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.
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:
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.
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...
Some rabbit behaviour can be seen on a daily basis and is perfectly normal...
Over grooming could be a sign of boredom or depression.
However, watch out for over-grooming, especially with a rabbit on their own, it could be a sign of boredom and depression.
Rabbits just love
Rolling on Side
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.
A female rabbit may mount a male rabbit to display dominance.
Looking at your rabbit's droppings are a good way of telling if your bunny is healthy or unwell.
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'
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.
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.
My buck rabbit runs up to me every time he sees me, just to get a head stroke!
Head Flat On Ground
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.
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 symptoms.
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.
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.
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 annoyance.
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.
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?
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:
All of those are good indications that your rabbit may be upset about something.
Here's some more signs to look out for and what you can do to avoid your rabbit being upset...
Rabbits don't sweat like we do, they can cool a little by dilating the blood vessels in their ears.
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!
Fur pulling can sometimes be seen in unspayed females going through a phantom pregnancy when they are building a nest.
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 minimum.
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.
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.
Rabbits make very few noises but when they scream, you'll know about it.
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.
A rabbits teeth continue to grow throughout their lives.
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.
They 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.
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!
'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.
However, 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!
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?
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.
It is 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.
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.
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!
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!
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!
Add your two-pence worth here... or maybe it's a whole fiver's worth!
Remember, you don't have to have a Facebook account to make a comment, so please don't be shy and share! We are building a community here and all comments are good no matter how small ;-) Thank-you.