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Rabbits body language and behavior

Rabbits are prey animals, and both their behavior and body language are largely dictated by instinct. Many rabbit owners have been frustrated due to digging in sofas and beds, and territorial marking by droppings and in worst case, urine spraying.

Punishing the rabbit for this kind of behavior is no solution – and borders on animal abuse. And how many have gotten a rabbit with the dream of an easy to keep pet, a soft cuddly creature in your apartment or room, willingly being picked up for cuddles – only to find that sitting in the lap and receiving pets is the last thing a rabbit wants.

Due to their instincts, very few rabbits feel anything but terror when being picked up and held. So what is the charm and joy with rabbits? If you take the time to learn about the rabbits behaviour patterns and body language, and spend a lot of time with the rabbit on its own terms, being a rabbit owner can take on a whole new meaning.

Rabbits communicate with each other through scents, and for us humans, this language is impossible to understand. The best way we can interpret our rabbit, is by trying to read the body language and the few sounds the rabbit makes. At the end of this page, you’ll find an overview of the biggest compliments your rabbit can give you.


Sounds the rabbit makes

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Thumping its hind legs: The rabbit feels threatened by a danger or threat nearby, and is warning the rest of his warren.

Teeth grinding: A low grinding sound means your rabbit is enjoying itself and feeling comfortable, and is a sound often heard when the rabbit is being petted in its favourite spot. A loud, sharp grinding sound, often along with signs of stomach problems or other illness, is a sign of great pain – call a vet if you suspect something is wrong!

Growling: The rabbit is angry, and warning the person who’s threatening it.

A low grunting: The rabbit is satisfied and feeling well.

Loud shrieking: The rabbit is terrified and frightened for its life, or is having horrible pains. This sound is unbearable, and the rabbit should be thoroughly checked for injuries or illness.

Continuous grunting: Often accompanied by the rabbit running in circles around your feet – a mating ritual where the goal is to charm the object of affection.


Body language:

Jumping and running around your feet: You are the chosen one, and the dancing is a form of mating ritual.

Scattering droppings: Marking its territory, and could also be a way to find its way back.

Rubbing its chin on objects or humans: Marking of territory, the rabbit has scent glands under its chin.

The rabbit is licking you: A sign of acceptance, your rabbit loves you!

A soft nudge with its nose: The rabbit way of saying hello. If you pass a rabbit without saying hello, you are breaking rabbit etiquette.

A harder nudge with its nose: The rabbit is telling you you’re in its way, or it wants to be left alone.

The rabbit tips over on its back or side (also called a flop): The rabbit feels safe and is very relaxed.

The ’brooding hen’ position, or laying with its hind legs stretched out: The rabbit is relaxing and napping, but will wake up at any disturbance.

The rabbit is laying flat on the ground, ears backwards and eyes wide open: Something has scared the rabbit, and it’s trying to be invisible – and ready to flee.

The rabbit lunges forward with ears flattened backwards: Defending its territory, can happen i.e. if you put your hand in its cage.

Rapidly vibrating nose: The rabbit is scared, insecure or alert.

Standing on its hind legs: Curious rabbit, trying to get an overview.

Twitching tail: The rabbit is preparing to spray urine.

Tail held high: The rabbit is exited, could come from a different rabbit present, or a new toy.

Jumping and kicking in the air, often while shaking its head: The rabbit is happy and playful. Often referred to as a “binky”.

Kicking with its hind legs: Kicking straight backwards is a protest, kicking to the side happens during play and fighting.


Emotional body language that signals great affection and trust towards humans

The rabbit is ignoring you
When the rabbit ignores you and your attention, it is a good sign. As prey animals, rabbits are always alert and ready to flee if they’re in unsafe surroundings. Take it as a compliment if your rabbit eats hay, grooms or engages in other activities in your company.

Move over!
Even though it is easy to be offended when your rabbit approaches you and nudges you hard with its nose to get you out of the way, it is actually a great sign of trust when the rabbit treats you like any other rabbit. After all, you are many times larger, and of a different species.

Catch me if you can
As opposed to cats’ play where the goal is to catch, the rabbits play is all about not being caught. A playful rabbit can approach you, nibble or nudge at your feet, and then run away with a twitching tail and shaking head.

Being groomed by your rabbit
Rabbits spend a lot of time grooming each other, and it is a solid sign of acceptance and affection. If your rabbit takes the time to lick and groom your face or hands, you and your rabbit are really close.

Belly up
Den mest sårbare posisjonen en kanin kan sette seg i er når den tipper helt eller delvis over på ryggen med magen opp, og lukker øynene i en god døs. Om den gjør dette inntil eller veldig nært deg bør du føle deg veldig beæret. En slik overgivelse, til et helt annet artsvesen enn den selv, som i tillegg veier utrolig mye mer enn den, er en enorm tillitserklæring.

Co-existence
Good friends are friends you can be quiet with. Rabbits often spend a lot of time just sitting close together, head to head or sprawled out next to each other. If your rabbit lies down close to you, napping without being pet, it is telling you you’re accepted and fully trusted.