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Body Language and Sounds

    Now that you know where rabbits came from, it's time to figure out how they communicate. Rabbits have different body language cues that tell you how they feel. These mannerisms can let you know if they are angry or happy or just plain scared. They have even been known to hold grudges. Remember, we are not dealing with low-intelligence beings, but communicative creatures with defined social structures.

Body Language

Ears. When in doubt, look at their ears. With prick-eared rabbits(up-ears), it's easy; lops are a bit harder.

  • Ears up means they are in a fairly relaxed state. They may be calm or just listening--ears are like little satellite dishes, always moving toward sounds. For lops, this means hanging straight down at their sides.

  • Ears forward means they are curious, they are checking out something new. For lops(not English), the bottoms of their ears will swing forward, moving their ears over their eyes.

  • Ears back and down means one of two things: they are scared or very angry. Usually, a bunny who is unsure will slowly fold their ears back and down: watch your cottontails, they do this to hide in grass from a perceived threat. Sometimes your rabbit will fold their ears back when asking for petting or grooming.

    A bunny who is threatened will swing them back quickly and then they might strike forward. Lops are similar: they will swing the bottoms of their ears back and it may seem as though they are holding their ears higher on the head.


Ears up and relaxed

Ears forward and curious.

Ears back--a scared or shy bunny.


Ears thrown back and an angry bunny lunges. Note the tail is up.

Tail. This is simple: a happy rabbit will have a relaxed tail. An alert rabbit will hold their tale up and hop around. An angry rabbit will quickly twitch their tail up and down. Beware the rabbit holding their tail up, it is frequently followed by spraying. Rabbits who are not spayed and neutered will spread their scent by spraying everything in sight. They may also do this when they are upset or simply dislike a person.

Foot flicks. This behavior is both funny and rude. When a rabbit has experienced something distasteful, like nail trimming or being put back in their pen, they will flick their back feet at you several times. They just covered you in pretend dirt, it's rude and they know it.

Stomping. A rabbit will do this when annoyed or scared, It is important to find out the difference as a rabbit who constantly stomps is terrified and may become ill as a result of stress. The cause may be a shadow on the wall or a noise, but they shouldn't be stomping consistently for a long time. They may even do it as a result of a nightmare.

Scanning. Some rabbits seem to have issues with depth perception. Lops and white bunnies seem to scan more often. They will stare ahead and very slowly move their head back and forth. They may start and stop several times. Occasionally, you can see their eyes darting back and forth.

Digging. A rabbit's most natural behavior. In the wild, they would constantly be making or cleaning their burrows. In the house, they will dig on anything soft, especially in their litter boxes. To alleviate this problem, you can place a wire grid(from a Neat Idea Cube cage) or even a cooling rack from your kitchen under the litter in their box. You do not want it on top of the litter, this will hurt their feet.

Boxing. A bunny scratch with both front feet. It may occur before being bit. It's aggressive in nature and they are mad at whatever you or another bunny are doing.

Circling. Rabbits circle each other before they start fighting. It's repetitive with each bunny nipping at the back end of the other.

Head Flicks: A happy rabbit display. Like a small binky, they will toss their head. If a rabbit is shaking their head more than often, check for ear infections.

Bunny Butt. A bunny who is angry with their owner or another rabbit may let them know by giving them a cold shoulder, or Bunny Butt. They will turn their back on you and refuse to look at you. Bunnies hold grudges.


Trudy giving an excellent depiction of Bunny Butt to show me she was done with photos.

Nose Bonk. A bunny greeting. It's like being poked by a nose. It may be short and sweet before they run off in another direction or it may be forceful and repetitive because they want something.

The bunny drive-by. Usually, this is done to another rabbit. It is very rude to turn your back on another rabbit, as seen above in Bunny Butt. Whenever rabbits are in groups, running by another rabbit is rude and may cause the ignored rabbit to give chase and fight--many times, nipping the other one on their backside. A proper bunny gives a greeting when passing by, typically in the form of a nose bonk. This may be done to humans too. Bonks can either be friendly or demanding(pet me now!).

The flop. A relaxed and happy rabbit will pause and flop onto their side. It can also be called a bliss roll.

The Binky. The bunny version of the word WooHoo! It's a fancy jump, sometimes with a spin or kick. They do it when playful or happy. Deer, goats, guinea pigs and horses do the same thing.

Licking or grooming you. The highest form of bunny praise. They don't like salt, they like you.

Grooming reflex. Some rabbits have a grooming reflex triggered by petting or scratching their body, usually on their lower back.

Bunny Sounds

Bruxation. Also called tooth-purring, it's the sound of their teeth rubbing together. It's a happy sound they make when content, often while being petted. Be aware of excessively loud purring, this may mean that your rabbit is angry or in extreme pain--it can be a sign of illness.

Grunts. They can be happy or angry. Some bunnies do it in excitement when getting food or toys. An angry or annoyed bunny will do it loudly, like a growl.

Humming. Also called bunny singing. Your rabbit is very happy. It's thought to be rabbit flirting. You will most often hear it when your rabbit is running in circles around your feet or you--if you are sitting on the floor. You may think you have a loud fly and the noise will come and go with the bunny. It is the bunny--they love you very much!

Screaming. A horrible noise that you can feel to your core. That bunny is terrified or in extreme pain. Find out the cause as soon as possible. Prolonged stress can kill a rabbit.

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