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I am back from the ER, the rabbit seems okay right now; but I'm still concerned that there might be something wrong with her.

Here is a video of her in hyperventilating and unable to get comfortable. My presence makes her a bit less shifty than when I first noticed her; but once I re-adjust the camera you can kind of get an idea of how she was acting.


The time line

~16:20 EST: One of my free range rabbits starts following me around to indicate he'd like some kibble, after a minute or two I give in, scoop up the kibble. Surprisingly my other rabbit seems unaware of what's going on and I need to flag her down to get her attention. She acts a bit confused for a few seconds, but then catches on and flies up to the top level (4 floors) of the condo quicker than I can dispense the kibble. I note to my girlfriend how I've never seen her move that fast.

~16:35 EST: The caged guinea pig in the living room that we adopted 3 weeks ago starts to wheet, and I decide to give it some Romaine lettuce. I take a few extra leaves over to the rabbits. My female rabbit refuses the lettuce which is highly unusual.

16:50 EST: I notice my female rabbit is acting strange and throws her self into the corner litter pan, which almost never gets used because it's highly exposed and doesn't have great access to hay. This is quite odd, my female rabbit (unlike the make) never lays or roots in the litter pans. Upon closer inspection, I notice that her breathing is more than twice her normal rate (hard to see in the video due to the frame rate). I watch her for several minutes as she struggles to get comfortable, and keeps kicking the back of the liter pan because she is unable to fully stretch out in it. After a few minutes of this it becomes clear she isn't playing, or scared of me or something in the house. I try to console her, it doesn't help, and seems to make her switch positions. I back off and call for the girlfriend, who agrees, there's something seriously wrong. I struggle with what to do; she looks like she might have a heart attack; a car ride to the vet could make it worse.

16:48 EST: I decide she needs to see a vet, but that I need a video of her behavior before I go. I call the ER in case they can give me some advice; the person who answers is almost useless, and for some reason thinks I'm talking about a cat when I clearly opened with "my pet rabbit is hyperventilating" after waisting 4 more minutes to determine that this person is incapable of pulling up my rabbits medical files (we always take her there) I'm able to hang up.

17:10 EST: I gather both rabbits into their carrier (oddly the male puts up no fight whereas he NEVER lets me pick him up, he must somehow understand the severity of the situation). My female tosses and turns after being placed in the carrier.

17:38 EST: I arrive at the medical center, and have to wait in line behind 2 people at the emergency counter

17:45 EST: One of the 4 people at the main (non-ER) desk recognizes the queue and asks if we are all there for emergency, we all say yes. This spurs one of the other people there to call the person in front of me to their counter a minute later.

17:53 EST: I'm annoyed that I'm still in line; the person being served in front of me has been has been at the counter for 15 minutes, and it's clear her problem might not even be urgent, let a lone an emergency. I decide to unzip the carrier to verify my rabbit is actually still alive, thankfully she is. Her breathing has slowed, but is still faster than normal. I place my hand under the carrier to better support her and feel her shiver for about 2.5 seconds then stopped, then repeated again about every 5-10 seconds.

18:03 EST: The person in front of me finally look like they are finishing up payments and other administrative things and begins reaching for her suitcase. About 2 minutes later she pulls out a black trash bag with a cat inside. A minute later the receptions phones for someone to pick up a 'DOA cat'. My confidence in the hospital begins to fade.

18:05 EST: I can finally rest my carrier on the counter and get a better look at my rabbit as I begin to check her in. I can visibly she her tremble / shiver. The receptionist immediately realizes she should call someone up front to determine if my rabbit should be triage. We continue the check-in process and for some reason they again struggle to pull up my rabbit's records. After 5 minutes, the receptionist recognizes that no one has come to access the rabbit yet, and calls again for someone.

18:12 EST Finally some one qualified comes to check out the rabbit. She of course doesn't notice her shiver, just her breathing. After questioning me about the last time she ate, decides she's "stable enough", and my check in process continues for another 2 minutes.

~18:40 EST An on staff vet meets me in the waiting area, and brings me to a examination room. My rabbit is still shaking at this point, but breathing is almost normal. She does seem a bit more confused than usual. After explaining the situation, the doctor asked if she'd any trouble breathing or small poops. I noted that she had been having slightly smaller poops that we attributed to trying to introduce her to the guinea pig over 20 hrs ago, and that at ~04:00 EST she had done what sounded like a sneeze followed by 5 coughs, which was unusual for her. The doctor asked me to send her the video I had taken (posted above), and to take the rabbit to the exotics area where she'll preform the examination since it will be more quiet.

~19:00 EST The doctor returns with my rabbit and says she seems fine now. Indeed, all symptoms are gone. The doctor tells me she wasn't sure what was wrong, perhaps she was just afraid. I told her this wasn't likely as she's one of the most people tolerant rabbits I've ever had, and explained I thought it was pain or neurology related. She agreed and listed a bacterial cause, lead poising and gas as possible culprits, but said there wasn't any evidence of physical harm. She prescribed the usual regiment of metoclopramide, pain killers and critical care and recommended that I pick up some simethicone from a regular pharmacy and feed her 1 ml to treat gas. She went on to tell me how their exotic vet would be on staff tomorrow if I felt I needed her to see someone who knew more about rabbits.

19:25 EST I bring the rabbit back into the house. When released from the carrier, she immediately begins to gorge on hay.


I'm glad my rabbit seems to be alright now, but obviously, my confidence in the hospital has been shaken a little by my experience.

Has anyone seen rabbit behavior like this before?

Could she really have E. cuniculi, or could have it really been just gas pains? Is there anything else it should have been? Perhaps something the guinea pig gave her?

I'm doubtful about the lead poising as she had it before and the symptoms were much different.

I'm trying to determine weather she should be brought to the specialist tomorrow.

Further, it would be nice to have a plan if this were to ever happen again in the future. Should I just feed her some simethicone instead of heading to the hospital, or perhaps I should call around and try to find an ER with an exotic vet on staff next time even if that means driving an 1.5 hrs instead of 20 min.


Update: about 2 months later my other rabbit choose the same potty to exhibit very similar behavior, though he acted a little less frantic, perhaps because he's overall more fearful of people and was likely to be trying harder to hid it. With my other rabbit it also seemed a bit more evident that it was stomach related and not neurological. The exotics vet wasn't on call that night so we fed him metacloprmide for 12 hrs. He seemed to be in less pain in the morning, so we kept going. About 18 hrs later he was back to normal.

  • How were the rabbit's bowel movements leading up to the onset of the symptoms? This could have been simple constipation that worked itself out (or gas). – Tim Post Feb 3 '14 at 7:24
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While I have not noticed rapid breathing all the other symptoms you describe are very similar to the 'episodes' Baxter has as shown in this case study. You should definitely see your exotic vet as soon as possible, to rule out other causes. It has been our experience a longer wait for more qualified rabbit vet is generally more helpful than a faster visit with a vet that simply "see's rabbits"

While I am not a vet, in the absence of other evidence the most likely explanation is GI distress. The smaller than normal poops, are somewhat concerning. I have no ready explanation for them other then possibly stress induced unusual eating habits.

Your rabbit first aid kit should contain simethicone, and it can be given at any sign of distress. If the symptoms actually indicate anything other than a GI issue, taking your bunny to anyone other than the most skilled rabbit vet in the area, will not add value. If it is a GI issue, as long as you can keep water and anything with fiber going through the bunny (all the way through, fiber > poop) your are able to wait to see a real rabbit vet.

In the end, if it is GI related, you can and should have everything at home to address the issues, for the short term and possibly have a full recover. If it is not GI related, the more sever the illness the more critical it is that you see a higher level, rabbit vet.

Of course if if the injury is trauma related, any veterinary surgery (even a non-rabbit specialist), as soon as possible would be indicated.

  • +1 Thanks, after reading though your experience, I realized I should have demanded and x-ray while I was ER last night. However, metoclopromide is not part of my first aid kit as it doesn't keep, a my vet requires he rabbit be seen before a prescription for it can be obtained :( – virtualxtc Feb 3 '14 at 17:36
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    @Virtualxtc - Check with your local farm supply stores. Many medicines that your Vet will provide only with a perscription are available there with out a perscription. – user9 Feb 3 '14 at 18:00
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I awarded James the answer because the case study he linked to mentions x-rays, which would have been the best way to rule out neurological issues such as bacterial and lead.

However, I wanted to clarify what I perceive to be the answers to the questions I posed:

Why was my rabbit hyperventilating?:
She likely was in extreme pain.

Why was she shifting so much and acting uncomfortable?:

Again, she was in pain, most likely from gas (or possibly a hair ball).

Her diet had changed due to an increased availability of fresh greens are required to maintain a guinea pig. Moreover, her stress levels were risen by the new addition which likely caused digestive problems.

What problems might her behavior been a symptom of?:

Pain: Internal issue, most likely a GI problem, or a physical injury such as broken bone, or puncture wound.

Neurological Issues: Lead poising, or E. cuniculi infection

How should I have gone about diagnosing the actual problem?

The rabbit should have had an X-ray at while at the ER/vet to determine if there was indeed some GI blockage or gas.

If not blockages or gas are found, then blood work / a chem panel should be done to rule out led and other toxins.

How do I treat the rabbit (in the event of gas or GI blockage):

Buprenex (for pain), simethicone (for gas), and metoclopramide (for motility).

Force feed critical care if the rabbit isn't eating to avoid GI stasis.

Current status:

She was droopy again yesterday (but seemed to be in less pain) simethicone, and metoclopramide seem to have cleared up the problem and she's fine today.

  • @JamesJenkins thanks; added it to the answer. – virtualxtc Feb 4 '14 at 23:26

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