Rabbit Vomiting? Why Bunnies Throw Up

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Written By Zoey Seaforth

Committed to nurturing small pets with passion and purpose.

Bunnies are unique creatures with fascinating physiology. One of the most interesting aspects of their biology is that rabbit vomiting is just a myth.

Yep, you read that right.  This fact can trick rabbit owners into thinking their bunny is throwing up, but understanding why bunnies cannot vomit is crucial to their health and well-being. If it looks like they’re throwing up, something else is happening.

Are you curious why rabbits have such sensitive digestive systems that make it seem like they’re vomiting?

In this article, we’ll uncover the biological roots of this phenomenon, bust myths, and discuss potential health risks.

Plus, we’ll share helpful tips on how to keep your bun’s digestive system in top condition, so you won’t have to deal with the misconception of your rabbit vomiting.

The Physiology of a Rabbit Is Not Built to Vomit

They cannot vomit because their oesophageal sphincter, the muscle that separates the esophagus from the stomach, is very strong and prevents food from moving back up the diaphragm.

This part of the body is essentially the plug between the rabbit’s stomach and throat, and because they lack the muscle control needed to push food out of their mouth, can’t vomit at all.

Basically, they lack the muscle control needed to push food out of their mouth, which is why they cannot vomit.

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While it is a convenient feature for owners, it also makes rabbits susceptible to every type of health problem, including a digestive blockage.

Despite eating heartily and often, regurgitated food is never found in a rabbit’s hutch because of this.

However, rabbits are capable of choking or coughing if they eat too much or too quickly, which can cause their airways to block.

Rabbit anatomy should prevent them from being able to vomit. If you happen to have one of the very rare rabbits that can vomit, you should make an emergency appointment with your bunny-savvy vet to check for any underlying conditions, as this is not actually what’s going on.

For example, you may have a bunny choking rather than throwing up.

On The Rare Occasion…

Even though rabbits meant to vomit because their bodies weren’t designed to, there have been instances where they have been observed throwing up – or at least seemingly so.

However, in studies where this has happened, it has been immediately before death, and a veterinarian in these cases has confirmed that it’s the food passing from the stomach to the oesophagus, making it look like the rabbit is vomiting when it otherwise would not. 

Note that these are EXTREMELY rare instances, and if it seems like your bunny is doing something similar, it may indicate a very serious – and possibly fatal – health problem. Seek veterinarian guidance immediately.


Why It Looks Like Your Rabbit Is Vomiting

 
If you notice your rabbit coughing up food or fluids, it may appear as though they are vomiting, but rabbits are actually incapable of vomiting, as we’ve said previously.

Many people mistakenly believe that rabbits can throw up hairballs, like cats. While rabbits do shed fur, it is not possible for them to produce hairballs because they do not swallow enough fur to accumulate into a mass.

So, if you’re seeing signs that something is causing your rabbit to vomit (seemingly), it is important to take them to a veterinarian right away to determine the cause. 

This is because there are likely other factors at play, including:

  • Infection
  • Parasites
  • Environmental toxicity
  • Consumption of toxic foods
  • Dietary issues.

Your vet will need to conduct tests and physical exams to see whether these causes create the illusion of your rabbit vomiting. 

In the next section, we’ll examine these issues in more detail.

Signs That Your Rabbit is Vomiting (When It’s Not)

If it looks like you have a rabbit that may be vomiting or it’s exhibiting signs of digestive distress, know that this is NOT normal behavior.

It typically means there is another health problem happening. Don’t wait for your rabbit to get worse, as it may not even show obvious signs that something is seriously wrong.

In some cases, common health issues in rabbits that can be mistaken for vomiting include choking or coughing, which can occur if a rabbit inhales food or other objects into their lungs.

Other potential causes of digestive distress in rabbits include gastrointestinal (GI) stasis, a condition where the digestive system slows down or stops working entirely, and hairballs, which can obstruct the digestive tract. 

If these conditions are to blame, you’ll see symptoms like:

  • You try to feed your rabbit, but it has a loss of appetite
  • Appearance that the rabbit is choking
  • You see food out of the rabbit’s mouth
  • Lethargy or general fatigue – your bunny may not want to move
  • Diarrhea or oddly formed feces
  • Abdominal pain or clear discomfort. 

Rabbit Digestive Issues To Watch Out For

As herbivores, rabbits rely on a healthy digestive system to extract nutrients from plant material.

Because they are not capable of throwing up, if something toxic enters their system, it can form a blockage or contribute to extreme discomfort – or even death.

Unfortunately, digestive issues are common in bunnies and can be caused by a variety of factors, including improper diet, stress, and underlying health conditions. By knowing what these look like, you can prevent them from happening in the first place.

However, you’ll also need to carefully monitor how often (and what) your bunny eats daily. A lack of hay or fresh water can even spell disaster. When weighing up the pros and cons of rabbits as pets, you’ll need to consider these considerations.

Here are a few bunny digestive issues you’ll need to keep in mind:

Gastrointestinal Stasis (GI Stasis)

GI stasis (or gut stasis) is one of the most serious digestive issues that can affect your furry pal, especially because they have an inability to vomit.

Essentially, this condition means that they experience decreased appetite, reduced or absent fecal output, lethargy, and a hunched posture. After these signs present themselves, the bunny’s digestive system becomes blocked, and when not resolved quickly, can mean death. 

It stems from intestinal blockage and can be fatal if left unaddressed. 

Anorexia

Dental disease, chronic upper respiratory tract disease, neurologic disorders, lower gastrointestinal tract disease, and other underlying disorders can cause this.


Diarrhea

This is a non-specific symptom that can be caused by a variety of digestive disorders, including enteritis, gastroenteropathy, mucoid enteropathy, and intestinal infections.


Bloat

This is a non-specific term used to describe a condition where the stomach becomes distended with gas. When not fixed quickly, it usually means the bunny will unfortunately pass.


Mucoid enteritis

This is a digestive disorder that affects the small intestine and is characterized by the presence of mucoid material in the feces26.


Enterotoxaemia

This is a condition caused by the overgrowth of Clostridium bacteria in the intestines, which can produce toxins that cause damage to the intestinal liningBeyond these, we recommend keeping an eye on these illnesses as well, since rabbits are known to be extremely fragile:

  • Wool-block: This is a condition where a rabbit ingests too much fur while grooming, leading to a blockage in the digestive system
  • Trichobezoars: This is another term for hairballs, which can cause a blockage in the digestive system if they become too large
  • Enteritis: This is a non-specific term used to describe inflammation of the intestines
  • Gastroenteropathy: This is a non-specific term used to describe a disease that affects both the stomach and intestines
  • Dehydration: This can occur if a rabbit doesn’t get enough fluids, which can lead to problems with digestion

Bunny Choking? Here Are The Causes

A bunny can choke when something becomes lodged in its throat, obstructing the airway and making it difficult to breathe.

This can cause distress and visible signs that seem like your rabbit is choking, such as frantic behavior, open-mouth breathing, lips and nose turning blue, and running away from you.

Why Your Rabbit Is Choking

  1. Foreign Objects: Small objects, such as pieces of hay or other debris, can accidentally be ingested by a bunny and become stuck in its throat5.
  2. Hay Dust or Allergies: Some bunnies may have allergies to specific hay dust, which can cause irritation and potentially lead to choking or aspiration.
  3. Gut Blockages: Undigested food may be causing a health problem or blockage in your bunny’s airways. Because rabbits can’t vomit, this may mean they choke instead.

If you suspect your bunny is choking, it is important to act quickly. In the below sections, we’ll discuss how you can help replicate the act of vomiting for your bunny by unblocking their stomach and diaphragm. This is usually done using the Heimlich Technique. 

For now, make sure you:

  1. Assess the Situation: Observe your bunny’s behavior and look for signs of distress or difficulty breathing.
  2. Stay Calm: It is important to remain calm and focused during an emergency situation to provide the best care for your bunny. Try to keep your rabbit calm too. 
  3. Contact a Veterinarian: If your bunny is in obvious distress and having trouble breathing, it is recommended to take your rabbit to the veterinarian as soon as possible. 
  4. Do Not Attempt to Remove the Object: Trying to remove the object yourself may cause further harm or push the object deeper into the throat. Leave the removal to a trained veterinarian

Signs Your Rabbit May Be Sick: Steps to Take

If your rabbit appears to be experiencing digestive distress, it’s important to take action quickly. Contact a veterinarian who specializes in rabbit care for advice and guidance.

In the meantime, make sure your rabbit has access to plenty of fresh water and hay, and monitor their behavior closely.

It’s also important to avoid giving your furry friend any medications or supplements without first consulting with a veterinarian. Some safe medicines for other animals, such as dogs or cats, can be toxic to bunnies.

What To Do With A Choking Rabbit 

Sometimes, while it may appear that you have a rabbit vomiting in front of you, it might just be choking. Obviously, this is also serious, so here’s what to do if you think this is happening:

  1. Keep calm. If you panic, your rabbit will pick up on this and could become more distressed.
  2. Open your rabbit’s mouth and check for any obstruction. If you can see something, then use a pair of tweezers to try and remove it. Do not use
  3. your fingers as this could cause more obstruction.
  4. If the obstruction is not visible, then try to massage the throat and chest gently.
  5. If the choking persists, then it is best to take your rabbit to the vet immediately.

Note: In some cases, you may need to perform the Bunny Heimlich Maneuver – a lifesaving technique used to help a choking bunny. 

Because rabbits can’t throw up and do not have the strength to vomit, undigested food might be blocking its stomach and throat; it will need your help to remove the obstruction. 

How to unblock a rabbit’s stomach and throat if they’re choking:

This technique is similar to the Heimlich Maneuver used on humans but must be done cautiously due to the delicate nature of a bunny’s body.

Rabbit Vomiting: Heimlich Maneuver

To perform the Rabbit Heimlich Maneuver, if your rabbit is in danger of choking, place the bunny on its back and wrap your hands around the rib cage. Make sure not to press on its chest too hard.

Then, press inward and upward in a quick, forceful motion. This will help to expel any blockages from the airway. If the rabbit does not seem to respond, you may need to contact a veterinarian for further help.

The Importance of Diet in Rabbit Digestive Health

Now that you know rabbits can’t vomit, the next step is to ensure you’re helping them maintain a healthy diet and sense of wellbeing.

This will allow your bunny to keep good digestive health, and avoid cases where it seems like your rabbit may be choking or throwing up.

So, what should a good rabbit diet look like?

Like the human food pyramid, a good rabbit diet starts with a healthy balance. Here’s a rundown of what you should include in your bunny’s every day feeds:

Food TypeDescription
HayRabbits need at least one bundle of good quality hay every day, and it should be as big as they are. Hay or grass should make up the majority of a rabbit’s diet as their digestive system needs it to function properly.
Leafy greensRabbits must have an adult-sized handful of safe, washed leafy green vegetables, herbs, and weeds daily. It is recommended to feed a variety of greens, ideally 5-6 different types such as cabbage, kale, broccoli, parsley, and mint. Introduce new types of greens gradually to avoid potential stomach upsets.
PelletsA small amount of pellets can be given as a supplement to hay and leafy greens. However, muesli-style foods are not recommended for rabbits as they can cause health problems. Pellets should be fed in moderation.
TreatsRoot vegetables such as carrots or fruit should only be given in small portions as treats, as rabbits don’t naturally eat these types of foods. Carrots and apples are fine as occasional treats.

Key Takeaways

1. Rabbits cannot vomit due to the structure of their digestive system.

2. Bunnies cannot produce hairballs, even though they shed fur.

3. If a bun appears to be vomiting, it is an indication of a health problem, and a vet should be consulted.

4. A healthy diet and regular vet check-ups are important for maintaining a rabbit’s digestive health.

5. Coughing is not the same as vomiting and can indicate respiratory issues or other health problems.

FAQs – Why Is My Rabbit Vomiting?

What does it mean when a rabbit throws up?

Rabbits are unable to vomit, so if your bunny appears to be throwing up or there is food coming out of its mouth (or a foreign object), it could indicate a serious health concern. Not sure what to give a sick rabbit? Grab some Critical Care and have it readily on hand so you can get their gut moving.

Can rabbits cough?

Rabbits can cough, but this is not the same as vomiting. Coughing can be a sign of respiratory issues or other health problems.

How do rabbits clear toxins and blockages?

Rabbits can clear toxins and blockages in a number of ways. They can consume herbs and other natural substances that help to support their digestive system. They can also be fed a diet high in fiber to help keep their digestive tract moving and clear out any blockages.

Can rabbits spit things out?

Yes, rabbits can spit out food and other items that they do not like. They may also do this to try to express their displeasure with something. 

When a rabbit spits something out, it usually means that it does not like the taste, texture, or smell of what it has been offered.

Spitting can also be a sign of aggression from a rabbit if it feels threatened or threatened by another animal.
When bunnies are super grumpy – which happens – it’s sometimes also a sign that they are feeling uncomfortable.

If this happens, note when a bunny is spitting and figure out what is causing the discomfort.

If the source of the pain can be identified and removed, the spitting behavior should stop.

If you’re struggling, make sure you seek vet support. Never leave a bunny to suffer – a lot of the time they don’t show signs, so it can be hard to tell. 

Can Rabbits Regurgitate?

Yes, rabbits do regurgitate in a way. It’s called cecotrophy, and it’s a behavior that rabbits and other lagomorphs like hares and pikas use to get nutrition from their food.

When a rabbit eats, the food passes through its digestive tract and is partially digested. Then, the bunny will re-ingest the partially-digested food called cecotrope to extract additional nutrients.

This behavior is important for rabbits since their diet is high in fiber and low in protein and other essential nutrients.

Even though this isn’t vomiting in the direct sense, it acts in a similar way, helping bunnies to clear blockages and keep nutrients in their bodies when they need to. 

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