The first thing you need to understand – rabbits are not aggressive animals by their nature. Bunnies are prey animals so in many cases their defense mechanism can be mistaken for aggression. Aggressive behavior in rabbits might consist of nipping, biting, destroying things, grunting or growling, etc
If your, usually friendly and calm rabbit starts showing signs of aggression check first if he is ill or injured, as he might be in pain. Unfixed rabbits can also become aggressive but this behavior can be easily fixed with desexing procedures. If your bunny lives in a small cage in which he cannot exercise enough, an extra load of energy will be transformed into aggressiveness, get your rabbit larger habitat. Do your best to provide a calm and peaceful environment for your rabbit as a stressed bunny can easily become hostile.
Think about your rabbit’s past. When did he/she come to your home? Did you adopt the rabbit from a rescue center? Do you know anything about his/her past life before the rescue center? Maybe your bunny went through some trauma or he /she was kept in a small cage. Who knows? Maybe your bunny wasn’t socialized well at an early age. A lot of things could trigger aggressive behavior.
How Can You Fix Aggressive Behavior in Your Rabbit?
There are several questions that have to be answered and solving these issues will help with fixing the aggressive behavior, so let’s start:
1. Does Your Bunny Live in A Small Cage? Get Your Rabbit A Larger Habitat
Maybe your bunny lives in inappropriate habitat. If he lives in the cage( if it is a small one), your bunny will be very depressed and sometimes aggressive.
Rabbits need to have enough space to jump, stretch, run, do exercise. If you pushed them to live in a small, restricted area they will not be able to expend all that energy they have. Excess of energy could lead to aggressive behavior and not just that.
If you keep your bunny in a closed and restricted space for too long, he will become very territorial toward his cage/habitat, as this is his safe place. So if you put your hand through the bars with the intention to pet your bunny, he might bite you.
That could be really shocking as you think that you haven’t done anything wrong. And you haven’t – at that moment but in general, you made a big mistake by placing your bunny in the cage.
Even if you use an X-pen and not the cage ( it is the far better option of course) you still have built ”the walls” between you and your bunny. You two are living totally separate lives. In case you lift that barrier between you, your relationship will also change, in a better way.
First of all, your rabbit will become accustomed to your daily routine, sleeping habits, or sounds you make and won’t react to them. He will be less stressed and frightened.
If you let your rabbit roam free without any barrier between you and him, your bunny will not feel trapped. He will have a chance to choose whether he wants to spend some time with you or not. That is the best thing you can have – that your rabbit comes to you and be with you voluntarily.
2. Is Your Bunny Fixed? Spaying /Neutering Your Rabbit May Help
If your rabbit is not fixed, consult with your vet and do it. Fixing your rabbit might solve a lot of issues. These procedures reduce hormonal and territorial behavior which can be really aggressive.
If you would like to know more about desexing procedures in rabbits and their influence on bunny’s behavior read our article – ”Will My Bunny Change Behavior After Being Spayed/ Neutered?”
3. Ill or Injured Rabbit May Become Agressive
Rabbits that are ill will not act aggressively but rather lethargic. But if something irritates your bunny or he is losing his vision or sense of hearing he may show signs of aggression due to fear. Rabbits also can have some neurological issues that can be mistaken for aggressive behavior.
However, if you suspect that your pet has any health issues, visit a vet asap. Also take your bunny to the vet on a regular basis (once or twice a year, depends on his age. Rabbits older than 3 (years) should go to the vet twice a year, just in case)
4. Do You Handle Other Animals Beside Your Bunny ?
Other animal odors can trigger aggressive behavior in rabbits. It is advisable to wash your hands thoroughly and to change your clothes if you handled another animal – dog, cat, or even another bunny.
5. Do You Think That Your Bunny Could be Stressed ?
A stressed bunny will show signs of aggressiveness. To prevent that, try to eliminate all sources of stress. If not all then most of them.
How can I reduce the level of stress in your rabbit? Provide a very calm and peaceful environment for your bunny. They don’t like loud sounds and sudden movements as they are prey animals and scared of many things. Don’t let any predator animal near your bunny ( dogs or cats). Provide chew toys as these toys are great, helping your bunny to reduce stress.
If you think that you are causing stress to your bunny, that he is scared of you, try something that I found on the web. It is called the T-Shirt Method. Give your bunny some old T-shirt you don’t need anymore. Let him sniff and explore it. The experts say that if the bunny sees that T-shirt( your scent on it) doesn’t pose any threat neither will you.
I am sure you know that bunnies have different sleeping schedules than humans. They are most active in dusk and dawn. They spend most of the day sleeping.
Don’t try to play with your bunny during his nap time. You wouldn’t like that someone bothers you when having a nap, would you? Your bunny is not different. If you try to wake him up, you will get a grumpy rabbit, in the mood for nipping. Not a great experience.
6. How Do you Approach Your Rabbit ?
It may seem like a silly question but actually, it makes sense. Rabbit’s eyes are placed on each side of his face, not in front like in humans. That is why if you approach your rabbit frontally, he won’t see you clearly.
He will see some huge shadow that is coming and as you assume will be very scared. That’s why it is better to approach your rabbit from the side, as he can see you better. Do it slowly without sudden movements, talk to your bunny, pet him.
Bottom line – don’t answer your rabbit’s aggressive behavior with aggression. Aggressive behavior is not natural to bunnies, they simply show that they are not OK, not satisfied with a current situation. Aggressive behavior is more like a cry for help. So they need your help and not your hostility.