Common rabbit body language and behaviours
If you watch your rabbit, you’ll notice certain behaviours. Some are more common than others. Scared rabbits may act differently than happy bunnies. Here are some of the main rabbit behaviours and what they could mean.
Rabbit head tilts
Rabbit head tilts are one of the most common behaviours. While a rabbit head tilt is absolutely adorable, it could signify a few things such as:
- An ear infection
- Neck pain
- Head injury
- A parasite, which affects the rabbit’s brain
If your rabbit has also lost their balance or is suffering with flickering eye movements, it could be the sign of a more serious issue. If you notice your rabbit performing head tilts, it’s always worth contacting your vet.
Thumping is synonymous with rabbits – we all remember Thumper from Bambi. This rabbit body language could be a sign that you’ve got a scared, angry, or threatened rabbit. Rabbit thumping is a behaviour that was originally used to warn other rabbits of danger. If your bunny is thumping with their hind legs and making a lot of noise, they may be threatened by something.
Digging is a rabbit behaviour associated with a bunny’s love of burrowing. There are other reasons your rabbit may start digging though, including:
- Trying to uncover food
- Trying to find cool earth to lie on
- To get attention
- To escape an environment
While digging is an instinctive rabbit behaviour, you don’t want them running away. It’s a good, natural thing for them to do that keeps their muscles moving. Try to give them room to dig but put measures in place to stop them escaping.
When a bunny flops and rolls onto their side, it’s a sign of contentment. This means they’re happy, comfortable, and relaxed. It’s also the cutest thing, so you both win.
If a rabbit is kicking their hind legs up while hopping away, it can be a sign they’re unhappy. Kicking aggressively while being held (or kicking up dirt while hopping away) could be a sign that your rabbit is annoyed or doesn’t enjoy the current situation. This could be something as simple as kicking while you cut their nails or petting them when they don’t want it.
Rabbits are always a bit twitchy. It’s a natural form of rabbit body language that often shows they’re comfortable. Those wiggles and twitches are a good sign, so if you’re seeing them a lot be at ease. Whether they’re bouncing around, laying out flat on the floor, or cuddling up to you – nose twitches aren’t anything to worry about.
Have you ever been playing with your cute, calm, and furry little bunny when you get a sudden chomp on a finger? Rabbits may have adorable, fluffy tails, but they also have sharp teeth that can chew through anything.
You may have been on the receiving end of a rabbit bite. Rabbits tend to bite when they’re distressed, often to assert dominance. Usually, this is to protect their food, or to warn off predators. Rabbits are placid, but you must approach them calmly.
Licking can mean a range of things depending on the context. Here are some examples:
- Licking you - This rabbit behaviour is a sign of affection – it’s commonly associated with grooming and is a good sign you have a positive bond with your rabbit.
- Licking another rabbit - In the same way they lick you for affection, they’ll do the same to other rabbits.
- Licking themselves - Rabbits spend a lot of their time grooming themselves and are naturally very clean animals.
- Licking objects - Rabbits are curious, but excessive licking could indicate your rabbit is bored or trying to establish dominance on something. If they lick themselves a lot, it could also indicate they are lacking mental stimulation.
Think of binkying as happy hopping, a little jig where your rabbit will hop and slightly twist in the air. You may see it a lot during moments of the “zoomies”, when your rabbit is excited and has a lot of excess energy.
Do rabbits bite and why?
Situations where a rabbit may bite include:
- If they’re stressed out, such as when you’re chasing them
- When they’re territorial, especially around food. You could get nipped if you’re cleaning or removing them from their pen where food is.
- Rabbits prefer to be on the ground. If you lift them there’s a chance they could become stressed
- When they are defending themselves from perceived threats
Try your best to approach your rabbit calmly, to avoid biting behaviours and be wary when interacting with their territory.
What to do if your rabbit seems unhappy?
No one wants to see their favourite fluffball down in the dumps. If your rabbit’s behaviour indicates they’re unhappy, such as constant kicking, excessive licking, or biting and panicked squeaking, they may need a change in their lifestyle.
First, examine their behaviours and make sure their welfare needs are met. Here are some key things to think about:
- Illness - Your rabbit could be acting out because it is ill, has an infection, or has other issues. If you’re worried about this, contact a vet for advice.
- Exercise - If your rabbit lacks space to move around, it could lead to them becoming boxed in and stressed. If they’re trying to escape, or have limited room in their pen, they could get grouchy. Try to give them plenty of room to be active each day.
- Socialisation - If your rabbit is lonely, it could affect their behaviour. Sometimes, being with humans alone isn’t enough and introducing a rabbit friend could help. However, there’s always the risk they don’t get along and integrating a new rabbit takes time and supervision.
- Environment - Your rabbit’s environment may not be suitable for their temperament or needs. Try adjusting their living conditions, such as adding a run for them to play in.
- Boredom - Adding things in your rabbit’s habitat to entertain them could prevent bad behaviour from boredom.
Other rabbit behaviours to be concerned about
If you notice your rabbit seems unnaturally tired or unwell, then you should always contact a vet. While there are a lot of common behaviours, not all rabbits are the same. If they seem okay, but are constantly off-balance, for example, this could indicate they have an ear infection or parasite.
If they’re not eating, just like humans, this could indicate a range of issues such as gum disease. In general, the following behaviours could mean there is an issue with your rabbit:
- Appearing shaky or nervous.
- Being overly watchful.
- Seeming aggressive when handled.
- Lethargy – like being lazy and having no interest in food.
- Not grooming.
- Excessive, purposeful movements such as frequent head bobbing, or gnawing specific things like their water bottle.
One rabbit behaviour people often notice is their rabbit lying flat on the floor, with their ears backwards and feet tucked under the body. This can sometimes mean they are scared, but usually this is a good indication that your rabbit is relaxed and wants to be petted – so don’t worry about that.
If you’re ever unsure about your rabbit’s behaviour, or you’re worried about the way they’re acting it’s always important to contact a vet. Sainsbury’s Bank Pet Insurance for rabbits has a 24/7 vet advice line – that means there’s no need to worry, whether it’s day or night. Pet insurance provided by Pinnacle Insurance plc.
Frequently asked questions