Aggression in rabbits is typically a behavioral, not genetic, problem. If the behavior is not dealt with, it may consequently cycle into a neglected rabbit because no one wants to be a victim of an aggressive bunny.
If aggression suddenly develops in your rabbit, especially after a neutering, a veterinary examination is advisable to ensure that the rabbit is not in any discomfort.
Reasons for Aggression
- The most common scenarios for displayed aggression are with an unaltered rabbit. As a rabbit reaches sexual maturity, it usually becomes more territorial and aggressive due to unsatisfied sexual frustrations and other hormonal reasons. Territorial behavior may also increase during some times of the year such as the main rabbit breeding season of January to August in the northern hemisphere. Unwanted aggressive behaviors can include actions such as mounting, circling, and biting in the cage. Spaying and neutering can dramatically reduce aggressive behavior in an intact rabbit.
- Fear is also a common reason for aggression. As a prey animal, a rabbit's natural instinct is to flee and hide, but when cornered, a rabbit can be forced to bite out in defense. When unwanted reaching hands disappear due to their aggression, rabbits learn that biting and lunging get results that they want and reinforces the aggressive behavior.
- Change in its environment and routine can cause a rabbit do display aggression. Sometimes, a rabbit may take a scare that owners unwittingly do and consequently lose all confidence in their interactions.
- If two rabbits are kept together, territorial instincts may cause them to fight each other for dominance. Rabbits do not easily get along with any other rabbit. See Bonding for more details.
- A rabbit may accidentally bite or nip an owner thinking fingers are food or due to overzealous grooming.
- Pain in rabbits can result in aggressive behavior. A rabbit that is normally docile but starts to be aggressive should be examined carefully for a source of pain. Some common reasons are dental disease and the formation of sharp hooks on the molars or painful musculoskeletal disorders such as arthritis or vertebral spondylitis.
- Deafness has also been reported as a cause of aggression. Deaf rabbits may be startled by owners coming up on them unexpectedly and sometimes their response is to bite.
Solutions to Aggression
Never hit a rabbit to teach them not to bite. Your hands should only be seen as a source of affection, bring food or pets. Spanking and hitting your rabbit will result in your rabbit learning to distrust you and make your aggression problem worse.
Only you can solve the aggression problem. Rabbits will not miraculously learn not to be aggressive with no initiation from a human.
Try not to react when a rabbit nips or bites you. If your rabbit has a history of biting, wear long jeans, sweatpants, long-sleeved shirts, sweatshirts, and work gloves to prevent injury to yourself. If you can train yourself not to flinch when your rabbit attacks, your rabbit will learn that biting will not work to make the hands move away.
Make a high pitched shriek when your rabbit nips or bites you. This will let the rabbit know that you are hurt as it is how rabbits communicate about pain.
Spend as much time as you can daily to petting your rabbit slowly from head to tail. This will reinforce to your rabbit that hands will not hurt him and teach him to trust you.
- House Rabbit Society, FAQ: Aggression
- Pet Care Veterinary Hospital, Bunny Behavior 101: Aggression
- House Rabbit Society, HRJ Letters - 1998, Aggressive Rabbits
- Wisconsin House Rabbit Society, George Flentke The Biting Rabbit
- Rabbit Haven, Biting
- Minnesota Companion Rabbit Society, Tanya Hulsey, My Bunny Bites and Lunges!
- Rabbit Welfare Association & Fund, Biting the Hand That Feeds
- Rabbit Welfare Association & Fund, My rabbit's turned vicious - help
- House Rabbit Society, Marinell Harriman, Who Wants a Mean Rabbit?
- House Rabbit Society, Marinell Harriman, To Love a Mean Rabbit
- Zooh Corner, Dealing with the Aggressive, Nervous or Frightened Bunny
- EXtension, Rabbit Behavioral Problems: Biting
- Phyllis O'Beollain, Causes of aggression in house rabbits
- Phyllis O'Beollain, Working with the aggressive rabbit part one
- Phyllis O'Beollain, Working with the aggressive rabbit part two
- House Rabbit Society, Amy Shapiro, Rebel with Paws
The following are some experiences with rehabilitating aggressive rabbits:
- House Rabbit Society, Marinell Harriman, Socializing the Antisocial Rabbit
Below are some relevant videos on the topic.