Belle had a pet rabbit named Cocoa who she loved with all her heart.
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.
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. She'll 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.
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!
More Information About Bunny Behaviour
- Instant Tips to Understand Rabbit Body Language
Learn what's on your bunny's mind by understanding their body language.
- How to Tell If Your Bunny Loves You
Rabbits do not communicate with words, so sometimes it is hard to tell if they love you. Here are some signs that can let you know.
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.
© 2012 belleart
Faiz on August 28, 2020:
Its nice and good to know the nature of rabbit which helps to take proper cre and its fun and happy to have a pet rabbits
Alivia on July 14, 2020:
Idk if my bunny is happy or not he is always in his cage and the only time he comes out is in the mornings and night but at night I have to go to sleep so I give him as much time as possible but his cage is always open and Idk if he loves me or not his old owner had no time for him because she works a lot can y’all help me pls
skyler on May 04, 2020:
my rabbit is really but really loves to run when i take him out in the morning
Valkyrie on April 06, 2020:
I have to pick my bunny up to take him out of his cage, but he doesn’t like it when I try to touch him or pick him up. What should I do?
lol i dont have a name on January 19, 2020:
My bunny is 6 months old, and she is fully black, named Sooty (Her nickname is Smelly). I have some 1 year old bunnies, and they always fight. :v
Sooty is really energetic and playful for her age. I only got her today, and she was rejected by her mother at her old home, and she grew attatched to me. :D
Andy on August 30, 2019:
Had a rescue bunny 4 nearly 4 months now im her 4th owner..love her to bits but only time she will come out of hiding is when im out of the room.....shes a free roaming house bunny..does she hate me.
Sparkle swizzle honey bun on May 11, 2019:
I love swizzle honey bun rabbit.sighs your bunny loves you.by lLoverabbits How to tell of your bunny loves you
Shadow on April 11, 2019:
fluffy flopsy on September 28, 2018:
my rabbit is so silly
NetBeans IDE Download on September 27, 2018:
Canton de Neuchatel - Vide-greniers et brocantes
Hannah dodds on September 25, 2018:
I really think your website is so good it gave me loads of ideas and I have tried all of them with my rabbit and he was I'll for a while so I looked on your website and now he is back to his normal self thank you so much.
Britt on September 15, 2018:
So my bunny had move out of my sister house he lives now with to cats so came in to my house he was ok but saw two cats now he's Triying to bite and grunts when I put my hand in when he's was at my sister house he never Triying to bite why is this
scar on July 30, 2018:
is the bunny happy when it's ears are up of down?
Sofia on June 01, 2018:
What's the Irish site that you found called?
Sofia on June 01, 2018:
What's the Irish site that you found called?
Aliana on December 21, 2017:
My rabbit butter milk she is always happy also you can tell when rabbit are happy when they lick you or when they jump also when the have there ears up I love my rabbit butter milk
Justin Henry on September 04, 2017:
If you want your bunny to goto his hutch,place food in front of his cage.I have a glass container with his food in it.When he he hears the glass top open , he runs to his cage .They are very smart little buddies.I have an Lop Eared Minature named "Benjamin". He gets along pretty well with my cats. Sometimes when the cats mess with him, he chases them. He's completely house trained and thinks he's one of the cats.It took about 3 months for him to think he rules the hous!
Amelia on August 17, 2017:
My rabbit thumps every time I put her outside in her run and sometimes when I put her back into her hutch? What does this mean? She is an outdoor rabbit and gets lots of attention as well as her living next door to her half sister. They can't live together and she sister is extremely territorial.
Yvett on August 13, 2017:
I have my bunny in a big plenty of space for it to play when i go see him he runs to me but one time he had bugers so i was wondering if there is a special cause for that to happen or if i need to take it to a vet or if it well get good on its own.
Claire on August 09, 2017:
My rabbit Mouse has these grey dot things on the sides of her face, there like grey pimples for bunnies, what are they? What do they do? WHAT IS HAPPENING!!!
miki on July 11, 2017:
my rabbit hops around the house. so she is very happy then
sms on May 20, 2017:
My dwarf bunny Nibbles used 2 dance same time every morning for least 30min...now hardly dances at all....why??
Jim Calvi on May 07, 2017:
My rabbit Ginger relaxes and licks and chins me a lot. I am pretty sure she likes me. But, I wonder if she is lonely when I am at work, she is showing signs of loneliness. What should I do?
Robin on January 28, 2017:
My little Thumper has different personalities with different people. With my husband she will jump on the couch and nap with him, climb his leg when he comes home for treats, and gives nose to nose rubs. She lets me pick her up for grooming, but otherwise will not let me pet her with my hands. She likes my foot to rub her head for some reason. She attached more to my husband because the dog attached to me, so if we pay attention to the opposite, both get a jealous attitude. Otherwise bun and dog are besties.
Rebekah-Joy :) on July 05, 2016:
Your rabbit is adorable. I wish I was allowed to let mine run around indoors like that. I have a very happy affectionate lion-head cross named slipper.He loves to play but has a peculiar tendency to chase his own bottom round and round and circles I check regularly there's nothing wrong with his skin or fur. Can any one explain why he does this?
belleart (author) from Ireland on April 24, 2016:
Jo, thats great that they have time outside of their hutch and I have to admit that I am so happy you dont try to force your rabbits into being picked up, many people do this and it ends up with their buns being very distant. I myself have to chase our two buns back indoors every day because they don't like being picked up and love being outside but I think they get a good kick out of the run around and even do a good few binkies on their way in :) Unfortunately the most I can offer by way of advice is the treat training, where you give your buns a specific treat that they love only when they go back into their hutch. Dont offer this treat at any other time, so that after a few days of this they will associate that treat with returning to their hutch. It sounds like your buns have a very happy home
Jo on April 24, 2016:
I have 2 rabbits they live indoors and have a indoor hutch I can't leave them to roam free as we have 2 cats and a dog. We get them out of the hutch and let them run free while supervised every evening they seem happy and do a lot of binking however when it comes to putting them back I feel like we end up chasing them as they don't like being picked up, have you got any advice.
Jeremy on January 13, 2016:
Thank you so much for the video and the assurance that my Oreo is happy!! I knew she was by all the behaviors, but i just want the best for my little bun!
belleart (author) from Ireland on July 29, 2015:
Liz: House trianing rabbits is actually not too difficult, easier than dogs anyway, as long as you have a corner toilet for them and food and water out all the time you should find it relatively easy. They're clean animals, but or thing like chewing furniture and wires, you basically need to baby proof the place, so pick up any wires that they may get their teeth on. Spray the bottom of your furniture with perfume and always have chew toys for them instead.
Here are some other blogs about having a pet bunny that you may find useful:
I suggest letting your bun out for an hour or two everyday, if you have a cage, keep it and they can use that as a toilet and bed, just dont close it and they pop in and out of it as they please.
liz on July 28, 2015:
I'm trying to house train my bunny any suggestions? I would like to one day let her have free roam of the house just like your bunny had
belleart (author) from Ireland on July 03, 2015:
ha ha, yeah Buns will grunt sometimes to tell you not to do something, its another way of them communicating that they feel slightly threatened. There's nothing you can do other than trying not to lift her except only when necessary, let her know she's there to be safe, and the more you let her do own thing and come to you the more safe she will feel. Hope its going well :)
Myles on July 02, 2015:
I just got my bun 1 week ago and she hates being lifted and she grunts when she thinks I'm gonna lift her .is their any way to fix that
belleart (author) from Ireland on March 16, 2015:
Cam: The Thumping can be a few things. If the bun does it whenever you get close, then they don't fell safe around you. This means you just need to spend more time with them on their terms (not picking them up or trying to cuddle, just be there, let them smell you and investigate).
However, Buns can also thump for reasons like taking too long to put their food down or trying to move them from a certain spot. Usually, it's a scared thump and they're basically warning other buns that there's danger, but some times they can just be moody and want their food.
Taking care of a bun (or two) really is about learning their behaviour and personality. I hope this helps, and let me know if there's any more stuff your not sure about :) Good luck
Cam on March 16, 2015:
Our rabbits chase each other around and one keeps thumping, but there doesn't seem to be any other sign of aggression, they cuddle and groom each other often and are fine most of the time but these encounters are worrying us, any ideas please? Thank you x
woof77 on November 12, 2014:
What a cute bunny! Love the video..your bunny is one really happy and contented bunny! My bun likes to run and dash in circle on my bed too. Initially i thought he was mad..then I figured out he's happy, ha ha. :) It is nice to hear your bun sleeps under your bed and wakes you up with morning licks, mine did the same too. Only he wakes me up at 6:30am everyday, petting and cuddling..haha..such a sweet little thing.
Great post.. thanks for sharing :)
belleart (author) from Ireland on August 12, 2014:
Jordana, I hope your new bunny is happy in her new home. It will take time for her to relax and get used to her surrounding, honestly Cocoa took months to relax around us, but now that she has, she's the happiest little thing and gives us a lot of affection. Its different with all bunnies, but with affection and love, you will definitely be on her good side.
Letting her out of the cage would be the ideal place to start, leave the cage door open for her to walk out herself, rather than taking her out yourself. Cocoa has free roam of the house now, and even sleeps under our bed during the night,she loves her freedom . I know not everyone wants their little bun roaming free around the house, but even letting them out for a couple hours a day will help make them happier. :)
Jordana on August 12, 2014:
I just got a bunny but she barely lets me touch her but she'll pan out and pulls at my clothing which I read was a sign she wants attention, not that I can touch her. I cannot pick her up I know they don't like to but it'd be nice to be able to take her out of the cage without removing the entire top. I'm afraid to be near her since she usually thumps or hisses.
elizabeth wetrock on July 18, 2014:
cocoa look a lot like my rabbit ember.
moonlake from America on February 03, 2014:
Your bunny is very cute and I bet she has a great home. Our kids had bunnies but we haven't owned one in many years. Voted up.
Lynsey Hart from Lanarkshire on March 28, 2013:
Great hub. I was convinced my bunny hated me! But it seems she is quite relaxed with me! Yay!!
belleart (author) from Ireland on August 24, 2012:
Miss Moo Cow- It doesn't necessarily have to be another boy. Rabbits are very territorial, and if toffee is used to being on his own in the hutch then he probably feels threatened with the other bunny there taking his space. if you added a girl, the problem could be the same. Male and females rabbits will either fall in love at first sight and get on really well or they will hate each other and fight constantly.
I would suggest bringing the newer bunny inside, you can get indoor cages for them and they are very easily trained! Bring toffee in for an hour to socialize with the new bunny and watch them closely. This might help their relationship.
Also bunnies are usually very social so if toffee is being hostile, he might just need some attention and love. Bring him inside at least a few times a week and play with him, it will greatly help him and you! :)
There is also something to be said about spaying rabbits, it can greatly change their hostility and calm them down. Getting a female bunny done can be harder though so you will need to find a vet with a good success rate!
I hope this helps.
Bryony Harrison from UK on August 23, 2012:
If you bought another male rabbit it is no surprise that they fought. If you have a male you need to have it nutured before introducing it to another rabbit. In general, it is best to buy rabbits together rather than introducing them later on as they will feel they have a rival on their hands. Rabbits are social animals, they want company, but that does not mean they will not fight.
Miss Moo Cow937 on August 23, 2012:
My rabbit Toffee is in a hutch by himself and he loves being alone,i bought another rabbit and put it the hutch with him my rabbit started attacking the other one,do you know why he is social?? :)
Elsie Nelson from Pacific Northwest, USA on August 19, 2012:
Well, I'm glad I'm not alone! I have been putting her in the litter tray, but haven't yet tried giving her a treat. Thanks for that... I do see her tail go up before she pees, but I usually can't get to her in time. She's a quick little pee-pee girl. Anyway, I will keep at it. The worst bunny pee EVER is after she's had too many carrots. You know, the orange wee wee. Not a good sight on the bed!
belleart (author) from Ireland on August 19, 2012:
We have the same problem with Cocoa. Couch's and beds! Usually if she pee's on the couch or bed, I just pick her up and put her in her litter tray. And give her a treat (Broccoli or banana) whenever you see her in the tray. If you watch Trixie when she's on the bed, her tail will lift before she pee's, if you see that, pick her up and put her in the litter tray.,
I hope this helps...there's nothing worse than bunny pee on blankets :)
Elsie Nelson from Pacific Northwest, USA on August 18, 2012:
Cute about Cocoa. Trixie could have her ears rubbed all day long. There is nothing she loves more! Hey, have you ever had trouble with your rabbit using your BED as a litter pan? Trixie seems to be marking her territory on our bed. She's litter trained, but can't seem to resist blankets. Any ideas?
belleart (author) from Ireland on August 18, 2012:
Glad to hear your bunny is happy...they can be impatient alright :) Cocoa mostly thumps when she wants someone to pick her up or rub her ears!! Thanks for reading
Elsie Nelson from Pacific Northwest, USA on August 18, 2012:
Great hub! YAY... my bunny is indeed a happy one. My rabbit will also thump if I take too long dishing out her food. Impatient little girl she is.
belleart (author) from Ireland on August 14, 2012:
Yes she certainly is :) Hopefully her time spend inside will make up for her sad times outside on her own.
Vitallani- josh sounds adorable, the dying swan act just means that he's really enjoying the attention he's receiving.
Cocoa does the same but if we stop she'll nudge us until we pet again.
Marcus Faber from London, UK on August 14, 2012:
Nice hub. Glad to hear you brought her into the house, she sounds like a very happy rabbit.
Bryony Harrison from UK on August 14, 2012:
My rabbit, Josh used to do twist jumps too. It was such a joy to see him playing outside. I also gave him nosies, but I never heard him purr. Josh also liked to have his ears played with, which I was rather surprised about. When he got older, we would stroke him on the floor and he'd perform his dying swan act. Gave us quite a scare sometimes, but then when he had enough, he would lift his head up and hop away, happy as anything.