Rabbits

Why Rabbit Bite or Nip, Treatment of Bites or Infection

Why do rabbits nip
Written by Editorial

Why does my rabbit bite me, other rabbits and pets? How do I deal with these bites and possible infections that may arise? How do I prevent this obnoxious behavior?

Rabbits are social, territorial and hierarchical animals and while in the wild, they use various methods including “biting, lunging, and snorting, to develop a dominance order.” [1]

However, in domestic rabbits, this is an undesired behavior as it can leads to injuries and wounds to other rabbits, pets, or owners (handler). Due to these unwanted results of biting, behavior modification may be necessary if you own this pet.

Why do rabbits nip
Why do rabbits nip?

Rabbit nipping and biting is obviously a natural way to communicate to you that all is not well. Therefore, you need to know why it happens as this will make prevention much easier.

Finally, whereas rabbit bite may look be small, they leave a deep wound behind [2] that may cause profuse bleeding.

Rabbit nipping vs biting

Nipping is a communication gesture not intended to cause much harm or pain makes one feel pinched and bunnies “nip one another to convey dominance, mild displeasure or minor annoyance.” [3]

On the other hand, biting is aggressive and forceful, and your pet’s teeth will be wide open, and it will clamp them down leaving teeth marks. It often breaks the skin and may cause bleeding.

Reasons why rabbits bite

Many factors that may trigger rabbit aggression, of which biting is one of its signs. Here are some of the main reasons why these animals may bite you or your other pets.

Self-defense

Aggression including nipping, biting, lunging or snorting is often a sign of frustration, pain, fear or stress when these pets feel cornered, threatened, restrained, chased, subjected to noise or unpredictable movements as well as being handled improperly. Typical cases include:

  • Picking this pet up wrongly -If you lift or pick them up wrongly or pick ones that are not used to you, they may show aggression. In some instances, these furry critters might bite you and refuse to let go and even kick you with their rear feet. This should be interpreted to mean “do not pick me up” or “leave me alone” [4] Learn how to pick rabbits correctly.
  • Afraid of feeling threatened -While in the wild, rabbits often run away when they feel threatened or afraid. However, if they are caged, they will be aggressive as they have nowhere to escape to. This is common if they are in pain or sick since as this is the time, they are vulnerable, and predators tend to take advantage
  • Nursing or pregnant -During this time, does maybe instinctively very protective as a means of protecting their litter. In such a case, an intruder may be met by the mother’s wrath.

To deal with biting from self-defense, let them see you approaching them and do it at the same level sited on the ground as startling them may cause this behavior.

Also, consider reaching for them from their hutch top as it makes them feel less threatening. Finally, respect the territory of an expectant and nursing doe.

Asserting dominance

Indoor and outdoor rabbits may bite and nip as a way of asserting dominance since they are territorial. This often happens when handlers, other pets or rabbits approach their territory.

If this happens, you dot need to move away as you will be reinforcing and rewarding the behavior. Instead, you need to show it you are in charge or assert your dominance by:

  • Making a shriek (high pitched sound) as it bites you to make it understand you got hurt.
  • Place your hand over its head and gently push it towards the floor for about 30 seconds to help it know you are dominant.
  • Place it back into its cage for a short time to help it associate this behavior with being caged and good behavior with the release it from its cage.

Hormonal issues

Raging hormones may cause aggressiveness in juvenile bunnies and make them territorial. This can trigger this behavior. Neutering and spaying can help deal with cases caused by sex hormones.

Food aggression

Fighting for food when is often noted both in wild and domestic rabbits. Even if you give them enough food, their instinct and perception of the need to protect food may still be inside them. They believe their food must always be defended even if it is a lot.

  • Placing the feeders in different locations inside a cage to remove the feeling that the affected rabbit owns the feeding bowl, hay rack and so on.
  • Hold their food or treat while they are eating them to help them know that your hand means giving them their food or treats. They will understand that the hand is them food and not taking it away.
  • Finally, scatter the food throughout the cage to prevent attachment to the feeders as well as to allow other bunnies to eat.

Dealing with biting

Besides what we have already discussed, the following may also be helpful:

  • Wear boots, gloves, love sleeved shirts and long trousers and move it away slowly when it bites you to show you biting does not harm you or will not make you go away.
  • Never punish them for biting you as this will worsen their trust and increase their fear.  
  • Give them space, independence and the freedom to move around and decide whether they want to interact with you or they do not want to do so. [5]
  • Use rewards and treats during training and pet them if they can allow you to do so.
  • Be gentle and patient since, with time, they will leave any aggressive behavior and be gentle and docile.
  • Give them spacious cages and a rabbit run for exercise. Also, enrich their housing and runs with various toys including tunnels and digging toys, chew toys, logic toys among others to keep them occupied and happy.
  • Building a strong bond and trust with your rabbit is a sure way of reducing aggression instances. Spend time with them, try to learn and understand their body language and what they like or dislike.

Non-aggressive biting

Not all causes of biting are due to an aggressive reason. Neck biting during mating is not aggressive but a means to hold the partner. Bunnies often used their teeth to do so.

Juvenile rabbits may also try to mount various objects including your leg or hand and they will bite it while doing that. It is only for gripping.

Finally, while discovering various things around them, it is normal for a rabbit to nibble and blind ones may also gnaw anything that smells like food.

First aid and rabbit bite treatment

Most bites do not present a considerable threat. However, you need to begin by inspecting the wound and conducting first aid. Here is what you need to do:

  • Immediately after a rabbit bite, you need to thoroughly and vigorously to wash the affected area with a lot of water. You can use a soap or any other disinfectant available.
  • Inspect the size of the wound. Shallow wounds might require applying pressure to stop any bleeding, followed by antibiotic cream or ointment to prevent infections before bandaging the area.
  • For deep wounds that are bleeding profusely, clean it, bandage it and call for emergency treatment.

If there is a need, your doctor may consider a tetanus booster as well as a rabies PEP (rare) for severe wounds to reduce any other risks.

Risks and rabbit bite infections

The main risks associated with rabbit bites and scratches include allergic reactions and infections. Allergic reactions may require antihistamines or any other medication that your doctor may prescribe.

Also, monitor any signs of infections often caused by bacteria that might in your pet’s mouth such as Pasteurella multocida. This bacterium can cause a severe infection if not treated in time. Abscesses formation, swelling, redness, warmth, as well as some systemic symptoms, may be noted in case of an infection.

Finally, seek medical attention in case the bite is on a tendon, joint, genital area, sheath, among other areas. Immunocompromised persons such as cancer and HIV/AIDs victims should also seek medical attention.

Can rabbit bites cause infections?

Although we have seen that rabbits may bite or scratch, you should not be worried about them spreading diseases such as rabies which other pets including dogs and cats may spread.

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