Rabbits have the reputation of being quiet, docile, lovable creatures. However, it’s a reputation that is not entirely deserved. While undeniably lovable, rabbits aren’t always the cuddling type. In fact, they have some habits that may strike you as curious, annoying or downright repugnant.
Here are some keys to unlock the mysteries of your rabbit’s behavior.
First of all, rabbits are “crepuscular”animals, much like deer. This means they are most active at dawn and dusk. During the day, rabbits like to sleep in their burrow, in depressions of grass or in their cages.
Sometimes you may see your rabbit sleeping in her litter box. This is perfectly normal, and you can make it more comfortable by using a good, soft paper-type litter such as Carefresh. The cage should be large enough to accommodate a large litter box and allow your rabbit room to stretch out, and tall enough to let her stand on her back legs.
It is better to let sleeping rabbits lie. Rabbits are notoriously grouchy if awakened during the day and will often bite if disturbed. Remember, evenings and mornings are the best times to let bunnies out to play.
Rabbits were once classified under the category of “Rodent” because of their continuously growing teeth and herbaceous feeding habits. Eventually, enough differences led biologists to classify rabbits under the order “Lagomorpha,” meaning hare-shaped.
But rabbits and rodents still share common teething characteristics. Like rodents, rabbits’ teeth grow constantly and require fiber, hay, and hard substances on which to chew. Providing your rabbit unlimited fresh timothy and oat hay is necessary for chewing and good digestion. Add other safe things like hard cardboard boxes and sea grass mats to lie on, toss around and chew. If you see your rabbit ingesting newspaper or cardboard, take it away so digestive upsets do not occur.
Unfortunately, rabbits also love to chew on electrical cords. If there is an electrical cord, computer or phone cord in your home, your rabbit will find it. No one knows why rabbits are drawn to cords, but they run the risk of being electrocuted. Make sure to cover all wires with flexible plastic tubing found in the electrical section of your hardware store.
Rabbits are also excellent diggers, so you should make sure your rabbit doesn’t dig himself an escape route under a fence. Do not let your rabbit run outdoors unless you have an enclosed safe area, and you are out there to supervise.
How Rabbits Communicate
Rabbits are similar to cats and dogs in that they will “scent” an area or person to mark it as their own. Rabbits scent by rubbing their chin on an object. If your rabbit “chinned” you, consider yourself “claimed.”
Besides scenting, rabbits communicate by grunting, which is a sign of displeasure, or by thumping their hind legs. Thumping can be meant to convey anger or to warn of a threat. Thumping may go on long after the perceived danger has passed.
The “threat” can be a noise, another animal or you. If you invade her space, you may get a grunt or growling sound, and she may push at you with her paws. This is how she says you are trespassing. Rabbits are very protective of their sleeping areas, so leave them alone. If you persist, they will bite.
Animal care technicians are often bitten when they attempt to clean the rabbit cages. Always remove your bunny first before tidying up the inside of her cage. Otherwise, she will only see the hands reaching into her space and taking her litter box, toys and food, so naturally she will strike back.
Rabbits can also scream. It is a loud, shrill chilling sound made right before death or out of sheer terror.
On the lighter side, rabbits that run, jump and twirl are showing happiness and contentment. Put them in a safe area where they can run away from you as part of a game. After being settled by a little exercise, your rabbit may be ready for some petting.
When you pet your bunny behind the ears or on her cheeks, she will often grind or tap her molars together, which is a sign of pleasure. However, if your bunny has been ill, not eating, grinding her teeth continuously or louder than normal, take her to a veterinarian immediately. Teeth grinding can also be an expression of pain.
Unmentionable Behavior: Coprophagy
Rabbits sometimes appear to eat their own feces. What they are eating, however, are “cecal pellets,” which are partially digested droppings from part of their lower digestive system called the “cecum.” These pellets are full of vitamins and minerals that hadn’t been absorbed during the first passage through the digestive system. If your bunny’s diet is too high in carbohydrates (fatty foods, too many fruits and treats), she will not eat the cecal pellets and you will notice them in the cage.
The cecal pellets are different from the normal droppings in that they are all strung together and shiny. Rabbits usually reingest the pellets once a day, most often in the morning.
Rabbits shed all the time, replacing their older coat with a smoother, new one. Several times a year, especially early spring and fall, they can shed tremendously, so much so that you can be brushing for 30 minutes and still not be done with the tons of floating loose hair. It is important that you have a comb and a soft brush, and that you groom your bunnies and remove this loose coat. If you don’t, they will, and ingesting this hair can lead to hair blocks and possible trips to your veterinarian. Hair blocks are serious, but they can be avoided with grooming and providing plenty of fresh hay, changed daily. During the summer, it is a great help to dampen a few paper towels, keep a wastebasket nearby, and dedicate a period of time to brushing and gently combing. The damp towel helps keep down the escaping loose hair.