Why Rabbits Grind Their Teeth & Breathe Heavily During Sleep
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.