Dealing with the Aggressive, Nervous or Frightened Bunny
Some of the information here may also be useful for very shy “new” and young rabbits.
Does your bunny seem aggressive? Is she anxious and afraid? Does she nip, growl or paw at you when you approach her? Does she scoot around the cage as if in fear when you try to feed her, clean her house, or simply touch her? Don’t fear, and don’t give up! Aggressive bunny-human behavior is generally related to either hormones or fear. Time and patience—and a little ingenuity—will almost surely win over even the most tyrannical of rabbits.
THINGS TO RULE OUT BEFORE WE CONTINUE
- IS YOUR BUNNY SICK? Make absolutely sure that the behavior is not due to a physical ailment or pain. If you are not sure, take your bunny to the vet.
- IS YOUR BUNNY ALTERED? The urge to mate and the hormones that go along with it can be very vexing to your rabbit and can cause him or her to become more aggressive. Rabbits that are altered tend to be calmer, as well as easier to litter box/house train. See our information on spaying /neutering your rabbit.
Problems and Solutions
- PROBLEM: Bunny growls at and tries to bite when you try to take her out of her cage. She also gets very upset when you feed her or clean her cage.
- A bunny’s cage is his/her house–her domain, she expects it to be a safe place where she can go to be alone. She may feel the need to defend her home; she may be worried about the large hand ‘getting her.’
- SOLUTION: Never mess with her at all when she is in her house. Take bunny out for feeding, grooming or cage cleaning. Put her some place where she won’t be able to interfere with your maid duties. Leave cage open and let her exit/enter at will during play time.
- PROBLEM: Bunny exhibits aggressive behavior outside of her cage. She often nips, paws or growl when you approach her—even for patting.
- People are a lot larger than rabbits and often make moves that the rabbit cannot anticipate. As bunnies cannot talk, bark or meow they need to use their teeth and their paws to communicate-often accompanied by surprisingly loud growls.”
- SOLUTION: Until bunny is in “Cuddle & Play Mode” wear long pants and long sleeves when you are together. Greet ALL advances with positive words and gestures. When Fluffy comes tearing across the room with her teeth bared, greet her with loving words in a happy tone of voice: “Here comes my beautiful/ handsome watch bunny! Look at you, my big tough bunny!” Bend down to her level and talk to her, pat her, give her attention. Do this sort of thing every time she exhibits aggression. Some people say a short, high-pitched yelp “Ow!” may teach a biter to beware, but I have found that more often than not it causes more anxiety and/or fear.
FOR SHY, ANXIOUS, SCARED OR TRULY AGGRESSIVE RABBITS
Try bringing the cage to the bathroom (or other small enclosed area) Grab a book or magazine, open the cage and let your bunny roam in and out at will. Let her do whatever she wants to do: lie by your side, crawl upon you, ignore you, or just sit in her cage. Don’t grab at her or touch her at all if she comes to you. Talk to her and let her check you out.
REMEMBER, you are trying to gain her trust and friendship. After a few days or so of doing this (depending upon bunny, of course), start bringing toys in with you, or maybe some healthy bunny munchies. Let her get curious and come to you, yet still refrain from grabbing or holding her. After a bit of time doing this, start reaching out to her, patting her, hold her for a few minutes (whatever she will allow) and put her back down (not in her house). If she pulls sway, growls, grunts or paws, tell her (firmly) she is quite rude and continue to ignore her. NEVER HIT OR SHOUT AT A BUNNY, AND NEVER FORCE THEIR AFFECTIONS. Eventually she will be curious. She may want to nibble on your magazine, sit on you, or simply lie down next to you. If she scratches you or bites you, remove her from your person and put her on the floor. That’s it. Simply remove her from the situation.
Watch and listen to your bunny for cues about what she wants and is ready for. some bunnies do not tike to be held, but are happy to 1ie next to you, or even on your lap for patting. Get to know your rabbit’s likes and dislikes. All bunnies have their own distinct personalities just like you and me, and they should be allowed to express them.