Animals and Pets

Rabbit Behavior and Body Language

Rabbit Behavior

All bunnies have a unique personality and character, but there are some common rabbit behaviors and body language that every rabbit has. Rabbits communicate how they are feeling with sounds and noise - but it's not just noise and sounds - it's rabbit talk!

Rabbits also communicate with body language to express how they are feeling. When bringing your new rabbit home, it can take a while before it feels comfortable enough to settle in and show a full range of behaviors. But over time, you will understand all behaviors and body language that your bunny displays.  Here are the most common rabbit noises and sounds to help you understand if your rabbit is happy, excited, unhappy, or uncomfortable.

Rabbit Sounds

Noises and Sounds

Some of the noises you will hear and what they mean are:

  • Clucking is a soft, gentle noise that sounds almost like a hiccup.
  • Growling is a common sound with many animals, and rabbits growl for the same reason - to warn you that they are unhappy.
  • Grunting means it is angry and feels threatened, and sometimes will charge at you, nip, or bite.
  • Hissing means your rabbit is VERY unhappy.
  • Loud teeth-grinding indicates that the rabbit is in pain or is ill. Take your bunny to a rabbit veterinarian if you hear loud teeth grinding.
  • Purring is the same sound cats make when happy and contented.
  • Sighing means your rabbit is happy and contented. (Have you ever heard a dog sigh?)
  • Screaming is a distress noise for rabbits, always investigate this sound!
  • Sneezing and Coughing (snuffles) is not serious if it happens once in a while. But if it continues take your rabbit to the veterinarian.
  • Soft teeth-grinding noises are when they softly grind their teeth when content (like when you are petting them).
  • Squealing means your rabbit is really unhappy and in discomfort. It's not a common noise so investigate if you hear it.
  • Teeth Grinding usually happens when your rabbit is in discomfort or pain.
  • Wheezing means your rabbit is having a hard time breathing. This can be a result of a simple respiratory infection (like a cold) or something more serious. Take your bunny to the veterinarian.

Bunny Binky

No, it is not a baby pacifier.  Did you know your rabbit can be an acrobat?  Binkies are so fast (like a fraction of a second), so you might miss it if you're not watching your bunny. A binky can take place after a running start, or it might take place with a sudden quick leap while it twists its body and head in opposite directions while in mid-air, before falling to the ground. Sometimes a binky will just be a simple jump to the side. At any rate, when your bun is binkying it is super happy and in a safe space where they have no fear of predators. Your bunny may binky many times in succession. Sometimes people call it a "bunny dance".

There is another kind of binky called the "half binky", "ear flick", or "head flick". A half binky is when your bunny will twist or turn his head sideways and flick or wiggle its ears, without the jump in a full binky.  This is also a very happy bunny!

Do Rabbits Binky in the Wild?
Wild rabbits do binky from time to time but they don't do it because they are happy or excited. Binkying for wild rabbits is a defense mechanism that makes it more difficult for predators to catch them, and they run away in a zig-zag motion.

Things Rabbits Do

Rabbits have a lot of behaviors and body language quirks. What do different types of bunny behavior, postures, and actions mean? Here's a guide to some common bunny behaviors.

Rabbit Habits
  • Biting is when rabbits are hurt, or it might bite if you grab or surprise him. Rabbits bite because they have poor vision up close, so they may think that your hand coming toward them is food or a predator. Stop your rabbit from biting, by a shrill cry when you are bitten.
  • Chinning is when they rub their chins on items to put their scent on them. This behavior means that the items belong to them and also defines their territory. Humans cannot smell the scent.
  • Circling your feet is sexual or mating behavior (even when your rabbit is neutered). It means "I love you."
  • Female false pregnancy is when an un-spayed female sometimes builds a nest and pulls hair from her chest and stomach to line the nest. She may even stop eating. This behavior also occurs the day before she gives birth.
  • Flopping is very silly looking and means your bunny is contented and tired. Flopping is when your bunny simply rolls over on his side. It can be alarming to see, but it's perfectly normal.
  • Hopping or dancing is a sign of pure joy and happiness. Bunny "dancing" can include leaping, doing a binky (jumping straight up and spinning in the air), and racing around.
  • Licking you is a sign of affection. It's also the way bunnies groom each other.
  • Marking territory with droppings that are not in a pile, but are scattered about, are signs that this territory belongs to the rabbit. This behavior will sometimes occur when a rabbit enters a new environment or if another rabbit is brought into the house. It may be temporary or ongoing. Droppings done in piles indicate that the rabbit needs more litter box training.
  • Nipping is gentler than a bite. Bunnies nip to get your attention or to nicely ask you to move out of their way.
  • Periscoping (meerkating) is when a bunny stands up on its hind feet and looks around to see what's up around him.
  • Playing can be anything from pushing or tossing objects around, racing madly around the house (zoomies or bunny 500), jumping on and off the furniture, and acting like children who have had too much sugar. Rabbits love toys and some will play for hours with a favorite toy.
  • Spraying defines marking their territory. Un-neutered males will mark female rabbits and their territory by spraying them with urine. Un-spayed females can also indulge in this behavior. This is a good reason to spay or neuter your rabbits.
  • Thumping (Foot Stomping) is how rabbits tell others they are feeling threatened and scared. It means your rabbit is frightened, mad, or sensing danger (real or imagined).

Training Pet Rabbits - Stop Undesirable Behavior

Bunnies, like other pets, are occasionally naughty. When that happens, remember that you should never hit a rabbit. It's cruel and they don’t understand why they are in trouble. They can also become very angry and aggressive if provoked. Instead of punishing bad behavior, it’s usually far more effective to use positive reinforcement to encourage your rabbit to behave in the way you would like. Like many other pets, rabbits can be clicker-trained.

Always be consistent when disciplining rabbits and don’t expect too much from them. Here are 2 things to try if your rabbit is being naughty:

  1. Shout "no" or clap your hands.
  2. Thump your foot, like a rabbit, to show your displeasure.

You can help reduce undesirable behavior in your rabbit by spaying or neutering, bunny proofing your house, and providing plenty of toys.