Written by Kerry Greener
Last Edited: 9th October 2016
There is always a good reason why a rabbit will show aggression or bad behaviour. It is beneficial to you and your rabbit to address any aggression as soon as it is seen.
Dealing with aggression in rabbits must be taken systematically, starting with understanding why it might be there in the first place.
There are 5 main reasons for aggression in rabbits: (The following links jump down this page...)
Different Degrees of Anger
Rabbits may show signs of anger in a number of different ways. Some rabbits will chase you across a room or garden, some can even 'nip' at your hands or feet to make their point.
Some use their front feet to 'box' you when you pick them up, some bite hard (enough to bruise but not to break the skin, which shows amazing restraint), but then others may feel the need to give you a bite that involves their teeth sinking in hard in to your flesh and not letting go. (Like a Terrier with a rope!).
The most painful display being the bite hold and the box kick combined. ('Ouch', might not be a strong enough word for that one!)
Minor & Major Causes of Bad Behaviour
What we may term as bad or unacceptable behaviours are often just signs of the rabbit trying to communicate in the only way it knows how. If you are on the receiving end of a little nip or kick it could be that you are holding the rabbit too tightly or you're blocking an important doorway that the rabbit wants to get through.
The following additional notes on aggression in rabbits will help you determine which type of aggression you are dealing with and what to do next...
Stress is that which interferes with the spontaneous motion of nature's flow as it goes through the body. Studies show that anything intruding on biological, natural processes will manifest forms of stress related illness.
There are many reasons why and how a rabbit can get stressed.
Here are 9 examples of how FEAR of the following can manifest as stress...
Ancestral instincts force rabbits to hide their pain, and if left undetected, stress will manifest itself as disease which can then be fatal for rabbits in many cases.
Aggression from pent up frustration gets to us all and is very common with rabbits that spend all day on their own. Being deprived of love and affection affects every living soul and rabbits are no exception.
Where there is any hardship or unhappiness of any kind, the negative emotions will vibrate through and create an imbalance. In some cases, such impoverishment and lack of 'love', for want a better word, causes further stress, dis-ease and adversity.
Stress is also not one sided. In environments where stress is really high, a more depressing and gloomy outcome can be expected. Stress be-gets more stress. It is a never-ending and repeating cycle.
The best course of action would be to completely transcend the problem, not by confronting it, but by going to a level where no problem actually exists at all – to truly understand that last statement, see the iRabbit READY System...
A sick or injured rabbit will not show signs of weakness (survival trait from wild ancestors) but overgrown teeth, hidden abscess, bladder infection, digestive issues etc. could affect your rabbit’s behaviour.
They are basically saying “I’m not feeling too good at the moment, leave me the hell alone!”
Rabbits also lash out when a one of their senses is not working the way it should. Sight and sound are the two main intelligences that rabbits rely on.
Impaired hearing or vision will make them easy to startle,
nervous and more likely to lash out when seemingly unexpected interaction takes
Male rabbits reach sexual maturity between 3 to 9 months, females mature a little later at around 5 to 6 months and some larger breeds take a few months on top of these ages.
Sexually maturity will trigger a complete change in behaviour, more so in females, and will turn a friendly baby rabbit into an aggressive, moody, unpredictable teenager.
Male rabbits are less likely to direct their hormonal aggression towards us, just other rabbits. Females on the other hand are much more unpredictable.
Newcomers of any species will bear the brunt of any territorial behaviour. The aggressive show of dominance rears it's ugly head in a domestic group, just as viciously as it would in the wild.
Usually, if all other reasons have been explored and carried out, yet aggressive behaviour still remains, the problem is down to ‘learned behaviour’ or ‘habit’.
Rabbits are creatures of habit, having the same daily routine feels safe and predictable. They know what to expect and when. Any slight change will make rabbits feel unhappy, vulnerable and threatened.
They will let you know this, just as regularly as whatever it is that is upsetting them. This constant cycle of unchecked behaviour repeats itself until it becomes a habit. Often the source of the initial problem goes but the reaction to it has since become a bad habit.
Sulking, not eating or drinking, depression, frustration, annoyance etc., are all signs that lead to bad behavioural habits such as nipping, biting and more aggravated aggression.
Neutering male rabbits and spaying female rabbits, generically known as ‘neutering’ for both sexes, has many benefits.
Here are some of the best reasons for getting all your rabbits neutered just before they are sexually mature:
It will take from 2 weeks to 2 months for the hormones to settle down, during which time they should avoid mixing with other rabbits.
Domestic pet rabbits have had a bit of a raw deal with their companion relationships. For a long time, especially in Britain, rabbits have been kept in hutches, alone, with no stimulation or company. this is mainly down to the fact that many don't know enough about the social structure of rabbits and why rabbit bonding is so important to them.
Rabbits are extremely social creatures. They love the company of others. It's vital to their happiness and health!
Rabbits are much, much happier when they have another friendly rabbit to share their life with. They are emotionally and physically healthier too.
A rabbit companion offers fellowship, jollity and intimacy, to name just a few.
Sociability also plays a big part in health too. Bonded rabbits spend a lot of time grooming each other and their mates can reach places that are impossible for them to get to, thus keeping them clean and disease-free.
You may also want to note that any bonding process should be done slowly, carefully, and supervised until bonding is complete.
Watch for signs of aggression. Such as tail up, ears back, growling, boxing, circling, chasing and biting.
There are two important things to remember about bonding:
These pages may also help with your research on bonding...
Rabbits need frequent opportunities to exercise to maintain the functions of the digestive tract.
Movement of the body stimulates this vital organ and keeps a rabbit fit, healthy, and most importantly, happy, ultimately reducing rabbit aggression overall.
Two vital tips to ensure limited rabbit aggression:
Rabbits are friendly, interactive, social creatures that crave attention, and being deprived of this will always lead to destructive mood swings and bad behavioural patterns, that if left unchecked will develop into bad habits that will ultimately be very difficult to shift. So get playing!
DO NOT PUNISH YOUR RABBITS.
They do not learn like dogs would, (although punishment training in dogs is not a good idea either).
Hitting your rabbit on the nose, for example when they have been naughty (in your view), will not change their behaviour.
In fact it's the more expressive, more aggressive rabbit that tends to be of above average intelligence, and once treated with respect and taught some ground rules, they often turn out to be the most affectionate and loving companions to share your life with.
Hurting any animal, physically or mentally will destroy all trust and a bond will never happen.
Bad behaviour in rabbits can be down to a number of factors as you have seen described in the points above, but bad behaviour could also be the cause of past trauma or being mistreated before.
Being mistreated can be interpreted as 'little things' in our eyes but they are classed as being big nasty cruel things in a rabbit's view.
Unacceptable behaviour by us to a rabbit would be things like constantly shoving your hands in front of their faces and greeting them like you would a dog, probing around inside private areas of their hutches, sheds or cages, while they are still inside, speaking too sharply to them or even teasing them with food.
These actions are thoughtless and build up over time. A rabbit will never trust anyone that breaks their rules. Understanding how rabbits think and how important their daily rituals, habits and routines are will take you a long way to having the most loving, happy and loyal rabbits, ever!
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