Rabbit Behaviors – a Guide to understanding your rabbit

Rabbits have long been the object of pet owner’s affections. Their fuzzy tails and pointy ears make them as cute and cuddly as their twitching little nose. These small little pets are more than their adorable features. They are smart, intelligent animals who use their features to communicate with you. Ever wonder what it means when one of your bunnies ears is down with the other up? Each of their behaviors tells you about your rabbit’s mood and feelings. 

Types of Rabbit Behaviors

Rabbit behaviors fall into two main categories: sensory actions and communicative practices. These two categories affect how your rabbit interacts with you and your family and can give you subtle clues as to what is going on with your bunny. 

Sensory Behaviors

Like other animals, rabbits’ senses can give you insight into what is going on with your furry little friend. The senses that affect your rabbit’s behavior are vision, touch, hearing, and smell. 

  • Vision: Rabbits see the world differently than we do. Their eyes location and spacing make it so they cannot easily see anything below their mouths. Their corneas are larger, which makes them have a circular field of vision. If you notice that your bunny is moving their head around sporadically as you carry them in the yard, it may be a sign they are having trouble seeing. 
  • Touch: Unlike other furry animals, rabbits do not respond to a hand in front of their noses. Rabbits have very sensitive noses and lips. This area of their faces allows them to determine what they are eating. Since this is so important, this area responds quickly to any stimulus. The unexpected stimulus of their nasal area can frighten a rabbit. 
  • Hearing: If you look closely at your rabbit’s ears, you will notice that they are large and have many veins. Rabbits’ ears take up 12 percent of their total body mass. The sheer size of their ears allows them to have exemplary hearing. Since they are a herbivore, in the wild, they are the prey for larger animals. Genetically, their ears will enable them to stay safe by hearing sounds far off in the distance and accurately locating where the sound is. Scratching of their ears can be a sign of an infection or bugs, such as mites. 
  • Smell: Rabbits have an exceptional sense of smell. Their olfactory senses help them determine whether a predator is coming, locate their babies, and their mates. They mark their territory by using the glands in their chins, which secrete a scent. They use this scent to mark other rabbits, animals, and things within their environment. Rabbits also use their scent to attract and mark mates, which can help if you are interested in breeding your rabbit and having a litter of kits. 

Communication Behaviors

Rabbits are not only smart, but they are also social. In the wild, they live in huge groups, making them accustomed to a social lifestyle. Domestic rabbits have retained their need for companionship and respond better to a group situation. If a rabbit is alone, a companion stuffed animal may be needed to ensure your bunny does not become lonely. 

If you carefully observe your rabbit, you will notice a foot stomp or a twirl. These actions and others like them is your rabbit communicating their feelings to you. 

  • Dancing or Hopping: If your furry friend is hopping around, dashing or jumping up into a mid-air twirl, they show you that they are incredibly happy or even edging on ecstatic. 
  • Flopping: A sure sign that your rabbit is content is their flopping out onto the ground. It can also be a sign that your bunny is very tired. 
  • Grunting:  A rabbit grunting is them letting you know they are not happy. Their grunts are more than just an angry warning. They may feel threatened, and if not heeded, the grunt can lead to a bite. 
  • Stomping: Another indicator that your bunny is not happy is stomping. This action can signify anything that the rabbit is scared, angry, or senses danger. 
  • Grinding their Teeth: If you are playing with your rabbit and hear them grinding their teeth, it may be a sign they are feeling peaceful. However, excessive teeth grinding may signal that the rabbit is in an immense amount of pain and needs to be examined by a vet. 
  • Screaming: Not unlike their owners, screaming in rabbits is not an occurrence to be taken lightly. Screaming generally means they are in pain or incredibly terrified. 
  • Tail-wagging: Surprisingly, dogs are not the only four-legged animal that wags their tail, except theirs is with glee. When your bunny wags its tail, it is in pure defiance. A wag of the tail is their way of telling you they will not do what you ask of them, whether it be going into their cage or making sure you know that they are the ones in charge. 
  • Begging: Your little bunny enjoys getting treats, especially sweet ones, and has no problem begging for them. Be sure not to give them too many treats, though. 
  • Nudging: Ever wonder why your rabbit keeps pushing you with their nose? They are telling you they want your attention immediately, whether it is in the form of being pet, or they want you to move. 
Wild rabbits enjoying the morning sun

Overall Body Language

The way rabbits hold their form overall can give you insight into how they are feeling. Happy rabbits generally lie with their bodies in a relaxed position with their legs underneath them and their ears up. They can also lay outstretched or be jumping happily. 

When a rabbit is worried, they hold their body low to the ground, including their ears. They may even hide, whereas an angry rabbit will be tense in its motions. 

Your rabbit may be unable to speak to you, but, if you pay close attention to their body language and actions, you will determine how your bunny is genuinely feeling and just what they are trying to communicate to you. 

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