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Why Rabbits Grind Their Teeth & Breathe Heavily During Sleep

Updated on February 23, 2016

Tired Bunnies


Rabbit are nocturnal animals. While during the spring, you might have the opportunity to see wild rabbits dancing in the fields, most often they come out at night.

If you have a pet rabbit, you will notice that they seem to sleep all day and get really active around eight o'clock at night. You can try to train your rabbit to sleep at night and be active during the day, but since they are nocturnal animals, you're going to be going against their natural instincts.

Paradoxical Sleep

Rabbits have paradoxical sleep patterns. "Paradoxical sleep" is actually a scientific term, but it makes intuitive sense. While it might seem that a rabbit is in a deep sleep, any rabbit owner will notice how it will wake up in a second if something disturbs it. That's because, although the rabbit appears sound asleep, its brain is still sending out signals to the rest of the body in a way that's very active, causing rapid eye movements, heavy breathing, and instant wakefulness. This is the stage of sleep when humans dream.

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

Atonic and Myoclonic Movement

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

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

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 time out like us humans.

They need a nice, quite 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 your 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 an 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 bunny owners who haven't done research on what to expect. Once you witness this, you will get used to it happening on a regular basis.

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

Most rabbits are still alert to any little sound while sleeping and they will wake immediately to it. They will then bring their head and ears up to see what the noise is.

Sleeping Bunny


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 a odd sound.

That sounds is actually the bunny grinding its teeth together. You will feel the vibration in 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 its teeth. This then needs to be checked out by the vet.

Flatout Bunny


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 You Tube below. Note: It takes a few seconds to load on this page.


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  • sangre profile image

    Sp Greaney 3 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 3 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 4 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 4 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.