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Why Rabbits Grind Their Teeth and Breathe Heavily During Sleep

Author:

Rabbit owner who learned along the way how much fun having a bunny rabbit is.

When a rabbit gets tired they have mini naps.

When a rabbit gets tired they have mini naps.

Rabbits are crepuscular animals. You will normally see wild rabbits running around outside either very early in the morning or very late at night. Most often when you are driving through the countryside, around dusk or dawn, rabbits can run out in front of your car to get across the road. Around springtime you will see many of them running and skipping around the fields, annoying farmers.

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.

5 Things New Rabbit Owners Will Learn

If you have never owned a bunny rabbit before then you will initially notice some of their unusual habits as the week’s progress.

  1. Rabbits like to sleep during the day.
  2. Rabbits can also sleep with their eyes open
  3. Rabbits become very active late at night and early in the morning.
  4. Rabbits like to make lots of noise when they are awake.
  5. Rabbits have dreams.

Every new rabbit owner will learn lots of exciting new things about their rabbit as the weeks pass by. Rabbits are very playful creatures that like to run around and chase you.

When they wake up if they do not have an area to run around in they can start banging their food bowl on the floor or they might start trying to gnaw on the cage.

Indoor rabbits will most likely be confined to one room every night but in the day time they will be outside.

If you house your rabbit outside try to have a secure pen attached to the cage that they can play in when awake.

Train Your Rabbit to Sleep

If you have never owned a bunny rabbit before then you will initially notice some of their unusual habits as the week’s progress. .

  1. Rabbits like to sleep during the day.
  2. Rabbits can also sleep with their eyes open
  3. Rabbits become very active late at night and early in the morning.
  4. Rabbits like to make lots of noise when they are awake.
  5. Rabbits have dreams

Any new rabbit owner will learn lots of new things as the weeks of being a bunny rabbit owner passes by. They are very playful creatures and they like to run around and chase you.

When they wake up if they do not have an area to run around in they can start banging their food bowl on the floor or they might start trying to gnaw on the cage.

Indoor rabbits will most likely be confined to one room every night and in the day time they will be outside. If you house your rabbit outside try to have a secure pen attached to the cage that they can be let in to play around in.

Train Your Rabbit to Stay Awake More

  1. If you house your rabbit inside then you need to keep them awake as much as you can after you come home from work.
  2. Do activities with them in the morning if you have time and in the evening as well so that you help them burn of excess energy.
  3. If your rabbit is an indoor rabbit, then having a pen that has lots of space means that during the day they can run around and play.
  4. If you have an enclosed garden and you are home during the day, you can let your rabbit run outside in the grass.

Since rabbits are crepusculum animals, this is going to be going against their natural instincts, so you're going to have to try to change their behaviour. It will be hard and there will be mornings where they still wake up early.

Did You Know?

Rabbits are crepuscular animals, which means that they are most active at dusk and dawn.

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?

  • Paradoxical sleep is the scientific term used to describe the way that a rabbit sleeps.
  • A rabbit sleeps very deeply but is also alert. They go into a state of REM but can wake up instantly. Their sleep pattern is referred to as a paradoxical sleep patterns.
  • Rabbit do go into a deep sleep when they are napping.
  • Rabbits also have dreams.
  • You might notice rapid eye movement when your rabbit is sleeping.
  • Rabbits always have their ears out listening to their surroundings and can wake up within seconds if they feel threatened.

Although your 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 in the rabbit as well as heavy breathing, and instant wakefulness in the rabbits and this is also the stage of sleep when humans will start dreaming.

What Is Atonic and Myoclonic Movement?

  • When rabbits are asleep, their bodies experience symptoms of atonic and myoclonic movement.
  • When a rabbit experiences this type of sleeping it 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).
Rabbits fall asleep but also can wake up in an instant.

Rabbits fall asleep but also can wake up in an instant.

How Can You Tell If a Rabbit Is Sleeping?

  1. If your rabbit's eyes are closed, then this is the obvious sign that they are having a nap.
  2. If your rabbit eyes are open, then it can be a little bit confusing. The best way to check this out is to look at the side of their face. If they don't move or twitch or their body looks to be very relaxed and fluid then they are asleep with their eyes opened.
  3. Rabbits need a space that is their own. They do like to run and hang out with you but they also need a quite place to relax and wind down in.

Fun Fact

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

Rabbits Falling Over While Sleeping

  • When a rabbit becomes comfortable in its surrounding it will drop to its side and go to sleep.
  • The first time that you witness this type of behaviour from your bunny rabbit, it might seem like your rabbit just fainted or lost the strength in its body. This behaviour is referred to as an atonic condition.
  • However while it might seem like your rabbits is fast asleep it is still alert and any sudden noises or movement will cause it to immediately wake when they hear it. They will then jump up, raise their ears raised and push up their head to see what the noise is.
Rabbits are able to sleep with their eyes open.

Rabbits are able to sleep with their eyes open.

Bunny Rabbits Purring

Rabbits don't purr but they do grind their teeth when they are happy. But they also grind their teeth if they have a tooth ache. The difference is the teeth grinding that happens during the sleeping is the happy grinding.

You will feel the vibration on the chin/cheek area while petting the rabbit around the head. This is the rabbit's way of purring. It’s a sign that it is extremely comfortable and happy in its surroundings. Plus, it's a sign that they love what you are doing to them.

Rabbit Twitching in Its Sleep

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 that comes into play when the rabbit is asleep.

You will witness the odd involuntary movement from your rabbit and the best thing to do is to not touch your rabbit; leave it be and let it enjoy this quiet little nap. Here is a video of a rabbit while sleeping sourced from YouTube below.

Sources

Suitable environment for rabbits, Nidirect.gov.uk, https://www.nidirect.gov.uk/articles/suitable-environment-rabbits

Sleep Habits of Hoppy Bunnies, (2019), https://verlo.com/blog/sleep-habits-of-hoppy-bunnies/#:~:text=Bunnies%20are%20%E2%80%9Cdaytime%E2%80%9D%20sleepers%2C,which%20means%20%E2%80%9Ctwilight%E2%80%9D

How Do Rabbits Sleep?

https://www.omlet.co.uk/guide/rabbits/about_rabbits/how_do_rabbits_sleep

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.

Questions & Answers

Question: Why do rabbits grind their teeth?

Answer: There are a few reasons for this. Identify first when does it occur and what were they doing prior to it starting up.

1. Grinding teeth can occur if your rabbit is relaxed, snoozing and happy and grinding their teeth is their form of a cat purring.

2. They might have teeth issues referred to as hooks. The back teeth grow in towards the tongue. But if your rabbit is eating and drinking the same as normal then it could be something else.

3. They might have an abscess. You will need to get a veterinarian to check this out.

Watch your rabbit when it is eating to see if it is an issue with their teeth. If it is, then your rabbit will need to see the vetenarian.

Question: What do rabbits dream about?

Answer: Just like cats and dogs, I think they dream about playing with their family and friends. But since we don't have any scientific research on rodent dreams, it's open to speculation.

Question: Why do rabbits lose fur?

Answer: Each season rabbits will shed their old coat and grow in a new one. This is part of a cycle that occurs each year. This also happens to dogs and cats.

Question: Can I give my pet rabbit fish antibiotics?

Answer: I think you really should get this checked out by a veterinarian. Not dealing with medical issues as soon as possible can cause things to get worse. Is there a rescue charity center that would provide care that you could pay the cost back in installments? Maybe a friend or family member might be willing to lend you some money.

© 2011 Sp Greaney

Comments

Sp Greaney (author) from Ireland on February 18, 2018:

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

Mona Sabalones Gonzalez from Philippines on February 18, 2018:

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

Sp Greaney (author) from Ireland on January 28, 2014:

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.

TilHanzo on January 28, 2014:

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

Sp Greaney (author) from Ireland on October 05, 2013:

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.

Xerligue on October 03, 2013:

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??

Sp Greaney (author) from Ireland on May 21, 2013:

@ 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.

bunbuns on May 17, 2013:

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

Sp Greaney (author) from Ireland on January 02, 2013:

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

sleepguru on January 02, 2013:

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!

Sp Greaney (author) from Ireland on April 30, 2011:

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

JS Matthew from Massachusetts, USA on April 29, 2011:

Interesting Hub! Voted Up and Useful.

JSMatthew~