Veterinary emergencies

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In some cases a rabbit may need a CT scan. Here is sweet Pancake (sedated) getting his CT scan for his hydrocephalus and ear problems. Used with direct permission from Help Pancake the Bunny. Here are a few example partial seizure episodes that Pancake sometimes has on Medirabbit.

Because rabbits are prey animals, they work very hard to hide any signs of illness. As a result, owners often cannot tell when a rabbit is sick until severe symptoms have appeared. Daily interaction with your bunny will help you realize what is normal and irregular.

Common symptoms

If your rabbit shows any of the following symptoms, make an appointment with your rabbit-savvy veterinarian as soon as possible.[1] Seemingly minor symptoms can escalate quickly and turn into major emergencies within 24 hours.

"Behaviour: When Your Rabbit is Unwell" info-gfx by Tamsin Stone of The Rabbit House.
Some general signs of pain in rabbits.

GI symptoms

  • loss of appetite (anorexia) or changes in eating habits - A good way to test this is to offer an irresistible treat to your bunny such as fruit.
  • small to no poop or diarrhea
  • sitting in a hunched position or pressing stomach against the floor
  • loud GI sounds or complete silence in the stomach - You can use a stethoscope or listen with your ear pressed against the stomach.

These symptoms are suggestive of an onset of GI stasis.

Respiratory and ear symptoms

  • increased, shallow, and/or labored breathing (e.g. head tilting up to breathe through mouth)
    Catnip & Carrots Veterinary Hospital. (2015). Rabbit with increased respiratory distress
    NHC Rabbit Rescue of Wilmington. (2020). Domino in respiratory distress
    u/Ok_Remove9491. (2021). Rabbit in respiratory distress with heavy breathing and nose flaring
  • chest congestion
  • sneezing, nasal discharge, or watery eyes; matted front paws from wiping nose
  • scratching or shaking ears

These symptoms are suggestive of E. cuniculi, head tilt, heat stroke, and thymoma.

Urinary tract symptoms

  • sudden loss of litter box habits
  • dribbling of urine (urinary incontinence)
  • straining to urinate; sitting in litter box for long periods of time
    u/xenjaaaaa. (2019). Koda straining to urinate
  • urine which appears more white - suggests sludge buildup

These symptoms are suggestive of Bladder sludge and stones, E. cuniculi, and Urinary tract infection.

General symptoms

  • fever or hypothermia - normal rabbit temperatures are 101-103°F / 38-39.6°C
  • loud teeth grinding - a sign of pain, different than gentle tooth purring
  • irritability or unusual aggression
  • listlessness, lethargy, or lack of interest in surroundings

Extreme emergencies

If your rabbit shows any of the following symptoms, consider it an extreme emergency, and locate an emergency veterinarian immediately.[1]

  • shallow breathing and/or weak heartbeat
  • complete immobility or unresponsiveness
  • severe diarrhea or mucous-covered stools
  • complete silence in stomach
  • labored breathing (e.g. head tilted up to breathe through mouth)
  • convulsions or seizures
  • any injury resulting in open wounds or possible broken bones - this includes any sort of attack by another animal
  • any symptoms of shock - listlessness, limpness, or abnormal gum coloring (grayer or redder than normal)
  • temperatures lower than 100°F/37.7°C or higher than 104°F/40°C
  • not eating for 24 hours, no poop in 24 hours, or increasingly smaller poop
  • dehydration - dry tacky mucous membranes and/or delayed skin elasticity
    Elizabeth Vickridge. (2016). Home Care Series 2. Checking your rabbits hydration
  • gray or white mucous membrane color (e.g. gums)
  • loss of balance or head tilt
  • partial or total paralysis

How to prepare for a visit to an emergency center

To assist the emergency veterinarian, it is helpful to know some things about the rabbit concerned. The following list is paraphrased from Rabbit Advocates and other sources:[2]

  • A history of illness, including symptoms.
  • Treatments given and any reactions.
  • Baseline lab work (blood and urine) - obtainable from your regular veterinarian.
  • Current normal weight.
  • Complete diet including date of when new foods were started and any reactions.
  • Normal food and water consumption.
  • Normal urine and stool output.
  • Neutering status.
  • Vaccination status (if relevant).

Here are some more resources about preparing for an emergency visit.

Further reading

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 Smith, K. (2003). Rabbit Health in the 21st Century. (2nd ed.).
  2. Rabbit Advocates. (2000). Useful Tips for a Trip to the Emergency Center. Retrieved 07 Feb 2017 from