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Rabbits/Rabbit not eating, shaking head


QUESTION: Hello,  

My rabbits eat unlimited timothy hay, fresh leafy greens, and a small amount of timothy pellets on a daily basis. I came home from work to find that one of my rabbits, Ariel, is not eating. She did not accept any treats. I gave her 2cc of simethicone as a precaution. I took her temperature which was at 100 F.

She has been either laying down or sitting in loaf position.  I noticed she is shaking her head several times if I watch her for two minutes.

It is late here and I am unable to call my vet until they open in the morning.

Any advice or help for the meantime  would be great. I also read your articles on your h.a.r.e. Website. If she does have an ear infection, would this affect her eating habits, and should I try force feeding?

Thank you in advance for your time.

ANSWER: Dear Kathryn,

If she is hypothermic, she may be shocky from distress.  It's vital for you to keep her body temperature in the normal range (101-103) so she won't crash.

Shaking head could mean any number of things, from ear infection to mites to something bothering her anywhere in the head (dental problem?).  The sooner you can get her to the vet, the better.  But for now, monitor her temperature and keep her warm.

If she has only recently refused to eat, I would not worry too much.  But if this is ongoing, the stress of her condition may be eliciting ileus.  Please see the protocols here to get her GI tract moving again:

It is not a good idea to force feed a hypothermic bunny.  Get her temperature up to normal first, and proceed with caution.

Hope this helps, and she will be fine soon.


---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: Dear Dana,

After I wrote to you last night I was able to find a 24hour emergency vet center who could take Ariel in. It turns out that she had an overly distended stomach do to some blockage. They kept her overnight to try and decompress her stomach. The first two attempts were not very successful as Ariel began to get stressed. She developed a fever and then her temperature went back to normal at 101.5 in the early morning. There were no signs of her shaking her head again.

We transferred her to her normal vet this morning, where a surgery was performed to remove a tiny, hard, hairball that was causing the problem.

I just got off the phone with the vet who explained that Ariel did very well during the surgery, but her kidney function and breathing needs to be monitored and she may need to be transferred back to the overnight hospital so they can watch her.

Although I am confident Ariel is in good hands, I am very fearful about  her recovery from this surgery/situation. Most literature I've read online regarding bloat has left me feeling discouraged and sad not knowing what to expect. Do you feel it may be better for her to return home with her companion as opposed to another stay at the hospital?

Thank you for your time.

Dear Kathryn

I would get her home as soon as possible.  Even the best veterinary hospital cannot give her the round-the-clock care you can, and she needs to be with her mate.

I hope you can get her today before they close, and get instructions for supportive care.  A gastrotomy is a very dangerous procedure, and I hope she will be fine.  The stomach needs to have food in it, even after surgery (or *especially* after surgery), so ask about giving her some Critical Care.  

The most successful gastrotomies I've heard of have finished with the vet putting Critical Care in the stomach just before closing it up.  It may be that the stomach simply needs something in it to begin functioning again.

I hope your bunny will be fine.  I'm sending healing thoughts.



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Dana Krempels, Ph.D.


I've lived with companion rabbits for more than 35 years, and consider them members of my family. I can answer any questions about the biology and health of rabbits, from the commonplace to the unusual. But please note:

RULE #1:

Find a rabbit vet at for immediate help, and don't risk your bunny's life by spending time asking questions online! If you can't get in touch with your vet, read these Emergency Sick Bunny Instructions.

If you have found a wild baby rabbit, please read these EMERGENCY INSTRUCTIONS FOR WILD BABY RABBITS and then use this link to FIND A LOCAL WILDLIFE REHABILITATOR who can give you the right advice.

RULE #2:
Help me help you! Please make your subject line informative if you have an urgent question. then LET ME KNOW IN THE SUBJECT LINE so I can give your question highest priority over non-urgent questions. If you don't do this, then I can't guarantee timely assistance!

For all the best, most accurate rabbit health, care and behavior information, visit The House Rabbit Society.


I have been rescuing and rehabilitating domestic and wild rabbits for about 30 years. I have written articles for many rabbit rescue publications, as well as for the veterinary journal, Exotic DVM. I own EtherBun, the internet's largest listserve dedicated to health, care, and behavior of domestic rabbits.

Houserabbit Adoption, Rescue, and Education, Inc. (H.A.R.E., Inc.) president National House Rabbit Society (Board member)

Exotic DVM
Warren Peace (Journal of the House Rabbit Society of Miami)
Various newsletters of the House Rabbit Society, nationwide

Ph.D - Biology
B.S. - Biology
B.A. - English

Awards and Honors
Lightspan Academic Excellence Award for web site on rabbit health and biology

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