Is My Rabbit Happy? Signs Your Rabbit Is Content
Understanding Rabbit Behaviour
Bunnies make lovely companions—they are as affectionate and attention-seeking as puppies, yet somehow independent like cats. They have great personalities, but sometimes it can be hard to tell whether they are really happy. Bunnies have a few tell-tale tricks that let us know how they are feeling. If you're curious, read on to find out what behaviours indicate that your rabbit is happy and healthy.
Happy bunnies will do things like dance, lick, hop, chin and run around.
How to Tell If Your Rabbit Is Happy
If your rabbit is happy and well, he or she will likely engage in some of the following behaviours periodically:
Cocoa will dance when I (or my housemates) run around the house or when there is general excitement in the room. She will run in circles around our feet, hop, sprint or just chase her tail! When she runs around my feet, I know she is very happy to see me; it usually happens in the morning when I’m the first to get up and wake her in the kitchen. She will spend about five minutes chasing me around the kitchen doing rings around my feet.
Licking and Grooming
Cocoa loves licking and grooming. She usually hops up onto the couch as we watch TV and wants us to pet her. She will sit there licking our hands or legs as we rub her little face or neck.
Rabbits love grooming and will often spend hours grooming and licking each other. Because Cocoa’s on her own, she grooms me and the boys instead.
A binky is when a bunny jumps high in the air and kicks its back feet, twisting its body. This behavior conveys extreme happiness. Cocoa does this the most when she’s let out into the garden. She’s basically shouting, 'I’m Freeeeeee!'
'Chinning' sounds weird, but it's quite normal. Rabbits have glands under their chins that only they can smell. If a rabbit is rubbing its chin on you or something else, it's marking its territory. It also tells other animals, 'No, this is my family!'
This may sound strange, but 'nosies' are a great way to bond with your bunny. This is where you rub your bunny's nose with your nose. Cocoa loves this and will fall asleep purring after a minute or so. She also comes looking for a nosie and sometimes nudges me with her face.
Yes, bunnies purr and it is adorable! They do this by grinding their teeth very gently. Cocoa purrs all the time. She purrs when we stroke behind her ears, pet her, hug her, talk to her—anywhere that she feels relaxed and part of the group. She hates being left out!
When Does Grinding Indicate Pain?
Grinding teeth can, however, be a sign of a few things in rabbits. If it's very loud and noticeable, then your bun may be in pain. Bunnies do this if they are hurting, so a trip to the vet is probably a good idea. If it is quiet and soft, then it is purring, and this will usually happen when they are sleepy or grooming.
Signs of a Happy Bunny
How to Tell If Your Rabbit Is Unhappy or Depressed
Unhappy bunnies are actually a bit harder to identify, but the following behaviours are a good indication:
This does not mean that your bunny is always unhappy, it just means that they feel threatened. Cocoa will thump her feet if a cat comes to the back door, run into the living room thumping her feet and run back to the kitchen as if to say, 'Follow me, I sense danger'.
Sometimes Cocoa will kick if she wants attention. When I’m on the couch and she’s on the floor beside me, she will sit staring at me for a minute or two, then thump her foot. If I ignore that, she’ll do it again and jump onto the couch where I can't ignore her.
Bunnies can grunt if they are about to attack and feel threatened, but they can also make grunting noises for other reasons. Cocoa grunts mostly when my partner gives her attention.
This means your rabbit is extremely afraid or in pain. Bunnies that haven’t been handled before might squeal.
If your bun never relaxes in front of you and is always sitting up looking alert, then you have a bun that doesn't feel safe around you. This can easily be dealt with by finding ways to bond with your bunny.
The Need for Socialisation
Rabbits are not animals that can simply be put into a cage or hutch and left on their own, especially if you only have one. They can become extremely anxious and depressed.
From Shy to Social: Cocoa's Amazing Transformation
We bought Cocoa from somebody who bred rabbits and had all of them in separate cages. We had Cocoa in a hutch in the garden for about a year, feeding her twice a day and petting her every so often. Then we moved into house, so we brought her inside for a while and noticed she had a cute personality that we had never seen before. She’s been an indoor bunny ever since.
A Little Socialisation Goes a Long Way
The change in her behaviour is amazing. She hops around, loves being cuddled and picked up, gives 'nosies' all day long and pans out like a dog in front of the fireplace every night until bedtime. We used to leave her in the kitchen overnight because her setup was there (toilet, food and water), but now we leave the kitchen door open for her to follow us upstairs—which she does with lots of enthusiasm.
She sleeps under our bed (we have food and water out for her), and she wakes us up around eight in the morning and gives lots of kisses and licks. The fantastic thing is, she's house-trained, so as long as we leave our bedroom door unlocked, she makes her own way downstairs to her toilet box.
A Comfortable Bunny Is a Happy Bunny
Visitors often think Cocoa is a little puppy or cat lying down on the carpet in front of our fire, and children always get excited to see her running around the house when they come over. She's well-used to visitors now, and most of the time she will go right on over to people to say hello, which always gives them a big smile.
When your bunny feels safe enough that it can pan out, legs stretched, tummy out or give you kisses and run around your feet, then you have a bunny that knows he or she is in good hands and feels completely safe in your company!
Many Rabbits Are in Need of a Good Home
Poor Cocoa passed away in September, and I recommend for anyone going through a similar experience to find comfort in my article 'Is My Bunny Dying? What You Need to Know'. It was a very sad, emotional time, and we miss her every day. Life has simply not been the same without her. While it felt we could never again have a bunny since none could ever replace her, we did find ourselves looking through rabbit adoption sites.
Opening Our Hearts to Possibility
No buns that we saw felt right. The instant connection we had with Cocoa was nowhere to be found. Then one day we found an amazing Irish site while looking for homes for abandoned bunnies and came across two beautiful buns—Bobby and Bo.
The Story of Bobby and Bo
Bobby and Bo, a Lop and Netherland Dwarf, already bonded and were in need of a home. Poor Bobby had been abandoned outside of a supermarket and Bo was born in the adoption home. It was love at first with them. Both were in foster care and waiting for a forever home, which spoke to me personally having been in foster care all of my childhood.
We visited to have a look and there it was . . . the connection. In that moment, we knew these buns were the ones that we were going to love forever! We brought them home that day and have been so happy ever since.
Since both had pretty rough lives being passed around from place to place, we've noticed a huge difference in their behavior compared to Cocoa's. For one thing, they are pair, so they have less of a need for human companionship, and Bobby, being so small, gets frightened comically fast.
It has taken us months to bond properly with them, and while we couldn't even pet them at first, now they know the house and have their favorite places and are pretty comfortable around us. They seem to know they are safe and pass from room to room, even managing the stairs when they feel like it. It took months of us just sitting with them and waiting for them to come to us.
How to Keep Your Bunny Happy
Forming a Bond With Your Rabbit Requires Patience
The will power it takes not to pet these tiny fellows is crazy, but it is necessary. Not picking them up, not petting them and not trying to catch them shows them they are safe (most people get rabbits to hug and for their own satisfaction).
You won't ever be able to hug your buns if you don't first show them that they have nothing to be afraid of. Waiting for them to come to you is the only way of doing this, since forcing the relationship will not work at all. If anything, it will make them more wary of you. That's why it's important to remember that socialisation and love goes a long way.
Best of luck with your bunny companion!
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
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© 2012 belleart