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Understanding Rabbit Talk

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I never knew this before owning a rabbit, but they are very communicative animals. And you can hear them talk! Who knew? I always just thought that they sat there and just wiggled their noses.

As an owner of rabbits, it is very helpful if you can understand rabbit talk to some degree. It will help you know when your rabbit wants more pets, when it is scared or upset and is trying to tell you, when it is mad at you, and when it simply wants to be left alone.

The best way to get to know your rabbit is to spend time with it both while it is inside its cage and out, as it will act very differently when you have your head poked in through the cage door of their ‘house’ than they will hopping around you outside of their cage.

  • Ears
    If your rabbit’s ears are slicked back with its eyes shut, and it looks relaxed, it is probably enjoying your company. One of my bunnies has a morning ritual. She likes to lie down in front of the open door, and slicks her ears back and closes her eyes so that I can rub her head and body, and coo at her for awhile. If I don’t do it soon enough, she opens up one eye to say “C’mon, start petting!” And, if I still don’t pet her fast enough, one ear comes up and she opens her eyes and glares at me in annoyance.
  • Grunting
    I have found with my rabbits that when they are grunting, they are trying to tell me something. It can be back off, I don’t want to be pet, or it can be their way of trying to let me know that something is wrong that they want me to fix.

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  • Tooth-grinding
    If you hear your rabbit grinding their teeth, they are in pain. Check them over immediately for cuts, bloat, or an illness. If they are grinding their teeth, they need attention immediately.
  • Circling
    My rabbits, particularly my bucks will circle me in excitement when they see me first thing in the morning. But, rabbits will also circle each other before they breed. It’s kind of like, “Oh hey!!! Who are you????”
  • Mounting
    Sometimes a rabbit of the same sex will mount another rabbit. This is to tell the other rabbit, “I’m the lead rabbit here. You better stay in line.” When rabbits of opposite sex do this, they are courting each other. Sometimes it is the doe mounting the buck as if to say, “Let’s go already!”
  • Spraying
    Male rabbits will often spray early on. Hopefully, as they approach 3 or 4 months, they will grow out of this behaviour. If it lasts past that, the only thing you can do to stop it is to neuter the rabbit.  And beware! They have very accurate aim and can twirl around in a circle while doing it, literally soaking you from your face all the way down to your toes, and they can spray up to 3 feet away. Unfortunately, one of my lead breed bucks likes to spray any and everything. If he weren’t very lovable and if I wasn’t hoping to breed him, he’d already be neutered.
  • Territory droppings
    Rabbits are all different. Some are very neat and tidy, and will only pee and poop in the open wire portion of their cage. Others will poop and pee in their bedding/nesting area, and others will do it out in their cage all over their resting boards and then lay in it. They are simply marking their territory with their scent. Just like people, some rabbits don’t mind being a little dirty if their stinkiness is enough to keep other people out of their space.

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  • Chinning
    Rabbits love to mark you as “Theirs”. They do this by hopping up to your hand, sniffing your hand or fingers, and then rubbing the bottom of their chin on you. They have scent glands located under their chin. This let’s other rabbits know that they have been there and that they have marked you as theirs. You have to be careful about this if you own more than one rabbit. We have two bucks that are very jealous of each other. One of them will bite my hand if I smell anything like the other buck. The other buck will pee all over me if I smell like the other one. So, I always go to the biter first so that I have no scent on me. Then, I wash off my hands before handling the other buck.
  • Thumping
    My rabbits only thump their hind legs when they are alerting all of the other rabbits that something dangerous might be near, or when they are really mad at me about something. It’s kind of like a mini-temper trantrum when the thumping is because they’re mad at me.
  • Nose-nudging
    This is no different than when a cat or dog does it. It means, “Pet me. NOW” Or, they can also be trying to get you to give them something. Rabbits like to beg for treats.
  • Flopping
    My rabbits flop worse than my teenagers. It’s kind of like walking over to the couch and plopping down to relax. Same thing. They decide life is good. Let’s relax. Flop.
  • Binkies
    A binky is when your rabbit races around its cage or where ever it happens to be, and leaps in the air and does a half turn while also kicking its back legs out. This is the ultimate sign of one happy rabbit. All is good with the world. It’s like yelling “Yipeeeee!” Often it will do a couple of other funny moves in addition to this that will have everyone rolling laughing.
  • Tossing
    Rabbits love to toss things into the air to play. They love pine cones, balls that they can push, cat toy balls that they can toss, and toilet paper rolls that they can both toss, push, and eat. You can even stuff the toilet paper roll with hay. They also are bad about tossing their food and water bowls around as well, which can be quite irritating if it leaves wasted food on the ground or them without water for the entire day.

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    • Hind Feet Behind Them
      When your bunny is tired and very comfortable in its surrounding, it will plop down and stretch its hind feet out behind them.
    • Nipping
      This is much different than a bite. A nip is intentionally done to hurt just enough to get your attention, like a nip your dog will give you when it wants your attention, but doesn’t want to hurt you. The first time or two your bunny tries to get your attention, it might bite to hard. If you yell “Ow”, you may find that your bunny looks concerned, and raises up on its back paws or races back in forth in front of you. This is your rabbits way of saying “I’m so sorry! I only meant to nip and get your attention for more pets!” It’s important to go ahead and pet it and rub it on the head when its doing this to let it know that you forgive it and all is well.
    • Talk to the Tail
      Sometimes when your rabbit is mad at you, it will turn around so that you can’t see its face. You’ll see nothing but tail, and it will either sit their or go to the other side of the cage and sulk. If it turns its head around slightly while doing this, it means “I’m mad at you, but I’m willing to forgive you. Just not right now.”
    • I’m Sorry
      If you’re bunny accidentally over reacts and bites you, especially the blood out of you and hears you yell in pain, a lot of times if it was on accident, they will race back in forth in front of you, rear up on their hind legs and try to nudge you with their nose, or look very sorry just with their eyes. They are trying to say, “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to hurt you.” It’s important to go ahead and pet them right then. Walking off will leave them stressed out if they’re trying to tell you they’re sorry.
  • Licking
    If your rabbit licks you, this is the ultimate sign of affection, similar to what a cat would do. It means, “Man, I love you so much!”
  • Lunging
    Rabbits may lunge at you when you are trying to pet them or do something in their cage. I will be honest here. Some rabbits are just jerks, just like people. You can try working with your rabbit more to get them more used to you, or you can try breeding it if it is a doe. Sometimes does will do this when they want to be bred. They get very cranky. But, as I said, there are some rabbits who are just mean, and you should be aware that if they are lunging at you, they might bite you. And, even with a thick work glove on, they can bite very hard.
  • Screaming
    If you hear your rabbit screaming, it is in excruciating pain. You need to figure out what is wrong immediately.

I hope that this give you a little bit better idea of how to understand rabbit talk. Rabbits do communicate with not only each other, but also with their humans. Understanding rabbit talk can help all of you live together more happily.

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