Imagine if our bunnies could talk to us. Understanding our bunny’s behaviour and mood would be a breeze! Sadly, we are stuck with reading body language and other communication strategies from our furry children.
Bunnies communicate with us through their behaviour giving us subtle clues to how they are feeling or what they want through body language and noises. Understanding these cues can help us as bunny parents to better understand our bunnies.
Some bunny behaviours indicate they are happy, while others may indicate they are sad or want attention. Aggression can also manifest itself as unwanted behaviour and there are some solutions that can help you discourage these behaviours.
Can you recognise some of these behaviours in your bunny?
Happy Bunny Behaviour
Low grunting – this type of grunt is a sign that your bunny is satisfied and feeling well. Not all bunnies make noises, so don’t think your bunny isn’t happy if they don’t make grunts.
Teeth purring – when your bunny is relaxed and content, you will often hear them softly grinding their teeth. At first thought, it may seem like they are having teeth problems.
However, this is the bunny version of purring and showing happiness. You’ll likely hear them purr when you are petting and stroking them as they lay flat next to you.
Binky – a bunny binky is when they jump in the air with excitement while kicking in the air and shaking their head. Often they will also turn in the air.
It may seem like your bunny has been startled by something or is scared. But this is their way of expressing happiness and playfulness. If your bunny doesn’t bink, there may be something in their environment that is making them unhappy.
Flopping – this is where your bunny tips or throws themselves over onto their side. It is the ultimate sign of trust and feelings of happiness and being comfortable with you.
It may take many months for your bunny to feel comfortable enough to do this. We swear our bunny knows when we want to take a picture of her when she has flopped as she turns back as soon as the camera is pointed at her.
Grooming themselves – when this is done with you in their presence, it means your bunny trusts you. They are comfortable enough to ignore their surroundings while the clean themselves.
Licking you – this is your bunny saying I love you! It can also be your bunny telling you to give them some attention. There are even more signs your bunny loves you in our article “How Do You Know If Your Bunny Loves You.”
Licking the floor directly in front of them – an indirect way of grooming directed at you. They will also groom any clothing you have lying around. They can smell your scent so it’s their way of grooming you.
Tail held high – an act of excitement. Usually for a new toy or from another bunny friend.
Running circles around your feet – this is usually paired with continuous grunting. It is a mating behaviour and can happen even if your bunny is neutered. It is a sign that he loves you.
Unhappy Bunny Behaviour
Low squealing – a very soft noise that you can only hear when you are close like teeth grinding. This is usually a sign that the bunny doesn’t want to be pet anymore and wants to be left alone.
Loud teeth grinding – look out for loud grinding of the teeth especially when it is paired with a hunched over position as this is a sign that your bunny is in a lot of pain. Call your vet immediately.
Showing you their bum – the bunny equivalent of flipping the bird. They feel insulted or displeased and want you to know it.
Kicking backward – your bunny is protesting. Similar to the reason your bunny might be exposing their bum to you. They feel displeased about something you’ve done. It could be something as simple as having a dirty litter box.
Shaking the head – likely means your bunny is irritated or has been disturbed. She may sense an unknown odour or has had enough of grooming.
Relaxed Bunny Behaviour
Bunloaf – the loaf is one of the main sleeping positions for a bunny. It’s the most advantageous for when they are relaxing and sleeping but want to be able to quickly run and jump away from danger.
When your bunny isn’t fully comfortable in their new environment or with their new owners, they will often sleep in this position. Once they get more comfortable, they will lie flat or flop. You can read more about sleeping positions in our article “Do Bunnies Sleep With Their Eyes Open?”
Ignoring – while it may seem your bunny is being distant from you, it is actually a sign that they trust you. If they are doing their own thing while you are also in the room, it shows they are comfortable and trust you enough to be relaxed. Just like when they groom themselves in front of you.
Scared Bunny Behaviour
Loud screams – this only happens when a bunny is afraid for its life from a predator or is experiencing a lot of pain.
Related: Is CBD Oil Safe For Your Bunny?
Thumping – when a bunny stomps the floor with the hind legs, it’s called thumping. A single thump can be a sign of displeasure similar to kicking backward or showing their bum or being frightened or mad.
But multiple thumps can mean a bunny is afraid or alert or feels threatened. This is usually accompanied by the enlarging of the bunny’s pupils.
Flattened on the ground with ears flat against head and eyes wide open – this is a bunny hiding. They want to make themselves as small as possible to not appear threatening or is hiding from something and is ready to run away.
Attention Seeking Bunny Behaviour
Presenting – sticking their head out, putting their chin down, tucking their paws and rubbing themselves against you are all part of presenting. Your bunny getting your attention and is asking to be petted.
Soft nose nudge – this is usually a “please move out of the way so I can chew my wall” or a “hello please pet me” nudge. Make sure you reciprocate back and pet your bunny on the head. Your bunny shows they really love you when they rest their nose against you.
Nipping – is often a sign of love. Your bunny wants to groom you and make sure you’re clean. It can also be a “get out of my way” nip which should be dealt with appropriately (covered further in this article).
Aggressive Bunny Behaviour
Growling – part of a bunny showing aggressive behaviour. Don’t put your hands out to try to pet them in this situation.
Lunging with ears backward and tail raised – a sign of aggression. Usually precedes biting. The bunny is defending its territory. It can happen if you intrude on their cage space.
Territory Marking Bunny Behaviours
Rubbing their chin on various objects – when we saw our bunny doing this, we thought she had an itchy neck so we would go scratch it for her. Turns out that’s not the case. It’s another way of her marking her territory as bunnies have scent glands under their chins.
Poops everywhere – we would wonder why our bunny would jump on our bed and within 2 seconds would unload her rear end on our blankets and sheets. Turns out it’s another way for a bunny to mark their territory.
Twitching tail – this usually happens when a bunny is spraying their urine to make their territory.
Other Bunny Behaviours
Continuous grunting – usually coincides with running circles around your feet. Part of the mating ritual which means your bunny loves you.
Kicking sideways – this is usually when a bunny is playing or fighting.
Standing on hind legs – they are being curious about their surroundings. This means they are attentive to what is going on around them and often it’s a bunny looking at what is on a higher surface which can lead to them jumping on top!
What Are Some Reasons For Bunny Aggression?
- Not neutered or spayed – bunnies become more aggressive as they reach sexual maturity due to an enhanced territorial nature and hormonal reasons. Sexual maturity is reached somewhere between 3-8 months of age. This is around the age you should get your bunny fixed.
- Females will often show aggression when you put your hands or yourself into their territory such as their cage or enclosure.
- Males are less likely to go after humans with their aggression and will direct it more towards other bunnies.
- Pain – this should always be ruled out first as a reason your bunny is showing aggression. Bunnies hide their pain well. If your bunny is showing a sudden change from their normal behaviour, it could be a sign of illness or pain and you should contact your vet immediately.
- Deafness or blindness – bunnies rely on their senses to scan their surroundings. If your bunny has hearing or vision problems, it can seem like you are sneaking up on them as they can’t detect you coming to them.
- Fear – if your bunny feels cornered, they may be forced to bite in defense. When you remove yourself from the situation, they learn that aggressive behaviour gets their desired outcome.
- Frustration – bunnies can redirect their aggression towards their human. If they are agitated from being chased or in pain, they may take it out on you.
- Change in environment – a change in their routine can cause your bunny to lose confidence in their interactions with you and subsequently become more aggressive.
Solutions For Correcting Bunny Behaviour and Aggression
Aggression in bunnies is usually a behavioural issue, not a genetic one as you can see from above. It is important to deal with aggression as you don’t want it to turn into a constant habit and not be able to give your bunny any love. Here are some tips to reduce aggression and deal with other behavioural problems in your bunny.
- Rule out pain – if aggression is unexpected and out of the norm for your bunny, get them checked by a vet. It could be a problem with their overgrown teeth or something more serious internally.
- Neuter or spay – the next step if this hasn’t been done. This should solve most behavioural and aggression problems. However, if aggression is a learned behaviour, then you will need to learn how to discipline and react to your bunny. Only you can solve your bunny’s aggression problems.
- Don’t hit your bunny – this will make their behavioural problems worse not better as they’ll learn to distrust you. Instead, spray water at their feet or clap, shout, or stomp to let them know you disapprove. Make sure you do this while they are doing their bad behaviour, not after.
- Make a high pitch shriek – when your bunny nips or bites you, use their language to show you disapprove. Make a high pitch noise to show your bunny it hurts. If they don’t stop, then thump your hand or foot and turn your back on them.
- Spend as much time as possible with them – pet your bunny slowly from head to tail to show that your hands won’t hurt them, rather they are there to show them love.
- If your bunny is deaf or blind, approach carefully – if your bunny is deaf, make sure your bunny can see you when you approach them. If your bunny is blind, make sure you call them and they can hear you approaching. This will help give your bunny notice that you’re approaching them and they won’t get a fright and potentially react aggressively.
- Clean your bunny’s housing area when they aren’t there – if your bunny is territorially aggressive, then clean your bunny’s enclosure when they are not there to avoid any unwanted aggression.
- Feed your bunny with no hesitation – put down your bunny’s food straight away. Pausing with food in your hand can be seen as teasing or taunting and they may attempt to knock the food out of your hand.
- Make sure they are stimulated – bored and frustrated bunnies are more likely to show aggression.
How To Show Dominance To Your Bunny
Sometimes, showing disapproval in bunny language isn’t enough to stop them from biting or being aggressive towards you. In this instance, your bunny thinks they are the boss. Bunnies show dominance by laying over each other. Here are some steps to show you are the dominant one and to have your bunny submit.
- Step 1 – loudly say NO and gently push your bunny’s head down to the floor for a couple of seconds. Don’t slam their head, just hold. If your bun tries to bring their head back up, let them.
- Step 2 – gently push down your bunny’s head again but for 30sec – 1min. It can be longer. Don’t pet your bun, just hold their head down. If they keep popping their head back up, keep gently pushing their head back down. Once they raise their head up slowly, that is your bunny acknowledging you are the boss.
- Step 3 – now it is time to force your bunny to move from their spot and to claim it as your own. To do this, tap your bunny on the butt which is the bunny language for move. If they don’t move, push a little harder until your bunny is out of arms reach. Step into the spot your bunny just left which is now your domain. Your bunny isn’t allowed to touch it.
- Step 4 – if your bunny keeps approaching you, repeat steps 1 and 2. This will show you are the dominant one.
Refer to these behaviours when you’re not sure what your bunny is trying to tell you. Don’t let unwanted behaviours and aggression continue as it can become habitual by your bunny. Rule out pain and fix your bunny first as a way to curb these behaviours. Employ other solutions if these don’t reduce the unwanted behaviours.
Your bunny should know you are the boss in the house. For them to know this, you must communicate in their language. Never hit your bunny as a form of discipline, as they will learn to not trust you and make their behaviour worse.