When a rabbit lies on its side, it can represent total relaxation and security.
However, it can also hide health problems or even life-threatening conditions.
Learn now how to recognize the difference and how to act correctly and safely in an emergency.
Possible lying positions for rabbits
When rabbits sleep or relax, various lying positions are possible. A popular one is the prone position.
However, it is also possible for your rabbit to lie on its chest and rest its hind legs to the side. The upper body can be half upright or the head can be placed on the front paws.
A complete lateral position is also possible.
The animal lies or throws itself lengthwise on one side and stretches all limbs.
Some rabbits roll on the ground with pleasure or make a “bed” for themselves beforehand. A short roll on the back and presentation of the belly belong to very tame and trusting animals also.
All these positions indicate a relaxed state.
The rabbit feels safe and comfortable. The ears are held loosely and the whole body is soft. It is not uncommon for animals to fall asleep or doze off.
It is important that you do not disturb in these situations. Avoid loud noises and hectic movements. In addition, you can be happy that you have a good bond with your rabbit. Because this behavior is shown in the presence of people only when they feel a high level of security.
Gentle posture: rabbit lies on its side in pain
Another way rabbits lie on their side is to spare a limb.
In the event of a fall or an uncoordinated jump, various injuries can occur. Possible are:
cracked joint capsules
These are not always immediately noticeable. Pain intensity can increase significantly after the incident.
Veterinary care is required immediately. This is the only way to avoid malpositions and incorrect fusion.
Noticeable in these cases is that your rabbit continues to move, but clearly rests one paw or side. He may limp or avoid being touched, or he may be jumpy or aggressive.
Treatment with pain medication and immobilization of the affected limb, if necessary, are also necessary.
If the injury is more severe, you may need to separate your pet from the other rabbits for the time being. Physical therapy may also be useful to promote healing and achieve full range of motion.
Lateral position for flatulence and pain
Rabbits have a sensitive digestive system.
Even small amounts of spoiled, unsuitable and highly flatulent food can therefore lead to disorders.
A common result is what is known as regurgitation.
Since rabbits cannot burp, a lot of gas forms or accumulates in the stomach and intestines. Some of it is absorbed into the blood through the intestinal wall and exhaled.
However, the rest can only escape with the passage of feces. Until then, the flatulence produces pain and even cramps.
The abdomen is hard and bloated.
Other possible limitations due to digestive tract disorders include diarrhea and constipation, up to and including intestinal obstruction. These can also be accompanied by pain, cramps and bloating.
The lateral position does not appear relaxed in these cases.
The animal often loses its appetite, moves too little and may grind its teeth.
You should immediately consult a veterinarian in these cases. This is because both diarrhea and constipation are serious problems in rabbits that can lead to death in a very short time.
With diarrhea, the loss of water and nutrients is critical in just a few hours.
With constipation, there is a risk of intestinal obstruction, in which sections of the intestine can die.
Both are acutely life-threatening. The lateral position either serves to relieve pain or is caused by the progressive weakening of the organism. The rabbit can no longer stand on its feet and appears weak.
Your action is required: Rabbit is lying on its side and trembling
Rabbits can shake for a variety of reasons.
Possible triggers are:
imminent heat stroke
However, in combination with the lateral position, cold and stress are eliminated. Also, in the case of fear and excitement, other positions are usually adopted to better protect the body or the rabbit moves more to relieve nervous energy.
You can find our detailed guide to rabbit language here!
Therefore, if the rabbit is lying on its side and trembling at the same time, pain, illness, and an accelerated heartbeat or impending heat stroke are more common causes.
In any case, you need to take your pet to the vet or a veterinary clinic immediately.
If the temperatures are very high, you should additionally cool. Shade, cooling batteries and cool water are helpful. Also, moisten the ears and lay out a cooling mat, among other things, to gently yet quickly lower the body temperature.
Wetting the paws selectively, but carefully, can also help prevent heat stroke.
Side lying due to paralysis
Due to injuries or an infestation with coccidia, rabbits can suffer from paralysis.
Usually, the hind legs can then no longer be controlled or moved purposefully. The animals drag their legs behind and can no longer put their paws on properly.
Even when lying down, the abdomen is therefore sideways.
This does not have to be a death sentence.
In many cases, drug therapies and physiotherapy help to improve the condition again. However, it is crucial that early examination and treatment are carried out.
Rabbit in lateral position: apathy
An apathetic rabbit that appears absent or is even unconscious is an absolute emergency. Inform a veterinarian or veterinary clinic immediately and describe the condition while bringing your pet to the practice or clinic.
Keep in mind that every minute counts.
Describe the condition and accompanying symptoms as accurately as possible:
Is breathing shallow?
Has your rabbit had the opportunity to ingest toxic substances?
Are the mucous membranes very pale?
Were there any preceding signs, such as loss of appetite, weakness, increased fatigue, a greater need to rest, or blood in the urine?
The more information you can provide, the more targeted treatment can be. In such acute cases, this is a decisive factor for the chances of survival.
Lateral position as a sign before death
When a rabbit is close to death, its behavior often changes significantly.
The animal becomes quieter to apathetic, often stretches or lies down a lot. It no longer seems to actively participate and may even hide.
The lateral position is then also due to weakness.
Shallow and accelerated breathing may occur. The heartbeat may be accelerated. Twitching, tremors and unconsciousness are possible.
Often, death is already apparent in advance.
Here it must be weighed up, whether still meaningful treatment possibilities can be found or an euthanasia can avoid suffering. If your animal suffers from pain that can no longer be treated and alleviated with medication, you should consider euthanasia.
When do I need to help my rabbit in a lateral position?
A lateral position is not automatically bad or a sign of illness or injury or weakness.
The position can also indicate pure relaxation and well-being.
The important thing is that you can clearly see the difference.
Immediate intervention is required if:
Breathing is altered
Whether breathing is very fast or shallow and rapid, clearly slows down or audibly stops – these are warning signs in any case.
Be sure to take them seriously.
The behavior is noticeable
An extreme need to rest, sudden restlessness, aggression or shyness are symptoms of existing problems.
A visit to the vet can and should therefore be made in these cases even before the conspicuous lateral position.
A very high body temperature exists
Whether fever or blazing summer sun – just like hypothermia, heat stroke can be fatal.
The circulation collapses. The organs stop functioning because they can no longer be supplied. Prevention is vital and fast action is required.
Increased thirst, salivation, blood in the urine, reduced defecation, thinner coat – all of these can become apparent beforehand and indicate various problems.
A comprehensive check-up by the veterinarian should be carried out at an early stage in order to prevent progressive diseases, poisoning or other infestations.
Other symptoms may include
Bleeding from nose or mouth, desperate attempts to stand up, bending away, falling over or frantic running around should always lead you to the vet.
A final tip: the right rabbit veterinarian.
It is best to choose one or better yet several veterinarians with extensive experience with regard to rabbits even before you acquire rabbits. Because these are often marginal topics during studies and training.
In addition, rabbits as pets still do not have the same status as dogs, for example. Therefore, many veterinarians are only peripherally familiar with this animal species, advise hastily to euthanize it or have no experience with typical problems and their treatment.
For a long and healthy life, however, exactly these experiences and the necessary knowledge are important.
Since such doctors are rarely found, you should start your search as early as possible. If necessary, breeders or other rabbit owners in your area can help you.
My name is Mark and the senior editor
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