Understanding the behavior of your Rabbit

Understanding the behavior of your Rabbit


Behavior & Understanding Your Rabbit

Body Language

Your rabbit can speak to you without uttering a word! Here is what their primary movements mean…

  • Binky (a high jump and kick in the air accompanied by head shaking head) = happiness, playfulness
  • Bunloaf (like a ‘brooding hen’) = relaxing, napping
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Image source: Buns Inc

  • Exposing the back end = an insult to show displeasure
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Image source: Buns Inc

  • Flattened on the ground with ears flat against head and eyes wide open = trying to hide from something that scared it and is ready to run away
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Image source: Buns Inc

  • Flop (happens out of the blue – when a rabbit throws itself onto its side) = happiness, relaxation, trust
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Image source: Buns Inc

  • Eating cecotropes = trust if you see it; it’s normally done privately
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Image source: Buns Inc

  • Hard nudge by the nose = get out of the way or leave me alone; a soft nudge is a greeting you should acknowledge with a pet; also a sign to stop petting
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Image source: Buns Inc

  • Sploot = very relaxed and happy
rabbit bunny
Image source: Buns Inc

  • Periscoping = curiosity & a precursor to jumping
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Image source: Buns Inc

  • Presenting = stroke my nose
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Image source: Buns Inc

  • Standing on hind legs = alertness and attentiveness
  • Kicking backwards = protest & displeasure
  • Kicking sideways = playing or fighting
  • Licking = love; licking the floor in front of itself is indirect grooming meant for you
  • Nipping = get away
  • Deep biting = pain; leave me alone, I hate you
  • Gentle biting = affection
  • Yawning = quite funny to watch!
  • Chinning (scent marking) = rubbing the chin on things to claim ownership


Rabbits are not known for vocalizing, but do have a repertoire of sounds:

  • Screaming, screeching, squealing = extreme pain
  • Grunting = dissatisfaction
  • Honking = attention or affection seeking
  • Growling, hissing, snarling = anger
  • Teeth grinding vs teeth purring = in the context of being petted it means happiness; otherwise it means they are ill
  • Squeaking = contentment, frustration, distress, or during mating
  • Thumping = to alert danger or show disapproval
  • Sneezing or snorting = the same reasons as humans (consult a vet)
  • Snoring
  • Sighing or wheezing = compromise, contentment; consult a vet if wheezing persists
  • Clucking = appreciation; when mother rabbits feed their kits
  • Muttering or chatting = communication with mates, expressing anger


We always think of ourselves when we lose a bunny, but what about the bonded bunny left behind? Rabbits do grieve and experience trauma at the sudden loss of their mate. The best thing you can do for your rabbit is give them a lot of attention and find them another partner as soon as possible. A bereft bunny will sometimes accept a new partner very quickly; others will take longer.

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Photo by Dave Wood (Image source: Buns Inc)

Recognizing Signs of Illness

If you see any of these signs, take your rabbit to a vet right away!

  • Increase or decrease in appetite or drinking
  • Anorexia
  • Lethargy
  • An enlarged abdomen
  • Teeth grinding
  • Drooling, slobbering, hair loss on the chin & neck, with loss of appetite
  • Nasal discharge, sneezing 0r coughing, difficulty breathing
  • Change in poops (diarrhea, decreased stools)
  • Change in pee, blood, color change, cloudiness, sludge
  • Tilted head, poor coordination, drooping eye
  • Weepy eyes
  • Hair loss, itchy, scaly, flaky coat or skin
  • Biting, growling, attacking
  • Wounds, ulcers on the bottom of the feet
  • Lumps or masses
  • Paralysis, disorientation, floppiness
  • Parasites
rabbit bunny
Image source: Buns Inc


Unnecessary Bathing

Rabbits are clean animals who preen themselves. They should not be bathed just so they smell nice. The only time a rabbit should be bathed is when there is something on their fur or skin they cannot clean off themselves, or it would be dangerous for them to. Rabbits do, on occasion, suffer from urine stains on their feet and poop getting stuck to their butts – these instances are where you can carry out a foot or bum bath using a few centimetres of warm water in a shallow tray.

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Beauty about to have a foot bath for urine scald (Image source: Buns Inc)

Do NOT do what is shown in the photo below.

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Image source: https://www.thedodo.com/never-give-rabbit-bath-1259570028.html

Placing a Rabbit On Its Back

Deliberately placing a rabbit on its back is called ‘tonic immobility’ or ‘trancing’. It basically renders the rabbit to ‘play dead’. It is a natural defence mechanism that should NEVER be exploited. It provokes a fear response, not a calming one. It is NOT cute, and the rabbits certainly do NOT enjoy it. Owners should NEVER do this to ‘cuddle’ their rabbits. The rabbit’s head should be above the heart at all times, except when sleeping or the rabbit has placed itself in this position. Baby rabbits sleep or lay on their backs, which is NOT the same as deliberate trancing.

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Image source: Action for Rabbits UK

Collars & Harnesses

Rabbits are not suited at all to wearing collars – their necks aren’t long enough to provide the room. Rabbit necks and spines can be easily injured if a rabbit is startled while on a collar and lead. The rabbit can break their own neck or strangle itself dashing off by running out of lead or catching the collar on something (including its own teeth). Rabbits are active enough to not require being walked, and it is not something that is easy to do. Some rabbits are fine with it, but the majority find it terrifying. If you must use a harness, use a vest type one with additional shoulder room.

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Beauty in a vest harness for a photo shoot only (Image source: Buns Inc)

Elizabethan Collars/Post-Op Cones

Elizabethan collars should only be used on rabbits in rare and unusual circumstances. They cause stress, prevent grooming, increase the risk of post-op anorexia, and prevent the rabbit eating their cecotropes. If a rabbit is gnawing at a wound site, it is commonly due to inadequate pain relief. There are alternatives to a post-op cone and you can even make one yourself from a baby singlet onesie or cat/dog clothing item – you just need to modify it to make sure the rabbit can toilet and move freely. Of course, prevention is better than cure – so ensure your bunny has substantial pain relief.

Housing Rabbits With Other Animals

Rabbits should NOT be housed with or near another species of animal because it can compromise the health or welfare of either species. ingestion of unsuitable foods, housing mixed species, eg: rabbits and guinea pigs, can cause zoonotic disease transmission (such as Bordetella Bronchiseptica), anxiety, physiologic and behavioral changes due to conflict.

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Cheese goes to the zoo – the Buns Inc guinea pigs are housed in separate male and female runs, away from the bunny zone (Image source: Buns Inc)

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