If you have a pet rabbit, you undoubtedly know how cute their noses are. Our little furry friends have noses that are constantly wiggling, and hardly ever seem to stop. But did you ever stop to wonder why their noses twitch? Many other animals are capable of twitching their noses, but few wiggle them constantly, the way rabbits do.
Why do rabbits wiggle their nose? The rabbit nose twitch helps them smell better, breathe more easily, and regulate their body temperature. Like many other features of the rabbit anatomy, bunnies wiggle their nose as a defense mechanism to increase their chances of survival in the wild.
Like a rabbit’s tail and eyes, the bunny nose is a hidden, yet essential part of their overall survival as a species. Even though our beloved pets don’t have to worry so much about dangerous predators, now that they no longer live in the wild, their noses are still an important aspect of their anatomy. We can learn a lot about our rabbits as we watch their cute little snouts wiggle.
A better sense of smell
The bunny nose twitch helps rabbits have a better sense of smell. It stimulates the millions of scent receptors they have and improves the number of scents they can distinguish in a short period of time. That’s why you’ll see a rabbits nose start to wiggle faster and faster as they get curious about something new in the environment.
Like many other rabbit features, this excellent sense of smell has played an important role in a wild rabbit’s survival. Rabbits can twitch their nose up to 150 times per minute. This gives them the ability to sense dangerous predators that have otherwise been able to evade notice from sight and sound.
Regulating their body temperature
The nose wiggle also plays a role in a rabbits ability to regulate their body temperature. When a rabbit breathes, the mucous in the nasal passage helps transfer heat from the air being inhaled and exhaled. In the winter, this can help the rabbit to retain heat, while in hot weather this can play a vital part in preventing heat stroke in rabbits.
This is why you will probably notice a rabbits breathing rate increase, along with the speed of their nose wiggle, when a rabbit is starting to get hot. As their bodies heat up because of their thick coats, the rabbit’s breath is doing a lot of work to cool them down. This works alongside the rabbits ears, as they release excess heat from the rabbit’s body.
Rabbits are obligate nose breathers, meaning a healthy rabbit will always be breathing with their nose. The rabbit nose wiggle helps to keep air flowing through the respiratory system, making sure the rabbit is getting enough air when they breathe. This is especially important when a rabbit is more active. Their breathing rate will increase and their nose will wiggle rapidly. This prevents them from having to pant, like many other species do.
Rabbits do not have to wiggle their nose in order to breathe, though. In fact, you may notice your rabbit’s nose sometimes seems to completely stop when they are sleeping or at rest. They are still breathing, the rabbit just doesn’t need to breathe as rapidly because they are not expending much energy. They don’t need to twitch their nose to breathe, it just makes it easier.
Rabbits also use their nose to gather information about the environment around them. Rabbits have sensors from their whiskers around their nose and cheeks. As their whiskers rub against nearby objects, they tickle the rabbits nose causing it to twitch. It also gives the rabbit an idea of what objects are nearby. This is important for rabbits because they are farsighted animals and cannot see nearby objects clearly.
Sniffing the environment can give them as much information as a conversation would for humans. They can know from the scent who’s territory they are in and what yummy vegetables might be hiding underground.
When does a rabbit’s nose stop wiggling?
While a rabbit gains many advantages by twitching their nose, they don’t always have that adorable wiggle. It’s just a myth that a rabbit will stop breathing or die when their nose isn’t wiggling. In fact, if you have rabbits in your home, you might even see their noses stop on occasion. So when are the times that you might see the wiggling nose stop?
When they are sleeping
The most common time you will notice a pause in the twitch of a bunny nose is when they are sleeping. Rabbits can’t pay much attention to their surroundings when they are asleep, so their nose will stop trying to gather information.
This is actually one of the ways you will be able to tell if a rabbit is asleep. Many times rabbits sleep with their eyes open, making it look like they are awake and aware at all times. This is just a way to trick predators into thinking the rabbit is awake though. You can tell if the rabbit is really asleep by looking at their nose. If their nose is still twitching, the rabbit is probably awake. But if it stops twitching, then the rabbit has fallen asleep.
When they are calm
Sometimes when a rabbit feels very calm, their nose will slow down so much that it looks like it’s not twitching anymore. You might notice this around times when you are petting your rabbit. You’re giving them a wonderful massage and the rabbit melts into the floor. The rabbit is not asleep, but their nose seems to have stopped twitching.
Usually in these cases their nose doesn’t completely stop wiggling. It’s just slowed down so much that it appears to have stopped. But if you keep watching your rabbits nose, you’ll notice the occasional slow twitch. Or if you stop petting them, they will suddenly start twitching their noses more quickly as they nudge your hand to be pet more.
When they are on super high alert
When a rabbit gets suddenly frightened, their nose may momentarily stop twitching. It will look kind of like a skipped heartbeat. Most of the time when a rabbit is on alert, their nose will twitch very fast to gather as much information as possible. But when it’s a sudden shock, their whole body will freeze for a moment. And that includes their nose.
When do rabbits wiggle their noses really fast?
Most of the time rabbits will be wiggling their nose at a relatively constant rate. But there are some occasions when you might notice your rabbit’s nose twitching much faster than usual. Sometimes the rapid rate of breathing will even make your rabbit look like they are shaking. Most of the time, this is perfectly normal and nothing to worry about. Your rabbit might have been active and is now cooling down, or maybe they’re just a little nervous or excited.
When they are curious or excited
Rabbits will twitch their nose faster when they are curious or excited about something. You might see their nose going as they check out a new object in the room. Or you might see them get very excited when you open a treat bag to give them their favorite treat. A twitching nose is one way you can tell when your rabbit is super excited.
When they are nervous or scared
Rabbits will also twitch their noses faster when they get nervous or scared. Since they can gather so much information from the wiggle of their nose, rabbits will be trying to sniff out anything they can with their fast-twitching noses.
When they are active
Understandably, rabbits will also twitch their noses faster when they are being very active. This helps them to breathe easier while performing their acrobatics all around their living room. After they’ve finished their zooming for the time being, rabbits will often go and sprawl out, continuing to breathe rapidly. So don’t be surprised if you see a rabbit breathing super fast after they’ve had a good run-around. They’re just taking the time to cool down now.
When they are hot
Rabbits will also breathe more rapidly when they are very hot. This is one that you want to watch, because rabbits can overheat. If it’s hot out and you notice your rabbit is breathing very fast, look out for these other signs of heat stroke:
- Low energy
- Red ears
- Mouth breathing or drooling
- Head thrown back
- Confused movement
- Not eating
If they are just breathing rapidly and there are no other signs of distress, then the rabbit is probably fine. But you might want to turn the AC on so your rabbit doesn’t have to work so hard to keep cool.
When they are stressed or sick
Sometimes an increase in the rabbit nose twitch means that they are sick. Rabbits are prey animals, so they will try to hide their weaknesses. This is because in the wild, a predator would often try to single out prey animals that show signs of sickness. If a rabbit is in pain, their breathing rate will usually increase as they try to hide the signs of their discomfort.
If you notice your rabbit’s breathing rate increasing as their nose twitches more, check for other signs of distress in the rabbit:
- Hunched, uncomfortable body posture
- Not eating
- Not pooping
- Lack of energy
Respiratory diseases that block the nasal passageway could also cause in increase in the twitch of a rabbit’s nose. The rabbits breathing rate increases as they struggle to get enough air. So if you notice any wheezing, grunting, watery discharge, or snot from the rabbits nose, then they are in need of medical attention.
Why a good sense of smell so important for rabbits
Rabbits have developed an excellent sense of smell to help them in their daily lives. These little fluffers use their cute wiggling noses for so many reasons, including:
- Sniffing their food. Rabbits can sniff out yummy vegetables while they’re still underground. They also use their noses to identify any food that’s in front of them. Since rabbits are farsighted, they rely on their sense of smell to differentiate many objects that are nearby.
- Smelling predators. Since many predators have evolved to be very quiet and hidden in their environments, rabbits will often rely on their sense of smell to know when dangerous predators are nearby.
- Mating. Rabbits use their sense of smell to know when females are in mating season. Un-neutered Male rabbits can also emit a strong skunk-like smell when they are ready for mating also.
- Claiming territory. Rabbits will spread their scent to claim their territory. They do this by rubbing the scent glands in their chin against objects, and spraying their pee. Other rabbits who enter their territory will know immediately because of their strong sense of smell.
Can you communicate with your rabbit if you wiggle your nose?
You can understand a little bit about your rabbit’s body language if you watch their nose wiggle. If their nose is a slow and consistent wiggle, you’ll know your rabbit is pretty calm right now. Or if your rabbit’s nose is wiggling super fast while they hesitantly approach a new object, then you’ll know they are curious about it.
You can try wiggling your nose at your rabbit and seeing how they respond. I’ve heard stories where someone was able to calm their rabbit down by twitching their nose in time with the rabbit’s nose. I’ve tried to do this, and while it’s a silly and fun experiment, my rabbits usually just ignore me.
Rabbit eyes are big and located on the side of a rabbits head to give them a very wide field of vision. They are able to see in an almost 360º circle around themselves, and they can see what’s happening at distances that are very far away.
Why do rabbits have big ears?
Big rabbit ears serve two main purposes. As you might expect, the main reason rabbits have big ears is to have excellent hearing. Less obviously, but equally as important, these long ears help the rabbit to regulate their body temperature.
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- Johnson-Delaney, Cathy, Orosz, Susan. “Rabbit Respiratory System: Clinical Anatomy, Physiology and Disease.” Veterinary Clinics of North America Exotic Animal Practice. May 2011, https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Cathy_Johnson-Delaney/publication/51155433_Rabbit_Respiratory_System_Clinical_Anatomy_Physiology_and_Disease/links/5b04c36faca2720ba099e21d/Rabbit-Respiratory-System-Clinical-Anatomy-Physiology-and-Disease.pdf.
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