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Why does my rabbit…?

If you’re a bunny lover, you’ll probably have many rabbit-related questions you’d like some answers to. For example, why does my rabbit bite me? Why does my rabbit thump? Why does my rabbit nose-nudge me? Why does my rabbit chuck stuff about? Keep reading to discover a whole warren full of fascinating answers...

Rabbits are considered by experts to be one of the most misunderstood pet animals, which is why it’s so important to learn more about them. A new study carried out by Sarah McMahon, a final year veterinary medicine and surgery student undertaking an MSc in Animal Welfare and Behaviour, confirms that the more owners understand rabbits as a species, the more likely they are to give their pet bunnies everything they need to lead happy, healthy and enriched lives.

Learning to understand your rabbits means spending lots of time engaging with and observing them, but the rewards are wonderful. Not only will you gain a fantastic insight into your rabbits’ world, you’ll also be better equipped to provide them with a more fulfilling life as you begin to understand what makes them happy, relaxed, stressed or cross.

Check out some common rabbit questions and our expert answers, and you’ll be able to see things from your buns’ point of view – and understand a bit more about why they do what they do...


Why does my rabbit bite me?

Like a little pinch, nipping can mean several different things in rabbit language, from: ‘I want your attention right now’ to ‘I’m giving you a warning’. As you get to know your bunnies better, you’ll be able to interpret the various signals they give you. In this case, either ‘I want to play’ or ‘have some fuss’ or ‘can you give me a bit of space please’.


Why does my rabbit thump?

When a rabbit thumps on the ground with a hind leg, it can be surprisingly loud. This is the way rabbits – both wild and domestic – communicate danger to other rabbits. As well as saying: ‘I’m nervous’, your rabbit could also be communicating: ‘Please stop, I’m annoyed at you’.


Why does my rabbit jump and kick his legs?

The amazing acrobatic bunny jump accompanied by twisting the body or kicking the legs is known as the ‘binky’. When rabbits are showing off their binky, it’s to communicate that they are feeling very happy and playful and that: ‘Life is great!’.


Why does my rabbit run away when I try to pick him up?

A pet rabbit’s natural reaction is to fear being picked up. It takes time for them to understand that being gently and correctly lifted by you is not going to cause them any harm. Move slowly and talk quietly around your rabbits so as not to startle them and they get used to your voice and your presence. They’re more likely to be relaxed in a quiet and calm handling environment. Park yourself at rabbit level and start by hand-feeding some yummy treats  – let your bunnies come up to take them in their own time. When they are comfortable with hanging around you, stay at their level, and gently pet them, keeping your hands low, so they start to feel more chilled out around you. Do this daily so they gain confidence and build their trust in you. Find out more about how to handle your rabbits >>


HAPPY BUNNIES TOP TIP

The most important part of a rabbit’s diet is fresh grass or hay. In fact, 85-90% of a bunny’s diet should be high-quality feeding hay and grass – that’s equal to their own body size in hay every day! Nutritious feeding hay is an excellent source of fibre and helps to maintain a healthy gut, reduces the risk of your rabbits getting tubby and serves to grind down their continuously growing teeth, helping prevent dental disease.


Why does my rabbit nudge me?

This behaviour has multi-usage and can mean: ‘Pet me now’, ‘Pay me some attention’ or ‘Move out of the way!’. If your rabbit makes a sudden lunging movement towards you with head and tail up and ears back, they are clearly telling you: ‘I don’t like that, back off’.


Why does my rabbit lick me?

Two bonded rabbits will groom each other, and licking is your rabbit’s way of telling you: ‘I do like you’, showing that you have been fully accepted as a great bunny owner.


Why does my rabbit circle my feet?

If your rabbit starts to follow you around, circling your feet, they may be just trying to get your attention – ‘I’m here, let’s play!’ – but they could also be courting you, particularly if this behaviour is accompanied by honking or oinking noises. If your rabbit hasn’t yet been neutered, now is the time. Likewise, jumping on the back of another rabbit could also mean it’s time for an unneutered bunny to be spayed, but it can also be interpreted as one rabbit telling another: ‘I’m the dominant one and don’t you forget it!’.


HAPPY BUNNIES TOP TIP

Chomping on hay also does wonders for your bunnies’ emotional wellbeing. In the wild, rabbits spend around 70% of their time foraging and eating grass and other plants. You can make eating hay even more fun for your buns by mixing in tasty treats such as Excel Fruity Feasts or Excel Meadow Munchies. Our new Excel Forage & Feast Hay Bar with Cornflower, or Marigold, or Rose are great for hand feeding to help you build your bond with your bunny chums.


Why does my rabbit grind his teeth?

Gentle, soft grinding of the teeth, almost like a cat purring, communicates contentment. However, loud grinding is a sign of pain or discomfort – your pet may also be hunched up as they do this. This is your rabbit saying: ‘I’m in pain’ and you should take them to the vet as soon as possible.


Why does my rabbit grunt?

Grunting, growling, snorting and hissing communicate different stages of anger, stress or fear and may be followed with a lunge or nip. Rabbits grunt when they feel threatened, or to show their disapproval if they don’t want to be handled, essentially saying: ‘Leave me alone’. Some rabbits show their disapproval by grunting to protect what is theirs – a sleeping box, food or toys – from another rabbit.


Why does my rabbit chuck stuff about?

Most rabbits love to do this, either as part of play or perhaps because they don’t like the way you’ve rearranged items in their accommodation. Bunnies are smart animals and each one is different with their own distinct personality. When rabbits push or toss objects around – from toys to bowls – it’s likely they could be saying: ‘Keep your hands off my stuff!’.


Why does my rabbit rub her chin on me?

Rabbits have scent glands on their chins that they use to scent mark territories, objects and even people. Although humans can’t detect it, other rabbits can, and these scent marks mean: ‘This is mine!’.


Why does my rabbit wag her tail?

If you notice your rabbit wagging her little tail, she’s not showing you she’s happy, she’s doing this as a sign of defiance. If you’re putting her back inside her run after a fun garden roaming session and she wags her tail, she’s back-talking you: ‘I don’t want to go in yet!’.


HAPPY BUNNIES TOP TIP

As well as top quality feeding hay, 15% of your rabbit’ diet should be a variety of bunny-safe leafy greens, vegetables and herbs, such as carrot tops, cauliflower leaves, kale, mint, romaine lettuce, dandelion leaves, plantain, hawthorn, bramble and leaves from hazel, willow or apple trees. Plus, your bunnies require and egg-cup size portion of top-quality rabbit nuggets (not muesli-style food) each a day to ensure they get all the vitamins and minerals they need.


Why does my rabbit suddenly flop down when he’s grooming?

A rabbit that is sitting still or grooming may suddenly flop onto their side and lay still. This can look rather worrying, but it actually means: ‘I’m just so relaxed’. This is not to be confused with lying flat. A belly-down rabbit with drooped head and ears held very flat is trying to blend in with their surroundings, revealing: ‘I’m really scared!’.


Why does my rabbit dig up the garden?

Pet rabbits are related to the wild European rabbit, whose scientific name is Oryctolagus cuniculus, which means ‘hare-like digger of underground passages’. Not surprising, then, that digging up your garden remains a popular activity for even the most pampered of bunny pets. Give them their own digging area or digging pit – and make sure your garden is well and truly rabbit-proofed.


Why don’t my rabbits get along?

Ever had bunnies who just can’t seem to get along? In wild groups of rabbits there’s a dominance hierarchy among males and females, and both sexes can be quite feisty towards lower-ranking members. Even pet rabbits need to know where they stand in order of rank – that’s why introducing a new bunny chum needs careful planning. Find out more about bonding new bunny buddies >>

Buns can be very particular about their favourite places to forage, snooze and play and disputes can cause a scuffle even between close bunny pals. In the wild, each group of rabbits has its own territory, which it defends against other bunny intruders – and territoriality remains very important to pet bunnies too, so make sure your buns have plenty of different places to forage, snooze and hang out so they can spend time apart when they want to.


HAY, HAY, HAY! MAKE SURE YOUR BUNNIES NEVER RUN OUT OF THEIR FAVOURITE HAY WITH SUBSCRIBE AND SAVE! 

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IF YOU LOVE RABBITS, FIND OUT MORE ABOUT RAAG...

Since the first Rabbit Awareness Week (RAW) – the annual event set up by Burgess Pet Care – took place in 2006, supporters have promoted providing better housing through the hutch is not enough campaign, encouraged owners to move away from muesli to prevent selective feeding, which can lead to an unbalanced diet and cause health problems, and to ensure that every rabbit is vaccinated against deadly diseases.  

In a brilliant new development, the Rabbit Awareness Action Group (RAAG) has now been established. Led by Burgess Pet Care, members of RAAG, comprising the RSPCARabbit Welfare Association & Fund (RWAF)Wood GreenBlue Cross and PDSA, are committed to building on the achievements of RAW, continuing to improve the lives of the UK’s pet rabbits by raising awareness of their five key welfare needs among new and established owners. To find out more and to support the work of RAAG, visit rabbitawarenessactiongroup.co.uk >>

You can also up to date with all the latest bunny bulletins on social media and help us promote better health and wellbeing messages for all pet rabbits, everywhere!


Are your bunnies Burgess bunnies? Join the Burgess Pet Club for exclusive offers and rewards.

The entire Burgess Rabbit range is made using only the finest quality ingredients and is designed to prevent selective feeding (a common problem with muesli-based diets where rabbits eat some high starch/sugar components, while rejecting the more fibrous pellets, causing all manner of health issues). Naturally high in Beneficial Fibre and fortified with vitamins and minerals for healthy eyes, skin and coat, it’s really no wonder that 92% of UK vets recommend our Burgess small pets’ range.


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