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Understanding the root causes of aggressive behaviour in rabbits and how to overcome behavioural problems...

The key to rabbit behaviour is understanding their nature as prey animals and adapting your behaviour towards them to allow for this.  Most "bad" behaviour in rabbits stems from mistrust of humans or a lack of security in their environment and can therefore be overcome with time and patience.  A rabbit may learn its behavioural pattern at a young age yet still be taught something different at an older age.

Rabbits that have not been neutered or spayed are far more likely to have behavioural problems, caused by sexual frustration and/or territoriality.  Many "problem" rabbits have been cured simply by de-sexing them.


Aggression is generally caused by the rabbit either trying to defend its territory or itself but it may also be caused by a lack of trust in humans i.e. the rabbit assumes you are going to do something bad to it so reacts first by warning you off with a growl or bite.

Lack of trust

This takes a lot of patience.  Spend time with your rabbit at ground level, lying or sitting on the floor and letting it approach you in its own time.  Tempt it with bits of food, talk to it in a low, soft voice and avoid sudden movements.  Let your rabbit become comfortable with simply being close to you before trying to touch or stroke it.


For example, a rabbit may growl or lunge at you with its front feet when you are trying to clean out its hutch or litter tray, or if you enter its sleeping area.  This is more common in female rabbits.  Avoid entering your rabbit's territory when it is there - put your rabbit in its exercise run or a different room when you are cleaning out its hutch or litter tray.


For example, a rabbit may bite you when you are trying to clip its nails.  Wrap your rabbit in an old towel or blanket to restrict its movements, this also makes the rabbit feel more secure.


Rabbits can be surprisingly bossy, particularly house rabbits.  This seems to come from their belief that the whole house or flat is their territory,  Many rabbits will nip your feet to move them out of their way which, although not a proper bite, can be painful.  You may be able to train your rabbit out of this by making a high pitched screech every time they do it.  Or take the easy route and simply keep your feet out of its way.

A rabbit may also nip your hands and feet when it wants attention or food.  Try not to reinforce this behaviour by giving them what they want - instead, push them gently away and wait half an hour or so before giving them a cuddle or some food.  Keeping to a feeding routine also helps - your rabbit will quickly learn what its mealtimes are and if you avoid giving treats in between it should stop begging for food between meals.

Destructive behaviour

For example, nibbling your furniture or carpets.  This is not a behavioural problem, it is a natural aspect of being a rabbit and it is very hard, if not impossible, to train rabbits out of this.  The best option is to give them more tempting toys to play with and destroy such as bits of cardboard, newspapers, twigs, pinecones, blankets and towels and always make sure they have plenty of hay to eat.

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