It’s a common occurrence for new rabbit caretakers. You check in on your new rabbit to see how they’re doing only to see them flopped over on their side not moving as if they are dead. Sometimes they might twitch a little bit, making you think they are sick or having a seizure. Good news! This is absolutely nothing to worry about; it’s almost always just a comfortable sleeping position for your rabbit.
In general, when a rabbit is laying on their side it means that they feel extremely comfortable and safe. Unless your rabbit is completely unresponsive if you try to wake them up, then you do not need to worry about your rabbit’s health at all.
While it may look alarming the first few times you see your rabbit flop over like this, you’ll quickly learn that it’s a normal sleeping position for rabbits. In fact, I like to see this as a compliment. Your rabbit feels safe enough around you to completely let their guard down.
What does it mean when a rabbit lays on their side?
In most cases, a rabbit laying on their side is just sleeping. They aren’t sick or dying in any way. Instead, this is a position rabbits will sleep in when they feel completely safe and secure in their environment.
This is what’s called a rabbit flop. Because it’s such an unusual position, many people who are new to rabbits will be alarmed when they suddenly see their bunny basically fall over onto their side and lay still. But, over time, you will learn to see this position as a high compliment from your rabbit because it means that they trust you a lot.
Since rabbits are at the bottom of the food chain, they need to be prepared to run away at the first sign of danger. When they sleep like this, rabbits cannot come to awareness and get up as quickly as other sleeping positions. Moreover, rabbits tend to sleep more deeply when they lay on their sides, not waking up as easily as when they sleep in a loaf position. This means that they need to have a high amount of trust in you before they’ll be willing to flop over to sleep.
If your rabbit doesn’t flop over when they sleep, does it mean they don’t trust you?
If your rabbit doesn’t sleep flopped over on their side, that doesn’t mean they don’t trust you. Like people, every rabbit will have their preferred sleeping positions. Your rabbit might simply feel more comfortable sleeping in a loaf or sprawled out with their head up. So, don’t take it as an insult if you’ve never seen your rabbit flop over when you’re in the room.
Rabbit sleeping positions can also change based on the temperature of their environment. When it’s cold out, rabbits will be more likely to sleep huddled up in a loaf because it helps to conserve the heat in their bodies. Alternatively, in the summer you’re more likely to see rabbits sprawl out or flop over on the floor because it can help them stay a little bit cooler. This is especially true for rabbits who have cool ceramic or marble tiles that they can lay against.
When should you worry if your rabbit is flopped over on the ground?
Even though most of the time there is nothing to worry about when a rabbit is flopped over on the ground, it is possible that rabbits will behave this way when they are very sick. If your rabbit is so weak that they cannot support themself to get up or if they are having a seizure, you might see your rabbit in a similar position.
Typically a rabbit who is laying on their side because of sickness will not look as comfortable as a rabbit who is sleeping. They might still have some of their feet underneath them and try to get up unsuccessfully, or they might be unconscious and completely unresponsive.
I want to reiterate that this is a pretty rare and extreme case. Serious problems such as an electric shock (from a wire), eating poisonous food, or chronic health conditions are the most likely to lead to an unconscious rabbit who is laying on their side. More often rabbits who aren’t feeling well will sit in a hunched position, not flopped over. You would also notice other signs that your rabbit is sick if they are laying on their side because of weakness or illness.
How rabbits behave when they are sick
Unless there was an accident involving poisonous food, an electrical cord, or sudden shock, you will likely notice other signs of illness in your rabbit before they have fallen on the floor and can’t get up. Since symptoms of rabbit sicknesses are subtle, you want to always be on the lookout for these behaviors so you can get your rabbit treated before it becomes serious.
- Refusing to eat.
- Not pooping.
- Loss of balance or head tilt.
- Sitting in a hunched position.
- Lack of energy.
- Snotty nose.
- Mouth breathing or wheezing.
- Unusual aggressive behavior.
The rabbit digestive system is very sensitive. If your rabbit has not eaten or pooped for more than 10 hours, you should take them to an emergency veterinary clinic immediately.
How to test if your rabbit is okay
If you are worried that your rabbit is sick or dying when they have flopped over, you can easily check for signs of awareness to be sure they are okay:
- Check the environment. Look around your rabbit to make sure there is nothing dangerous in the area that could have caused this. Are there any houseplants knocked over that are toxic to rabbits? Do you see an electrical cord that’s been snipped in half? Check for any of these obvious signs of danger.
- Observe your rabbit for signs of distress. If a rabbit is sleeping, you will be able to see their stomach gently rising and falling as they breathe. You might notice the breathing change a little bit when they are dreaming, or some small twitches in their sleep. However, your rabbit should not have violent spasms or be hyperventilating and drooling.
- Bother your rabbit. If you don’t notice any obvious signs of distress, but want to be extra sure that your rabbit is okay, you can touch your rabbit to make sure they are responsive. If you pet your rabbit and give them some head scritches or strokes down their back, they should immediately wake up and respond to your touch. Usually, they’ll be a little annoyed that you woke them up, and they might even get up and hop away.
If your rabbit does not respond to you, they might be unconscious and sick or dying. Check to be sure they are breathing, listen for a heartbeat, and get your rabbit to an emergency veterinarian as soon as possible.