Although people consider bunnies to be sweet and cuddly creatures that are rather clean and almost don’t make any noise, you might face some bad habits and behavior patterns in your pet.
This shouldn’t be a big problem but in some cases, you might need some help to solve it. It is really important to have patience and love for your bunny though. Remember every behavior that is learned can be unlearned as well.
I did a research on this topic. I tried to find as much bad behavior patterns as I could, looked for the reasons and how to fix the particular problem.
If you have a bunny that:
- shows signs of aggression
- destroys your carpet or sofa or other things
- bites his/her cage mates or you
- has poor litter box habits
- shows signs of lethargy and laziness
- doesn’t want to come to you
- hates being picked up
- chew on cage bars
Then you should keep reading this article. You will discover the reasons for your rabbit’s bad behavior but also what to do in a specific case. What would be the best ”punishment” if your bunny is doing something bad and why you never should hit him/her.
What If Your Rabbit Is Aggressive?
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
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. Where does your bunny live?
Maybe your bunny lives in inappropriate habitat. If he lives in the cage moreover 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 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 spayed or neutered?
If not, 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. Does your bunny have some health issue?
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 issue, 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 odor 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 ?
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, sudden movements as they are prey animals and are 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 the 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 bunny sees that T-shirt( your scent on it) doesn’t pose any threat so 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 to 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.
What If Your Rabbit Destroys Your Carpet or Other Belongings?
This kind of behavior can be connected to aggression but also with a lack of entertainment and toys.
Rabbits like to dig, it is in their nature. So you have to provide enough stimulating toys to avoid your belongings being destroyed. If your rabbit doesn’t have chew toys, he will chew on your sofa or purse or chair.
The perfect toys can be cardboard boxes in which you can put hay or shredded paper or even child-safe play sand. Rabbits also love toilet paper or paper towel rolls, paper bags…
If your rabbit spends the most of his time in its X-pen, he doesn’t have access to those things that can destroy but if you have rabbits that roam free, you have to bunny proof the house in order to prevent damage.
In case you notice that your bunny is digging or chewing on a rug or carpet during his exercise time when he is out of X-pen, speak to your bunny with his language.
First, clap your hands to attract his attention and then say NO. Don’t yell but still saying NO should be firmly and loud enough. Next thing you can do, bring some chewing toy and put it in front of him.
If your rabbit is digging on your feet or legs carries a totally different message. It means ”please look at me, comfort me, pet me”. So this rabbit tries to get your attention.
What If Your Rabbits Bites/ Nips You or Other Bunnies?
If you have read this article from the beginning, especially the part regarding aggressive behavior in rabbits, you have seen in which situation the rabbit can bite you. This behavior can be an act of defense.
Rabbit can also nip you just to attract your attention. It doesn’t mean he wants to hurt you though. However, you should discourage this behavior and make him understand he needs to stop doing it. You can express your discomfort by screaming a bit every time when he nips you ( OUCH !)
If you have rabbits that are biting each other, do separate them to avoid injuries. Rabbits are territorial animals but as being social animals they need to establish hierarchy. Sometimes they fight to show who is ”on the top”
They are also prey animals so if they feel threatened they will fight hard to survive. It can happen that they fight over food, water, toys, your attention, territory, etc. They also have very different personalities, some rabbits simply never get along with some other rabbits.
If you have more then one rabbit ( which is strongly recommended ) provide food and water bowls as well as litter boxes for each rabbit to avoid fighting over these things. Also bear in mind that more rabbits need more space than one rabbit. Also, make sure that each rabbit has its own hiding place.
Toys are really important, remember that each rabbit has to have his own toys. Try to play with all your rabbits together, don’t cuddle one and neglect others. That could build a wall between that rabbit and his cage mates which could lead to fights.
What If Your Rabbit Screams?
This is very,very rare situation but if happens note that it is extremely serious.
Rabbits hardly ever scream but when they do, either are in terrible pain or fear or death.
Rabbit’s scream is described as loud and sharp and people who never heard it before find it very disturbing.
It is important to act immediately and detect the reason for your pet’s scream.
Along with screaming some other symptoms may occur. For example teeth grinding, hiding, shaking.
Your rabbit may be terribly scared of the presence of some prey animal or sudden loud noise. Also can be in extreme pain due to some disease or injury.
It is crucial to know that rabbits in pain can go into shock and die in 24-48 h. That is why it is very important to act right away.
One rabbit’s screaming can provoke terrible fear in other rabbits that can start acting hysterically.
However, if you notice that your rabbit is screaming try to comfort him while you are looking for injuries. Also always try to provide a quiet and safe environment for your bunny.
What If Your Rabbit Has Poor Litter Box Habits?
Rabbits can be trained to use a litter box easily. Of course, not all rabbits are the same. Some rabbits need more time to learn how to use a litter box than others. You just need to have patience.
But if you think that you did everything you could and your rabbit is still making a mess all around, think if your rabbits is fixed. Rabbits that are not spayed /neutered usually have poor litter box habits. This way they need to mark their territory with urine.
After being fixed, rabbits usually loose that territorial and hormonal behavior and as a result use their litter box more accurate.
What If Your Rabbit Doesn’t Do Anything?
Lethargy in rabbits can be a sign of illness or pain. As being prey animals, rabbits will hardly show that they are suffering. If they show it, they are weak which makes them easy prey. So if they are ill most probably they will not show you at all or you will notice a lack of energy and interest for play.
If lethargy is followed by a lack of appetite, you can be certain that something is wrong with the health of your furry friend. Do consult a vet as soon as you can.
Observing your rabbit, you can make a conclusion that he is lazy. He doesn’t want to play, it seems that he doesn’t have too much energy, he sleeps a lot. You have already taken him to the vet, but he doesn’t have any health issues. So what’s wrong? Or you are just stuck with a lazy rabbit.
Before you label your rabbit as a lazy one, check something else. If your rabbit lives in unsuitable place/habitat ( small, without toys) or nobody really pays attention to him ( maybe you don’t have time, other family members are not so interested in your pet) he may fall into depression
Laziness can be easily mistaken for depression. Rabbits are social creatures. They need company of other rabbits but they need human’s attention too. They need a lot of freedom to run, jump, do exercise. They need hay and quality food and a lot of chewing toys( not only for their teeth but also because chewing is calming them) If they don’t have all that, they may feel sad and slip into melancholic mood.
What If Your Rabbit Doesn’t Want To Come To You?
Rabbits are timid animals and many things scares them.
If you are new to your rabbit try not to pick him up at all. Sit on the floor and ignore him. Let him approach you. Let him sniff you. You can offer him some treat. Give him your old T-shirt to play with, to feel your scent and understand that it doesn’t pose any threat, so neither do you.
Don’t yell at your bunny, try to spend some quality time with him every day ( avoid the time when he is taking a nap) . Pet him, comfort him regularly. Talk to him quietly and slowly.
As I have written earlier in the article, when you are approaching, do it from the side as he can see you more clearly.
Provide good and stimulating environment for your bunny. Don’t keep him in the cage, let him be free or at least set up a nice,large X-pen area for him.
Doing all this you will gain a trust. When that happens, your bunny will certainly come to you. Just be patient and full of love for your pet.
Why Your Rabbit Hates to be Picked Up?
When someone picks up the rabbit from the ground, rabbits get terrified. In the nature that can happen only if some predator hunted a rabbit and will make his lunch out of it.
You will agree, very unpleasant feeling.
That’s why you should avoid picking up your rabbit from the ground. If you want to play with him, sit on the floor so you place yourself at your bunny’s height.
If you want to cuddle him, sit on the couch and wait for your bunny to come and sit near you.
If you want to take him in your arms, do it properly so you don’t cause any fear in your rabbit.
Don’t take him by the stomach or ears or scruff. First pet him, comfort him to relax him a bit. Place one hand under the lower half of the body and the other hand under the bunny’s chest. Provide firm both upper and lower body support to make your bunny feel more secure.
When you decide to put him back, let his feet go first so he can touch the ground immediately.
Why Does Your Bunny Chew On Cage Bars?
Not because they are tasty, that’s for sure!
Maybe your bunny wants to go out. Maybe he is hungry. Maybe he is frustrated, which is quite often among caged rabbits.
Rabbits needs to chew on things as their teeth never stop growing so they are trimming them by chewing things. If they don’t have some chewing sticks or other chewing toys, they will try with cage bars.
If the rabbit notices that you react every time when he chews on bars, maybe he is doing that to attract your attention.
Rabbits can chew on cage bars if they are bored or depressed. They can even do that because of the excess of hormones if they are not spayed or neutered.
Should I Hit My Rabbit?
Never! Under any circumstances!
Rabbits have fragile bones and if you hit or kick them or even push them, you can cause an injury. Not to speak about trust which you will never gain with that kind of behavior. You won’t achieve anything but your rabbit which will be afraid of you. So this is not the right way.
You should never punish your rabbit, it is better to discipline it .
You can use your voice saying NO when necessary. Don’t yell but be firm when you are saying NO.
Use your index finger to gently push your rabbit’s nose towards floor, saying NO … (the name of the rabbit)
You can turn back to your rabbit or stamp your foot. This means you are quite angry and detest his behavior. Your rabbit will be able to read the signs and hopefully to act accordingly.
You can also use water spray ( make sure the water’s temperature is equal to room temperature) When your rabbit does something you consider wrong, you can spay him very lightly.
Remember that rabbits shouldn’t be wet, never soak your rabbit in the water. Use water mister only right away after you notice unwanted behavior. Of course, as rabbits are different some will react on this method and stop doing it while some other rabbits won’t mind being wet a bit and continue with misbehaving.
Related Question :
How Do Rabbits Say ”I am Sorry”?
When rabbit wants to apologize, he use his head. But literally !
If one rabbit wants to say sorry to another rabbit, he will push his head or nose towards his mate’s head. They will stay like that for a couple of seconds. If you see them grooming each other afterward, means that they forgave one another.
If one of them disrupt this moment, maybe he is not ready to forgive yet.
Your rabbit can try a similar thing with you as well. If that happens, show him that you forgive him, give him some nice treat, he must know that everything is ok now between two of you.
Rabbits are not aggressive animals. Sometimes they have a tough time at the beginning of their life, they live in bad conditions, some bad people ”take care” of them. If they come to you after that, they will come with lots of issues. But everything can be solved.
With a lot of love, patience, proper care, good food and a stimulating environment, every bunny can live the perfect life.
Remember that every bunny has its own personality, displays affection in a different way. Just be patient and try to get to know your bunny well, bond with him, gaining his trust. Eventually, the results will be amazing.