Behavior and Socialization
Online Veterinary Education Library
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Rabbits exhibit a wide range of natural behaviors:
Digging. Digging is an instinctive behavior for rabbits. In nature, rabbits dig to create safe places in which to hide, sleep or reproduce underground. Male rabbits also make small deposits of feces in areas they have dug up to mark their territory.
Jumping. Running and jumping are protective mechanisms that allow rabbits to escape predators and harm. Their jumping skills provide a means of overcoming obstacles quickly. Additionally, rabbits can twist their bodies around when they jump and land facing a completely different direction â€” a useful trick when being chased by a hungry predator.
Vocalization. Rabbits tend to be relatively quiet animals, but they do exhibit some basic sounds. A happy rabbit may make a low purring sound, a soft clicking or a slow quiet grinding of its teeth. When a rabbit is being aggressive, it grunts, growls or makes loud teeth grinding noises. Pain and fear can also be expressed by loud teeth-grinding noises. In the most severe cases of pain or fear, a rabbit emits a piercing scream, which serves to shock a predator and give the rabbit time to get away.
Scent Marking. Rabbits have scent glands beneath their chins, making scent an important way for rabbits to communicate with each other. Rabbits use feces to mark their territory and emit a clear secretion from their scent glands to mark other important items.
Postures. Over time, you may come to recognize certain rabbit postures and what they mean to your pet. For example, a relaxed rabbit will lay on its side or belly with the hind legs stretched out. A rabbit that squats down with its ears folded back against its head is also a bunny in a relaxed state. Submissiveness is indicated when a rabbit makes itself look small, crouches as flat as possible and stays very still. Its eyes will look relaxed, not tense. When a rabbit is fearful, its posture is similar to that of a submissive bunny, but its eyes look tense and it will press its body and ears down tightly and downward, as if it is trying to hide from a predator. A rabbit shows distaste by shaking its head. A rabbit's tail is used as a signaling device when there is danger. Rabbits thump their tails rapidly on the ground to warn other rabbits of danger. They will also dash away from a danger with the white underside of the tail raised, which is essentially a warning signal to other rabbits nearby.
Urine Spraying. Male rabbits spray urine to mark their territories and during heightened period of sexuality if they have not been neutered.
Behaviors that suggest a rabbit is experiencing a physical or mental health problem include:
- Lethargy. A rabbit's natural state is active. If your pet isn't moving around a lot, chewing, hopping or digging, something is probably wrong.
- Aggression. Rabbits in captivity have no normal reasons for displaying aggression as long as they are neutered or spayed. If your pet exhibits aggression, it may be suffering from a health problem or a lack of adequate socialization.
- Continual Chewing of Cage Bars. This may be a signal of a dental health problem or one of isolation or boredom.
- Loss of Appetite. Rabbits experiencing dental or gastrointestinal problems sometimes show it by cutting back on their food intake or being pickier about what they will or won't eat.
- Obsessive Grooming. Rabbits that obsessively chew their fur may be having an allergy, health or socialization problem.
- Destroying Cage Contents. Destructive behaviors are usually a sign of a rabbit that is too confined, not getting enough exercise and/or doesn't have enough toys or activities to keep engaged.
- Constant Shaking of the Head. This behavior is clearly a health problem that may be associated with a dental or respiratory problem.
Please note: In cases of bleeding or exposed bones, take your rabbit to a veterinarian immediately.