Home » A to Z » Behaviour of rabbits » Psychology of rabbits

Understand what is going on in your rabbit's head and what emotions it may experience including jealousy, anger, fear, grief, love, irritability and insecurity...

Rabbits are capable of a wide range of emotions including jealousy, anger, fear, grief, love, irritability and insecurity.  Understanding what is really going on in any particular rabbit's head may take months or even years of patient observance, particularly when you do not know the history of the rabbit from birth.  Their method of communicating via body language can make it tricky to understand what they are saying and furthermore every rabbit has its own personality and may express its emotions in different ways.

The basics

A domestic rabbit's psychology is not much different to that of a wild rabbit.  Predators such as foxes, stoats, badgers, hawks and owls are all around and every minute spent above ground is a test of a wild rabbit's nerve.  They are constantly on the lookout for danger with their sensitive hearing and eyesight and rely on each other for warnings - a hind leg thumped on the ground and flash of white tail as they run for cover.  They only truly feel safe underground in their burrows in the company of their mate and/or family group.

The traditional life of a domestic rabbit is therefore very unnatural - alone, confined to a hutch with no safe burrow to hide in, always on display, at the mercy of any passing predators and with no opportunity to range around a large area or forage for food.  Add to this a high level of sexual frustration if the rabbit is unneutered and we can start to see why so many pet rabbits have behavioural problems.

The secret to a happy rabbit, therefore, is no secret at all - just give it the correct living conditions i.e. a bolthole of its own and plenty of space to run around and a neutered rabbit companion of the opposite sex.  Rabbits are usually seen as pretty dull pets, sitting quietly in a hutch doing nothing but they are suffering as much as we would be in the same position, they just don't express it in the same way.

Rabbit emotions

Some of the indicators of rabbit emotion are very obvious - others, less so.  For example:-


The easiest to spot, signs of love are two rabbits grooming each other, lying down close to one another and following each other around - rabbits show love towards us in the exact same way


Typified by the "bunnyflop" where a rabbit flings itself down and rolls on its side or back, general perkiness and curiosity and by a light grinding of the teeth when being stroked

Joie de vivre

Racing around at high speed, jumping up on sofas or other obstacles, leaping in the air while twisting and kicking feet out ("binkying")


Biting, growling, lunging with forefeet - anger is usually caused by sexual frustration, loneliness and boredom


Wide open eyes, ears folded flat along body, fast breathing, racing heart - usually caused by a predator or a loud noise


The rabbit may move away slightly from us or its companion, turn its back on us or move away flicking its hind feet - usually caused by us doing something they don't like, like touching their tummy or dewlap


The superior rabbit ("top bunny") may demand something by nipping or digging at your feet or may warn another rabbit away from her food merely by giving it "the look"


Often caused by an upset to the hierarchy such as the introduction of a new pet, a jealous rabbit may position itself between you and the other pet or nudge you forcefully with its nose to get your attention.  They may also take it out on the new pet, mounting and chasing them to establish dominance


An insecure rabbit may show signs of stress when you take away its possessions e.g. its food bowl or its blanket and may hang back just out of your reach when it approaches you


Depression / hiding away, lack of appetite, out of character behaviour and insecurity are all indicators of grief and loneliness

Watching two rabbits together is the best way to learn about more subtle rabbit communication and even then it is easy to miss - the flick of an ear or the wink of an eye may be the only sign you get that one rabbit is telling the other something.  They live in their own private world - watching this world and if you're lucky, being included in it, is arguably the greatest joy of living with rabbits.

Tags: behaviour

Share this


External Links