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Rabbits/partially collapsed lung


QUESTION: hi dana
i wrote during the week about my bunny who had hernia surgery and her recovery was not going well bc she was breathing with hair lip separated and spread lips and quiet. she was/is eating very well, mobility good. the surgery was 2 weeks ago, i called and took her to vet...finally, today, my rabbit savvy vet took an xray and one lobe in her left lung is collapsed! he used another term, i cant remember it bc i was in such shock. he said it can happen from anesthesia, happens in cats a lot. on surgery day i was there the entire time she never left my site {even during surgery}. she was on her back for the surgery. i dont understand this. vet said not common in bunnies, etc. he put her on lasix, nebulizer with gentamicin and muco mist. said cant be surgically repaired, and should resolve on its own.... do you know anything about this? i am beside myself and SCARED.

ANSWER: Dear Jeanine,

The term your vet probably used was pneumothorax:  an accumulation of air between the body wall and the outer surface of the lung.  The pressure of the air in the abnormal space can cause the lung to "collapse".  You can read more about this here:

I've never heard of this happening in a rabbit, and wasn't aware that it was common in cats.  But it is distressing.  What the vet says is correct:  there is no surgical correction possible, and it will gradually resolve on its own.  

I do wonder how it happened, and whether it was spontaneous or traumatic (did the vet intubate the rabbit for surgery?).

Information on treatment can be found here:

It's for cats, but I would suspect treatment for a rabbit would be similar.  If you are not getting an answer from the vet who did the surgery, then you might want to look here:

to find another vet for a second opinion.

Hope your bunny is starting to improve by now.


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

after i wrote i remembered the name; it is not pneumothorax it is atelectasis!
there is one lobe of her left lung involved and it was confirmed by a veterinary radiologist. and my vet whom has done thousand of surgeries on bunnies has never had this happen! he said it happened because of the anesthesia. she was not intubated. actually, the surgery was started with a nose mask and switched to a face mask during the surgery. my bunny never left my sight from beginning to end.
have you ever seen this?? i just cant believe this happened and i'm sick that my poor girl had to go through any of this

Dear Jeanine,

Well I had to look that one up!  Our old pal Wikipedia had a pretty good explanation:

Again, I've not heard of this happening in a rabbit so I really can't offer much advice.  I'm sorry about that.  But I would presume that treatment is similar across species:  encouraging deep breathing (good luck with that on a rabbit) and other forms of physiotherapy.

You might wish to quiz the vet about what could have caused this.  The entry above says that a common trigger is insufficient pulmonary surfactant (basically lubricant/moisturizing lipoproteins that keep the lungs pliable), and infection in the lung can also promote this condition.  If the latter is suspected as a contributing cause, then antibiotics would be indicated.  

Is she showing any signs of improved breathing yet?  Ask the vet whether gentle coupage (tapping on the ribcage to loosen mucus in the lungs) might help, or nebulization with sterile saline and a moisturizing agent made specifically for pulmonary treatments.

I hope this helps, and that your girl will be fine soon.  



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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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