How to Speak 'Rabbit'
When learning to understand your rabbit's 'language', there are a number of body language cues we can look at to understand what they're trying to say.
When discussing rabbit language, it's good to remember how rabbits are as a species in general. Unlike dogs and cats, rabbits are not predators but prey animals. Their position in the food chain has led to them developing specific behaviours. Your rabbit will always behave like a potential prey and will need to live in a reassuring environment to be happy.
While every bunny has their own personality and character, there are a few characteristics that seem to apply to all: rabbits are funny, capricious, good actors, a little bit manipulative, and they definitely know how to use their natural charm to get what they want from you.
Here is a little guide to help you understand common bunny behaviour and expressions of body language, so you can learn how to understand 'rabbit'.
Tapping their foot
What they are saying: 'I'm angry or scared.' - Tapping their foot is an expression of anger or fear. You bunny might do it while entering in its cage, as a danger warning, after being handled or carried, or in response to scary sights or sounds.
Running away and shaking their back paws
What they are saying: 'I'm upset'. - This behaviour means that your bunny is offended, upset or angry. Its their own way of showing displeasure. In general, your bunny will go back to its cage soon after and often tap its foot as well, just to make sure you understood...
Grinding their teeth
What they are saying: 'I'm content. Or, my teeth hurt.' - If associated with a sound similar to the purr of a cat, it is a sign of happiness and wellbeing. However, if this sound is very loud (like when you are very cold), it can be a sign of pain and you should consult with your vet.
Running in a circle or figure 8 around you
What they are saying: 'Hello, gorgeous!' - Sorry, but this is a mating dance. It can be accompanied by the characteristic sound "honk honk", but it can also bring unpleasant urine sprays (now you understand why this explanation began with "sorry"). Sterilisation is the solution to this problem.
Rubbing their chin on things
What they are saying: 'I like you!' - This behaviour is similar to 'bunting' seen in cats. Bunnies have glands under their chin that they use to mark their territory. If your bunny rubs its chin on you, it is because it considers you as a member of its herd (yes, it likes you!).
What they are saying: 'I'm exhausted!' - This is when your bunny is eating or playing, and it suddenly lays on its side and stops moving. This can be scary at first but you will quickly start to find this behaviour funny. Don't worry, it is not having a heart attack, they are just tired... They literally fall straight to sleep!
Leaving droppings everywhere
What they are saying: 'I am marking my territory.' - If your bunny is having accidents, it is because they are marking their territory. This is normal during the first few days for a rabbit who isn't toilet trained but with some time and education, this will be solved. Learn how to toilet train your rabbit here.
Snapping or biting
What they are saying: 'Get outta my space!' - In the majority of cases, a rabbit will only bite if a stranger enters their territory (cage or playpen). In this case, they are just defending its home. As a new bunny parent, you should take a few precautions: try to clean the cage when your rabbit is out and avoid touching its feeding bowl if it is nearby.
Trying to "mate" with your dog, your cat or even soft toys
What they are saying: 'I'm the boss of you!' - We all know rabbits have a reputation... but actually, this behaviour is part of their social language and a display of dominance. It is their own way to establish a hierarchy or to stage a protest.
Tipping over their feeding bowl
What they are saying: 'I am bored, I need more toys.' - Bunnies love pushing and spilling objects and if they don't have toys, they tend to play with their food bowl. This is why it is better to choose a ceramic bowl, which is heavier and harder to tip over.
Gnawing at the cage wire
What they are saying: 'Look at me! Let me out please.' - Your bunny is trying to draw your attention, possibly to let you know that they want to get out of their cage (and quickly).
Pushing you gently with their nose
What they are saying: 'Hello friend!' - Pushing their nose into you is a very cute way of saying 'hello'. If you are very familiar to your rabbit, it might even be saying "pet me". However, if this action is stronger and follows some cuddles, it might also mean "leave me alone". Didn't I say that you can call them manipulators? There you go.
Acting aggressively or peeing everywhere...
What they are saying: 'I'm hormonal!' - This is often caused by hormones when rabbits reach sexual maturity, and only sterilisation can solve it. You should talk about it with your vet.
By learning how to understand your rabbit, you can communicate better with them and create more trust and security. This all will help to strengthen the bond you share with your little furry friend, and make being a rabbit parent all that nicer!
Nolwenn is Pet Circle's small pet category manager. She loves all things 'bunny' and is a proud rabbit owner and lover herself!
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