockages, or other serious issues that require oxygen and treatment. Don't delay if your rabbit shows any breathing abnormalities.
Are there open wounds or blood?
Check your rabbit carefully from head to toe looking for wounds, swelling, wetness, or bleeding. Blood anywhere – coming from the nose, mouth, rectum – are all reasons for immediate concern. Look for cuts, puncture wounds, and abscesses which require treatment to avoid infection. Check the fur and skin for parasites. Wetness near the eyes, vagina, penis or anus is also troubling. Head tilt, leaning, limping, reluctance to hop up/down or reluctance to put weight on a limb can indicate fracture, dislocation, or sprain requiring prompt veterinary diagnosis and pain relief. Don't bathe wounds but apply clean light pressure to control serious bleeding and contact your vet.
What signs are there in the immediate environment?
Look at your rabbit's surroundings for clues. Are there chewed electrical wires, plants, or other nibbled dangerous items? Ingested toxins require urgent care. Check for environmental hazards like loose nails, needles, string, rubber bands. Note urine or stool accidents outside the litterbox which suggest elimination issues. Evidence of vomiting like undigested food requires prompt attention. Signs of struggle or distress like fur tufts or damage in the enclosure may mean an altercation with another animal. Examine for anything in the habitat which could indicate your rabbit's symptoms.
When to call your veterinarian?
Contact your rabbit-experienced vet right away if you observe any of the emergency signs covered in the sections above. Describe the symptoms in detail. If the vet's office is closed, call the emergency after-hours number. Urgent rabbit health situations requiring prompt veterinary attention include:
- Lethargy, disorientation, seizures, comatose states
- Not eating for 12+ hours or reduced/no fecal output
- Difficult, fast, or abnormal breathing
- Open wounds, bleeding, trauma, fractures
- Diarrhea, bloating, GI stasis
- Discharge from nose, eyes, vagina, penis, or anus
- Pain, crying out, grinding teeth
- Obvious distress or suffering
In emergency situations, each minute counts for your bunny's wellbeing, so don't watch and wait. Get veterinary advice or go directly to an emergency/after-hours clinic. Be ready to transport your rabbit safely and quickly. Have your vet's contact info, medical records, and a care budget prepared in advance for emergencies. Remain calm, keep your rabbit quiet and warm, and move swiftly to get your rabbit medical attention.
Determine what kind of emergency it is
While awaiting veterinary assistance, try to determine the type of emergency affecting your rabbit. Recognizing the kind of crisis can help guide initial care steps. Gather key information:
- Onset – Did the symptoms come on suddenly or gradually worsen?
- Last meal – When did your rabbit last successfully eat and poop normally?
- Exposure – Could your rabbit have ingested toxins or hazardous materials?
- Activity Level – Is your rabbit showing normal or decreased activity and engagement?
Note other specifics like ambulation difficulties, evidence of trauma, or any unusual recent interactions with people, animals or environments. Identify what emergency category the symptoms indicate:
- Constipation/reduced fecal output
- Loss of appetite
- Evidence of pain – hunching, teeth grinding
- Stasis – no bowel movement for 24+ hours
Wounds or broken bones
- Open cuts, scrapes, puncture wounds, abscesses
- Bleeding from nose, mouth, rectum
- Swelling, discharge
- Limping, unwilling to hop up/down
- Car accident or other trauma
- Fast irregular pulse, heartbeat
- Pale gums
- Trembling, weakness
- Lying down, unable to stand
- Shallow, rapid breathing
- Cold body, especially ears and extremities
- Lethargy, stiffness, shivering
- Weakness, trouble moving
- Body temperature below 101°F / 38°C
- Panting, drooling
- Rapid heart rate
- Warm, flushed skin, fever over 103°F / 39°C
- Lying flat, unwilling to move
- Found chewing electrical cords
- Singed fur, burns on nose or feet
- Irregular heartbeat
- Breathing issues
- Found near toxins – chemicals, medications, plants, foods
- Drooling, vomiting, diarrhea
- Dilated pupils
- Seizures, uncoordinated movements
- Low energy, trouble breathing
- Evidence of fleas, mites, lice, ticks
- Constant scratching, biting, licking fur
- Scaly skin, missing fur patches
- Anemia if severe infestation
- Nasal discharge
- Sneezing, watery eyes
- Congested breathing sounds
- Reduced appetite and activity
- Rapid, open-mouth, or noisy breathing
- Flared nostrils
- Motion of chest uneven
- Hunching posture
- Cyanosis – bluish tinge to skin/tongue
Seizures or comatose
- Loss of consciousness
- Lack of response to stimuli
- Jerking, convulsing movements
- Uncontrolled urination/defecation
Once you've identified the type of emergency, follow these general guidelines while waiting to access veterinary care:
Respiratory Distress: Keep airway clear. Allow breathing room. Oxygen if available. Reduce stress.
Profuse Bleeding: Apply direct pressure to wound with clean cloth. Keep calm and quiet.
Toxin/Poison: Remove source if safe. Call poison control. Bring sample and packaging to vet.
Fracture/Sprain: Immobilize affected area. Don't allow walking. Pad enclosure. Transport carefully.
Shock: Keep warm with blankets. Low stimulation environment. Transport horizontally if possible.
Hypothermia: Gradually raise body temperature. Warm, dry enclosure. Heating pad/water bottle if needed.
Hyperthermia: Cool gradually – fans, ice packs to groin/ears. Hydrate. Watch breathing.
Seizure: Protect from injury. Track duration. Keep airway open. Seek anticonvulsants.
Comatose: Ensure airflow. Monitor vital signs – pulse, respiration. Head lower than body. IV fluids.
The most common rabbit emergencies involve serious gastrointestinal issues like bloat, ileus, or stasis. In these cases, pain management, hydration, motility drugs, appetite stimulants, gut stimulants, and monitored force-feeding are typical treatments. Underlying issues like dental problems, infections, obstructions, etc. also need to be diagnosed and addressed.
In emergency care of wounded or traumatized rabbits, controlling blood loss, immobilizing fractures, wound care, fluid therapy, pain control, antibiotics, and nutritional support are priorities. Once stabilized, X-rays, surgery, or other corrective treatments may be needed.
The key is staying calm, avoiding agitation, and getting professional veterinary assessment and treatment as quickly as possible. Your rabbit depends on you staying focused in an emergency! Always have your exotic vet's emergency contacts handy and be prepared to act swiftly.