Rabbit Behavior

Picture of NZW rabbit and her babies.


Rabbits have some very strange ways of communicating. Their body language can mean different things depending on the situation. Below are some explanations to help you understand what your rabbit may be trying to tell you….




Why does a rabbit grunt?  A rabbit may grunt for several reasons.  It may grunt when playing or it may grunt while it is expressing his/her feelings towards you.  It may also grunt when cornered or scared; feeling it can’t escape.  This is sometimes a warning that it is about to attack your hand. 

Why will a rabbit squeal?  A rabbit will often squeal when it is very scared or feels that it is in danger. It may also squeal if it feels pain.  A rabbit, especially when young, may squeal when it is picked up off the ground for the first time.

Why does a rabbit lower its head?  It may enjoy affection and getting its head stroked or it may lower its head in surrender, to show you that it knows your the boss.  Rabbits usually don’t care for getting touched on their stomach, nose, mouth or back.  They prefer getting stroked on the top of their head.

Why does a rabbit jump into the air, twisting its head and feet?  This is called a blinky and is an expression of joy.  Blinkies are fun to watch and may occur when a rabbit is happy.  This behavior often occurs when it has more space in its cage than it’s use to.  All the extra room excites them.

Why do rabbits thump their hind legs?  A rabbit will often thump their hind feet to signal danger or their displeasure at being caught or handled.  Most rabbits prefer to keep their feet on the ground.  They may thump when they hear a loud or strange noise, thinking it could be something harmful to them.  A buck may also thump his hind leg(s) after breeding a doe, showing excitement and dominance. 

How do tell when a rabbit is sleeping?  Most rabbits are more active at night and sleep during the day.  Many rabbits sleep with their eyes open so it can be difficult to tell at times.  A good sign to look for is when their nose stops wiggling.  Also, most rabbits twitch while they are sleeping. Some rabbits, however, do sleep with their eyes shut and totally flake out.    

Why do rabbits rub their chins on things?  This is called chin marking and is done to claim ownership and mark their territory.  There are scent glands under a rabbits chin and they will often rub their feeder or waterier.  The scent is undetectable to humans.

Do rabbits watch tv or listen to the radio?  Many rabbits will watch tv from a safe distance.  This is because they are attracted to the movement on the screen.  It is also said that calm music relaxes them.

Why do rabbits fan out or lay on the ground flat?  A rabbit will often flatten themselves out for three reasons.  They may be scared and instinct tells them that if they are close to the ground then they may be more hidden.  The second reason is to bow to the boss.  This stance means don’t hurt me. Another reason is to cool themselves, especially on those hot summer days.

Why does a rabbit tiptoe around the floor?  When a rabbit is not confident of its surroundings it may tiptoe.  Something on the floor may seem or smell strange to them.  They will often be cautious and tiptoe up to the foreign object for a better look or smell. 

Why does my rabbit sit in the corner?  A rabbit is usually more comfortable sitting in the corner or up against the wall.  Again, instinct tells them this is a safer place so predators cannot sneak up on them. Your rabbit may feel safer if its cage is placed near a corner or adjacent to a wall.

Why does my rabbit keep circling my feet?  Although primarily a courtship behavior, it can also be a sign of affection. This behavior is not as annoying as other rabbit sexual behaviors, but can serve to accidentally trip people. The rabbit will hop around the feet of a person to show excitement. They will also quickly hop around other rabbits if excited. 

Why does my rabbit purr?  A rabbit will make a purring noise much like a cat does.  A soft tooth purr means your rabbit is very happy.  A more loud purr of teeth grinding may indicate that it is in pain.  The rabbits body language will help determine which purr.  Is the rabbit hunched over and uncomfortable looking or does it appear to be calm and relaxed?

Why is my rabbit being aggressive?  Rabbits are surprisingly strong creatures for their size, able to scratch, bite and kick with their powerful hind legs. Both bucks and does often become aggressive to other rabbits as part of normal rabbit breeding behavior, but they may also become aggressive to other pets, especially guinea pigs. They can also become aggressive to people, nipping and biting hands, legs or feet. Many rabbits will grunt before they bite, but not always.

Why does a rabbit hump or mount objects?  You’ve heard the old saying, ‘Breed like Rabbits” This is what they do.  After a certain age the rabbit feels like it needs to breed. Rabbits experience behavior changes when their reproductive urges kick in. Rabbit breeding habits may include urine spraying, aggression to other rabbits and mounting toys, pillows or even people. In order to eliminate these habits as well as prevent unwanted offspring, rabbits should be spayed or neutered. Mounting is used as a sign of dominance. The dominant rabbit will mount the other rabbit to show him/her who’s the boss.  If you are raising your rabbit as a pet, this would be a good time for neutering.

Why does a rabbit stand up on its hind feet?  Rabbits like to see what’s around them.  They will sit up on their hind feet and stretch out, almost standing.  This is called periscoping and usually occurs when a rabbit is trying to figure out what it has heard or seen.  They may be looking for a predator. A rabbit will also periscope to reach for that snack in your hand.

Why do rabbits sometimes spray their urine?  Urine spraying in rabbits is similar to urine spraying in cats. Both bucks and does will spray but it is more common in bucks. It not only marks their territory but also advertises the health and virility or fertility of the rabbit. Rabbits can be amazingly accurate in the aim of their urine stream. They will mark the ground, furniture or even people close by.  Unfortunately, rabbit urine can have a slight odor.


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