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When my lionhead rabbit tries to relax, even while he's eating, he begins to emit a wheezing sound and his whole body begins to rock. I've been told this is rabbit snoring and is normal.

However, as the rabbit falls more deeply into sleep, the snoring gets extremely loud and more grunt- and gurgle-like; his breathing becomes irregular, and begins to mimic someone having an asthma attack. Moreover, his body begins to shake and it almost looks like he is convulsing.

It is clear that this isn't very comfortable for him, and is probably causing a type of bunny sleep apnea, as he tends to be less engaged than my other rabbit.

Is there anything I can do to help my bunny breathe better?

I've noticed controlling the humidity in my house does seem to reduce the loudness of the snoring.

Video my bun sleeping as requested.

  • The rabbit should be taken to the vet – Zaralynda Jan 8 '14 at 16:40
  • it has been, the vet tells me they can't do anything and that it's a problem with the breed; they didn't even recommend a humidifier, I figured that out on my own. – virtualxtc Jan 8 '14 at 16:56
  • One of my rabbits, used to live with cats, and while relaxing he makes kind of snoring sound. To me it sounds like he is trying to make purring sounds, his eyes are usually closed. My wife does not agree and thinks it is a breathing problem. But the vet does not find anything wrong. – James Jenkins Jan 9 '14 at 19:42
  • That is the exact noise my rabbit Baxter makes sometimes! He is a dutch and he is 11 years old now. So while I don't have suggestions, I can assure you it is not limited to breed, humidity (we live in Pennsylvania) or a precursor to a decreased life span. – James Jenkins May 9 '14 at 12:36
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The medical term for difficult or labored breathing, when it appears to cause discomfort in animals, is dyspnea. Signs of this include:

  • restlessness and poor sleep
  • reluctance to exercise
  • sneezing or other nasal discharge
  • signs of anorexia (not eating) and lethargy

Some causes include:

  • Injury or illness, stress
  • Several diseases
  • Nasal obstructions
  • Abscesses
  • Bacterial infections

So, I didn't post all that to scare the heck out of you. Your description does indicate some evidence that he's reluctant to exercise and so maybe this is a good reason to seek a second opinion on the issue. Not all of instances of this require medical intervention (most are unlikely to), despite apparent discomfort, and that may be what the vet was trying to tell you. Essentially, mild cases being "rabbit snoring" and normal.

To be fair to your vet, stress is a consideration here. It could be that he's not reacting well to the companion rabbit or some other environmental change and that's now manifesting this way. If that is true, then a change in this respect would alleviate things. Other than that, if this is a mild case of dyspnea, I haven't found a home remedy to help.

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  • +1 for informative, but obviously not a direct solution. That said, he's seen 6 different exotic vets at the same facility that all said the same thing, but perhaps I should consult the real experts at sweet binks or HRS (as the vet freely admits they know more). One of the problems vet visits is that they are so compressed I rarely feel like all of my questions are fully considered / addressed, even more so now that I found a solution they didn't mention. – virtualxtc Jan 11 '14 at 23:36
  • @virtualxtc - The problem is, there's no DIY option for him, it's surgical intervention if it isn't stress related. You did kind of ask for what you could do... – John Cavan Jan 12 '14 at 0:08
  • I'm not saying your answer wrong or bad, I just have some hope it's not the only answer. I'm going to post to the local HRS list to see if anyone there has any suggestions, and if there's no response I'll pick between you and Chad. – virtualxtc Jan 12 '14 at 5:38
  • I'm awarding this the answer as HRS also pointed to the correlated activity level changes being a problem, that it warrant’s a second opinion and would be helpful to get a video of the behaviour. – virtualxtc Jan 14 '14 at 8:27
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The problem appears to be a defect in the structure of the pathway from the nose to the lungs of your rabbit. It is not an uncommon problem to varying degrees for rabbits of this type. Your rabbit is normal, that does not mean healthy just that the normal state of your rabbit is going to be having a slight to moderate obstruction to the respiratory system while resting.

What can be done? You could have a surgeon operate and attempt to correct the problem through reconstruction. This will be Very expensive, potentially painful and be a high risk to the health of your rabbit. Rabbits are fragile, they have small veins, and do not tolerate this type of thing well. Humans by comparison are incredibly robust, and adaptable.

Even if the rabbit survives the risk that the procedure either is not completely successful, or has other side effects is going to be high. The reason is no one does this on rabbits with the expectation that they will survive. In humans we do reconstructions of noses for cosmetic purposes so there is a glut of doctors with the skills and experience to make this type of procedure relatively easy. That knowledge and experience does not exist for rabbits.

Until your rabbit starts to show signs of severe distress from this condition your best course of action is going to be to make your rabbits life happy and to enjoy the time you have with him. I suspect that the life span should be in the normal range despite this issue. If the condition starts to create serious medical issues that will be the time to address the condition.

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  • +1 I like this answer as it's informative, and offers a possible solution. However, as you mention, the solution isn't a likely choice, thus I'm going to hold off on awarding it an answer (for a bit) in hope that there is a food I might feed (maybe not all timothy hay cuts/types are equal?) or other more realistic solutions (like the humidifier) that someone might suggest. – virtualxtc Jan 11 '14 at 23:31
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I know it has been some time since this question was posted, but for others seeking similar answers, I would get a chest xray for the rabbit. I have had two rabbits with thymoma, which vets often say is very rare, but it is not so rare anymore. The vets just thought my rabbit had a respiratory issue, until I requested an xray and they found the chest tumor. Bulging eyes is one symptom, difficulty breathing and snoring sounds is another.

Being overweight can also cause snoring, and the hay, as mentioned, could also be a factor. Orchard grass or oat hay is generally the least likely to be dusty or trigger allergies (in both humans and rabbits).

If the rabbit is on the floor and the floor is carpeted, frequent vacuuming may help, since dust and dust mites that close to the rabbit's nose could easily create some rough breathing.

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I already awarded the answer, but wanted to add some additional details based on my conversation with the House Rabbit Society (HRS):

HRS, suggested I reduce respiratory stress by mitigating the amount of dust the bunny is exposed to. Specifically, they mentioned finding a hay that is less dusty.

Unfortunately, this isn't likely to help my particular situation as I already have a floor HEPA filter running in the rabbit's cage area (the girlfriend and I are allergic to the hay), and my rabbit actually presented worse problems while the brand of hay that tends to be less dusty (Kaytee) than the more dusty product (Oxbow). I had previously attributed it to Oxbow being more fragrant than the kaytee and thus the smell penetrates the air and reminds them that it's in their feeder so that they eat more. Eating hay helps remove hair balls, allowing for easier breathing.

Nevertheless, I will be on the look out for other brands of hay that might be less dusty than Oxbow but still be as fragrant, and will update this answer if I see a difference. However, agricultural supply stores are not easy to get to from my location, so I might be restricted to mail-order.

HRS also advised I get some video of the problem and/or seek a second opinion. Video is hard to obtain, because he only exhibits the problem when he's relaxed and he's usually more skiddish when he has breathing problems. Nevertheless, more documentation is another good suggestion.

As exotic vet appointments here are running at $110 (and are $160 for the ER if no appointments are available), I was also happy to find out about there Bunny Hop Line which is subscription based on-call (email) vet service that provides you with answers of up to 20 questions for less than half the price of my current vets visit. For those that live far from a vet, this could be a life-saver.

For me, I generally prefer my rabbit see the same vet as often as possible so that they have a good knowledge base around his health and problems. However, I'll likely use this service the next time feel I need urgent, but not emergency care, but can't get an appointment and would otherwise be forced to come in via the ER.

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