Rabbits Can’t Vomit! (Here’s Why!)

Rabbits are some of the cutest animals in existence, but did you know that they cannot vomit? Even though this may seem like an odd thing for a living creature to be unable to do, it is actually not unheard of across the animal kingdom. In fact, there are many other animals who cannot vomit and still live healthy lives. Today we will be discussing why rabbits can’t vomit and what this means for your pet’s health!

The factors that make it impossible for a rabbit to vomit are the absence of a gag reflex, reduced muscularity of the diaphragm, and a stomach that is not well structured for pushing contents back up the throat to the mouth opening. Even if they could gag, the consistency of the hays they eat as part of their daily diet would make it impossible for them to throw up.

Why Don’t Rabbits Have a ‘Gag Reflex’?

A gag reflex is usually caused by the back of the throat or tongue touching, this stimulates a nerve that sends signals to your brain, and then you will feel like gagging. Rabbits lack this because they have such small throats and tongues, which means there is no chance for these things to touch each other so as a result, their gag reflex does not exist.

For other animals, vomiting may happen when food gets into the respiratory system causing them difficulty breathing; however, since rabbits don’t breathe through their mouth they are never at risk for this type of vomiting

The Main Problem With Not Being Able to Vomit

A rabbit’s inability to vomit means that anything it eats only has one way out. This can be problematic if the rabbit has eaten something which could potentially cause it harm or may be difficult to pass. As rabbit owners, we all have a responsibility to ensure that our rabbit’s curious mouths are unable to nibble on anything that may be harmful. This includes plastics, shoes, or phone chargers (we know this is often easier said than done).

rabbit trying to vomit

It’s also important to shield your rabbit from any plants or other poisons that may be present in a garden or yard that you may be allowing access to. Always clean up and ensure you carry out a risk assessment before introducing a rabbit into a new area.

How Does a Rabbits Digestive System Work?

Rabbits have a complicated digestive system that doesn’t allow for the expulsion of stomach contents in the same way we humans find so common. Instead, rabbits use chewing and swallowing to break down their food. Indigestible fiber gets expelled as the dry pellets owners often see dotted around the house, while digestible fiber passes to a special organ known as the cecum.

In the cecum, bacteria (sometimes referred to as gut flora) break down tough plant fibers in an efficient way. The rabbit’s body absorbs some of these nutrients directly while the rest is eliminated as cecotropes – small wet droppings that are rarely seen given that a rabbit eats these directly from the anus. This may seem unpleasant to us but is a survival mechanism essential for rabbits to gain the most nutrients out of food that has limited nutritional value.

Rabbit digestive system
Digestive system of humans and rabbits. CNX OpenStax, CC BY 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

A rabbit’s inability to vomit is an adaptation done in order to allow for optimal digestion of all nutrients from ingested plants while keeping harmful substances at bay.

How Do You Know If Your Rabbit Needs Medical Attention?

Rabbits are delicate pets that may suffer from any number of different life-threatening conditions. For this reason, it’s important to always monitor the behavior of your pet, including any personality change. Some common symptoms of rabbit illness are:

  1. Lethargy
  2. Shivering
  3. Abnormally dark or smelly droppings
  4. Diarrhea (not cecotropes)
  5. A bloated stomach (indicating a possible blockage)
  6. Whimpering or indications of pain when handling.

What Are Some Common Illnesses in Rabbits?

Many illnesses are common in rabbits. Some of the most prevalent ones are as follows:

Encephalitozoonosis (E.Cuniculi)

This is a parasite that can cause inflammation and death to brain tissue, kidneys, lungs, heart, small intestine, or liver; symptoms include lethargy and weight loss. Feeding your pet a high-quality diet will help protect against this condition.

Bladder stones

Though not noticeable without an examination by a veterinarian bladder stones may result in straining while urinating or reduced litter box use (in which case you should call your vet ASAP).

Calcium oxalate bladder stones often form from too much calcium in their diet. Prevention includes reducing consumption of high calcium foods though, water deprivation, urinary tract infection, and genetic factors may all contribute to the formation of bladder stones.

Gastrointestinal Stasis

Also known as GI stasis or ileus, this is a serious condition that affects rabbits. It’s caused by the bowel not moving food and water normally through the gut which causes toxins to build up in these organs.

Symptoms include decreased appetite/thirst; pain on either side of belly; weight loss; diarrhea (sometimes with blood). Treatment may involve intravenous fluids, antibiotics for bacterial infection, laxatives to reduce blockage and support motility of intestinal tract, total parenteral nutrition if necessary.

Wrap Up

For the most part rabbits have evolved to cope perfectly well without the ability to vomit, however, It’s important to remember that rabbits deteriorate very quickly when they are ill. Always keep an eye out for common symptoms of illness or unusual behavior and if you are concerned your rabbit may be suffering, contact a vet immediately for advice.


Darren is the founder and editor at Bunny Advice and has been caring for rabbits for over a decade. He has a passion for helping animals and sharing his experience and knowledge with others.

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