Understanding your rabbit takes time and patience. As you spend time with your pet you will learn to recognize his preferences and personality traits. Once you understand the basics of rabbit behavior, you’ll be able to figure out how to accommodate his needs. The following is a list of some of the more common behaviors and characteristics of rabbits.
Timid and Shy
Despite being domesticated for a long time, rabbits still have many tendencies and behaviors of their wild cousins. Rabbits in the wild are prey species and for this reason are timid, shy and may frighten easily. Even during eating in the safety of their home, rabbits will frequently look up and scan the area, looking nervous. They have a natural instinct to be on guard at all times. Be careful when handling your bunny. He may become startled and try to jump out of your hands. Most rabbits do not enjoy being held and carried.
Noses and Ears
It is common for a resting rabbit to be constantly twitching his nose and moving his ears. Just what is he doing? Rabbits twitch their noses to pick up scents that may alert them to danger. Even while sleeping, a rabbit’s nose may continue to twitch.
Rabbits also use their large ears to keep themselves safe. The ears collect sound waves, which indicate when someone or something is approaching. The ears can be moved independently of each other. Unfortunately, lop-eared rabbits have lost their ability to independently move their ears. They are unable to use hearing as a way to detect potential threats, unlike their erect-eared cousins. This does not mean that lop-eared rabbits do not hear as well. It just means that lop-eared rabbits cannot rotate their ears to capture as many sounds. In a domestic situation, this rarely causes any problems for the lop-eared bunny. The ears are also used to release body heat to keep the bunny cool.
In addition to a perpetually twitching nose and rotating ears, bunnies also use other actions to express a relaxed state, nervousness or fear.
A rabbit that is relaxed and content will often be seen lying on his side or on his belly with his back legs stretched out behind him. Some may be sitting with their ears folded against their head.
A nervous or fearful rabbit will try to make himself look as small as possible by crouching flat against the ground and doesn’t move. The bunny may have a nervous or fearful look on his face with the eyes protruding. The ears are usually pressed tightly against the head and body.
Thumping is another behavior associated with rabbits. Rabbits may energetically thump the ground to warn other rabbits of potential dangers. When a rabbit in thumping, it usually means he is upset or angry. This is not the time to try to handle or cuddle with your bunny. Leave him alone to calm down.
Rabbits have a number of behaviors that may be considered a nuisance. Some rabbits really enjoy digging. The purpose may be to find a safe place to hide, look for food or carve out a place to roll in. Not all rabbits dig but those that do can cause some damage to carpet.
Jumping is another behavior of some rabbits and is used to escape danger. Hopping is a normal movement of rabbits but jumping is not. A rabbit that suddenly begins running and jumping, often straight up in the air and twisting, is often in fear of his life. Make sure your bunny is not being chased or harassed by other pets or children.
Rabbits can make a variety of sounds but usually prefer to remain quiet. As a prey species they inherently do not want to draw attention to themselves. Content rabbits may purr softly, make clicking noises or slowly grind their teeth. If the rabbit feels aggressive, he may make grunting or growling noises. If a bunny is loudly grinding his teeth, this can mean he is angry, scared or in pain. A screaming rabbit is not something you ever want to hear. Rabbit screams are piercing and shrill and are associated with extreme fear or pain.
As with many animals, rabbits also use scent to mark their territory and communicate with other rabbits. Rabbits use feces, urine and scent glands to spread scent. The scent gland of a rabbit is located under the chin and rabbits will rub their chin on items they feel are important, including their human companions. The scent from these glands is not detectable by people but is very noticeable and understood by other rabbits. Male rabbits may also mark their territory by spraying urine on vertical surfaces, such as walls. To avoid this potentially nasty habit, have your male bunny neutered around the time of sexual maturity.
By taking the time to learn about the normal behavior and needs of your rabbit, you and your pet will have a much happier and healthier relationship.