Rabbit behaviour is the way for us hoomans to better understand our bunny overlords.
Rabbits are quiet and complex creatures with subtle body language. Their ways of communicating with us isn’t always that obvious and can be a minefield if you don’t understand rabbit behaviour.
So, how do they communicate with me? You might be thinking. What is my rabbit trying to tell me?
Well, there are 23 distinct ways rabbits have of communicating with us:
- Their ears.
- Lying down.
- Jumping on Your Lap.
- Tugging on Your Clothes.
- Excessive Grooming.
- Standing Up.
- Kicking Dirt in Your Face.
Let’s take a look in a little more detail exactly what your rabbit is trying to tell you.
- 1 Happy Rabbit Behaviour
- 2 Lying Down
- 3 Attention Seeking Rabbit Behaviour
- 4 Bored Rabbit Behaviour
- 5 Unhappy Rabbit Behaviour
Happy Rabbit Behaviour
There are a number of ways rabbit behaviour tells you that they’re happy. These are:
- Lying down.
- Circling/Dancing and Buzzing/Honking.
Let’s get into a little more detail with this.
Your little fluff monster’s ears are a great indication of whether they’re happy or not.
Rabbits sitting with their ears in a neutral position is a sign that they’re relaxed, at ease and are feeling pretty happy.
However, if there’s a sudden noise they don’t like that can change in a heartbeat.Their ears prick up as they try decide whether there’s any imminent danger to thump about.
For my rabbit, Ron, it’s pretty easy to tell whether he’s relaxed or not by looking at his ears. Because he’s a Netherlands Dwarf, he has smol ears (he has smol everything to be honest) that make it obvious whether he’s happy and relaxed or on edge and nervous.
Rabbits can let you know that they’re relaxed, comfortable and happy by just lying down.
There are three distinct ways of lying down that show this:
- If they’re lying with their legs tucked underneath them.
- If they’re lying with their front paws pointing forward and rear legs stuck out sideways. Their body will also be relaxed and extended.
- If they’re lying down with full extended and relaxed body, with their back legs outstretched behind their body and their front paws are pointing forwards.
Ron likes to lie down in a combination of all three of the above ways in a variety of different places. His favourites so far are his cage, the arm of the couch and on one of the cool pet blankets we bought him.
When rabbits suddenly flop down on their side it’s a sign of a happy rabbit. Okay, it may look incredibly dramatic and looks like they’ve had some sort of horrible bunny seizure or tantrum, but I can I assure it’s a good sign that they’re content and relaxed.
For my boy Ron, this rabbit behaviour usually happens in his cage, just after he’s wolfed a handful of Kale and/or several green beans.
One of the most common signs of a happy rabbit is them zooming around the room like a bunny possessed.
Whenever my boy Ron darts around the living room we call them zoomies because I think it’s funny (it’s probably not). When Ron does zoomies down the stairs and crashes into the cabinet at the bottom, we call him “Danger Ron”.
When bunnies dart around, binkying is usually not far behind. With happy rabbits, they go hand in hand.
If you’re not sure what binkying is, it’s essentially when rabbits jump into the air, twist their bodies and kick out their back legs.
It’s a sight to behold.
Circling / Dancing and Buzzing / Honking
Another good sign of a happy bunny is if they circle and honk at you.
For non-neutered / non-spayed rabbits circle and honking is a kind of sexy dance that informs the other rabbit that they want to mate. However, if they do this to humans means something completely different (thankfully).
They run circles around you and honk because they want your attention and really want to play with you.
If my boy Ron is doing something naughty (like eating table legs or chewing wires) and I get up to make him stop, as soon as I get close he immediately stops being naughty and begins to run in circles around me, or sometimes changing it up by darting in between my legs.
This is often known as dancing and is a sign of a very happy and playful rabbit.
Chinning is the tem I use to describe when rabbits rub their chins on you (or pretty much anything else for that matter). This is a good sign that they’re happy, but it’s primarily a sign that they’re marking their territory.
If they’re rubbing their chins on their toys or furniture, they’re warning any other potential rabbits that its theirs. They do this on humans too when they trust and love them.
They mark their territory like this because rabbits have special glands under their chins that allow them to leave their scent on whatever they rub against (thanks Rabbit Facts).
My boy Ron likes to do it whenever we come home after petting dogs. He doesn’t like that and immediately makes us his to stake his claim on us.
So cute it hurts.
In terms of rabbit behaviour, purring is often bundled in with a soft teeth clicking noise because basically they’re the same thing.
But you need to be careful here; a soft teeth clicking sound can be a sign of contentment, especially if you’re stroking them (it’s the actual way your Bunny purrs).
However, loud teeth grinding sound can mean something completely different; it’s usually a good indication that your rabbit is in discomfort or stress. With this behaviour, your bunny may be hunched in the corner of their cage and it might be worth consulting a vet’s if this behaviour continues.
A playful rabbit is a happy rabbit.
So, if your little fluffer wants to play with you or if they’re playing with their toys it’s one of the strongest signs of a happy bunny there is.
Ron’s favourite toys are:
Also, we compiled a list of 17 Healthy Rabbit Toys bunnies absolutely love if you’re looking for something else to entertain your little fluff monster.
Licking is another great sign of a happy rabbit behaviour.
When your little fluff monster licks you, that means not only are they comfortable around you, but you are also very special to them. Essentially, they love you and are happy.
Ron loves licking my wife and I, particularly when he’s in trouble and he’s trying to get himself out of it or he basically wants head scratches.
If Rabbits are sleeping, it means they feel safe and happy to do so – especially if they do so outside the comfort of their cage.
Outside of his cage, my boy Ron loves to sleep on the arm of our couch or on his blanket in the middle of the living room.
Attention Seeking Rabbit Behaviour
Rabbits will also let you know when they want your attention. Rabbits show this behaviour in a number of ways:
- Jumping on Your Lap.
- Tugging on or Digging at Your Clothes.
Jumping on Your Lap
When your rabbit jumps on your lap is a big sign that your rabbit wants your attention.
They are happy, they trust you and they want to play!
Ron jumps on my lap all the time. The game is ,when he jumps on my lap and I try to stroke him, he does a zoomie and runs away. If I don’t try to stroke him for a little bit, he’ll wander all around my lap, even climb on my chest, until I do try to stroke him.
Tugging On or Digging at Your Clothes
Tugging on your clothes is a rabbit behaviour that can indicate 2 things:
- You have one bored bunny on your hands.
- They like you and are happy enough with you to play with.
Your bunny overlord has spoken! You are favoured, hooman!
Sometimes, when my wife and I sitting on the couch Ronnie will come to join us and tug at my t-shirt to get me to play with him, whereupon I have to lie on the floor and let him jump up and down on my back. Then I have to stroke him too.
He has us wrapped around his little pawsies.
In the world of rabbit behaviour, nose-nudging can mean a couple of things.
Depending on the situation, it can be another sign you have a happy bunny, it could be a cry for attention or it could just mean Get out of the way, hooman!
For happy rabbits, it means it I love you, hooman! Stroke My Head! I trust you hooman! Pet Me Now! For bored bunnies, it means Pay Attention to Me! Play With me! I trust you hooman!
However, if you’re blocking their way and they nudge you, this could just mean Move it! You’re in the way!
My boy Ron has a game he likes to play with us. He’ll do something incredibly naughty, like nibble the wooden table leg so that we’ll shout at him and come to try and stop him. As soon as we do, he lowers his head and looks at you, expecting head strokes. If you submit to his head stroke demands and then stop for any reason, he will then nudge your hand for you to continue. If you don’t, he will lick your hand and then nudge you.
If nudging you doesn’t grab your attention, then you might get a follow up nip.
For attention seeking rabbit behaviour, there’s no real aggression in this action and they don’t want to cause you any harm – they just really want your attention.
However, this behaviour can also be displayed in rabbits who are just being aggressive. Like a female rabbit protecting her ‘nest’ or something of that nature. This rabbit behaviour can often come with unspayed or unneutered rabbits (one good reason you think about getting your bunny neutered if you haven’t done so already).
Bored Rabbit Behaviour
Rabbits communicate boredom in a number of different ways:
- Excessive Grooming.
- Destroying All The Things.
A bored rabbit can have a tendency to overeat and if your little fluff monster has access to too much food (meaning pellets and vegetables) this could lead to weight and health problems.
However, it’s usually a good idea to give your bunny tonnes of hay (read more about this in our Rabbit Diet guide) as it’s very healthy for them and the general rule is the more hay the better.
But providing your bunny with more access to hay doesn’t solve the problem; rabbits love to play and they absolutely love toys. In fact, toys actually improve the quality of your pet rabbits life.
Rabbits do tend to groom themselves a lot throughout the day – after all, it is their way of washing – but boredom can lead to excessive grooming and that’s not good for your little fluff monster.
Excessive grooming can be bad because it can lead to hairballs forming in your rabbits good and that can make them poorly.
If you think your bunny may be grooming excessively, it’s probably a good idea to consult a vet for advice.
Destroying All the Things
A common problem with rabbits (especially indoor ones) is they tend to destroy things when they’re bored. Usually this can be stopped with plenty of rabbit toys to keep your little fluff monster entertained (here are 17 healthy ones that we recommend if you want a quick list).
My boy Ron used to do this a lot before we bought him a tonne of toys to play with. He’d nibble anything: the couch, t-shirts, even table legs – nothing was safe. Now he’s got tons of toys to chew and keep him entertained, he rarely destroys furniture anymore.
Here are a couple of Ron’s favourite toys he likes to nibble on:
Unhappy Rabbit Behaviour
I go into more detail about signs you have an unhappy rabbit in this article, but in a nutshell, there are 4 main signs you’ve got an unhappy rabbit on your hands:
- Squealing or Screaming.
- Kicking Dirt in Your Face.
For rabbits thumping is both a sign of danger and disapproval.
In terms of danger, they thump to warn fellow rabbits (or even us hoomans) that there’s danger about. Loud noises, bad cooking or Hollyoaks on TV, you name it my boy Ron tries to warn me of the danger.
In terms of disapproval, Ron will thump of he’s really had enough of my wife bugging him. He wants to be left alone to play, not have 7 million pictures taken.
Rabbits tend to growl mostly when you’re invading their territory and they’re not happy about it.
However, this rabbit behaviour is more common in unspayed females who are protecting their nests.
Squealing or Screaming
When rabbits squeal or scream, it’s usually because they are (or think they are in great danger).
It’s a chilling sound to hear your bunny make this sound, which I’ve unfortunately experienced (you can read more about that here).
Kicking Dirt in Your Face
If a rabbit turns their back to you and kicks back at you, effectively kicking dirt in your face, then it’s a sign they’re unhappy.
This rabbit behaviour stems from the wild, in which rabbits would effectively do this to distract predators so they could make their escape (you can read more interesting Rabbit Facts like this in our official rabbit facts article).