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Why Does My Rabbit Shake?

rabbit

One of the many responsibilities that comes with owning a pet rabbit is understanding their behaviors. Because they are such fragile creatures, some degree of concern over your rabbit is completely natural. It’s important to then take the next step and educate yourself, so you can make sure your rabbit stays healthy and happy.

Shaking is a commonly observed behavior in rabbits, but it can come from many different sources. In fact, rabbits shake often enough that we can differentiate between a few types of shaking to determine whether they’re in any danger.

In this guide, we’ll cover these different types of shaking before looking at a long list of reasons for shaking. By the end of the article, you’ll know whether your rabbit’s shaking is normal, or whether it’s time to take them to the vet for help.

Different Types of Shaking

Because of their status as prey animals, rabbits can be very nervous creatures. To determine whether your rabbit’s shaking is normal or a sign of an impending problem, look for the following types of shaking:

Twitching

Short, jerky movements are typical rabbit behavior. Flicking their feet, shaking their heads, and suddenly flopping on the floor are all normal.

Trembling

Look closely enough, and you may see that your rabbit subtly vibrates. When this is a gentle vibration, it’s a normal rabbit behavior. More intense, sustained vibration can be a sign of stress.

Rippling

Many rabbits’ fur and skin will wave or ripple in response to small air currents. Like getting a shiver up your spine, it can cause them to suddenly jolt upright. This is no cause for alarm.

Convulsing

Sudden and violent shaking is not normal rabbit behavior and means something is terribly wrong. Get your rabbit to a vet immediately.

rabbit standing
Image by Ståle Freyer from Pixabay

Reasons for Shaking

Here are some of the many reasons that a rabbit may shake, each with a verdict on whether it is a good or bad sign:

Happy and Content

Some rabbits will tremble and vibrate when they are particularly comfortable in your presence. Their relaxed demeanor is a sure sign of their shaking being out of happiness rather than any negative cause.

Sleeping

Many rabbits will twitch and shake in their sleep. Subtle shaking and jerking movements are okay, but violent jerking can be a sign of serious distress.

rabbit sleeping
Image by Marian Deacu from Pixabay

Upset and Angry

Angry rabbits will twitch, shake their heads, and nudge or nibble at whatever has incited their anger. This is normal behavior and will often be accompanied with thumping their hind feet as well.

Hiccups

Baby rabbits are most susceptible to hiccups, but this is not anything to be worried about. Occasional hiccups are a perfectly normal occurrence for rabbits of all ages. If your rabbit is hiccupping on multiple days in a row though, it’s best to schedule an appointment with your vet to have them examined.

Frightened

Many things can frighten a rabbit. Bright lights, loud noises, and fast movements are three of the most common causes of their fear. Anytime a rabbit is nervous or frightened, it is natural for them to shake until they’ve calmed down.

Popsugar Living Frozen Rabbit Treats
Image: Popsugar Living

Ear Mites

Pronounced and frequent head shaking is a sure sign of ear mites or a bacterial infection in the ear. Rabbits with longer ears, like those in the Lop family of breeds, are particularly susceptible to ear infections. You’ll need to speak with your vet about treatments for either issue.

Heat Stroke

Most breeds of rabbits are much more able to deal with cold weather than extremes of heat. Because rabbits are more susceptible to overheating than other house pets, you’ll need to go out of your way to make sure they stay cool in the summertime.

If your rabbit is shaking during a hot day, look for other signs to confirm the possibility of heat stroke: A significantly raised heart rate, drooling, lethargy, or convulsions. Any of these signs mean that you need to take your rabbit to the vet immediately!

Infections

All rabbits are particularly prone to parasitic infections, with fleas and worms being common problems.  Some especially problematic parasites will affect your rabbit’s nervous system, making them clumsy and disoriented. If you rabbit’s shaking is accompanied by these behaviors, consult your vet as soon as possible.

Chronic Stress

Prolonged periods of stress caused by discomfort, danger, and loud noises can cause your rabbit to shake or jitter. This is usually accompanied by other signs of stress, such as an avoidance to being touched and unwarranted aggression.

Make sure that your rabbit has abundant access to food and water, as well as a safe place to retreat to if they are feeling overstimulated. Remove any potential stressors such as bright lights and loud noises and give them plenty of space to process their stress.

GI Stasis

Gastrointestinal (GI) stasis is a common cause of rabbit harm and death resulting from improper nutrition and food choices. In severe cases, it can cause shaking and twitching as the muscular contractions of your rabbit’s digestive system attempt to fix the problem. Any signs of GI stasis should be taken seriously and need to be examined and treated by a veterinarian.

Eaten a Toxic Plant

Many wild plants and herbs are toxic to rabbits and can cause swift and permanent damage if not treated quickly. Signs of poisoning are intense and worrying, most often involving your rabbit lying on its side and convulsing. Act immediately and rush your rabbit to a vet, as eating toxic plants can easily prove fatal.

For a full list of plants that are toxic to rabbits, visit the Sacramento House Rabbit Society’s guide.

Conclusion: When to Take Your Rabbit to the Vet

While many instances of rabbits shaking are completely normal, any more severe twitching or convulsing needs immediate medical attention. When in doubt, call your vet for confirmation of anything that looks worrying.


Featured Image: Alebunny from Pixabay

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