Understanding your rabbit
Rabbits' behavior and body language are largely due to instincts.
- Continuous grunting: often accompanied by circles around your feet as a mating ritual where the goal is to charm the object of affection. A behavior common with intact rabbits.
- Growling: a short barking growl, which occurs with aggression.
- Loud piercing screams: when a rabbit is afraid for their life, caught by a predator or experiencing great pain.
- Low grunting and honking: sign that the rabbit is satisfied and feeling well.
- Low squealing: a very soft noise you can hear only when very close. Anecdotally, a sign when the rabbit does not want to be pet anymore and wishes to be let free.
- Teeth purring: gentle gnashing and grinding of the teeth; a sign of content. Often heard when being pet. A louder gnashing or grinding of teeth accompanied by a hunched position is a sign of great pain.
- Thumping: a loud drum of feet against the ground; when a rabbit is afraid or alert and feels threatened. At the same time, the rabbit's pupils are often enlarged, and they will immediately seek a safe refuge. A single thump can indicate displeasure.
- Binky: a high jump and kick in the air accompanied by a shaking head. A sign of happiness and playfulness.
- Bunloaf: a 'brooding hen' position. Also called a meatloaf or bunny hen. Relaxing and napping, but prepared to run at any sign of danger. The longer their legs are stretched behind them, the more relaxed the rabbit is.
- Exposing their backend: an insult. You have displeased your rabbit in some manner.
- Flattened on the ground with ears flat against head and eyes wide open: the rabbit is trying to hide from something that scared them and ready to flee. A submissive rabbit will also make themselves as small as possible so as not to appear threatening.
- Flop: when a rabbit tips over or throws themselves onto their side. Often mistaken for dead. A sign that the rabbit is very happy and relaxed and trusts you. Can also be used as a mild insult with rabbits that are not good friends.
- Grooming themselves: If done in your presence, it is a sign of trust. Rabbits are typically very flighty as a prey animals.
- Hard nudge by the nose: "You're in my way!" or "Leave me alone!" A sign of trust as they are willing to treat you as another rabbit and not biting or running away.
- Ignoring: a sign of trust. Rabbits are usually alert and ready to flee in unsafe surroundings. If your rabbit is grooming, eating, or relaxing in your presence, they deem their environment as safe.
- Kicking backwards: a sign of protest. You probably did something to displeasure the rabbit.
- Kicking sideways: playing or fighting.
- Licking the floor in front of themselves: an indirect grooming meant for you.
- Licking you: "I love you!"
- Lunging with ears backwards and tail raised: aggressively starts forward to bite. The rabbit is defending their territory. Often occurs with insecure or territorial rabbits when you intrude on their cage.
- Nipping: means that the rabbit wants you to move. Baby rabbits will also nip and taste different materials.
- Periscoping: standing on their hind legs; curious of their surrounding. Also precludes a jump to a higher level.
- Presenting: sticking their head out at you, laying their chin on the ground, tucking their paws beneath their body, and rubbing themselves against a person or another rabbit to be petted. The rabbit would like to be stroked on the nose up to their forehead.
- Rubbing their chin on various objects including yourself: marking the object as part of its territory. Rabbits have scent glands under the chin.
- Running circles around the feet: often accompanied by continuous grunting; part of a mating ritual where the goal is to charm the object of affection.
- Scattered droppings: marking territory.
- Shaking the head: possibly irritated, senses an unknown odor, has been disturbed, or has been groomed long enough.
- Soft nudge by the nose: "Hello!" You should acknowledge the greeting with a gentle pet. Can also be used to get attention and be petted. However, when the rabbit has had enough, they may use the same signal to push you away.
- Standing on their hind legs: alert and attentive and getting a look at their surroundings.
- Tail held high: excited from another rabbit or a new toy.
- Twitching tail: spraying urine. Often occurs with intact rabbits.
The following are video examples of bunny body language.
- Miss Bunz. (2017). Bunny Body Language (Facebook)
For problems with aggressive rabbits, see Aggressive Rabbits.
The links below contain more information about common behavior problems with domestic rabbits.
- Kinenchen, Why is my bunny acting terribly?
- Anne McBride, Behaviour problems in the domestic rabbit
- Anne McBride, Thumper, fiver, wee-er, biter - The natural behaviour of rabbits and its influence on behaviour problems
- Mary E. Cotter, Seven Common Behavior Problems In Rabbits
- House Rabbit Society, Amy Shapiro, Tools of the Trade
- House Rabbit Society, Marinell Harriman, Age Related Behavior
- House Rabbit Society, Amy Shapiro, Rebel with Paws
- House Rabbit Society, Dana M. Krempels, Ph.D., FAQ: Shy Rabbits
- Anne McBride, Behaviour Problems
- The Rabbit House, Rabbit Behaviour Problems
- Christine Carter, What Bunnies Don't Like!
- The Language of Lagomorphs
- Pippa Elliott. (2019). How to Understand Your Rabbit
- House Rabbit Society. (2011). Training
- House Rabbit Society. (2011). Interpreting Body Language and Behavior
- Evka Vakov. (2011). Characteristics of Rabbits
- Amy Shapiro. (2010). Reading Your Rabbit's Behavior
- Rabbit Advocates. Rabbit Behavior
- C.R. Crampton. Rabbit Language or “Are you going to eat that?”
- Belgian Hares. What Is Your Rabbit Saying?
- ClickerBunny.com. Rabbit Behavior
- Fuzzy-Rabbit. Rabbit Behavior
- Carolina James. (1999). Affectionate Gestures
- Marinell Harriman. (1994). Age Related Behavior
- Amy Shapiro. (1992). Honorary Rabbit
- Beth Woolbright. (1989). Rejection
- Christine Carter. Book Contents & Excerpts >> A stomping we will go!
- Buseth, M.E & Saunders, R. (2015). Rabbit behaviour, health and care.
- The Language of Lagomorphs. (n.d.). Ah, This is the Life. Retrieved 28 Aug 2015 from http://language.rabbitspeak.com/ah-this-is-the-life/.