Rabbits cannot breathe through their mouth if their nose is blocked. Attempted mouth breathing is a sign of respiratory distress and is often accompanied by a blue tinge to the lips and nose. This is a serious and life-threatening condition that needs emergency attention by your vet. However, anything that obstructs the rabbit’s nasal passages or causes a narrrowing may mean that the rabbit emits a ‘snoring’ noise when breathing. This can sometimes be caused by the rabbits’ breed, a foreign body or bacterial infections, and some rabbits may also truly snore!
There are many reasons why a rabbit’s nasal passages may be narrow or blocked to some degree.
Many breeds of rabbit, especially lop eared breeds have flattened faces and noses (brachycephalic), which, as in similar flat-nosed breeds of cats and dogs, e.g. Bulldogs, Pugs and Pekinese, causes a snoring sound to be heard when the animal breathes. This is a congenital problem caused by the animal’s breeding and is often not life-threatening, as long as nothing else obstructs the nasal passages.
Foreign bodies, e.g. grass/hay seeds/hair, may be breathed in and lodge in one or even both of the nasal passages. This will often be accompanied by sneezing, nose rubbing and discharge from the affected nostril(s). In these cases, veterinary advice and attention should be sought.
Rabbits often harbour some degree of subclinical bacterial infection in their lungs and airways, especially as they age. The most common bacteria that is found is Pasteurella multocida. This often strikes fear into rabbit owners as the bacteria can be responsible for a host of rabbit health related problems (abscesses, respiratory infections, etc), but in truth many rabbits carry the bacteria, often for years/life, without any problems arising. Problems arise once the rabbits’ immune system is compromised (often for another health problem), and the immune system is weakened so is no longer able to keep the Pasteurella ‘in-check’. This is when it often takes hold and some form of clinical signs associated with the bacteria may be seen.
This depends on the reason for the snoring!
If the rabbit is well and has been checked out by your vet and deemed healthy, then monitoring the situation is the best course of action. However, if the problem is causing any respiratory distress, the rabbit is cyanotic (blue mucous membranes) or is distressed in any other way, then you must get your rabbit to your vet straight away as this is an emergency situation.
Some rabbits do simply seem to snore when they are asleep, much like people. This is often the case in rabbits who may be slightly overweight or as the rabbit ages, and is caused by a slightly floppy soft palate.
If your rabbit only snores when asleep or very relaxed, and has no signs of respiratory infection or a foreign body, then it would be assumed that the rabbit is just snoring!
Snoring can be totally harmless and normal for some rabbits, but if your rabbit is in any way distressed or it happens suddenly without any previous episodes, then it is always best to seek veterinary advice to rule out any potential problems.