What is your Rabbit Trying to Tell You?
Everyone knows that cartoon and storybook rabbits talk like people, but did you know that our rabbits have their own way of communicating between themselves, and with us? It’s true. They display a wide range of nudges, ear positions, nips, squeaks and growls, as well as a lot of very obvious body language; and if you pay close attention, you can figure out just what your bunny is up to. (Most of the time).
HINT: Always make note of the context in which a particular sound or event is exhibited.
- TOOTH CHATTERING (“Purring”): A rapid, soft chattering sound from the teeth. Generally happens when bunny is being patted or cuddled. A very pleasing sound of contentment and trust.
- TOOTH GRINDING : Louder and slower than “purring”, grindings are usually farther apart and often accompanied by other signs of discomfort such as protruding (bulging) eyes. A sign of fear, nervousness or discomfort. Possibly a sign that bunny is in distress. Observation is warranted.
- GRUNTS AND GROWLS: Meaning varies. Often simply a bunny’s way of telling you to be careful or to bug off! Could be: warning/expressing wish for private time; possible tantrum; possible fear; possible sign that something hurts. “Not now, please”, “I don’t feel so hot” or “This is MY house.” Pay attention to posture and body language.
- OINKS/HONKS: Meaning varies. Soft oinking sounds, especially those made by a doe, are often a part of the mating ritual, which can occur even with fixed bunnies. Can be a come-hither or “not tonight, dear…”. Soft, musical sort of sound, never used aggressively. Sometimes accompanied by “circling”-either of the other bunny, a favorite object, or you.
- SQUEAKS: Higher pitched than grunts and usually more rapid; often accompanied by cowering into a corner or running around the house/cage. A definite sign of anxiety, nervousness, and/or fear; may increase if you pick bunny up. A quiet and gentle approach is warranted. Is bunny scared or ill?
- NIPS: Meaning varies: “Don’t do that!”, “Hey there…pat me!”, “You are in my way. Please move.”, “OUCH!!”, “I am (sick/hurt), please help.” May occur while grooming you or another bunny, a sign of affection and trust. Pay attention to context and body language.
- CHINNING: One way a bunny marks territory (even you!). Sign of affection/ownership, “You belong to me!” There is a scent gland under the chin which is activated by rubbing on objects/people/animals.
- LICKING, NOSE RUBBING, “BUMPING”, ETC: Rubbing noses with each other, rubbing noses on you. Definite sign of affection and trust, as is licking/kissing you or another bunny. Bunnies clean each other (and sometimes you) as a sign of affection and friendship.
- NOSE BUMPING/NUDGING: “Out of my way, please,” or, “Hey, pay attention to me!”
- LUNGING AT PERSON OR RABBIT: “Back off!!” Could be fear or anger.
- EARS STRAIGHT UP (FORWARD FOR LOPS): “Look at that!”, “Wow! Did you hear that?” or “I’m thinking about doing something naughty…”
- EARS FLAT: “I’m resting.”, “I’m angry.” Again, note the content. Is bunny growling and pawing at you? Or resting with eyes closed or half-closed?
- ONE EAR FORWARD, ONE BACK: “Hmmm…” Semi-attentive, but not 100% interested. Yet.
THE BEST WAY TO KNOW WHAT YOUR BUNNY IS SAYING is to pay attention and learn his particular language. What are his ears doing? Are they alert? Flicking about and listening? Flat against the body in anger or annoyance? Relaxed? Is bunny flaked out on his side or back (totally content and relaxed); or is he in a neat “tucked” position for watching and listening? Is he in pain?
Our bunnies adopt one of two postures when they are in dire need of attention (i.e. we haven’t spoken to them or patted them in the last ½ hour!): some get “pointy”, lying down with head up, eyes half closed (slitted), ears tucked back against body – a posture of neglected fury. Example: “Dear, Groucho is all pointy. You’d better go cuddle him!” Other bunnies get “flat” (and we mean flat!): a pathetic sort of pancake posture, lying flat out as if all point for living has been sucked away. Example: “Oh Dear, Franny and Spot are BOTH flat…we’d better hurry.” In which case both flat creatures are scooped up and cuddled back to life. WATCH, LISTEN, and LEARN – you will be glad you did!