Do You Have a Happy Bunny?
Understanding Rabbits ~ History ~ Habitat ~ Anatomy ~ Genetics ~ Rabbit Behaviour
Allowing your rabbit the freedom to express 'normal' behaviour is a fundamental legal requirement by you, to your rabbit, under the Animal Welfare Act.
But what is 'normal' behaviour for a rabbit?
Spot the Difference
By learning what your rabbits do on a
daily basis and how they act when they are happy, will make it easier to
detect the more concerning rabbit behaviour.
In fact, in most cases it is not the presence of concerning behaviour that you need to worry about, but more the absence of normal behaviour. When your rabbits stop doing the normal stuff, that's when you may have a reason for concern!
Sometimes the signs are very subtle and
can't always be spotted.
Getting it Right
Quick Links to Getting it Right
Understanding rabbit behaviour is probably the most fundamental aspect of keeping rabbits successfully.
Here are some great ways you can educate yourself and give your rabbit(s) the opportunity to behave in a way that is natural to them, as a species:
- Normal Rabbit Behaviour - These are the things your rabbits will probably do on a daily basis and are good signs that your bunnies are happy and contented, doing what they are supposed to do.
- Territorial Behaviour - Rabbits are surprisingly particular about their space. Their behaviour when protecting or governing their domain can be a little daunting to.
- Mating Behaviour - This is also perfectly normal for rabbits even when they are not actually making babies.
- Behaviour that May Indicate Stress or Pain - Signs
that a rabbit may be suffering from stress or fear can include hiding, dribbling or not moving. Learn these and other signs and what you can do to correct them.
- Vital Signs Solution Chart - Observing, checking the cause and finding solutions are the keys to raising healthy, happy rabbits.
- Annoying Behaviour? - Rabbits are quite destructive sometimes and while their chewing, nibbling, digging and biting is perfectly normal to them, there are ways we can control the little critters ;-)
- Rabbit Language & the Sounds They Make - Rabbits have a great system of communication, all we have to do is recognise the sounds, understand them and respond in return - hey presto, a two-way communication system!
- Still Stuck? Expert Advice - If you are struggling to understand what your rabbit is telling you, or what may be wrong with them, get some advice from a panel of experts.
What's Your Rabbit Up To?
We can all learn from studying the behaviour of rabbits, both indoors and outdoors. The more we observe them, the more we learn and the more we can help them live happy, natural lives.
Please share your thoughts, experiences and observations with us - all rabbits are different - what's your bunny like?!
Freedom of Expression
The law states that for any domestic animal, their basic
requirements are food, water, space and exercise but rabbits also need
to be allowed to act in a way that is natural for them.
They need to dig, hide, run, jump, stretch, rummage, play and most importantly socialize.
If your rabbits aren't given the freedom to express themselves they
will start behaving differently.
Rabbit behaviour can be very simply interpreted if you understand that most of their body language and a few vocalizations
have evolved from their wild ancestors.
Most rabbit behaviour can be linked to the fact that they are naturally prey animals and there are a lot of beasties out there trying to get at them.
Some rabbit behaviour is drawn from how they normally socialize with each other or how they individually act when they are part of a large group.
However, we can understand these basic signals of communication if we just read the signs and act accordingly.
Rabbits can understand a second language!
Which means they can interpret what we are saying to them and... 'binky-jump' - you have a two way communication going!
However, lets first respect and understand their rabbit behaviour and what it is, in certain circumstances, they are communicating to us...
Understanding Rabbit Body Language
Normal Rabbit Behaviour
Some rabbit behaviour can be seen on a daily basis and is perfectly normal...
Over grooming could be a sign of boredom or depression.
A healthy, happy rabbit will groom itself, other bonded rabbits and even you. Not only is it good hygiene but it is also a sign of affection.
However, watch out for over-grooming, especially with a rabbit on their own, it could be a sign of boredom and depression.
Jump down to read more...
Rabbits just love
a bit of dirt!
Rolling on Side
Rolling over and lying on their side or back
with their eyes closed is a sign your rabbit is very relaxed and happy.
They flop down really quickly sometimes but a floppy bunny in this case
is a contented one!
Mounting can also be a display of dominance.
Apart from the obvious, when a male rabbit mounts another rabbit or even your foot, he, (or she), is
either trying to mate or is displaying dominance.
A female rabbit may
mount a male rabbit to display dominance.
Learn more about how rabbits interact with each other...
Looking at your rabbit's droppings are a good way of telling if your bunny is healthy or unwell.
Rabbits produce two types of droppings - the hard fecal pellets that you
see them poop during the day, and the soft, caecal pellets that they poop out at night and take directly from their bottom
Sometimes this type of rabbit behaviour can shock or mystify the new rabbit owner, but it is perfectly normal and is your rabbit's way of maximising the value of its food by taking out more nutrients from the droppings as they pass through
their body again.
Rabbits droppings can indicate the early signs of illness. If you are worried Ask an Expert Vet for their opinion here...
If a rabbit doesn't have enough room to exercise and play they may come depressed and even develop behavioural problems.
Acrobatics or 'Binkys'
Rabbits play and get rid of excess energy by running fast, leaping
around and twisting their body in mid-air.
Energetic rabbit behaviour should be encouraged. A jumping bunny is a great sign that your rabbit is a happy one!
Ensure your rabbits have plenty of space to express themselves.
A rabbit's exercise area needs to allow them to stand up fully on their back legs,
without their ears touching the roof.
When a rabbit stands up on its back feet it is trying to get a better
view of its surroundings.
It may be trying to get your attention or
reach for food that you are holding.
Make every effort to ensure your rabbits have access to a
large area to exercise during their most active periods (early morning,
late afternoon and overnight).
A secure living environment is very important and should be large
enough for them to exercise in and stand up in.
Learn more about the specifications of good rabbit housing...
My buck rabbit runs up to me every time he sees me, just to get a head stroke!
Head Flat On Ground
This is one of my favourite signs of a happy bunny.
Lying with their head down flat is a sign of submission or a request for continued grooming or stroking from another rabbit or yourself.
Grooming is just a small part of the important interaction with others that rabbits need.
Learn more about grooming including aspects on dental & nail care...
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More Normal Rabbit Behaviour
Normally only the tip of a rabbit's tail can be seen. When a rabbit
is curious and leaning forward with pricked ears, its tail will extrude
further. When a rabbit is excited its tail will rise higher up its
back. When a rabbit is about to attack or wants to mate it may flick
its tail from side to side.
A light grinding or 'munching' of teeth indicates your rabbit is
happy, for example when you are stroking them. A heavier grinding can
indicate pain or discomfort and will generally be accompanied by other
The rabbit behaviour of nudging is quite normal. A rabbit will nudge you lightly with their nose to get your attention
or nudge you more forcefully to get you to go away or stop doing
something to them.
- Flicking Ears
Your rabbit is inviting you to play. If a rabbit shakes its ears
frequently and scratches inside them, it can mean they have a problem in
their ears so check inside them for redness or scabs. Visit the Vet Advice page for more...
- Forward Ears
If a rabbit points its ears forward it is curious about something.
- Straight Up Ears
If it puts them straight up it is alarmed and trying to listen for the direction and closeness of the possible threat.
- Flat Ears
If your rabbit holds their ears flat on its back it is frightened and trying to make
Territorial Rabbit Behaviour
A female rabbit will sometimes make a growling noise when you are
interfering with her space, for example cleaning out her litter tray.
She may also lunge at you with her front feet - this is a territorial
thing but she is unlikely to bite you.
A rabbit will rub the underside of its chin against something to mark
it with its scent and claim their territory. A rabbit may even chin a
human. Scent is an important means of communication for rabbits.
Learn more about the importance of territory
when rabbits are together...
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Mating Rabbit Behaviour
A rabbit will thump a hind foot on the ground when it feels there is
danger around, to warn other rabbits. Un-neutered males also use it as a
sign of wanting to mate. De-sexed rabbits may use it as a sign of
Learn more about neutering rabbits and the benefits...
Honking or Grunting
A little exhalation of breath, another sign of wanting to mate. Males and females may continue to honk even after neutering.
When your rabbit runs around your feet or around another rabbit, he
is displaying his intention to mate or is trying to get your attention.
Circling can go on a long time too, sometimes males that are not neutered will run around their object of desire (you or another rabbit), in one direction up to 10 times or more, then they run round in the opposite direction for the same number of circles. This is them laying claim to the rabbit or you, in the centre, as their sexual property.
Learn more about rabbit behaviour during mating...
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Rabbit Behaviour that May Indicate Stress or Pain
OK, So we know what's normal rabbit behaviour, but what about the grouchy rabbits, what if your bunny bites, kicks, scratches or lunges at you? What if they've gone off their food, what if they've stopped coming out?
- If a rabbit changes their normal behaviour or routine in any way it could be because they are distressed, bored, ill or injured.
- Rabbits that are frightened or in pain may change their behaviour or develop unwanted habits e.g. aggression or hiding.
that a rabbit may be suffering from stress or fear can be fairly obvious sometimes but some rabbit behaviour of this nature is difficult to spot. Here are some basic signs to watch out for:
- Chewing cage bars
- Altered feeding habits
- Different toilet habits
- Sitting hunched
- A reluctance to move
- Repeated circling
All of those are good indications that your rabbit may be upset about something.
Take a look at this comprehensive
vital signs chart, with causes and solutions...
Here's some more signs to look out for and what you can do to avoid your rabbit being upset...
A sign that your rabbit is too hot, overweight or ill. Rabbits can't cope when it's very hot and can very quickly overheat. Heat stroke can occur when a rabbit is exposed to high temperatures, even for a short period of time. Direct sunlight or even sitting next to a heat source like a radiator can cause heat exhaustion.
If you don't move your rabbit to a cooler, shadier position it can be fatal.
Learn more about the importance of rabbit shelter...
Rabbits don't sweat like we do, they can cool a little by dilating the blood vessels in their ears.
Excessive grooming or fur pulling
can be due to boredom.
This can sometimes lead to a
risk of hairballs forming in the gut.
The easiest solution is to feed
your rabbit more hay - not only will this reduce the boredom, it
will help the rabbit maintain a healthy digestive system and thus reduce
the risk of hairballs.
You can also provide more toys!
Check them out here...
Fur pulling can sometimes be seen in unspayed females going through a
phantom pregnancy when they are building a nest.
A bored rabbit will often overeat, leading to an overweight, unhappy
rabbit if the food it is eating is mostly dry food or vegetables.
However, rabbits cannot overeat hay - the more the better - so give your
rabbit plenty of hay while keeping its dry food and vegetables to a
Providing your rabbits
with constant access to good quality hay is important for
their emotional wellbeing as well as their dental and digestive health.
A good rabbit diet is probably the most important and fundamental aspect of your bunnies care, health and well-being. You are required by law to provide it! Oh my goodness! You better look at this then...
Carrots & apples should only be given as a special treat, a bit like you with chocolate & sweets!
Rabbits can become ill if they don't have the proper diet.
Let's hope you never hear this as a rabbit will only scream or squeal
if they are in extreme pain, anger or fear e.g. when it has been caught by a
predator or hurt badly.
The sound is
very high in pitch and unless you actually see the rabbit screaming, you might
not assume a noise like that would come from them at all. I liken it to a cross between a young child and a pig - it's truly awful.
However there are some nice sounds too.
Hear more rabbit sounds here...
Rabbits make very few noises but when they scream, you'll know about it.
is most likely caused by overgrown teeth, leading to the rabbit
dribbling food or saliva down its chin.
You will need to check their
teeth and get them seen to by a vet if they are too long.
If not treated
your rabbit will not be able to eat and will die.
Overview of rabbit dental health...
A rabbits teeth continue to grow throughout their lives.
As they are a prey
species, rabbits need to be able to hide in a secure place, away from the
sight and smell of predators (e.g. foxes, cats, dogs, ferrets and birds
However, if your rabbit is hiding all the time, even at their
most active times of the day (early morning and dusk), then it could be a
sign that something is wrong. They may not like the company they are
keeping or could be getting bullied.
Read more about behaviour during injury (bullying) here...
could be ill from eating something poisonous or too much of one food
that is bad for their digestive system, e.g. carrots, apples &
muesli. Check you're giving your rabbits safe foods.
Rabbits must be able to hide from things that scare them.
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Rabbit Behaviour Check Chart
Recognising sickness, injury, pain or suffering, is very difficult with rabbits.
With this in mind, I have dedicated a special page to help you spot these signs of stress, with behaviour descriptions, causes and solutions.
I believe this is a vital part of understanding rabbits and knowing these basic points go a long way to successfully raising and living with, healthy, happy rabbits!
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Undesirable Rabbit Behaviour -
Chewing, Nibbling, Digging & Biting
'Don't Give Up On Them Baby'
Some habits are perfectly normal
in a rabbit's mind but you might find them a tad annoying. When a rabbit
becomes a little bit annoying it can trigger some of the most common
reasons why most new rabbit owners give up on their bunny in the first
few months of ownership.
most of the annoying little 'rabbity' things they do have evolved from
their natural rabbit behaviour in the wild, so that's their excuse.
However most of nibbly, niggly stuff can be 'trained away'... Yes that's right, you can train them to stop by distraction, alternative stimulation and rewards - make it fun!
Chewing, Nibbling, Digging & Biting Rabbits
House Bunny Proofing
If you live with house rabbits then you really are blessed. The pleasure and companionship a house rabbit gives is second to none.
But is your home as safe as houses?
Find out here...
This is really only a problem for house rabbit owners in terms of
damage to their furniture and carpets. However, hutch rabbits also love
to chew, nibble and dig. They need to. Outdoor rabbits spend a lot of time away from the company of others so their need for stimulation may be far greater than that of an indoor bunny that has the benefit of a companion or other pets all day.
important to recognize this need in hutch rabbits and give them toys and
the chance to exercise and play.
If you have a house rabbit with no restrictions on its freedom, a
certain amount of damage may be inevitable.
However, there are many
things you can do to reduce destructive rabbit behaviour of this kind.
Bear in mind that rabbits are territorial and like to have their own
areas and access routes throughout the house so it stands to reason that
anything placed in or around these areas and routes will become a
target for destruction.
Anything left lying on the floor is likely to
be investigated and perhaps chewed so be conscious of where you place
Rabbits often like to chew on wooden furniture like a table leg, so
try giving them a more tempting option such as a piece of apple of
willow wood. If this doesn't fix it, cover the chewed area with a
cardboard or wooden tube, or with duck tape as this should discourage
the rabbit and hopefully break the habit.
Most house rabbits will choose their own sleeping area, usually
behind a sofa or under a table or bed. They like to sleep somewhere
that approximates a burrow i.e. a roof over their heads with entrance
and exit routes.
(My rabbits love sleeping under my bed. They enjoy having me close at night time and it is a perfect hiding place, away from the hustle and bustle of daytime activities. They chose it as soon as they moved in. I put a large carpet sample down for them to lie on and nibble on should they fancy a chew, but a blanket or towel will do the job too. Because the alternative is close to them, they are more likely to nibble holes in this rather
than the carpet or bed-frame. It took me a few weeks of nibbled leather headboard for me to work it out though!)
Make sure that the entrance and exit
routes are not blocked by anything and that the rabbit can easily fit
through them. For example, if the route is between two sofas and the
gap is not wide enough, your rabbit is likely to nibble the sofas in an
attempt to widen the gap.
(When a friend of mine came to visit one weekend, she put her brand new leather, expensive, designer shoes on the carpet, by the bedside table. A normal thing to do right? Wrong, not when you have rabbits. That was their doorway and someone had rudely blocked their sacred entrance to their secure domain. The shoes were nibbled, chewed on dribbled all over, beyond repair. Fortunately my friend forgave me but I had to make up for it by treating her to a nice restaurant meal. My own fault for not telling her. I always warned people after that!)
Rabbits are also particularly drawn to electrical cables so always make
sure that these are either out of their reach or covered with cable
protector. It could be just the rubber casing they are attracted to. Some rabbits have a penchant for rubber and plastic, so keep your TV
remote controls out of their way.
(The rabbit I had before Kisses and Cuddles, - I called him Diesel as he looked like he'd dunked his head in it, used to love all things cable. It was almost as if he craved them, like some kind of half crazy drug addict. I went through 7 computer cables, 3 phone lines and how he didn't electrocute himself eating the extension lead one afternoon when I was mowing the lawn, I don't know!)
A lot of rabbits dig at carpets or even nibble holes in them. Provide
your rabbits with suitable materials that allow digging behaviour (such
as a sand box), and areas to mark their territory with chin secretions,
urine and droppings.
there is a particular area your rabbit likes to dig, cover it with a
blanket or piece of cardboard as they will then dig at this
Female, unspayed rabbits are notorious for digging. It is an in-built nesting habit. She is preparing herself to have kits (babies). You can lower the probability of this happening by getting your doe spayed.
If your doe has already been spayed and she is still digging you may want to look at the possibility of a false pregnancy.
If your bunny bites it is usually a sign of getting
your attention, maybe because you're not quick enough with his dinner.
It can also be a
request for you to move your hands or feet out of its way. Pretty
determined when they want something hey?
A way to avoid a rabbit
nipping or biting can be to just let out a little high pitched squeak so
the rabbit knows it has hurt you. Never hit or shout at your rabbit.
This will only confuse them and make matters worse!
biting is rarely a sign of nasty aggression unless the rabbit has been
seriously traumatized or badly mistreated in some way.
Purchase and Adoption
You can ensure your rabbit has had the best possible upbringing by buying it from a reputable breeder or better still, an adoption centre or animal shelter.
In most cases, they are familiar with the bunnies background and history. They will give you advice and will have been neutered and vaccinated them already.
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Rabbit Language & Rabbit Sounds
Rabbit behaviour can also be heard. Rabbits have a vocal language all of their own. They make unusual rabbit noises and special rabbit sounds. And fortunately we can understand the basics of what they are trying to say.
Learn more about the amazing sounds rabbits make...
Rabbits may have their own language, but rabbit breeders and others associated with rabbitry also use many terms and words to describe their passion.
This list is the best on the web for rabbit terminology - at least I think it is!
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Expert Pet Advice
Rabbit behaviour can be generalized but there are a great many factors to consider when assessing a rabbit's behaviour. There are age factors, personality traits, habits and trauma related behaviour from past experiences to consider as well.
If you are unsure about a specific rabbit behaviour or if your rabbit's behaviour
becomes an ongoing problem, seek expert advice from a reputable vet. More on Vets here...
In some cases, especially with naughty rabbits, bad behaviour may make you tempted to scold them, shout at them or maybe even bop them on the nose like you would a dog. You may even want to punish them like a child and remove their treats etc.
ALL OF THESE WOULD BE WRONG.
You should never
shout at or punish your rabbits, they DO NOT UNDERSTAND these methods of punishment and can become more nervous or scared.
In fact I don't reccommend punishment of any kind for any animal or child. Rewarding good behaviour is always the better option for any species!
This page offers some great advice about handling rabbits and gaining their trust - it's a two way street remember!
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Rabbits have very distinctive personalities and their little tricks and troublesome behaviour always makes me smile. They really do have a mind of their own!
Does your rabbit do any strange things?
I love to hear about them, so would visitors to this page. By learning from each other we can build up a good portfolio of rabbit behaviour - the more we learn, the more we can help rabbits have a much better way of life. So, please share!
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