Has your rabbit been trembling and shaking unexpectedly? It can be downright alarming to see your beloved bunny quivering in the corner of their pen or hunched over seeming unwell. But don’t panic–shaking and shivering in rabbits can have several harmless explanations. Your rabbit may simply be hot, frightened, or dealing with minor hiccups. However, trembling can also signal serious illnesses that require prompt veterinary care. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll explore all the possible reasons for rabbit shaking and teach you how to tell the difference between harmless causes and those needing urgent attention. You’ll learn veterinarian-approved tips for treating conditions causing your rabbit to shake while also preventing future episodes. Read on to finally get answers about your rabbit’s mysterious trembling and keep them healthy and active for years to come!
Why Is My Rabbit Shaking?
It can be alarming to see your rabbit shaking or trembling. However, shaking and trembling in rabbits can be caused by several different factors. Some causes of shaking are harmless, while others require veterinary attention. Understanding the potential reasons why your rabbit is shaking can help you determine if your bunny needs urgent care or if the shaking is nothing to worry about.
Some common reasons rabbits shake and tremble include:
- Fear or anxiety
- Pain or illness
- Parasites like ear mites or fur mites
- Ear infections
- Gastrointestinal (GI) stasis
- Ingesting something toxic
Let's explore these causes in more detail so you can get to the bottom of your rabbit's shaking and trembling.
Rabbits Shake When It’s Hot
One of the most common reasons pet rabbits shake and tremble is simply because they are too hot. Rabbits are very sensitive to high temperatures. Their thick fur coats are designed to keep them warm in cool weather. But when temperatures rise, all that fur can cause them to easily overheat.
Signs that your bunny is shaking due to being too hot include:
- Shaking or trembling occur when temperatures are warm or hot
- Rabbit is resting in a warm area or in direct sunlight
- Ears feel hot to the touch
- Increased breathing rate or panting
- Rabbit is spread out flat on its belly
If you notice these signs on a hot day, move your rabbit to a cooler area immediately. Providing a fan, cool tiles for them to lay on, and frozen water bottles can help lower their body temperature. You may also need to give your rabbit a shallow bath in cool water if heatstroke is suspected.
Left untreated, heatstroke in rabbits can lead to serious complications like organ damage or even death. So it's vital to watch for shaking due to overheating and take prompt action to lower their temperature.
How to Treat Heatstroke in Rabbits
If you believe your rabbit is suffering from heatstroke due to shaking and high temperatures, here are some steps you can take:
Move the rabbit out of direct sunlight and into a shaded or air-conditioned area. Provide fans to help cool the space.
Offer cool or icy water in a shallow bowl to help bring down their internal temperature. But don't submerge your rabbit in cold water—this shock can do more harm than good.
You can put frozen water bottles or ceramic tiles in their enclosure so they can rest against these to cool off. Wrap any ice in a towel so it's not in direct contact with their skin.
Use a damp rag to wipe down their ears and forehead, which will help cool the blood flow to their brain. Take care not to cover their nostrils or mouth.
Monitor their breathing closely. If it seems very rapid and shallow or they are not responsive, call your vet immediately as advanced medical intervention may be needed.
Once your rabbit's temperature is coming down and they seem a bit more alert, you can introduce some tepid herbs like mint, parsley, cilantro, or dill for hydration. But hold off on sugary fruits and veggies until they fully recover to avoid GI upset.
With quick action, your rabbit can recover fully from heatstroke. But prevention is key, so ensure their environment stays cool on hot days. Get them a summer haircut, provide shade, and monitor temperatures diligently.
Rabbits Shake When They’re Frightened
It's normal for rabbits to shake or tremble when they become frightened or anxious. In the wild, rabbits rely on being able to run and leap away from danger. Shaking is thought to prepare their muscles for this flight response.
You may notice your pet rabbit shivering when:
- Exposed to a new or startling sound
- Meeting a new person or animal
- Being picked up or held incorrectly
- Having a negative experience like a claw trim or vet exam
- Riding in the car
Their shaking usually subsides once the frightening stimulus is removed. But continual stress can cause ongoing trembling, so be sure to identify and eliminate the source of your rabbit's anxiety.
Sometimes the trigger may not be obvious. General signs of a stressed rabbit include hiding more, urinating outside the litter box, destructive chewing, and aggressive behavior like lunging or biting. Pay attention to any changes in their typical habits so you can create a calmer environment.
A New Habitat
Bringing home a new rabbit or moving their habitat to a new location can cause shaking due to fear and uncertainty. To ease this transition:
- Introduce new rabbits slowly by swapping toys between pens so they get used to each other's scent
- When allowing them to meet, do so in a neutral area for short sessions until they seem comfortable
- Set up the new habitat in advance so it's ready when you move your rabbit in
- Put familiar items like their litter box, toys, and blankets in the new space to make it less foreign
- Spend extra time petting and reassuring them in the new home so they adjust
With patience and care, your rabbit should adapt to new digs in a few days to weeks.
Sometimes the trigger is a new pet like a cat or dog. Rabbits view other species of animals as predators, so it's instinct to shake in their presence. Introduce new pets very slowly:
- Keep the dog or cat separate at first so the rabbit gets used to their sight and smell
- Pet the new animal before handling your rabbit so they get accustomed to the scent
- Allow brief, supervised meetings until the rabbit seems comfortable and not shaking
- Be sure your new pet is properly trained before free interactions to avoid chasing the rabbit
With time, even prey animals like rabbits can coexist peacefully with predators when proper introductions are made.
Not Spaying or Neutering Rabbits
An anxious, trembling rabbit may be unneutered or unspayed. Rabbits reach sexual maturity around 3-6 months old. If they are not fixed, hormonal changes can cause territorial, aggressive, or otherwise unruly behavior.
Signs that hormones may be causing shaking include:
- Occurs at around 5-9 months old
- Urine spraying or leaving new droppings around the home
- Biting or growling when you reach into their enclosure
- Mounting toys or your hand/leg
- Seems anxious running back and forth in the cage
Consult your vet about getting your rabbit spayed or neutered. This procedure reduces hormonal fluctuations and usually eliminates hormone-driven shaking and anxiety. Be sure to spay/neuter as early as the vet recommends, often around 4-6 months old, to prevent territorial behavior before it starts.
Yes, even rabbits get the hiccups! Their diaphragm can spasm just like humans when excited, eating too fast, or stressed.
You'll know your rabbit has the hiccups if:
- There is a regular jerking motion felt in their abdomen
- It occurs right after eating or drinking
- No other signs of illness are present
- They last only a few minutes before stopping
Hiccups in rabbits are harmless and require no treatment. But if the shaking persists longer than a few minutes, seems severe, or is accompanied by lethargy or appetite loss, contact your vet to rule out other issues.
Mites are tiny parasites that can infest a rabbit's skin, ears, or fur. The presence of these biting insects cause severe itching, pain, and discomfort. You'll notice your rabbit shaking their head, twitching their skin, excessively grooming, and trembling from irritation.
Rabbits can get several types of mites:
Ear mites live in the ear canal and feed on wax and oils. Signs include:
- Head shaking and tilting
- Scratching at ears
- Brown discharge in ears
- Crusting in the ear canal
Prescription ear drops from your vet will kill mites. Be sure to follow up to ensure they are fully eliminated.
Fur mites lead to dandruff-like flakes and skin irritation. You may notice:
- Itchy patches causing rabbit to scratch a lot
- Small bare patches in fur where they have scratched
- Red, flaky skin
- Trembling from discomfort
Vets can prescribe injections or medicated baths to soothe the skin and destroy mites.
These mites tunnel into the skin surface. Signs include:
- Itchy feet causing rabbit to bite at them
- Swelling around ankles
- Eventually scabs may form
- Trembling when feet are touched
Topical flea treatments are used to kill the mites. Be sure to treat bedding as well to remove the infestation.
With prompt vet care, mites can be fully treated and your rabbit's coat and skin will heal.
Ear infections are common in rabbits, especially those with floppy lop ears which trap moisture. Bacteria and yeast can grow creating inflammation and pain.
Signs your rabbit's head shaking is due to an ear infection include:
- Head tilted to one side
- Only shakes one ear versus both
- Discharge in ear canal
- Scratching at infected ear
- Loss of balance or trouble hopping straight
Your vet will prescribe antibiotic and/or antifungal ear drops to clear up the infection. Be vigilant about follow up exams to ensure it has resolved fully.
To help prevent future ear infections:
- Clean dirty ears gently with cotton balls
- Avoid bathing your rabbit, which introduces moisture into ears
- Check ears weekly for signs of infection
- Treat any mites immediately
With prompt treatment and good ear hygiene, you can get your head-shaking rabbit healthy again.
Laying Down and Shaking Due to GI Stasis
Gastrointestinal (GI) stasis or bloat is a dangerous condition where the intestines slow down or even stop moving entirely. It requires emergency vet treatment.
Signs your rabbit's trembling and lethargy are due to GI stasis include:
- Hunched posture with rabbit laying on their belly
- Lack of interest in food or water
- Not pooping or producing small, irregular droppings
- Swollen or distended abdomen that feels hard
- Grinding teeth from pain
GI stasis can occur from lack of fiber, dehydration, stress, pain, infections, or dental issues. But the cause must be treated after addressing the immediate blockage–so seek emergency vet care if you see the above signs.
Treatment involves IV fluids, gut motility drugs, pain meds, and assisted feedings. With aggressive support therapy, most rabbits recover fully from GI stasis if treated promptly.
To prevent GI slowdown:
- Ensure unlimited access to grass hay at all times
- Gradually transition foods and avoid sugary treats
- Encourage exercise through a large habitat and toys
- Schedule annual dental exams to trim overgrown teeth if needed
- Manage any conditions contributing to pain or stress
Stay alert to any signs of GI dysfunction and seek vet care immediately at the first sign of trouble. Rapid intervention is key to getting your rabbit healthy again.
Eating Something Poisonous
Your rabbit may shake after ingesting a toxic plant, chemical, or other dangerous substance.
If you catch your rabbit eating something they shouldn't, get them to the emergency vet without delay! Bring the item itself or take a clear photo so the vet knows what toxin is involved.
Signs your rabbit may have ingested a poison include:
- Pawing at their mouth
- Shaking head violently after eating the substance
- Trembling or seizures
- Breathing distress
- Collapse or difficulty standing
The vet will try to identify the toxin and provide the right antidotes and supportive therapies to counteract it. Prompt, aggressive treatment is essential for the best chance of recovery after a suspected poisoning.
Prevent access to any dangerous plants, chemicals, or medications by properly bunny-proofing their environment. Common toxins include lilies, oleander, antifreeze, and rodent bait. Keep all these well out of your rabbit's reach, and call poison control if they ingest anything worrisome.
How to Prevent Shaking in Rabbits
While occasional shivering due to fright may be unavoidable, you can take steps to prevent prolonged trembling or shaking caused by illness, stress, or discomfort:
- Spay/neuter your rabbit around 5-6 months old
- Correct any housing issues that are too small, noisy, isolated, or uncomfortable
- Bunny-proof to remove access to poisonous plants or unsafe objects
- Don't overfill the litter box which leads to sitting in urine
- Clean litter box at least 1-2 times per day
- Brush weekly and trim nails to avoid matted fur or sores
- Check for parasites and treat any infestations promptly
- See your vet annually for wellness exams to catch issues early
- Feed a balanced diet with ample hay and limited pellets/treats
- Avoid sudden diet changes and introduce new foods gradually
- Monitor temperatures and provide cooling aids to prevent overheating
By maintaining the best possible care and environment for your rabbit, you can keep them calm and comfortable for years to come. Pay close attention to their behavior each day so you notice any signs of trouble early on. And don't hesitate to call your vet for guidance whenever something seems off with your beloved pet. With attentive parenting, your bun can thrive and live a long and healthy life as part of your family.