Rabbit Communication – No Words Necessary

Cleaning Time!

Cleaning Time!

Even though animals can’t talk, they are generally still more than capable of communicating their feelings. Especially once we get to know our pets, it’s easy to tell from their behavior, expressions, and body language what they want or don’t want. Rabbits are no different. In fact, sometimes Bunny is so blunt and un-subtle (and yes, I know that’s not a word), it’s quite comical and cracks us up. Let’s take a look at some general and specific ways rabbits communicate.

Teeth Grinding/Chattering: We all strive to hear that sound when it’s cuddle time. Teeth grinding indicates comfort and overall well-being. If you hear this sound at other times, it may also indicate pain.

Standing up on the Hind Legs: The rabbit wants to see what is going on around him. This can be out of curiosity or to make sure the area is safe. Indoor pet rabbits may also stand up when they want to see items placed up high in the house, ask for a door to be opened, or beg for food.

Where is the noise coming from? Ahhh. Camera clicking.

Where is the noise coming from? Ahhh. Camera clicking.

Nudging: Whenever the rabbit hops over and nudges a person with the head, the human better start paying attention. The rabbit may want to play or receive pets. Nudging other rabbits (especially with the head lowered) is a request for a grooming session. This may be followed by a pushing away, which indicates the rabbit had enough. Not sure we got the nudging part down yet, because every time we do it to Bunny he just hops away…

Licking: People used to think that rabbits would lick them because of a salt deficit. Today licking is generally seen as a sign that the rabbit considers the human part of the family and therefore needs to be groomed just like another rabbit would be groomed.

Bunny all flopped over on his bed.

Bunny all flopped over on his bed.

Flopping Over: If a rabbit flops over on its side  to sleep or simply rests with the feet all stretched out, it feels safe and secure. As much as you want to go over and cuddle, it’s best to let the rabbit sleep to confirm the feeling of safety.

Humping: While humping certainly indicates sexual maturity and readiness to mate, it can also be a display of dominance. One rabbit, no matter if it’s male or female, will hump another rabbit to confirm their dominance or to establish it during the bonding process.

Chinning: Rabbits have scent glands under the chin. Rubbing the chin on things/people leaves a bit of the scent and alerts other rabbits that they are entering a claimed territory. So everything that gets chinned is claimed as the rabbit’s property. Humans included.

Marking with Urine/Feces: Rabbits may mark their territory with bits of poop or small amounts of urine to warn other rabbits, especially when a new rabbit shows up. This behavior is most prominent in rabbits that aren’t spayed/neutered. After the bonding process and/or getting fixed, this behavior should stop.

Sudden Flight/Escape: When a rabbit senses danger, it won’t sit around to confirm, it will immediately race away and hide. This behavior may be triggered by a sudden sound, smell, or movement. If that happens, let the rabbit calm down on its own. You can try reassuring the rabbit by calmly talking and offering food, but let it come to you on its own to prevent further stress.

Hopping Away: After a cuddle session your rabbit may get up and hop a few steps away. That means it had enough and while it still wants to be near you, it doesn’t want to be touched anymore.

Rummaging: Rabbits often love to rummage through clothes, towels, or blankets on the floor. In the wild, they constantly dig; in the house, fabric is the next best thing. Bunny has a couple of designated large cotton towels and will make a nest out of them frequently.

Bunny is inching into the carrier, carefully assessing the situation.

Bunny is inching into the carrier, carefully assessing the situation.

Binky/Zig-Zag Jump: When rabbits run away from enemies, they often hop in crazy zig-zag motion to get away. When they are happy, excited, or playful, they will do the same thing to express those high spirits. It’s very amusing to watch and generally known as a “binky”.

Thumping: Thumping can mean different things at different times. Your rabbit may be scared – then the thumping alerts the rabbit’s family of danger. Your rabbit may also be very angry and aggressive and warn you or others not to come closer. House rabbits may thump to demand food or cuddles.

Ducking: When a rabbit ducks and makes itself flat, with the ears pressed against the body and the eyes wide open, it is highly uncomfortable. During the bonding process, it means that the rabbit submits to the other rabbit. If a rabbit does this while being sniffed by another animal or touched by a human, it really doesn’t want the attention and you should let it be and/or remove the other animal.

Freezing: Sometimes a rabbit will simply freeze and breathe heavily, with the eyes wide open and the head held high. That means it has sensed danger and is assessing the situation. House rabbits may sit motionless and stare at the human when they want attention/food.

Growling/Hissing: The rabbit is extremely angry. Better stay away!

Curious Rabbit Ears

Bailey’s ears are turned and she’s curiously listening.

Ears Forward: When the ears are turned forward, the rabbit is curious and listening while assessing a new environment or situation.

Grumbling/Humming: If your rabbit hums or grumbles, it may be ready to mate. Some rabbits may also express excitement with a low hum.

Squeaking: Baby rabbits may squeak to call their mothers.

Screaming: This is a sound no one wants to hear: The high-pitched scream of a rabbit. It signifies intense pain or fear and even mortal danger.

The creepy "I want food" stare.

The creepy “I want food” stare.Bunny’s got that one down.

Rabbits certainly have no problem at all getting their point across – we humans just need to pay attention. They may come up with different ways of expressing themselves as time goes by and some of the above mentioned meanings may differ from rabbit to rabbit. Bunny’s newest trick is to sit motionlessly by his food bowl looking starved and pathetic until we notice him and give him food. It works every time. Some rabbits are more pushy than others, too. Bunny doesn’t beg outright, he just hops by nonchalantly and patiently waits for us to notice him and give him a treat. Other rabbits may nudge a human’s legs and stand up to demand food. We’d love to hear your rabbit’s unique communication skills, so comment away!

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Author: Bunny Approved

22 Comments

  1. schriss
    schriss On June 16, 2013 at 5:08 pm

    My Rupert nudges me often, but he doesn’t like cuddling much, in his case it is either “What’s up?” nudge or “Let’s play” or “Give me treats”.
    He is thumping when he knows it is his favorite pellets time (he receives small amount twice a day), so for example in the morning he is waiting for me to wake up and when he notices that I woke up and start to move, he starts to run in circles and will thump few times impatiently :)
    When he flops over on it’s side or stretches legs out, I can cuddle him briefly, he has learned already that it will not last long and then I leave him alone, so that he doesn’t get up, but continues to rest. This is the only time when I might hear teeth grinding.
    Often, when I’m doing some cleanup work around the cage, he would be standing up on his hind legs next to me and observing.
    This bunny is very patient and trusting, he never got angry yet, not even once, never used his front paws in anger like my previous bunny (which otherwise was a loving bunny) would sometimes do when I had to take something away from him while he was playing/biting it. Rupert never overreacts like this, I simply move my hand slowly whenever need to do something right in front of his head, can grab something he is chewing on and take it away and he will be completely fine with it, as if nothing happened. Our previous bunny would be sometimes upset when we interrupt his playtime.
    I also remember reading somewhere, that rabbits nose moving up and down is indicating the bunny is thinking. It seems to be correct. When Rupert is relaxing or dozing off, his nose will stop moving but if I move or something will start happening, bunny will notice, become active and so his nose :)

    • schriss
      schriss On June 16, 2013 at 6:27 pm

      I forgot the best part: I have trained Rupert to jump onto my laps if he wants to get his treat. I basically sit down on the floor and will jump on my laps looking for a treat, if the treat is not given he would start looking around, hop off and back on, start climbing up on my chest and eventually he will jump right onto my shoulder, balancing there and looking around for a treat :) It happened few times that I was on my knees cleaning his cage and he would jump on my back and look for a treat and observe me cleaning the cage from up there before jumping off.

  2. Holly
    Holly On June 16, 2013 at 7:09 pm

    Rosie will thump at me if she’s annoyed with something I’ve done, haha. Or she’ll sometimes thump when she knows I’m going to pick her up to put her back in her hutch to sleep.

    With licking, she’s never licked me, but she licks the couch a lot. I guess the sofa’s in need of some affection?

  3. allison
    allison On September 15, 2013 at 1:26 pm

    My Fluff Muffin will nudge me when I am sitting in his way and he wants me to move. Failure to budge aside is met with nipping!

  4. Lanie
    Lanie On February 1, 2014 at 11:45 am

    My rabbit Toby does many of these things! One thing I did not notice though, or perhaps I overlooked, Toby will start grunting when we come over to see him. They sound like good little grunts though, because he gets so excited to see us.

    • Bunny Approved
      Bunny Approved On February 1, 2014 at 6:05 pm

      Thank you for mentioning that! I just added it to the post. Our Bunny does that, too. They are low humming or grunting noises. I’d say they mean excitement, too! It’s definitely sweet to hear.

  5. Ginger
    Ginger On February 4, 2014 at 7:42 am

    What about foot flicks? I always get them after annoying my rabbit– clipping his nails, for example. It’s sort of like the rabbit version of giving someone the middle finger!

  6. Darla
    Darla On September 28, 2014 at 7:02 am

    Thumper, boxes me when she doesn’t want to be touched or is feeling aggressive.

    I’ve managed to teach Thumper two tricks. She will come up and nuzzle me… nose to nose if I say “kiss kiss” Of course, I need to hold my breath or I get a nose full of bunny fluff. She also has her own game of fetch… technically the human is fetching. She can toss a couple of her toys and if you roll them back to her she will toss them again. I have realized that this game may be more fun for the human than the bunny… after a few times she gets slightly annoyed… so we don’t do it for long.
    Thumper can get into a cranky mood and like it says above it’s all about the ears. She’s sort of a lop so one ear is always flopped but the other ear tells her mood. If I go in there and her one ear is laid back against her back… I know beware of bunnicula! She’s cranky and may nip. It usually means she wants food and she wants food NOW!

  7. GreenJell-o
    GreenJell-o On June 24, 2015 at 9:57 pm

    Foot flicking due to annoyance should definitely be added, my old bunny, bright eyes, used to do it a lot when he was pissed off. Another few things is paw flicking before grooming, lunging as a threat,. One unique thing Leo likes is to play tug oh war with his chew toys. He growls and tries to pull them away from me but I know it’s just a game since when I go in for pets he doesn’t even flinch.

  8. Zaarrah Adam
    Zaarrah Adam On August 8, 2015 at 8:43 pm

    My Nibbles gets very cross at me and turns her back to the cage with occasional glances back over here shoulder to see if I’ve noticed I’m getting the ‘”I’m not talking to you mama” treatment’. I usually overcome it by talking to her in a loving tone and a giving her a good cuddle. I also use the same treatment on her when she is naughty. I sit with my back to her and look over my shoulder at her every now and then to express my hurt feelings. After a few minutes Nibbles hops onto my lap to nudge me with her nose as if to apologise and obviously we are best buddies again and back to our usual mischief. I love Nibby to bits!

  9. Yocelyne Dominguez
    Yocelyne Dominguez On September 14, 2015 at 1:37 am

    My Frappy is such a sweety, we are a family of 4 but he seems to love me the most. Whenever I get close to him he stretches his head out, I think this means “I need you to pet me or hey I’m here!”. I read in previous comments that bunnies are grumpy/aggressive and that they only like to be cuddle for a little, quickly get annoyed and demand for space but with Frappy this is not the case. Petting and cuddling are never enough for him, I place his head on my palm while I rub the top of his head with my other hand, he seems to love it to the point that he will also lick my arm/Palm or whatever part of my skin he can reach. Sometimes he will even close his eyes while I rub his head. He also loves me to rub his back and tummy but I try not to because he gets really excited, he will let me rub him, but he will start going in circles, ask for for rubs and eventually stretches to “hug/hump” my arm. Even when when my dad gets him out in the back yard so he can get some sun and fresh air, he stays inside his cage for dog security purposes, whenever he sees me passing by, he will run after me to whatever direction I’m heading to. Another thing Frappy loves is his food, oh he eats a lot but then again he is a big fluffy bunny! I also think is really cute how he will just stand and stare at me for long minutes to get my attention, if he doesn’t succeed he stretches his arms and stays sit. Whenever he sees me grabbing some of his food on my hand he will repeatedly shake his head, pointing out with his head towards his little bowl of food, I guess he is trying to tell me where I should place his food. One thing that I’m curious though is that I have never heard my bunny grawl, grind or make any noise, he must be very quiet or maybe he makes sounds whenever I’m not around. Well as a bunny owner, I find everything that my Frappy does extremely cute. Well except for the urine odor but everything else makes it worth it, especially because he has the cutest face and looks like a real stuffed animal. :))

  10. Bethany
    Bethany On December 4, 2015 at 5:02 am

    Hello…y does my bunny lay his head on the floor when he sees me???and advice would be great

  11. Dennis Payne
    Dennis Payne On February 1, 2016 at 1:29 pm

    Smokie a 7lb minilop will jump into my lap and nuzzle under my chin and lay there with legs kicked out anyone else have this happening.

  12. Lou L
    Lou L On February 11, 2016 at 3:04 pm

    I have a pair of pet rabbits. Thanks for writing this article. It has good information. My female angora likes to lie between the leg of the table and the wall. It’s very strange. I have to lure her for grooming with treats, or she mats badly. My lop eared male is the most gentle soul. The female will thump her foot, if I spend too much time grooming the lop. I do not pick up my buns, as for prey this means they are about to be eaten.

  13. 2_bunnies
    2_bunnies On February 13, 2016 at 2:15 am

    My Bunnie was what looked like kissing my daughters doll. What does this mean?

  14. Jessica
    Jessica On February 13, 2016 at 11:16 pm

    I am a newer rabbit owner and have had my little Laddey since he was 7 weeks old. He is now 11 weeks and definitely showing his budding personality! I have noticed though that he shakes his head at me a lot, as if something was wrong with his ears. A recent trip to the vet showed no signs of mites or illness. I was watching him today and realized he will do it when I have done something he’s not too keen on, as if I’ve annoyed him, or when he is let out of his cage to exercise he does it a lot while running and doing binkies as though he is very excited! Might be something to add, too, as everywhere I’ve read says it’s a sign of concern, but my vet gave him a clean bill of health!

  15. Andrea
    Andrea On March 4, 2016 at 4:04 pm

    My Dakota is the most demanding bunny when he wants food! He often rattles the hutch when I walk to the pantry, or follows me and sits on my feet until I feed him. My roommate jokes that he has become “pear shaped” from the amount of times I’ve given in to his begging.

  16. Rocio
    Rocio On March 15, 2016 at 4:14 am

    Chimu will just go nap until he gets his food- same as me. I guess he just runs out of energy lol. If I’m super busy and forget to feed him, I usually remember when he’s not anywhere visible, or he’s sleeping for a long period of time. He loves chilling inside my closet, where it’s dark, or in the bathroom next to the toilet when it gets hot (I live in New Orleans). But when he’s happy he just flops down in one of his corners and lays there contentedly. Today, I took him outside of the house for the first time (besides the vet) to the park and he freaked out at first, but then he cuddled up to me and lay on my lap for a good 40 mins until we left cause it was getting dark. He didn’t wanna leave. :3

    Sometimes, when he is too busy exploring, and I try to pet him he just hops away looking all offended (kicking his hind legs) but then when I offer him my hand he lowers his head to let me pet him. Other times, he’s just happy whenever I pet him. Depends on his mood lol and if he feels like running around or just lounging.

  17. Desy
    Desy On March 26, 2016 at 2:12 am

    My Bunny seems to squeal in excitement when we bring him food and after he is finished he flicks his front paws, is this normal behavior? Also he has played with my dog that is slightly bigger than him they seem to like each other, he chases her she chases him and when they are tired they rest side by side.but sometimes she creeps on him and he backs up jumps high in the air and runs circles around her… What does that mean

  18. lily
    lily On April 16, 2016 at 11:23 am

    my bunny will spin in circles when i put my hand into her hutch, as soon as i oped the top hatch and lower my hand down she will immediately start spinning around it and nudging me, does anyone know what this means?

  19. Claire Simpson
    Claire Simpson On May 1, 2016 at 8:11 pm

    I have 2 rabbits who are really unsociable and hate getting touched or picked up which makes trips to the vet very long and exhausting lol. they live outside so they’re always out in their runs and they’re fine when I come in to join them. I sometimes get to pet them while they’re munching some grass but not for long haha. they both have the most heart melting “feed me” faces and have cute little routines they do of running around shaking their heads when they hear the rustle of the food bag. I liked this article as it’s nice to know others have the same behaviour, it was my rabbits thumping that led me here as they do it non stop at night and I can only think they hear something cause I never see anything. but on the whole this site helped confirm that I was picking up my rabbits behaviour properly :)

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