Your bunny cannot just shake its head without any apparent reason. This tells you that the rabbit head shaking means more than what you see. You shouldn’t get worried for some reason that might be normal and harmless.
All the same, you shouldn’t just keep quiet and assume everything is normal. In some cases, the reasons behind the head-shaking might be serious. In such a case, you may need to see a vet on the same.
How do you then tell when rabbit shaking head is normal and when it is serious? This article answers this question. It critically examines factors that trigger bunnies to shake their heads.
Commonly, head-shaking among bunnies is attributed to the following factors:
It is also known as head tilt disease. It is a disease that interferes with the normal functioning of the vestibular system. The vestibular system involves the brain stem, middle and inner ear. The animal’s balance is maintained by the vestibular system.
An infection of the inner or middle ear by bacteria results in vestibular disease. The most common bacteria that causes this infection is known as Encephalitozoon cuniculi. Trauma in the middle or inner ear can also cause this disease.
Predisposition depends on a few factors. For example, breed type determines susceptibility. Dwarf rabbit breeds are more susceptible to vestibular disease than other breeds. Furthermore, older bunnies are more susceptible than younger ones. Finally, those with a compromised immune system will always fall victim to the vestibular disease.
If head shaking in your bunny is as a result of vestibular disease, be keen to note some of the following signs and symptoms:
- Head shaking- the head is usually tilted to one side
- Drunken movement
- Lack of appetite
In case of any or a few of the above symptoms, then call a vet to fully check your bunny’s health. If it is diagnosed with the vestibular disease, the vet will prescribe the necessary medication. Moreover, you may be required to give your rabbit a special diet.
It could be suffering from abscesses
This sounds a bit strange, doesn’t it? Bacterial infection among rabbits may result in abscesses. This is a cavity or swollen area inside the rabbit’s tissues that is filled with pus.
Abscesses in rabbits are attributed to many types of aerobic bacteria. According to rabbit.org, abscesses in bunnies are caused by the following bacteria:
- Pasteurella multocida
In most cases, rabbits get abscesses on the skin and tooth roots. When abscesses occur in the tooth root, you will note a rabbit shaking its head. The vet should examine it to ascertain the location as well as the cause.
Treatment of abscesses is quite tricky. The vet may recommend some antibiotics to heal the infections. In other instances, surgery might be necessary. All these treatment options will depend on the severity of abscesses.
Research has identified that rabbit abscesses are hard to completely treat. In most cases, the condition will always recur.
Ear infections in rabbits
If your rabbit is shaking its head, first check if the ears are okay. A severe or mild infection in the inner, middle or outer ear may always make it very uncomfortable. Due to this discomfort, the rabbit repeatedly shakes its head.
Ear infections in rabbits are very common. These infections are known as otitis interna and otitis media. They are attributed to bacterial infections. The infection starts in the outer ear before spreading to the inner parts.
Ear infections in bunnies come along with the following symptoms:
- Repeatedly shaking head
- Discharge from ears
- Loss of appetite
- Teeth grinding
If you explain these symptoms to your vet, then he might conclude that it is an ear infection. These infections in bunnies are usually caused by the following:
- Fungal infection such as candida
- Stress, thus impaired immunity
- Ear cleaning solutions
If you provide a thorough history of your bunny, the vet might be able to identify the cause of the infection. He will recommend the right drugs to treat the cause, thus stop the rabbit head shaking.
This is one of the main causes of bunny shaking its head. Ear mites among rabbits are becoming very common nowadays. They are caused by psoroptes cuniculiis. The mites can be found in either ears or even one.
Apart from the ears, mites can spread to the surrounding body parts such as genitals, head, abdomen, and neck. Petmd.com notes that one can identify infested ears by noting lesions. These are thick lesions accompanied by significant hair loss in the ears.
Mites can be passed from one rabbit to the other. Therefore, an infested one should be isolated from the rest. Your bunny can also get mites from grass, beddings and wood chip. Always spray areas where bunny plays or stays.
In case you note head shaking in your rabbit, first examine for the presence of mites. Mite infestation always comes along with the following symptoms:
- Mild itching in the infected area, thus constant scratching
- Head shaking in an attempt to relieve the itching
- Hair loss in the infected ears
- Brown crusty lesion
Ensure your vet check carefully for mites since the condition could be due to other ear infections. Mites can be physically seen. The vet should use specialized tools if the mites are not visually visible.
Wax build-up in rabbits can cause immense discomfort, thus head shaking. Wax production is normal. Normal wax is yellow and soft in touch. If you don’t regularly clean up your rabbit’s ears, there might be a wax build-up.
If left to accumulate, wax can cause serious problems. In some cases, the wax may harbor mites. It might also cause infections in the middle and inner ear. Therefore, rabbit ear care is vital. You can use the following to clean your bunny’s ears and remove earwax:
- Long-stemmed cotton swap
- Earwax remover
While cleaning them, please observe the following precautions:
- Make sure that the cleaning is done gently. Don’t force the cotton swabs into the ear
- Be cautious not to push any wax deeper near to the eardrum
- Remember that the eardrum is very fragile
- Don’t scratch or pinch on the numerous blood vessels found in the ears
- Don’t use any water or any other fluid directly into the ear
Vets recommend that bunny's ears be cleaned on a weekly basis. This regular cleaning significantly reduces the chances of wax build-up, thus preventing mites and infections.
Article Citations and References
- Healthypages.com Rabbit shaking her head and scratching her ears
- Pethelpful.com 14 Reasons Your Bunny Might Be Sick
- Bunnyhugga.com Body language of rabbits
- Justrabbits.com Rabbit Head Shaking
- Sawneeanimalclinic.com Head Tilt in Rabbits
My rabbit has none of the problems listed. He is a mini Rex and he shakes his head when he’s frightened or hears a noise he dislikes. His breeder said she has never seen a rabbit act like him. Will he be okay! Sometimes he does it so rapidly that I’m afraid he might break his neck.
Sabrina, I’m very familiar with rabbit behavior, and I agree with the breeder that it’s not exactly common. You say that he shakes his head when “he’s frightened.” What type of noise is it? What else makes you think that your rabbit is frightened? Is it possible to avoid the noise? I’m asking because frightening a rabbit on a regular basis is a very bad idea. It should be avoided because eventually it can result in a state of shock in the affected rabbit. Without special interventions, shocks in rabbits are often deadly. Rabbits are more prone to shocks than other animals.
When a rabbit is scared, she may thump her hind foot—it’s an unexpectedly abrupt, soft but powerful sound. She may also stump if she’s annoyed. A scared rabbit can also sit low to the ground, especially if there’s grass around, motionless, with her ears pressed against her back. Again, this is not a good sign in a home environment, and somebody should interfere. I happened to rescue a 4-month old bunny from a fright-induced shock. She was left in an outside hutch with her sister. As it became dark, I heard her thumping—one loud thump after another. Knowing that something was very wrong, I stepped outside. About 10 feet away from the hutch, there was a raccoon hiding in bushes. When I brought the bunnies in, the one who had been thumping was cold to touch, especially her ears. That alone told me she was in shock—rabbits ears should be warm to slightly cool, but cold. In addition, she was listless and refused all her favorite foods. I kept her inside of my sweatshirt, next to my body, for about an hour. We avoided all kinds of stimulation—no light, no loud sounds. After about an hour or so, she accepted a dandelion leaf. At that point, I knew that she was on the road to recovery and a trip to the vet could be avoided.
What I observed in regard to head shaking in our rabbits... At one point, we had 13. All of them were and still are kept exclusively indoors. Today, we have only two rabbits left. One of our rabbits, Thurlow, is a mix of a rex and lop. He’s been with us since he was 2 months old, or about 5 years. He had a couple of serious illnesses in the past, but mainly digestive in nature—none as the ones described above. With that said, Thurlow shakes his head every day. It usually happens when he knows that his treats are coming, and he can’t contain his excitement. This shaking is often preceded (or followed) by some serious binkying and side-kicking up in the air.
Thurlow also shakes his head when he’s about to do something he’s not supposed to and he knows it. That happens when he feels particularly naughty and mischievous, or as I say it, “he’s in one of his evil moods...” So, in a situation like this, he shakes his head, which may or may not be accompanied by a binky, and then starts doing whatever he’s set his rabbit mind on... such as pulling out threads out of his rug... or nibbling on a piece of furniture. And all along, he’s giving us that evil look, as if saying, “So, you’re not giving me the rest of those barley biscuits? Fine! Be that way..!” I must confess that, depending on the object he chooses for destruction, he may win. In addition, to allow occasional temper tantrums like that, you first have to make sure your rugs are made out of cotton—so, if he nibbles on a few fibers, it’s not nearly as bad for his digestive system as polyester or even wool. Just like his excitement-induced ones, these head-shaking moments are fairly consistent and are hilarious.
We also have another 5 year old rabbit, Coco. She’s almost twice smaller than the other one as she’s a mix of a lionhead and angora. She developed the vestibular problem about 2 years ago. Refusal to eat even treats was the first warning sign. Several hours later, we noticed a very light head tilt. From that point on, the disease progressed very fast—even though she had already started a medication prescribed by a local vet, she began to roll. It was constant. She would start rolling at any attempt to move. We kept her in a well padded laundry basket—she was rolling non-stop and managed to roll even out of that. She was not safe by herself, so we kept her on our bed at night in this laundry basket. I was almost certain she wouldn’t make it, but with a different medication from a more experienced vet, our poor Coco began to improve. It was a slow process. But it was well worth it. Now, she’s still with us, and, with the exception of a mild head tilt (those usually stay forever) she’s her normal, feisty, and well-adjusted self.
I must add that even though she went through a very severe case of vestibular malfunction/head tilt, there was no head shaking, neither before nor during the illness. Inability to move without rolling and a very pronounced head tilt (to one side) were the most obvious signs of her disease. From what I understand, those are the most common presentations of this rabbit disease. Please remember that even a mild head tilt may be life threatening emergency. But of course, refusing favorite foods or treats is also a serious enough sign that mandates an immediate trip to the vet.
Rabbits are very complex animals requiring a lot of special knowledge and care. They are also much more expensive to keep than cats in dogs. In addition, it may be difficult to find a vet specializing in rabbits (exotic animals.) Here’s some very sad statistics for anyone to consider before getting a bunny—MOST BABY RABBITS DO NOT MAKE IT TILL THEIR FIRST BIRTHDAY. How sad... For comparison, a well-cared for, indoor rabbit has a life expectancy of 12-13 years. Please keep that in mind. Rabbit is a major commitment.