Rabbits

Reasons for Aggression in Rabbits and Prevention

Rabbit aggression
Written by Editorial

Has your rabbit been aggressive lately? Did it lunge, claw, nip or attack you and other pets? Here are some of the reasons for this hostility and how you can manage it.

Rabbits are usually docile, timid, lovable, passive, and friendly animals. However, there are times when they show anger and aggression. This is not a genetic problem but more of a behavioral problem which if dealt with appropriately, can be corrected.

Whereas some people might find this behavior from their pet to be obnoxious, it is very rewarding and a sign of intelligence, i.e., “aggressive rabbits are often very intelligent animals who are just trying to express themselves” [1]

Rabbit aggression
Rabbit aggression

However, while feeding it, it can accidentally nip or bite your finger or hand as you try to feed it especially with treats that are small. This should not be interpreted as aggression.  

Signs of aggression in rabbits

The signs of an aggressive and annoyed rabbit may include displaying sharp teeth, chasing, attacking or nipping other rabbits, pets or owners as well as raking claws, scratching, fast movement (escaping), and kicking.

Reasons for rabbit aggression

Whereas some dwarf breeds such as French Lops are aggressive than other breeds [2], any rabbit can be aggressive due to a number of reasons which include the following:

They are in pain or have a health problem

As prey animals, rabbits tend to often hide away when they are unwell. This is a mechanism that helps them not to be seen by predators. If disturbed, they will be aggressive.  

One of the common causes of sudden aggression in rabbits is pain. This may be shown while you try to pick him or her or make him or her move and if this process quite painful.

A sore leg (including sore hocks), arthritis, vertebral spondylitis, or other musculoskeletal disorders, as well as dental pain (such as overgrown teeth), among others, maybe a cause pain and hostility may be the expected response.

Pain after neutering or spaying, surgery or an examination from a vet may indicate pain. In such a case, you need to give your bunnies time to heal.

Also, if they are deaf and they get startled unexpectedly, they might have an aggressive response. This will be the same case if you appear out of nowhere since rabbits have a distance vision to help them identify their predators from far and know how to react to them.

If you surprise them, a dominant rabbit may attack or nip while a submissive one will run away. Always, create awareness of your presence, move slowly and avoid surprising them. You can greet them while approaching them.

If you do notice anything health problem or pain trigger, visit a rabbit savvy vet for further diagnosis. Radiographs including spinal, thoracic and jaw may be done to reveal the cause of pain as well do a diagnosis for any other health concern.

They are afraid

Unless they are used to being picked or petted (stroked), doing so may be considered as a threat and this may make them want to run escape, freeze or be aggressive such as bite or lunge. This is the typical behavior they will show if they were in the wild and being attacked by a predator.

 Predator noise, scent, loud nose, among other things may scare them. If you have been handling other pets such as dogs, you could be having their scent and it scares them. Wash your hands and change your clothes.

Wild rabbits can run away when they are afraid, however, if they stay in hutch without a place they can hide in when afraid and scared, expect them to be hostile and violent to you.

Poor housing condition and size

Rabbit love to run, dig, forage, jump and so on. However, giving them unsuitable accommodation such as a small hutch may make them frustrated and unhappy besides causing health problems.

Such rabbits, especially those confined to small areas may develop spinal problems that may be painful when held. This can be a cause of their belligerence.

Protecting their territory

Being territorial animals, these pets often mark their territory. If any other pet, rabbit or handler tries to interfere with their territory including removing their soiled bedding, refilling food water bowls, they will be aggressive, and they can nip you. This will also happen to any other pet or rabbit invading their territory.

Try to build trust before doing so and learn how to introduce a new partner without making it feel its territory is being invaded.

Hormonal changes

Hormonal changes, especially to the unneutered ones during their breeding seasons especially spring may make them aggressive. Circling, mounting, biting all show that a rabbit is sexually frustrated, and this aggression is to send away rivals and defend their territory.

The behavior may reduce or disappear as summer approaches. Neutering and spaying rabbits can help get rid of this problem.

Being alone

These pets are social animals and they often help each other and feel safe together in case of a predator. If they are alone, they may tend to be nervous and be hostile.

Paring them may help reduce loneliness and make them be more confident. This will deal with the nervousness and reduce aggression.  

Having kits or false pregnancies

Female rabbits tend to be aggressive when they have a litter as a means of protecting them instinctively. Similarly, those with false pregnancies may build nests as feel they have kits [3] and thus be aggressive too.

Whether they have a litter, or it is a false pregnancy when they believe they do, expect some form of protection and hostility if you try to interfere.

Favorite foods

It is possible for your furry critters to be protective of their food, especially pellets and other treats. In such a case, change their focus such as not using a feeding bowl if you have been using it, scattering the food on the floor or hiding the food inside their hay to encourage them to eat hay

Hay is very important to the digestive systems and in preventing overgrown teeth and it should account for over 80% of the foods that these animals eat. Go for brands like Small Pet Select 2nd Cutting “Perfect Blend” Timothy Hay Pet Food, Kaytee Timothy Hay, Oxbow Timothy Hay, among many others.

If you house several bunnies together, scattered their food on the floor or use a large bowl to avoid them fighting for it or trying to scare others away.

Other causes

  • Environmental changes or routine may also make some rabbits cause this problem. This is mainly due to fear and loss of confidence in most of their interactions.
  • Frustration may also make them tense and worsen aggression.

Dealing with an aggressive rabbit

If you notice this behavior in your rabbit, you should not start thinking of dumping him or giving him or her up to a rescue center or shelter.

Understanding how rabbits talk, their behavior and body language are vital in dealing with a hostile rabbit. You need to know the reason behind this behavior.

We already gave some hints on managing specific reasons while looking at the causes of aggression. Here are more ways to prevent rabbit aggression:

Build confidence and trust

Trust is very important, and it will influence how you relate with your bunny. They need to feel assured and not threatened by your presence. This may take a while and you need to interact with them often.  

Therefore, give them time to get used to you and build their confidence. Let them approach you, use various treats to help grow a social bond. You can sit on the floor, sprinkle treats near you, to force them to come closer to you.

This should be done for a long time until they become confident and do not view you as a threat. Once this happens, they can allow you to hold and stroke them.

Neutering and spaying

It will stop cases caused by sex hormones including being territorial and false pregnancies. There are also more behavioral changes after neutering and it also has many other benefits. However, do not alter them if you intend to breed them.

Spacious housing

Ensure their hutches and cages meet the minimum recommended cage size. We recommend bigger hutches around 6ft x 2ft x 2ft and a rabbit run about 10ft x 6ft and 3 ft high enriched with various toys including chew, tunneling, digging and so on.

Rabbits need both physical and mental stimulation. Consider some logic or puzzle toys to help stimulate them mentally.

Proper care

Learn how to handle them properly to avoid scaring them off, give them the right diet, and never punish them in case you are training them such as litter training. Instead, reward them.

To help bond, spend about three hours daily with your pet whenever possible. This time will be part of the when you go check if their water bottles or bowls have water as well as if he or she has enough food.

If aggressive when picking them

Initial experience such as being picked up improperly may make a bunny hostile if you take your hands towards it as it will think you intend to pick it up.  

Be gentle and teach them to know you are not a threat. Stop picking or stroking them for about two weeks and continue spending time with them especially when giving them their treats and be patient. It is normal for a rabbit to carry away its treat without allowing you to stroke it.

When grooming them, use a brush with a long hand to brush them in case they bite, and momentarily stop stroking them if they bite your brush. Continue once they start eating their treats again.

Once they are comfortable being stroked with a brush, you can use your hand but be very careful to avoid them biting you.

Protective clothing

Wearing protective clothing including gloves, boots, long trousers, and other clothing that covers your body will help avoid injuries. Also, do not flinch when a bunny attacks you to make it learn that biting has no effect.  

Avoid punishment

Do not hit or spank your bunny if it shows aggression. This will only worsen things and affect learning. Instead, show it affection and give it foods including its favorite treats.

Consider high pitch shrieks in case your furry critter nips or attacks you. It will understand you have been hurt. “ If your rabbit does not react, try thumping your hand or foot and turning your back on him.” [99] and say NO loudly.

In case of attack be one in charge

In case he or she attacks you, you need to show your strength and not weakness. Loudly shout NO, go near him, gently force his head towards the ground for about a half a minute without petting him. Rabbits often do this to others as a sign of dominance.

Repeat it if his head pops up as this will let him know who is superior.

Also, show him or her that you are stronger by taking what is his, including space such as making him or her move out of the initial place he or she was occupying. To do this, you can tap his hindquarters gently as a way of telling him to move away.

Repeating this severally will make your furry critter understand that you are in charge and bigger than him. Bunnies in charge of chase other that way.

Conclusion

If dealt with in the right way, aggression often turns into boundless energy, affection, and enthusiasm. This requires proper socialization and bonding to grow trust.

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