Bunnies have many interesting behaviors and body language quirks, and if you're new to pet rabbits you'll want to know how to decipher them. Here’s a guide to common rabbit body language and bunny behavior.
Pet rabbit hopping or dancing
A pet rabbit who's hopping or dancing is a sign of pure joy and happiness. The bunny’s “dancing” can include leaping, doing a binky (jumping straight up and spinning in the air), and racing around.
A bunny ﬂop — when a rabbit flops over on their side — can look very comical. It indicates a content — and tired — bunny.
Territorial rabbit chinning behavior
Rabbits rub their chins (which contain scent glands) on items to get their scent on them. This behavior indicates that the items belong to them and also deﬁnes their territory. The scent is undetectable to humans.
Rabbits grunting usually means they're angry and possibly feel threatened. Sometimes, the grunting is followed by a nip or bite. Some rabbits do not like it when you rearrange their cages as you clean. So they might grunt, charge, or even nip you when you try. They are creatures of habit, and once they get things just right they like them to remain that way.
Thumping or stomping
When bunnies stomp or thump, this indicates that they're frightened, mad, or sensing danger (real or imagined).
Soft or loud teeth grinding noise
Rabbits might softly grind their teeth when they are content (such as when you’re petting them). Loud teeth grinding, however, can indicate that the rabbit is in pain or is ill. Take your bunny to a rabbit veterinarian if you hear loud teeth grinding.
Rabbit circling your feet
When a bunny circles a person’s feet or legs, this behavior usually indicates sexual or mating behavior (even when your rabbit is neutered). It basically means “I love you.”
How do rabbits play? Well, they like to push or toss objects around. They also might race madly around the house, jump on and off the furniture, and act like humans who have had too much sugar. Rabbits love toys, and some will play for hours with a favorite toy.
Rabbit nipping or biting
A bunny nip is gentler than a bite. Bunnies will nip to get your attention or to politely ask you to move out of their way. Rabbits usually don't bite, but if one does it generally doesn't mean they hate you.
There are many reasons that might cause a rabbit to bite — for example, if you grab at a rabbit or surprise them. A rabbit might also accidentally bite while tugging at your pant leg. Another reason rabbits bite is they have poor up-close vision, so they might think your ﬁnger coming toward them is food or a predator.
To put a stop to rabbit bites, immediately let out a shrill cry when you are bitten. Rabbits do this when they are hurt. Because they usually don't intend to hurt you, they will be surprised that you cried out and will usually stop the behavior after a few times.
Why do male and female bunnies spray? They are marking their territory. Unneutered males will mark female rabbits and their territory by spraying them with urine. Unspayed females can also indulge in this behavior. It’s another good reason to spay or neuter your rabbits.
Rabbit marking territory with droppings
Droppings that are not in a pile, but are scattered about, are a sign that the territory belongs to the rabbit. This behavior will sometimes occur when a rabbit enters a new environment or if another rabbit is brought into the house. It can be temporary or ongoing. Droppings done in piles indicate that the rabbit needs more litter box training.
A shrill scream from a rabbit is an indication that your bunny is hurt or dying. Please seek immediate veterinary attention.
False pregnancy in rabbits
Even when a rabbit isn't pregnant, an unspayed female sometimes builds a nest and pulls hair from her chest and stomach to line the nest. She might even stop eating — behavior that usually occurs the day before a female gives birth.
Training pet rabbits and reducing undesirable behavior
Bunnies, like other pets, are occasionally naughty. When that happens, remember that you should never hit a rabbit. It’s cruel and they don’t understand why they are in trouble. They can also become angry and aggressive if provoked.
Instead of punishing bad behavior, it’s usually far more effective to use positive reinforcement to encourage your rabbit to behave in the way you would like. Like many other pets, rabbits can be clicker trained. Always be consistent when training rabbits, and don’t expect too much from them.
Here are two humane things to try if your rabbit is being a bit ornery:
- Shout “no” or clap your hands.
- Thump your foot, like a rabbit, to convey your displeasure.
You can help reduce undesirable behavior in your rabbit by spaying or neutering, bunny proofing your house, and providing plenty of toys.