Dealing with aggression in rabbits must be taken systematically, starting with understanding why it might be there in the first place. This page will help…

There is always a good reason why a rabbit will show aggression or bad behavior. It is beneficial to you and your rabbit to address any aggression as soon as it is seen.

Dealing with aggression in rabbits must be taken systematically, starting with understanding why it might be there in the first place.

Five Reasons for Aggression in Rabbits

There are 5 main reasons for aggression in rabbits: 

  1. Stress
  2. Sickness or Injury
  3. Sense Impairment / Deprivation
  4. Sexual Maturity & Territorial Behaviour
  5. Learned Behaviour / Habit

Why Rabbits Fight

Different Degrees of Anger

Rabbits may show signs of anger in a number of different ways. Some rabbits will chase you across a  room or garden, some can even “nip” at your hands or feet to make their point.

Some use their front feet to “box” you when you pick them up, some bite hard enough to bruise but not to break the skin, which shows amazing restraint. Others may feel the need to give you a bite that involves their teeth sinking in hard into your flesh and not letting go. 

The most painful display being the bite hold and the box kick combined.

Minor & Major Causes of Bad Behaviour

What we may term as bad or unacceptable behaviors are often just signs of the rabbit trying to communicate in the only way it knows how. If you are on the receiving end of a little nip or kick it could be that you are holding the rabbit too tightly or you’re blocking an important doorway that the rabbit wants to get through.

The following additional notes on aggression in rabbits will help you determine which type of aggression you are dealing with and what to do next..

  • Additional Notes on Aggression in Rabbits
  • Neutering – The many benefits
  • Bonding – Why this is so important
  • Stimulation & Exercise – The benefits & solutions
  • Punishment – Why this is not the answer
  • Trauma – Another  cause of aggression in rabbits

1. Stress

Stress is that which interferes with the spontaneous motion of nature’s flow as it goes through the body. Studies show that anything intruding on biological, natural processes will manifest forms of stress-related illness.

There are many reasons why and how a rabbit can get stressed.

Here are 9 examples of how FEAR of the following can manifest as stress…

  1. An Unsafe Home Environment
  2. Predators in the Vicinity
  3. Harsh Weather or Temperature Elements
  4. Lack of Space
  5. Not Enough Exercise
  6. Being Left Alone
  7. Being Separated from a Companion
  8. Learning to Be with Another Rabbit
  9. Change of Any Kind

Ancestral instincts force rabbits to hide their pain, and if left undetected, stress will manifest itself as a disease which can then be fatal for rabbits in many cases.

Aggression from pent up frustration gets to us all and is very common with rabbits that spend all day on their own. Being deprived of love and affection affects every living soul and rabbits are no exception.

Where there is any hardship or unhappiness of any kind, the negative emotions will vibrate through and create an imbalance. In some cases, such impoverishment and lack of ‘love’, for want a better word, causes further stress, dis-ease, and adversity.

Stress is also not one-sided. In environments where stress is really high, a more depressing and gloomy outcome can be expected. Stress begets more stress. It is a never-ending and repeating cycle.

Solution:

The best course of action would be to completely transcend the problem, not by confronting it, but by going to a level where no problem actually exists at all – to truly understand that last statement.

2. Sickness Or Injury

A sick or injured rabbit will not show signs of weakness but overgrown teeth, hidden abscess, bladder infection, digestive issues, etc. could affect your rabbit’s behavior.

They are basically saying “I’m not feeling too good at the moment, leave me the hell alone!”

Overgrown teeth may be a reason for aggression in rabbits.

Solutions:

  • All over body check, mouth, teeth, gums, rear end, scent gland, ears.
  • A systematic check-up by a rabbit savvy vet is the best option here. 

3. Sense Impairment Or Deprivation

Rabbits also lash out when one of their senses is not working the way it should. Sight and sound are the two main bits of intelligence that rabbits rely on.

Impaired hearing or vision will make them easy to startle, nervous and more likely to lash out when seemingly unexpected interaction takes place.

Note: Rabbits with blue or red eyes are prone to vision difficulties.

Solutions:

  • Rabbit savvy health check and a change in the way you interact with them in the future. Slow all movements right down and always pre-warn any movement with a smooth confident voice.
  • Hearing-impaired rabbits must be approached from the front and off-center. 

4. Sexual Maturity & Territorial Behavior

Male rabbits reach sexual maturity between 3 to 9 months, females mature a little later at around 5 to 6 months and some larger breeds take a few months longer.

Sexually maturity will trigger a complete change in behavior, more so in females, and will turn a friendly baby rabbit into an aggressive, moody, unpredictable teenager.

Sexually maturity will trigger a complete change in behavior

Male rabbits are less likely to direct their hormonal aggression towards us, just other rabbits. Females, on the other hand, are much more unpredictable. 

Newcomers of any species will bear the brunt of any territorial behavior. The aggressive show of dominance rears it’s ugly head in a domestic group, just as viciously as it would in the wild.

Solutions:

  • Wash hands between handling different rabbits as the scent of another rabbit may trigger an attack.
  • Neutering or spaying will minimize any further outbreaks of aggression.
  • Avoid territory triggering behavior by limiting situations that would lead a rabbit to instinctively defend themselves or their home, bed or exercise area.
  • Sudden movements, forward-reaching, grabbing, or chasing are all considered as actions of aggression by your rabbit. Unless you stop, your rabbit will never trust you and hostility may continue or get worse.

5. Learned Behavior, Habit

Usually, if all other reasons have been explored and carried out, yet aggressive behavior still remains, the problem is down to “learned behavior” or “habit.”

Rabbits are creatures of habit, having the same daily routine feels safe and predictable. They know what to expect and when. Any slight change will make rabbits feel unhappy, vulnerable and threatened.

A constant cycle of unchecked behavior repeats itself until it becomes a habit.

They will let you know this, just as regularly as whatever it is that is upsetting them. This constant cycle of unchecked behavior repeats itself until it becomes a habit. Often the source of the initial problem goes but the reaction to it has since become a bad habit.

Sulking, not eating or drinking, depression, frustration, annoyance, etc., are all signs that lead to bad behavioral habits such as nipping, biting and more aggravated aggression.

Solutions:

  • Your rabbit needs to learn that aggression does not solve or sort out any difficult situation and an alternative action would get a better result.
  • Any change in behavior should be dealt with immediately.
  • Stick to a routine as much as possible. Teach your rabbits what you expect of them at certain times of the day, such as exercise, feeding, toilet and bedtime.
  • Make sure exercise and stimulation needs have been met daily.
  • Ensure they can move about as freely as possible between sleeping, eating, going to the toilet, playing and exercise, without your intervention.

Aggression In Rabbits – Additional Notes

Neutering

Neutering male rabbits and spaying female rabbits, generically known as ‘neutering’ for both sexes, has many benefits.

Here are some of the best reasons for getting all your rabbits neutered just before they are sexually mature:

  • Prevention of False Pregnancies
  • Accidental Pregnancy Prevention
  • Prevention of Aggressive Behaviour
  • Prevention of urine spraying
  • Easier Litter Training
  • Decreased Male Sex Drive
  • Prevention of Testicular Disease
  • Lowers the Chance of Cancer
  • Prevention of Other Uterine Disease
  • Prevention of Mammary Gland (Breast) Disease

Note:

It will take from 2 weeks to 2 months for the hormones to settle down, during which time they should avoid mixing with other rabbits.

Bonding

Domestic pet rabbits have had a bit of a raw deal with their companion relationships. For a long time, especially in Britain, rabbits have been kept in hutches, alone, with no stimulation or company. this is mainly down to the fact that many don’t know enough about the social structure of rabbits and why rabbit bonding is so important to them.

Rabbits are extremely social creatures. They love the company of others. It’s vital to their happiness and health!

Why Rabbit Bonding is So Important

Rabbits are much, much happier when they have another friendly rabbit to share their life with. They are emotionally and physically healthier too.

A rabbit companion offers fellowship, jollity, and intimacy, to name just a few.

Sociability also plays a big part in health too. Bonded rabbits spend a lot of time grooming each other and their mates can reach places that are impossible for them to get to, thus keeping them clean and disease-free.

You may also want to note that any bonding process should be done slowly, carefully, and supervised until bonding is complete.

Watch for signs of aggression. Such as tail up, ears back, growling, boxing, circling, chasing and biting.

There are two important things to remember about bonding:

Watch for signs of aggression. Such as tail up, ears back, growling, boxing, circling, chasing and biting.

  1. Understand the rabbit body language.
    Positive signs include all relaxed behavior: resting quietly, stretching out, flopping, and purring. Grooming, eating, and drinking in each other’s company are positive too. Mounting the other rabbit is positive unless the other rabbit is squealing – this can mean some biting is involved and should be stopped.
  2. Watch for signs of aggression.
    Such as tail up, ears back, growling, boxing, circling, chasing and biting. If anyone of these occurs several times in a row and neither rabbit backs down, you should stop them immediately. A spray of water to the head may interrupt a fight about to happen but it won’t do anything to stop them once they start fighting. A gloved pick-up or a towel used to separate them will be your only options here. Or a bowl of water poured on them, but this is a bit extreme.  

Stimulation & Exercise

Rabbits need frequent opportunities to exercise to maintain the functions of the digestive tract.

Movement of the body stimulates this vital organ and keeps a rabbit fit, healthy, and most importantly, happy, ultimately reducing rabbit aggression overall.

Boredom and frustration are two big reasons why rabbits bite or nip.

Two vital tips to ensure limited rabbit aggression:

  1. Space – However much space they have now, DOUBLE IT.
  2. Introduce lots of Toys & Games – Rabbits love to play!

Rabbits are friendly, interactive, social creatures that crave attention, and being deprived of this will always lead to destructive mood swings and bad behavioral patterns, that if left unchecked will develop into bad habits that will ultimately be very difficult to shift. So get playing!

Punishment

DO NOT PUNISH YOUR RABBITS.

They do not learn like dogs would, although punishment training in dogs is not a good idea either.

Hitting your rabbit on the nose, for example when they have been naughty, will not change their behavior.

Hurting any animal physically or mentally will destroy all trust and a bond will never happen.

In fact, it’s the more expressive, more aggressive rabbit that tends to be of above-average intelligence, and once treated with respect and taught some ground rules, they often turn out to be the most affectionate and loving companions to share your life with.

Hurting any animal physically or mentally will destroy all trust and a bond will never happen.

Past Trauma

Bad behavior in rabbits can be down to a number of factors as you have seen described in the points above, but bad behavior could also be the cause of past trauma or being mistreated before.

Being mistreated can be interpreted as “little things” in our eyes but they are classed as being big nasty cruel things in a rabbit’s view.

Unacceptable behavior by us to a rabbit would be things like constantly shoving your hands in front of their faces and greeting them like you would a dog, probing around inside private areas of their hutches, sheds or cages, while they are still inside, speaking too sharply to them or even teasing them with food.

These actions are thoughtless and build up over time. A rabbit will never trust anyone that breaks their rules. Understanding how rabbits think and how important their daily rituals, habits, and routines are will take you a long way to having the most loving, happy and loyal rabbits, ever! 

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Miranda Hawkins
Miranda currently lives just outside Colorado Springs, Colorado with her husband, 8-year old son, and what she lovingly calls her “zoo.” Miranda grew up in the Midwest and always had animals around while growing up. After graduating from college, she married her husband Sam and they moved to the mountains of Colorado where Miranda became very involved with the regional rabbit rescues.

Currently, her “zoo” includes two dogs, one rambunctious cat, and three indoor rabbits. Oliver, a delightful Black Otter Holland Lop, and Juniper, a gorgeous Opal Satin Angora, are a bonded pair and have been together for three years.

She had the pleasure of adding an energetic Fawn Flemish Giant to her family one year ago, named Sir Gregor. He had been abandoned outside a pet store and was put up for adoption. Miranda feels very blessed to have this lovable lagomorph living amongst her family and is a strong advocate for educating people about rabbits and how special they truly are.

Miranda has put together a team of rabbit lovers and breeders from across the country and hopes you will find the information and resources on the JustRabbits.com site beneficial. She loves to hear from her readers and looks forward to seeing many more people become loving responsible bunny parents.