Why Rabbits Grind Their Teeth and Breathe Heavily During Sleep

Updated on January 8, 2018
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Rabbit owner who learned along the way how much fun having a bunny rabbit is.

Tired Bunnies


Rabbits are nocturnal animals, so if you do see one, it most likely will be very early in the morning or very late at night. Most times while driving, you will see them run across the road in front of your car.

During the months of spring, you will see many of them running and skipping around the fields, annoying farmers whose crops they have nibbled on.

That's the habits of wild rabbits, so what are the habits of domestic rabbits? While farmers aren't fans of them, we humans adore the sight of a cute bunny rabbit with big ears and bright eyes who hops around the house.

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Now, if you are the owner of a bunny rabbit, you will notice some unusual things as the weeks progress. One of those things is the ability of your rabbit to sleep all hours of the day with their eyes opened. Not only that, but by the time early evening has drawn to a close, you might notice that someone is extremely eager to play or run around the house.

Any rabbit owner will notice this once you become active either in the early morning or the early hours of the night; guess who else will want to be get up and come out to play? Your rabbit.

If your rabbit is indoors, then the ability for them to move around freely will be extremely limited as you will most likely have them in a pen at night. If you have those pens with two levels, then they can run around as much as they like.

You can try to persuade your rabbit to sleep at night and be more active during the day, but since they are nocturnal animals, you're going to be going against their natural instincts, so you're better off leaving nature alone.

Sleeping Patterns and Behaviour of Rabbits

The two things any rabbit owner needs to know about rabbits are:

  1. We refer to their sleep patterns as paradoxical sleep.
  2. The movement of their body while asleep is referred to as an atonic and myoclonic movement.

What Is Paradoxical Sleep?

We refer to the method a rabbit sleeps as paradoxical sleep patterns. What does this mean? Paradoxical sleep is actually a scientific term used to refer to the way a rabbit sleeps.

While it might seem to the human eye that a rabbit is in a deep sleep, any rabbit owner will notice how it will often notice how they wake up within a second if something disturbs it.

That's because, although the rabbit appears to be sound asleep, its brain is still sending out signals to the rest of the body in a way that's very active. This causes rapid eye movements, heavy breathing, and instant wakefulness in rabbits This is the stage of sleep when humans dream.

It's a kind of dreaming sleep that rabbits have.

What Is Atonic and Myoclonic Movement?

When rabbits are asleep, their bodies experience symptoms of atonic and myoclonic movement.

This means that their bodies will seem to become more fluid and flexible (atonic) while sleeping. They will also experience the symptoms of rapid eye movement and involuntary jerking (myoclonic movements) (Findlay & Hayward, 1968).

How Can You Tell If a Rabbit Is Sleeping?

It might seem hard to identify whether your rabbit is sleeping. Unlike most animals, they actually sleep with their eyes open. Confusing? I think so.

That is why rabbits need their own space. While it might seem like they are always on the run, they still need a timeout like us humans. They need a nice, quiet corner where they can head off to, for a bit of paradoxical sleep.

Fun Fact

Rabbits sleep eight hours a day—but during the day as opposed to the night.

Sometimes, when you witness this action from a bunny rabbit, it might literally seem like it has lost the strength in its body, dropping instantly to the ground. This is a kind of atonic condition that the body experiences.

Your bunny will drop to the floor and end up many times lying on its side. This rapid movement can be quite alarming for new rabbit owners who haven't done research prior to getting a rabbit. Once you have witnessed this a few times, you will get used to it happening on a regular basis.

This type of behaviour is only carried out by rabbits who are very comfortable and extremely happy in their environment.

Just like cats, most rabbits are still alert to any little sound they hear while sleeping and they will immediately wake when they hear it. They will then spring up with ears raised and head up to see what the noise they heard is.

Sleeping bunny
Sleeping bunny | Source

If your bunny is sitting beside you while you are on the couch and you are petting it on its head or under the chin, you might hear an odd sound. That sound is actually the bunny grinding its teeth together. You will feel the vibration on the chin/cheek area while petting it around the head. This is the rabbit's way of purring. It’s a sign it is extremely comfortable and happy in its surroundings. Plus, they love what you are doing to them.

Many times, your bunny rabbit can also drop off into its sleep this way and before you know it, you have a bunny rabbit with a body that jumps and a face that twitches.

If the noise is too loud and it doesn't seem like your bunny is making the sound out of contentment, it might have a problem with its teeth. This then needs to be checked out by the vet.

Sometimes, when the rabbit is sleeping, you might notice an odd head, cheek, or even full-body twitch. Your rabbit is actually having rabbit dreams. This is the myoclonic action coming into play when the rabbit is asleep.

You will witness the involuntary movements, and the best thing to do is to not touch it; leave them it and let them enjoy this quiet little nap.

Here is a video of a rabbit while sleeping sourced from YouTube below. Note: It takes a few seconds to load on this page.

© 2011 Sp Greaney


Submit a Comment

  • sangre profile image

    Sp Greaney 2 months ago from Ireland

    @Mona Sabalones Gonzalez, yes they are. They get super energic at night, but it's cute.

  • grand old lady profile image

    Mona Sabalones Gonzalez 2 months ago from Philippines

    Interesting:). I have had rabbits in the past but I must be oblivious by nature, never noticed they were nocturnal.

  • sangre profile image

    Sp Greaney 4 years ago from Ireland

    Hi TilHanzo, repetition. Bunnies are most active very early in the morning and very late at night. So my advice is to let them run around for a few hours if you can during the evening when you get home.

    If you go to bed at 11:00pm, then you need to put him/her in their cage or pen at the same time and then turn off the lights. Do not stay in the same room.

    My guy knows now that when he is put into his pen, that's its bedtime.

    Usually they take catnaps and you aren't aware that they are sleeping. You can't actually get them to sleep when you're around by rota, you just need to let them sleep in their own space.

  • profile image

    TilHanzo 4 years ago

    Hello, does anybody have any suggestions about the best method to get their baby to sleep all night?

    I have read many pages with suggestions but I am still struggling.

    Best wishes

  • sangre profile image

    Sp Greaney 4 years ago from Ireland

    Hi Xerligue , This behaviour happens when they are relaxed and comfortable in their environment. The symptoms you give are exactly what happens when my guy drops down too. Sometimes his whole body actually vibrate when he is asleep and he then wakes himself up.

    Bunnies are still conscience of their environment when in this state and that alertness to the noise and their subsequent awaking indicates this.

    I think that because it's such a bizarre thing to see happen it can be worrying, I know my vet never mentioned this behaviour to me.

    But if they have no other bizarre physical symptoms that look like something could be wrong with their bodies, then I think they are ok. However, if you ever have a worry about something, it's no harm mentioning it to your veterinarian.

  • profile image

    Xerligue 4 years ago

    my rabbit drops on its side... i can hear it drop... then it just lay their with no much movement... nose doesn't twitch.. both ears r down.. paws r like in the running position but on its side... at first i thought it was dieing or sick... but its been doing that from 3pm to 6pm.... they pop up when they hear a load noise... r they sick?? or im worrying too much??

  • sangre profile image

    Sp Greaney 4 years ago from Ireland

    @ bunbuns, that sounds unusual. I would definitely check it out.

    My rabbit hurt his back leg a few years ago. We though he had broken it. When they did an x-ray at the vets, it was found to be dislocated. We were told he wasn't allowed to jump, run or walk anywhere except to his litter tray for 3 weeks. This would give him time to heal.

    I'm happy to report that he was one happy bunny to be let out of his cage after three weeks.

    Once you get a diagnoses you will feel a lot better and the same thing might be wrong with your bunny as was with mine.

    If it's dislocated then it's lots of rest and very little movement to allow it to get better.

  • profile image

    bunbuns 4 years ago

    my 10 yr old bunny is crossing legs when standing could he have dislocation?

  • sangre profile image

    Sp Greaney 5 years ago from Ireland

    @ sleepguru, they are truly the cutest little creatures. You will have lots of fun when you get one.

  • profile image

    sleepguru 5 years ago

    Aww, they are cute, I am actually planning to get a rabbit for a pet the soonest, I just love them. Thank you for sharing this, this is so timely!

  • sangre profile image

    Sp Greaney 6 years ago from Ireland

    Thanks J.S. Matthew. glad you liked it...

  • J.S.Matthew profile image

    JS Matthew 6 years ago from Massachusetts, USA

    Interesting Hub! Voted Up and Useful.