Understanding your rabbit

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Related FAQ: Behavior FAQ

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.
Sarah Burton. (2016). Happy Honking rabbit noise
  • 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.
Julia Schenzinger. (2015). Radar rabbit - teeth purring.
  • 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.
opotato mypotato. (2016). Grumpy bunny

Body language

Tamsin Stone. Does my rabbit like me?
Tamsin Stone. Behaviour: What Your Rabbit is Feeling
Tamsin Stone. Behaviour: Why is my rabbit doing that?
  • Binky: a high jump and kick in the air accompanied by a shaking head. A sign of happiness and playfulness. You can see many more examples at http://reddit.com/r/binkies.
BobbyTheBunny. (2020). Rabbit binky compilation!
Richard Strauss. (2010). bunny rabbit binky
BunnyPigiShow. (2016). Bunny Binky! Happy Dance!
  • Bunloaf: a 'brooding hen' position. Also called a meatloaf or bunny hen. Relaxing and napping, but they are prepared to run at any sign of danger. You can see many more examples at http://reddit.com/r/lagoloaf.
    A perfect bunloaf.
  • Butt twitch: the back end starts twitching from happiness - this behavior is often correlated with feeding bananas.
Cindy H. (2021). Banana eating butt twitch.
melyaro. (2015). Bunny banana butt twitch
tipsyturtle. (2006). Butt-Twitching Humphrey
  • 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.[1]
  • Flop: when a rabbit tips over or throws themselves onto their side. Often mistaken for dead. Generally 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.[2] You can see many more examples at http://reddit.com/r/bunnyflops.
    A relaxed "dead bunny flop" (DBF).
  • Gagging: This is a pre-cursor to choking that should be taken seriously when observed. A rabbit will pause, squint their eyes, and make sudden ear motions momentarily. Lop rabbits will raise their ears to a helicopter position. Radar-eared rabbits will lay them against their back.
u/sneaky_dragon. (2023). French Lop gagging while eating pellets
u/Scared-Ad-3692. (2023). Radar-eared rabbit wincing and gagging on a banana peel
  • 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.
  • Head swaying: Rabbits may sway their heads to for depth perception normally (scanning), or it can be a sign of disease such as an ear infection or E. cuniculi. Swaying as a result of disease usually results in a tilted head (head tilt), while normal scanning, especially in ruby-eyed white rabbits (REW), will have a more upright and straight head position. Normal rabbits may sway their heads back and forth to take advantage of parallax for depth perception. See Eyes for more information.
fusionramjet. (2006). Stevie scanning. This is a normal healthy rabbit scanning for depth perception in a REW rabbit.
Wheek Wheek Thump. (2013). Bunny Head Sway. This is head-scanning by a rabbit that was diagnosed with E. cuniculi.
  • Hiccups: Rabbits, like most mammals, may also get hiccups. Hiccups are a spasm of the diaphragm muscle and should usually go away on their own in a few minutes. See Hiccups for more information.
u/Echidna-nebulosa. (2020). Lionhead rabbit with hiccups
u/savetheshark. (2020). Lop rabbit with hiccups
  • 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.
  • Laying down and stretching their legs behind them: The longer their legs are stretched behind them, generally the more relaxed the rabbit is. However, rabbits may also lay down and stretch out their feet in discomfort from stasis and pain - there are subtle differences.
A Holland Lop stretching out in relaxation.
A rabbit flopping out in discomfort, not in relaxation. She was pressing her belly against the floor and adjusting her feet but did not want move or eat any treats. Her eyes were also squinting in pain.
  • 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: a call for attention depending on context. Please remember that rabbits only have limited ways to communicate with humans. Reasons for nipping can range from wanting you to move, giving more pets and treats, and both giving and stopping any attention. Curious rabbits will also nip and taste different materials for exploration.[1] For help with reducing aggressive nipping, please see the article Aggressive rabbits.
  • 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.
A Holland Lop stretching out and offering his forehead in demand for pets.
  • Rapid breathing: Most often, rabbits will breathe fast due to being awake and alert or right after they took a quick sprint around the area. If their main body language is relaxed and stretched out, it is likely harmless. Their breathing rate should calm down to a normal 32-60 breaths per minute over time.

    Other times, rabbits may breathe quickly due to anxiety or overheating. Their body language will be more tense and bunched in this case, or they may even lift their heads to try and breathe through their mouths. Please make sure that your rabbit is not in respiratory distress with labored breathing -- if so, they require immediate emergency veterinarian attention.

  • 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.

Behavior problems

For problems with aggressive rabbits, see Aggressive Rabbits.

The links below contain more information about common behavior problems with domestic rabbits.

Further reading

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 Buseth, M.E & Saunders, R. (2015). Rabbit behaviour, health and care.
  2. 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/.