Do I have an unhappy rabbit? I hope they’re okay! You think, staring at your grumpy-looking fluff monster sleeping in their cage, getting yourself worried.
Does that sound kinda familiar? Is this something you do? Don’t worry, you’re not alone. We’ve all been there, we’ve all done that. It’s all part of being bunny parents.
In fact, I would say that one of the most challenging things about caring for a pet rabbit is trying to figure out what they’re thinking and whether they’re happy or not.
But the truth is, rabbits have their own way of telling you when they’re unhappy – you just have to learn their language. Once you do, your worrying can end…mostly.
There are 4 main ways rabbits tell you they’re unhappy:
- Squealing or Screaming.
- Kicking Dirt in Your Face.
Let’s get into it a bit more.
- 1 First Sign of an Unhappy Rabbit: Thumping
- 2 Second Sign of an Unhappy Rabbit: Growling
- 3 Third Sign of an Unhappy Rabbit: Squealing or Screaming
- 4 Fourth Sign of an Unhappy Rabbit: Kicking Dirt in Your Face
- 5 Conclusion
- 6 Further Reading
First Sign of an Unhappy Rabbit: Thumping
One of the most common ways your little fluff monster will tell you whether you have an unhappy rabbit on your hands is by thumping.
This behaviour is a throwback to the wild, where their instincts tell them to warn other bunny’s of danger or when they’re scared of something.
In the wild, this bunny warning system would’ve been much more effective because wild rabbits live underground (in Burrows, which grouped together are known as Warrens, thanks Rabbit Facts article!) and the vibrations would travel further and would warn more of their community of the danger.
Not quite as effective if my boy Ronnie does it on the the couch because we’re cooking garlic (he really hates garlic).
However, when Ronnie does it on a hard surface (like our wooden panelled floor or the plastic floor of his cage) we know about it – the neighbours probably do too.
Ronnie warns of us all kinds of dangers:
- Funny smells from the kitchen (cooking, I assure you).
- When we bang around in the pan cupboard or under the stairs.
- When kids chase him.
- When cats walk by.
- When my wife annoys him.
But thumping isn’t just about danger.
In some cases, rabbits can also thump if they disapprove of something.
Just the other night, my wife grabbed Ronnie and placed him on the couch to take a picture of him. Of course, his first instinct was to run away but my wife caught him and put him back in a specific spot.
This happened a few more times before he thumped and she finally took her picture.
Boy, was he grumpy with us afterwards. I can’t really blame him – I’m exactly the same whenever she tries to get a picture of me too. Like father, like son.
However, this is pretty much the only scenario that I can think of in which Ronnie has thumped for a reason other than warning us of danger.
I’m sure there are other occasions where Ronnie thumps purely out of disapproval, but they’re very few and far between. From everyone else I know who have rabbits, it’s pretty much the same with their bunny’s too (if at all).
Second Sign of an Unhappy Rabbit: Growling
When rabbits are angry or stressed or if you’re invading their territory, rabbits growl.
With my rabbit, Ronnie, it’s usually when my wife is annoying him, or when we have to go through the trauma of getting his nails clipped.
For some rabbits, if whatever’s causing them to growl persists, aggressive behaviour may follow. We haven’t experienced such behaviour with Ronnie, but we’ve heard of other rabbits doing this.
Growling is also a very common thing for unspayed female rabbits who instinctively want to protect their cage and/or territory (more on this in our Should I Neuter My Rabbit? article).
Third Sign of an Unhappy Rabbit: Squealing or Screaming
When rabbits squeal or scream, it usually means they’re in great danger, like being caught by a predator and let me tell you, it’s absolutely chilling.
I know, because last summer I experienced it first hand.
Ronnie and the Cat
It was a hot evening and we had the living room window open, hoping it would cool us down a little. Like most evening’s, we’d also opened Ron’s cage and the little fella was darting around the living room, up the stairs and everywhere in between.
Ronnie is usually a brave one. When faced with doggo’s, the lad doesn’t bat an eyelid. He tries to kiss them mostly or tries to bully smol puppers in some cases too. One time, he jumped on a dog’s back to play with her.
But cats are a whole different story. This one night, when a neighbours cat decided to jump through the window, all hell broke loose.
I remember it in slow motion: out of the corner of my eye, a tabby-coloured blur dived into our living room living a homing missile.
Ronnie reacted faster than all of us and darted up the stairs, preferring the higher ground.
The cat chased him.
My wife yelled my name, but I’d already left the couch and was darting upstairs after my boy and his hunter, contemplating kicking the little tabby shit up the arse.
Now, I should point out that I’m not particularly a fan of animal cruelty, but if anyone or anything attempts to hurt my boy Ronnie, they’re getting a kick up the arse. Anything.
As I was running up the stairs, trying to grab a hold of Ronnie and get him to safety, both he and the cat darted back down the stairs, past me.
My wife was waiting. She scooped up Ron in the blink of an eye and left the cat looking bewildered. Well, until I turned around and ran back down the stairs yelling at the little shit. The cat scarpered; jumping back through the window and ran off into the night.
But the damage was done and Ronnie was terrified.
He had thought it was the cat who had got him; he thought the predator had got him, so he screamed and went stiff. The sound of it was chilling and heart-breaking in equal measures; the poor little man was absolutely terrified and resorted to his last line of defence against the predator.
I get emotional just thinking about that night. Poor little Ronnie was terrified and god only knows what would’ve happened if the cat had gotten to him.
It’s been a good while since this happened, but Ronnie will no longer dart up and down the stairs like he once did. He’s always very cautious and alert and I don’t know whether that’s going to change.
I just hope nobody reading this will ever have to experience a rabbit screaming like this; it’ll break your heart.
Top tip: if you do find yourself with an unhappy rabbit, we’ve found that bunny treats help. Here are a couple that Ronnie loves:
Fourth Sign of an Unhappy Rabbit: Kicking Dirt in Your Face
Another sign that your little fluff monster is unhappy, is if they turn their backs on you and effectively, “kick dirt in your face”.
In Ronnie’s case, it’s mostly sawdust in the bottom of his cage if you’re invading his territory too much. Usually, it’s after we clean out his cage and he doesn’t like the way we’ve arranged his toys and he wants to make a point of it, before going to find someplace to hide and be grumpy.
Kicking dirt in your face is usually a sign they’re unhappy with you about something, in Ronnie’s case it’s always territory related, but the action stems from the wild in which rabbits did this to distract predators before escaping.
I guess in rabbit language, the phrase has evolved over time to mean “get off my land” or something like it.
So what can we learn from this article?
- Rabbits have their own special way of telling us when they‘re unhappy.
- There are 4 main ways of demonstrating this, which are: thumping, growling, screaming and kicking dirt in your face.
- Nobody should ever have to hear their bunny scream.
- Ronnie doesn’t like cats.
- Don’t leave your window open in the summer if your rabbit is out and there are cats in the area.
- I will kick anything up the arse if it messes with my boy Ronnie.
A Happy Bunny
But what about a happy bunny? Well, we have an article for that too: 14 Signs You Have a Happy Bunny.
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