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Rabbits/Could my rabbit be allergic to aspen?


QUESTION: Hello, I would like to thank you ahead of time for your response and apologize if this message is lengthy because I want to give you as much detail as possible.

Currently, I have one rabbit who seems to be allergic (this is a guess) to something. She sometimes has her head bob a little forwards and backwards when she lays completely still, like resting or taking a nap.
It looks a lot like how a rabbit would breathe after a long run around a play pen. --- but her breathing is not rapid, it's slow and steady.

I was very worried about this but let it go on about 2 days and see if it would stop. In my observation, I noticed that it would be on and off. She sometimes lays completely still and seems to be
"normal," and other times, I see her head bob a little while she breathes.
She eats, plays around, and does everything the same, and she hasn't act any different.

I took her to the vet anyway, but when I got her there, the vet told me there was nothing wrong with her but only that she's a little bit overweight and should get more exercise.
My rabbits get check-ups twice a year, and it's very expensive in my area, so I tend not to take them to the vet at every little thing that happens. Do you have an idea what this could be? Is this a big red flag that requires me to take her back to the vet again?

When she was at the vet, she was breathing fine. Her head movement while breathing happens once every few days when she's laying there resting or sleeping.
I have recently switched to Aspen litter from Carefresh, and I was wondering if that could be what might cause her to breathe oddly? I read that aspen was fine for rabbits, unless this is something else?
I do NOT hear any sounds while she breathes, her eyes are clear and fine, and her nose isn't wet and runny.
I tried researching on her symptoms, but all information I have that linked to breathing was "difficulty breathing" with wet eyes or runny nose. Which she has none of. It doesn't look like she's having any difficulty breathing.

This has been worrying me because I've never seen her or any of the rabbits that way before until recently.

Thank you

ANSWER: Jacqueline,

First let me say I appreciate the detailed posting here. The more information I have, the better the answer I can give you. I have to agree with your vet here - I don't think there's anything wrong with your bun. I think your bun is merely relaxed and, due to body physics, her head may bob a bit with her breathing because she's relaxed and napping. Think about when you see people fall asleep sitting up with their head leaning forward. Don't you occasionally see where a person's head will rise and fall slightly with their breathing? It's not labored breathing, but it's due to the body position and body mechanics. Now, I will say that if your bun is overweight that it can contribute to the head bob. More "chunk" around the neck (love those ladies and their dewlaps) is like wearing a neck brace, which would emphasize any breathing motion when laying in certain positions. If your bun was sneezing, had watery eyes, or discharge around her nose I would be concerned. This just sounds like a really happy, peaceful bun.

As for your question about the weight... what was her weight at the time of the visit, what kind of bun is she, how old is she, and what are you feeding her? Giants will obviously weigh less than dwarfs, so it's good to know her breed and what she came in at for her numbers. If she's over a year old, you should be feeding orchard grass and timothy hay and steer away from the alfalfa for a hay supply for your bun. With her pellets, make sure to get a timothy or orchard based formula instead of alfalfa (a lot of manufacturers are sneaky with that nutrition content), and you should also avoid any of those "fun looking" food brands. Although they look awesome with all those colorful shaped treats in the mix, it's the equivalent of feeding a kid two or three bowls of lucky charms every morning - not healthy. It sounds boring, but the best stuff for them is the stuff that doesn't have any of the extras in it. I use Mazuri rabbit food, but depending on where you're located you may have other options available.

Hope this helps!

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

QUESTION: Hi Christine,

Thank you for your reply and thoughts on my situation. I would like to follow up that it has been the same for her, but I also see her head bob forwards and backwards even when she's just sitting or eating...I am not sure if this is me just being paranoid or not.
So, I should only be concerned with her breathing if it looks like labored breathing or that it goes with watery eyes/runny nose? Are there any other symptoms I should definitely look out for?

To answer your question, my rabbit is a Netherland Dwarf. My vet told me she should be around 3-4 pounds and that she's overweight by a little. I feed my rabbits with Orchard Grass and oxbow pellets, and veggies. I do give them the occasional treats, but they're small quantities of fruits. She tends to be the one who hogs the food over her other bunny mates, so it's hard to feed them all when she tries to eat everything once I put the food down.

Thank you!


I wouldn't be too concerned about the head bob. If her head starts to tilt to the right or left, if you see any discharge from any orifice, or if her breathing becomes labored then I'd revisit this concern. Otherwise, she sounds like she's eating fine, there's no discharge from anywhere, her poops are normal, she's active and has no trouble breathing, and she's even earned herself the title of head bun in charge... she's doing just fine. If she was sick, she would be outcast by the remainder of the group because she would be seen as the "weakest link" and, as a prey animal, they will distance themselves from anything that they think could make them a target (it's just animal nature for them). It's good to be vigilant and learn the specifics of your bunnies though, so I'm pleased to see you've noticed something that could be completely missed by a lot of people.

If your dwarf weighs more than 4 lbs, then that's a big girl for a dwarf. I have to admit I chuckled a little bit when I read that she hogs the food... my Jessica did that and it was really difficult to keep her trim too. I lowered my total pellet servings and put bowls on separate sides of their play area during supervised dinnertime (since it's a secondary dietary inclusion anyway), and made sure that the treats I gave were sparingly and evenly distributed (i.e. I had to sit down and hand each one their treats one at a time so she wouldn't get the lions share). The other thing I did was to increase their play time. It required some imagination and investment in some serious activity centers, but she was more active as a result. The combined efforts lost her about 1 lb over time.

In any case, I hope this helps!


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Christine Whetstone


I am not an expert on wild rabbits, only domesticated rabbits. I can answer questions regarding habitats, behavior, diet, health, pairing/bonding - pretty much anything having to do with owning a rabbit.


I've owned indoor rabbits for the last 10 years. During that time I've gained experience in areas like bonding exercises, understanding behavior, warning signs of sick bunnies, how to handle more serious illnesses (GI stasis, abscesses, eye problems, etc.) and more. It's rare that I come across an inquiry that I do not already know the answer to.

House Rabbit Society, supporter of local rabbit rescues


Personal experience beats the pants off of a degree, in my opinion.

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