Understanding Rabbit Behavior

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Rabbits are generally thought of as very quiet and calm animals – thousands of generations as a prey animal will do that to you.  If you could be someone’s dinner, it’s best not to draw too much attention to yourself!  People who have not spent much time around rabbits might look at this quiet demeanor and dismiss rabbits as being boring.  Any rabbit owner can tell you these little fluff balls are full of personality and have a unique way of communicating among themselves and with the humans they love – you just have to know how to speak rabbit!  These are some common rabbit forms of communication – if you pay attention you’ll “hear” your rabbit loud and clear.

Vocal Communication

Grunting – generally this means your rabbit is angry or is feeling threatened.  If you hear this, take it to mean “back off” or you might end up getting bit or scratched

Honking – this is not a loud goose like honk, but a very soft noise generally made during courting.  Often honking is accompanied by the rabbit circling it’s love

Screaming – thankfully this is not a sound I have heard myself, but from what I understand it is ear (and heart) piercing.  Rabbits only scream when in mortal terror or dying in an extremely painful way

Non Vocal Body Language

Tense body, tail upright, ears back against the head – your rabbit is quite angry.  You should back off and let him cool down a bit

Third eyelid showing in corner of eye – your rabbit is scared or very stressed

Body upright, ears upright – she is listening to something or paying great attention to something

Thumping – rabbits usually thump their legs to express annoyance or fear.  Sometimes they will thump when you lock them up in their cage for the night when they were not ready to go to bed, like a little kid throwing a temper tantrum.  They also will thump to warn others of danger

Nipping – much lighter than an actual bite, it’s more of a pinch.  Rabbits might nip for a couple reasons.  It could be a warning nip that if you don’t back off the next time it will be a bite.  But it can also mean “I want some attention!”, or the rabbit could also be trying to groom you.  Her body language and activity at the time should help you figure out what she means

Lunging – another sign of annoyance.  She might lunge at you if you try to move her food or clean her cage, she is saying “stay out of my stuff”

Licking – you should feel honored if your rabbit licks you.  This is a sign of great affection & that she trusts you.  Bonded rabbits will also lick & groom each other

Chinning – if you have cats this behavior will be familiar, cats will rub their forehead on people and objects they like and want to claim with their scent.  Rabbits do the same thing except a rabbit’s scent glands are located under his chin.  You will not be able to smell it, but it will clearly tell other rabbits “this stuff is mine” or “this human belongs to me”

Tooth clicking – Another cat like behavior, this is similar to a cat’s purr.  It is a very quiet noise, but if you are close to your rabbit you should hear her gently clicking or grinding her teeth together in contentment usually when you are petting or grooming her.  Tooth clicking indicates a very happy, relaxed bunny.  Tooth GRINDING is a much louder, angrier sound which means your bunny friend is in extreme pain or stress and should probably visit a vet.  The context of the tooth noise should determine what your rabbit is trying to say.

Throwing things – rabbits like to toss things around.  It could be a sign they are looking to play or they could be trying to get your attention “my food bowl is empty, so I’m going to throw it at you”

Circling – a courting behavior, the rabbit will rapidly circle it’s love.  Rabbits will also circle their human friends to get their attention or sometimes to play

Mounting – obviously another courting behavior, in same sex rabbit pairs it means “I am in charge here”

Spraying – rabbits that are not spayed or neutered will mark their territory with urine spray, most common in males, but females will also do it

Pulling out their fur & building a nest – this can be a sign of pregnancy or a false pregnancy and usually only happens with unspayed females.  She might also start collecting hay and leaves to bring to the nest.  She is saying “I’m ready to be a mom now!”

Standing on hind legs – they are checking out something really intently.  It is also how they beg.  Dogs might have the biggest reputation for begging for table scraps but rabbits can give them a run for their money.  Try not to give in too often to those cute little bunny eyes or your rabbit will get overweight

Nose bopping – This can mean a couple different things.  It can be a greeting when they haven’t seen you for a little while “oh hi there!”.  It can be them demanding attention “why aren’t you petting me??” or it could be them being bossy “you are in my way!”

Hind feet stretched all the way behind them but laying upright – this rabbit is happy and feeling comfortable, but isn’t totally relaxed and wants to be ready to spring up at any moment

Drama Flop – bunnies can be real drama queens sometimes!  When your bunny is totally blissed out and feeling totally relaxed she will dramatically and suddenly flop down on the floor and roll to her side, exposing her belly and completely relaxing her head.  When you see this, you have one super happy bunny on your hands!

Bunny Dance – the drama flop is hilarious to watch, but dancing is my favorite.  When your rabbit is happy and full of excitement it just can’t be contained in one tiny little rabbit body.  He will run at top speeds around the room, kicking up his heels, twisting in mid air, shaking his head and generally just bouncing about.  They can really get some air!  Sometimes called dancing or a binky, what ever you call it, it is super adorable to watch and means your rabbit is in a great mood

Willow gave this huge Drama Flop after about 5 minutes of dancing – totally happy and worn out!


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