You are here:

Rabbits/breathing problem


hi Dana,
my bunny had hernia surgery 13 days ago. My vet is a great surgeon and rabbit savvy. I expected my bunny to recover much more quickly than she is. the day after the surgery she started bring weird, hair lip separated, bottom lip dropped, sided moving hard. she sounds congested in the nose, but there is no discharge. I thought it was pain at first. background:she does percolate and has had many nasal cultures which always come back negative.  i brought her to the vet yesterday {12 days post surgery} and her surgical site is healing beautiful, its not even tender, so we dont think its pain related. I told my vet and showed him video of this breathing {she was normal during the appt} and he doesnt know why she is doing this, but said a bunny that has a respiratory issue would not be eating and grooming and my bunny is. i asked if she needed an xray and he said she didnt. she is still doing this breathing thing, amd i'm flipping out, is it ridiculous that bc she is eating and grooming, that there is nothing wrong with her?

Dear Jeanine,

I would insist on a chest radiograph.  This sounds like a bunny in respiratory distress.  I've seen bunnies with pneumonia grooming themselves.  Rabbits hide illness instinctively, as they've evolved that adaptive behavior to avoid attracting predators when they are not well.  In many cases, only when they are really close to death will they stop acting pretty normal.

Since this problem is intermittent, I wonder whether she might have a thymoma. This is a hyperplasia/neoplasia of the thymus gland (just cranial to the heart) that can grow large enough to impinge on the larynx and lungs, depending on how it shifts in the chest.  I've found that a bunny with a thymoma can sometimes get temporary relief by being held (with neck and back firmly supported!) vertically, with nose pointing downward, for just about five seconds.  This can bring the mass forward, relieving pressure on the lungs.

This can be visualized with radiography, so I'd definitely want imaging to find out what's going on.

I hope this helps.



All Answers

Answers by Expert:

Ask Experts


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

©2016 All rights reserved.