All rabbits will shake sometimes. Shaking, trembling, and even twitching are completely normal for rabbits and there is generally no need to worry unless the behavior continues for a long time or happens repeatedly.
When a rabbit is shaking, it’s usually due to fast breathing. Very often, this is nothing to worry about and is just a rabbit catching their breath after getting some exercise. However, it can be a sign that your rabbit is getting too hot, feels very scared, or doesn’t feel well.
Other types of shaking and twitching are possible in rabbits as well. You may notice ear shaking, butt twitching, hiccup-like jolts, or more uncontrollable and convulsive behavior. Pay attention to the circumstances around your rabbit’s twitching to figure out the cause and decide what to do to help your rabbit (if you need to do anything at all).
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|Shaking after exercising||Your rabbit is out of breath||No need to do anything, your rabbit should calm down over the next 15-30 minutes|
|Hot ears, breathing heavy, and shaking||Your rabbit is overheating||Lower the temperature, spray water behind the ears, and seek emergency veterinary care if your rabbit is drooling or attempting to breathe through their mouth (more information on heat stroke)|
|Whole-body trembling or vibrating||Usually due to strong emotion||You may need to calm your rabbit down or change the environment to help them feel safe.|
|Hiccups||hiccups||Check with your vet if it does not stop|
|Twitching while sleeping||Dreaming during the REM sleep cycle||No need to do anything|
|Frequent Ear Shaking||Likely ear mites or an ear infection||Make an appointment with your vet (more info on ear mites)|
|Shaking after eating an unknown or new substance||Food poisoning||Emergency trip to the vet|
|Unusual head twitching||Neurological condition, potentially caused by E. cuniculi or brain damage||Make an appointment with your vet|
|Jerky and uncontrollable convulsing||stroke||Make an appointment with your vet|
|Butt twitching||Your rabbit is eating something especially yummy||Take a video of your happy bunny|
1. Your rabbit is out of breath from exercising
Probably the most common reason you’ll notice your rabbit shaking is just because they are out of breath and breathing heavily. In this case, there is likely nothing to worry about. After a rabbit has been zooming, exploring, or otherwise being active, it’s common for them to lay down and catch their breath. Since rabbits are small and compact, this tends to make their whole body shake, especially if it’s a dwarf or mini breed. Generally, the breathing rate should slow down over the next 15 to 30 minutes.
What is the normal breathing rate for rabbits?
Even rabbits that haven’t just finished running around will breathe fairly quickly. Compared to humans, rabbits at rest will breathe 3 to 5 times as fast with a breathing rate of 30 to 60 breaths per minute (some small rabbit breeds have faster breathing rates).
If your rabbit frequently breathes faster than that all the time, even when they have been sitting for a while, you may want to contact your rabbit veterinarian. It might be perfectly fine and your rabbit is just a fast breather. However, your rabbit could be chronically scared and stressed or have other hidden health conditions. It’s a good idea to see a vet to rule out other potential problems your rabbit might be having.
2. Your rabbit is a little hot
Rabbits will also breathe fast when they are hot, causing them to look like they are shaking. Similar to the way dogs will pant to help them cool down, rabbits will breathe faster to help them exchange and expel heat through their nasal passage. This will look very similar to the rapid breathing you’ll see from a rabbit who just exercised.
Short term, this isn’t dangerous. However, if you ignore the signs and don’t help your rabbit cool down it can turn into something more serious, like heat stroke. Rabbits have fairly thick coats, even in the summer. Left to their own devices, they would burrow underground to stay cool in the summer. Since pet rabbits can’t do that, we need to ensure they live in a cool enough environment to avoid heat-related illnesses.
Symptoms of heat stroke to look out for include:
- Lack of energy
- No appetite
- Red and very hot ears
- Head thrown back
What to do about it?
If your rabbit is already showing signs of heat stroke, wrap your rabbit in a damp towel and call your rabbit veterinarian immediately. Ask for instructions to help your rabbit while you get them to the vet.
If your rabbit is just breathing fast and there are no other symptoms, you can make some changes to their environment to help keep them cool. Some simple steps you can take include:
- Keep your rabbits indoors at temperatures below 75ºF
- Make sure your rabbit has enough water, add ice cubes to keep it cold
- Freeze some water bottles and give them to your rabbit to lay against (wrap the bottles in a towel first)
- Place some ceramic tiles (something like this) in the refrigerator for 15 minutes, and then give them to your rabbit to lay against.
3. Your rabbit is trembling from emotion
Some rabbits will tremble and shake when they are experiencing a strong emotion. Typically this is associated with fear and anxiety, but rabbits can also tremble from other strong emotions such as anger and even intense happiness. This type of trembling will not be directly related to the rabbit’s breathing, though you might notice an increased breathing rate as well.
You can determine if your rabbit is shaking from emotion by looking at the rest of their body language. A rabbit who is tense, with wide eyes is probably trembling from fear. A rabbit who is swatting and growling is likely angry or wants to be left alone, and a rabbit who is being petted and enjoying a nice massage is probably quite happy and relaxed.
What to do about it?
If your rabbit is trembling because they are scared, you can take some steps to help your rabbit calm down. If it’s a temporary problem, you can comfort your rabbit. Try petting your rabbit, speaking to them gently, and distracting them with yummy treats. If it’s a loud noise coming from outside (like thunder or fireworks), you can try playing soft music or using a white noise machine.
If it’s a continual problem and your rabbit is always scared and trembling, you will want to address the habitat or environment that your rabbit lives in. This can be a problem if there are a lot of loud noises around your rabbit, if they live with another pet who’s a predator (cat, dog, or ferret), or some rabbits who live outdoors. Try making some of these changes to see if they help your rabbit calm down.
- Move your rabbit to a quiet place in the house (away from active children or a loud TV)
- Make sure your rabbit has a separate space away from other pets
- Avoid loud noises whenever you’re around your rabbit
- Make sure your rabbit has a hiding house (or cardboard box) so they can retreat if they feel scared
4. Your rabbit has hiccups
We’re now getting into the less common reasons you might see your rabbit shaking. The first one I’ll talk about is hiccups. I don’t know how to describe this other than to say it looks like your rabbit has the hiccups. They will have small jolts every few seconds that cause their whole body to shake or twitch. Generally, when rabbits have hiccups they don’t make a sound. Sometimes there will be a little tiny squeak or popping noise, but usually, it’s just the motion of a hiccup.
What to do about it?
For the most part, there is no need to do anything if your rabbit has the hiccups. They will probably get over it on their own within a few minutes. However, if the hiccups continue indefinitely or come back very frequently (multiple times a day for many days in a row), you may want to contact your vet to be sure nothing is wrong.
5. Your rabbit is twitching in their sleep
You may also notice your rabbit twitching when they are lying down or sleeping. This is usually just a sign that your rabbit is in the REM sleep cycle and they’re dreaming. You’ll probably see their ears and mouth twitch a lot. Their head will nod, and sometimes their legs will look like they are trying to dig in something. Every once in a while, you may see your rabbit’s whole body twitch as well.
This is all quite normal and is nothing to worry about. In fact, if your rabbit is willing to fall so deeply asleep around you, it probably means that they trust you very much.
Your rabbit can start twitching in their sleep no matter what position they are sleeping in. I most often see it when my rabbits are completely flopped over on their sides, but you’ll also see this if your rabbit is in a loaf or sleeping in any other position.
6. Your rabbit has ear mites or an ear infection
If it’s not your rabbit’s whole body that is shaking, but instead they are only shaking their ears or their head, the rabbit might have ear mites or some kind of ear infection. Generally, this will also be accompanied by excessive scratching and maybe even bald spots or visible scratch marks on and around your rabbit’s ears.
Other symptoms include:
- Inner-ear skin scales
- Fur loss around the ears
- Red and inflamed ears
- A buildup of earwax-like substance in the ear canal
- Crusting on the ears
- Painful ears or flinching away when you touch them
- Reduced appetite
What to do about it?
The good news is that ear mites are rarely a life-threatening condition. If your rabbit is treated, you can usually expect a full recovery. However, if left untreated for a long time, the rabbit will develop painful crusting on their ears and it can cause more serious issues related to ear infection.
If you believe your rabbit has ear mites, visit your vet for an anti-parasite treatment. You’ll also want to keep your rabbit in a separate area for a few while you thoroughly clean their original enclosure, to avoid reinfection from their habitat.
7. Food poisoning can cause shaking
Rabbits cannot vomit, which makes food poisoning a serious problem. The good news is that most rabbits are picky enough to not eat foods that are suspect or completely new to them, so true food poisoning is actually fairly rare.
However, if your rabbit does eat something they are not supposed to, they can experience tremors and shaking. Generally, this will only happen in the worst-case scenarios, but it’s a symptom you might see if your rabbit ate a lot of something they weren’t supposed to.
What to do about it?
If you believe your rabbit is experiencing food poisoning, contact your veterinarian immediately. If you cannot get ahold of your vet, you can also call the ASPCA poison control emergency number: (888) 426-4435 (or visit their website for more information)
8. Your rabbit may have a neurological condition
Some rabbits will twitch a bit, or shake and lose balance easily due to a neurological condition. Usually, this type of twitching is due to an internal parasite called E. cuniculi. However, it can also be caused by other lesser-known neurological conditions that cause twitching, shaking, or seizures.
A more common symptom that you’ll see is head tilt (also called wry neck). This is when the rabbit’s head is tilted to the side and they cannot stand up straight. The rabbit will almost always have balance problems as well, and will be unable to hop in a straight line.
What to do about it?
If you believe your rabbit has E. cuniculi, contact your vet for medical treatment as soon as possible. Some rabbits are able to recover. Many rabbits who don’t fully recover are still able to live happy lives despite the disabilities they developed as part of the disease.
9. Your rabbit had a seizure
Seizures are not common for rabbits, but they can happen occasionally (blue-eyed white rabbits are most susceptible to seizures). Generally, seizures will only last a few minutes before subsiding. There are many possible causes of seizures in rabbits. Anything from severe food poisoning to an infection, head trauma, or just genetics.
The rabbit will start twitching or convulsing unnaturally. It’s often accompanied by rapid eye twitching and the rabbit may roll onto their side and twitch or convulse. MediRabbit has some videos of seizures to help determine if the shaking you’re seeing could be one.
What to do about it?
If your rabbit has a seizure, you should make an appointment with your vet as soon as possible. Try to make a note of how long the seizure lasted, and what happened directly before the seizure started (did the rabbit eat anything unusual, fall down, etc.). Don’t try to hold your rabbit, but make sure to remove any sharp or dangerous objects from their vicinity. Recording the seizure episode might also be useful for your vet, to help with a diagnosis.
10. Butt twitching in rabbits
Have you ever noticed your rabbit’s butt twitching while eating? This is a fairly uncommon behavior, but it’s actually a good, positive sign. Some rabbits will involuntarily twitch their butt muscles when they are really excited about what they are eating. It’s a sign that they feel their food is extremely yummy.
- Bergstrøm, Camilla. “Toxic Plants.” MediRabbit. http://www.medirabbit.com/EN/GI_diseases/Food/Tox/Tox_en.htm.
- Esther van Praag Ph.D. “Ear mite: Psoroptes cuniculi.” MediRabbit. http://medirabbit.com/EN/Skin_diseases/Parasitic/earmite/Psoroptes.htm.
- “Rabbits and E. cuniculi (Encephalitozoon cuniculi).” Rabbit Welfare Association. https://rabbitwelfare.co.uk/rabbits-and-e-cuniculi-encephalitozoon-cuniculi/
- “Seizures.” WabbitWiki. March 11, 2023. https://wabbitwiki.com/wiki/Seizures
- “Seizures and their various causes.” MediRabbit. http://www.medirabbit.com/EN/Neurology/seizure.htm
- “Temperature, Heart and Respiration Rates.” House Rabbit Society. February 5, 2013. https://rabbit.org/temperature-and-respiration-rates/
- “Warm Weather Concerns.” House Rabbit Society, Jul. 10, 2011, rabbit.org/faq-warm-weather-concerns.
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Recommended Products and Brands
Important: These are Affiliate links. As an associate to Amazon, Small Pet Select, and Chewy.com, I may receive a small commission from qualifying purchases.
The two brands that I use when buying food for my rabbit are Oxbow and Small Pet Select. These both have high quality rabbit products and are companies that care about the health of our small animals. If you are purchasing anything from Small Pet Select use the code BUNNYLADY at checkout to get 15% off your first order.
- Hay: Second Cutting Timothy Hay from Small Pet Select
- Pellets: Oxbow Garden Select Food for Rabbits
- Treats: Oxbow Simple Rewards
- Toys: Small Pet Select Natural Toys
- Enclosure/cage: A rabbit exercise pen
- Rabbit carrier: SleepyPod Mobile Pet Bed