Bunny Language

Filed Under: Pocket Pets, General Care, Rabbits

Do you think of bunnies as just quiet, docile companions that are good Easter basket ornaments? Maybe you should reconsider that image. Rabbits actually have active and lively personalities. More active at dawn and dusk (at which time bunnies may become quite rambunctious!) they love running, jumping, digging, and climbing.

Bunny-proofing a home is a must. Rabbits do a lot of chewing. Chewing is a necessary behavior for rabbits in order to wear down their teeth which are constantly growing. When chewing is restricted the teeth will grow out of the mouth and will result in an inability to eat. Furniture, carpeting, and electrical cords are all common chew targets. To protect cords, encase them within protective tubing. Furniture can be protected by gates or by applying bad tasting gels and spray. Not only do new rabbit owners have to save the furniture, but they also need to provide safe and nutritious chewing alternatives for their pet to munch on. Good quality hay is always a plus.

Rabbits also like to burrow, which may not be appreciated when they tear at the carpet. Safe digging boxes should be provided where a rabbit can burrow and not get into trouble. A good burring medium is shredded newspaper.

Rabbits can be aggressive when not socialized. There is some truth in the old Monty Python skit in which a killer bunny was on the attack. Rabbits can be aggressive or bossy and may guard their homes by charging from a kennel, biting, boxing, and growling. As a warning bunnies will often stomp their hind feet. Sometimes this type of aggressive behavior will occur when the rabbit becomes sexually mature at three to six months of age. Often spaying or neutering will eliminate or at least tone down the aggressive behavior.

When rabbits are excited or extremely happy they may exhibit what is known as the “happy bunny dance,” or the “binky.” The bunny will sprint around then stop suddenly, shaking its head and kicking its feet out to the side. An additional happy bunny movement is called “flopping.” With flopping the rabbit will fall on its side and will extend its hind legs.

Much like the domestic house cat, rabbits like to mark their territory by rubbing their chin against objects and individuals. The chin contains numerous scent glands that leave their mark. Thankfully humans can’t smell the scent.

Think your rabbit is ignoring you? Pay close attention to ear position. When curious, a bunny will tilt the ears forward while positioning the tail downward. An aggressive bunny will alternatively lay the ears back and bring the tail up. When a rabbit is unsure of the situation the ears are often pointed sideways.

Is your rabbit grinding its teeth? Quiet grinding may be a sign of contentment much like purring in a cat. Loud grinding, however, may indicate pain.

Worried that your bunny may be painful or scared? If your rabbit appears “hunched,” with its back curled up, exhibiting little movement, it may be protecting a painful abdomen.

Thumping” with the back legs may call others to attention or signal action in a fearful situation. Thumping can also indicate displeasure. Rabbits are creatures of habit and hate when their world is rearranged. They are not shy in telling you how displeased they are concerning changes in their environment. A rabbit may thump with one or both rear legs.

Nothing is worse than hearing a bunny scream. A rabbit may become very vocal in a life-threatening or extremely painful situation, especially when injured.

When addressing bad behavior, positive reinforcement is best. Rabbits have a very short attention span and direct punishment will confuse the individual. Treats are always a plus. A rabbit may learn to beg by standing up on its rear legs for treats. In giving treats, always watch the calories to keep your bunny at optimum health.




Schafer, Romy. “Understanding Rabbit Habits.” Pet Age. April 2010. Pp. 48-51.

Topics: behavior

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