Rabbits are by nature, prey animals, therefore it’s in their best interest to not draw too much attention to themselves in the wild so as not to attract predators. Their domesticated cousins are no different in this respect and display much the same behaviours in the home. They do have their own way of communicating with us mere humans, so it is up to us as responsible owners to understand and listen to what they are trying to say or do, in order to have a good owner/companion relationship with our furry friends.
Most people consider rabbits to be quiet animals but they do actually make some vocal noises
Grunting or growling is a sign your rabbit is not happy about something, angry or stressed. You may be invading their territory, and they’re telling you to back off. Should either you or their bunny companion not take heed, ‘aggressive’ behaviours, such as lunging or biting will often follow, so beware of those teeth! If bunny does growl, lunge or bite, back away and give them the space they need.
- Honking / Humming
An excited rabbit may make honking, or a soft humming type sound, often whilst circling around your feet or his/her companion. This can signify either happiness or sexual excitement.
- Purring / Teeth Grinding
Bunnies will often show their enjoyment when you’re petting them by gently grinding their teeth. This is a rabbit’s way of purring.
However, grinding their teeth can also be a sign of pain or discomfort. Tooth grinding due to pain is louder and more frequent than teeth grinding from feelings of contentment.
If you understand your Rabbit’s body language you should be able to tell the difference by simply observing them, e.g. if your rabbit is lying down with his/her feet stretched out in a relaxed way, then the grinding demonstrates contentment. But if the rabbit is hunched and tense, doesn’t show an interest in moving or eating, or shows perhaps even shows some level of ‘aggression’ e.g. growling, then the grinding will be pain related and as such you should seek veterinary advice ASAP.
A sound no Rabbit owner ever wants to hear. Rabbits generally only scream when dying or in extreme pain or fear. Seek veterinary assistance immediately if this occurs.
Rabbits thump their hind legs when they sense danger. It serves as a warning signal for others in the area to be alert to danger.
Rabbits have a whole range of body language and related behaviours which we may not always understand to begin with.
Joy in a bunny dance! A happy Rabbit will often perform Binkies, they do this by running along then leaping in the air, contorting and twisting their bodies and kicking their feet. Sometimes they will do a sudden jump to the side. They may just do the one or a whole succession of binkies. We guarantee there is no better sight than a happy bunny binky!
Rabbits are not naturally aggressive animals; however they can and will bite but only under certain circumstances (also see Nipping).
Fear is the biggest problem when it comes to ‘aggression’ in Rabbits; if you do not understand your Rabbit and it’s behaviours, do not give them enough space (by this we mean confine them to a small hutch or cage), do not provide activities or interact with them in an unnatural manner, e.g. handle (pick them up and carry them around) make too much noise, disturbing sleep etc, then you are simply asking for trouble.
Rabbits are not suited to a life of confinement, they need space to run, hop and act naturally, they are highly agile, active and intelligent animals who love to play, explore and spend time foraging for food/eating hay/grasses. Of course they look cute but they are not toys; rabbits are a ground dwelling animal with complex welfare needs and prefer their feet to remain on the ground.
Another reason which can be a cause for Rabbits to bite is through sexual frustration, therefore it is always recommended that they be neutered. These natural urges can play a large part in them acting out.
Please, always research the welfare needs of rabbits and provide for them well.
- Bunny 500
Rabbits will sometime dash around their environment in a frenzy of speed which can often be accompanied by a few binkies and demonstrate extreme happiness and excitement.
- Bunny Butt
Rabbits are masters of disapproval! Sometimes their disgust in you can be so intense they just can’t stand to look at the offending party. Talk to the butt, human! (see also Foot Flicking and Stink Eye)
Chinning is a rabbit’s way of saying, “This is mine!” They have scent glands underneath their chin which they rub on various objects to mark their territory, and yes, this will often include you!
Digging on your legs or feet is another way rabbits try to get your attention. Basically this is their way of saying one of three things, get out of my way, stop what you’re doing and pet me, or yep, give me treats!
Ears Forward – interested, listening to something in their environment.
Ears back – usually the sign of a very relaxed rabbit, but it can also indicate that he/she is feeling threatened. If your rabbit puts his/her ears back, tail up and/or growls/lunges, then take it as a sign that he/she is on the defence or not happy about something, or you!
One ear back, one ear forward (Helicopter Ears) – a very relaxed rabbit, listening but not paying too much attention.
Source: The Rabbit House
A bunny at ease will often flop down on his or her side (or sometimes even their back!) in contentment before stretching out for a well earned snooze.
- Foot Flicking
Displeased rabbits may deliberately kick their feet up as they hop away from you. In a wild setting, this translates to kicking dirt into another animal’s face. This usually happens to us poor owners upon interrupting a nap, offering the wrong treat or worse still, the dreaded grooming/nail clipping/health check session/or Vet trip! Usually always closely followed by the Stink Eye, or sometimes even the Bunny Butt, ….or both!
Bunnies show affection by licking (grooming) each other within their social group/bond and they can spend long periods of time grooming each other, which demonstrates they have a strong bond. Often, but not always, your bunny, or bunnies, may groom you!
Lying down, tucking their feet tightly underneath themselves with their head tucked in, often resting on the ‘dewlap’ thus somewhat resembling a loaf of bread.
- Mounting / Humping
Apart from the actual sexual act (we strongly advocate that ALL companion bunnies should be neutered), mounting or humping is a normal behaviour for Rabbits to display. Adolescents will hump almost everything in sight so take it as a sign that it’s time to make that appointment with your Rabbit Savvy Vet in preparation for the procedure ASAP.
Yet even when neutered, Rabbits can still have the odd urge, especially around spring time, and it is not uncommon for one, or the other of our furry friends to become amorous towards their partner, or even you! Humping is also an indicator of dominance in the friendship with other bunny companions. They will often work these things out themselves, but if you see things are becoming too much for the submissive bunny, try to discourage this behaviour best you can.
Rabbits often nip in order to get attention. In this case, they don’t mean to cause you harm, but nips can be a tad annoying and quite often, sore! Try to discourage this behaviour by letting out a small yelp when they do this, as they do understand the concept of causing pain. The nips should become softer and less frequent, often even stopping all together. Never physically discipline Rabbits! They do not understand or appreciate such actions and all you will do is make your rabbit fearful of you.
- Nose Bonks / Nudging
Rabbits explore their environment by sniffing, chinning and nudging various objects within their environment, including you! It may be a greeting or their first line of investigation. But nudging can also indicate a level of bossiness, or simply a way of saying hello! Additionally your rabbit could be telling you to get out of it’s way, he/she can also be looking to gain your attention because you’re not petting them or, more often than not, it’s a gentle reminder that it’s time for dinner/treats! Sometimes if the nudge is ignored, they will follow it up with a cheeky nip.
- Stink Eye
The searing look of disapproval your rabbit gives you (see Bunny Butt and Foot Flicking above), usually from a safe distance e.g. safely out of reach from human interference under the chair, but still maintaining eye contact…. just in-case!