Rabbits talk to fellow buns as well as to us hoomans, but not in the traditional sense. The best way to understand what your rabbit is trying to communicate is to observe her body language. A rabbit’s ears are incredibly expressive. She also expresses herself through vocalizations, movements, and other behavior cues you’ll start to interpret in time. Thumping, for example, can signify a plea for attention or displeasure/uncertainty. Here are a few common bunny body language “dialects” you may have already observed.
- Tooth clicking: Happy rabbits will click their teeth when content, relaxed, and enjoying their surroundings. A rabbit you’ve bonded with will also demonstrate this behavior when being stroked and loved on. Some compare it to a purring cat.
- Binkying: When you see a rabbit binky for the first time, don’t panic. It’s not a seizure or sign of distress. It’s the bunny dance. She will kick up her heels, do some 180s, and may have an attack of the zoomies. Head shakes galore and bucking bronco imitations aren’t out of the question. Your rabbit is excited, without a care in the world.
- Playing: A bunny engaged in play will explore, toss objects around, dig in her digging box, chew or shred safe toys for rabbits, and may even nudge you for attention for a game of follow the leader.
- Flopping: A rabbit that suddenly exposes her belly is showing you she is relaxed and comfortable. You’ve earned her trust.
- Stretched out feet: Another sign of a calm and comfy bun.
- Licking: Rabbit licks are generally accepted to be “kisses,” a form of affection. You make your rabbit feel safe, and she’s showing her love and appreciation in return.
Pain or Fear
- Tooth grinding: Not to be confused with tooth clicking, tooth grinding is a different sound and accompanied by different body language. The rabbit may be hunched up, uninterested in food or play, and passing few or no droppings. This is a sign your rabbit feels sick or is in pain, and a vet visit is in order.
- Yelling: A rabbit screaming is immediate cause for concern. This rabbit is terrified, fearing for her life, or is in great pain. The cause should be investigated ASAP.
- Shock: Tonic immobility is a fear-based, involuntary response. This is commonly seen in stressful situations, such as bathing. The rabbit's heart rate and blood pressure can even dangerously drop. They might look peaceful, but they certainly aren't relaxing.
Anger or Irritation
- Tense body with ears back: This rabbit is on the offensive, perhaps reacting to a perceived threat. She is telling you (or another rabbit) to back off before she lunges or bites.
- Lunging: Reaching into a rabbit’s personal space or picking her up uninvited can be stressful for a rabbit, especially one new to the home and still uncomfortable with the unfamiliar surroundings. This behavior should subside as she learns you mean her no harm and teaches you when she wants some privacy.
- Tail wagging: Unlike dogs, a rabbit wagging her tail is often trying to express defiance, not pleasure. Watch closely when you try to enforce a rule she doesn’t like. “Time to go in the ex-pen so I can run errands.” Tail wag = “Make me.”
- Grunting: A rabbit grunting probably wants to be left alone. They may be feeling threatened by a human or another animal, and lunging, scratching, and biting might follow.
- Grunting 2.0: Just like thumping, grunting is not limited to one meaning. A grunting rabbit is displeased, but not always due to fright. She may grunt to tell you to get away from her stuff. Her belongings are already right where she likes them, thank you very much.
- Chin rubs: Your rabbit might “chin” you or objects that are important to her – even things like furniture. This is because scent glands are located under your rabbit’s chin. She’s making sure other rabbits are aware that what she has marked belongs to her. Therefore, it’s quite flattering to be “chinned” by your bun.
- Litter box rejection: Rabbits that leave random droppings throughout the home are making a point. This is common when introducing a new rabbit or entering an unfamiliar territory. Both males and females can spray urine to mark their territory, but spaying and neutering should remedy this problem.
Part of the fun of rabbit companionship is learning to appreciate their unique style of telling you how they feel. Your bun will undoubtedly appreciate your efforts to “speak rabbit.” Who knows, maybe she’ll return the favor.