When you spend enough time with rabbits, you’d realize at some point that they do have a unique way of expressing how they feel. After 8 years of owning rabbits, we now somehow understand what they are thinking or feeling based on the different actions that they do.
Here, we’ve compiled a list of these common actions that will hopefully help you understand what your rabbit is trying to say.
GROOMING: The frequent responsibility
Rabbits will groom numerous times a day. Like cats, they use their tongues to self-clean themselves. They will start licking their front paws, nose, head, ears, until they get to their tail. Grooming is a telltale sign to see if a rabbit is comfortable in its environment. It is also a sign that the rabbit is healthy. If your rabbit is not grooming, it might be uncomfortable or sick.
LICKING: I like you!
When rabbits lick you that means that they are grooming you. This is an expression of appreciation and love because rabbits only lick other rabbits that they’ve grown closely attached to. So far, of all of our rabbits, Burrito is the top licker. Bonbon comes close in second.
BUNNY FLOP: This is the life!
Rabbits usually do a bunny flop after a satisfying meal or a happy playtime. They will usually roll over and flop on their side or on their back. But if your rabbit has grown extremely fond of you, he or she may flop right beside you just like our Bonbon. Our Barley is the ultimate flopper – he flops anywhere and almost all the time which absolutely makes our hearts melt!
BINKY: I’m so happy I could fly!
This is an acrobatic move that rabbits do wherein they throw themselves in the air while twisting their head and their torso. When they do binkies, they are super crazy happy! Of all our rabbits, Biiru and Barley both bag the award for the bunnies that binky the most. They love to do binkies during playtime until they run out of energy.
BUTT TWITCHING: This tastes so good!
If the rabbits love what they are eating, their butt (hind part) will start twitching. We notice this when they are eating their caecotrophs or when they are eating bananas. Unfortunately this is not a habit of all rabbits. For ours, only Bonchon and Burrito does this funny movement.
BUZZING/HONKING: I love you! Please be mine.
Rabbits usually make this sound while circling you or another rabbit. This is their “love song” in trying to express their intention to mate. In our experience, it sounds like a low toned buzz. If you put your hand under your rabbit during this time, he (or even she!) will mount and hump your hand so be careful!
TEETH GRINDING (+): I’m feeling happy.
Rabbits lightly grind their teeth when they are currently enjoying the situation. This is similar to how cats purr. Rabbits usually do this right after a satisfying meal or when they’re lying down on the floor relaxing. Try scratching your rabbit’s forehead or rubbing his cheeks. Our rabbits absolutely love it when we do this and they purr so much when we do.
TEETH GRINDING (-): I’m in pain.
When a rabbit is not moving or reacting to any stimuli while grinding its teeth, it might be suffering from intense pain or discomfort. When this happens, please check your rabbit to see if he is okay.
NOSE POKE (+): Hey! I’m right here!
If your rabbit wants to get your attention, he will start poking you with his nose. Your rabbit was nice enough to come and ask for some attention, so better give it to him. Both Bonbon and Burrito love to poke us especially when we’re busy working in the living room. We think it’s their way of telling us to stop working and start playing with them.
NOSE POKE (-): Please get out of my way.
Rabbits may also use the nose poke to tell you that you are in its way. This can be accompanied with some nibbling if the rabbit gets irritated or frustrated. Barley often does this because he’s a pretty bossy bunny but we love him.
CHIN RUBBING: This is mine.
Rabbits have a scent gland under their chin. If you see them rubbing their chins on objects, they are actually “owning” them. They can claim ownership of your smart phones, your shoes, or even you!
When rabbits detect possible danger, they hit the floor hard with their hind feet making a loud thump sound. There are some cases when male rabbits thump repeatedly expressing their intention to mate. Burrito is a frequent thumper – she usually thumps when she hears sounds coming from outside of our house. While Acorn loves to thump when he wants to call our attention because he knows that treats are coming his way!
GROWLING: Don’t you dare…
They may seem to be very timid creatures, but rabbits can be very territorial. If you are getting into their space and they don’t want to be bothered, they will growl at you. Proceed with caution! Among our rabbits, Barley is the most vocal – he will growl at anyone who annoys him!
SQUEAL/SCREAMING: Ouch! It hurts!
Once rabbits start to squeal, please take them to the vet immediately. They are trying to tell you that there is an emergency and that they are suffering from extreme pain.
SITTING UP: I think it’s safe…
When they are sitting up with front legs firmly planted on the ground, they are scouting for any incoming threats. They usually do this right before they start grooming themselves.
STANDING (AFAR): I wanna see…
Rabbits stand to get a better view of their environment. You might also notice them doing this when you’ve just left the room because, that’s right, they’re probably looking for you.
STANDING (BESIDE YOU): Gimme, gimme!
If your rabbit is standing beside you, chances are you have some food or treats with you. This is their way of asking to hand over the goodies. Our rabbits love to do this when they’re begging for some treats. It’s absolutely adorable!
BREAD LOAF POSITION: Time to get some shut eye.
When rabbits look like a loaf of bread with feet tucked under their body, eyelids half open, ears at rest and toes peeping out, most likely they are taking a snooze. You’ll notice that after some minutes, their head slowly droops down as they snooze away to dreamland.
FULL SPRAWL: Now for some relaxation…
When rabbits are extremely relaxed, they lay down on their tummy with their legs stretched out and with their head flat on the floor. Most often they may fall asleep in this position like our little sleepy Burrito.
HEAD DOWN: Please groom me!
When a rabbit comes to you and puts its head down on the ground, it’s asking you to groom it. Make it happy by gently stroking its head or back. If you don’t respond, it might start poking you to get your attention.
ABOUT FACE!: I don’t like you right now.
If you do something that is not to your rabbit’s liking, it will turn its back on you. Burrito often does this after we clip her nails. She absolutely dislikes it.
EARS ARE BOTH UP: What’s that I hear?
When both ears are straight up, your rabbit must have heard something good or bad coming its way. It could be a sound of an unfamiliar person walking by, or the ruffling sound of some fresh lettuce coming from the fridge.
ONE EAR UP, ONE EAR DOWN: I’m listening, but not really.
When one ear is up and the other ear is down, your rabbit is listening but is not really interested in what’s going on.
EARS ARE BOTH DOWN: Please do not disturb me…
When both ears are down, your rabbit is on introvert mode and shutting itself off from the world. Some rabbits do really mean it when they want to be left alone to the extent that they growl at you as soon as they sense you are coming near. Better to give them some space. When they want some attention, they’ll come running to you again.
EARS SHAKING (+): Let’s play!
Rabbits express their excitement by shaking their head and ears. It’s like a tiny binky. This is their way of inviting you to play with them. Biiru always does this when he wants to be let out of his cage. He gets extremely excited for playtime!
EARS SHAKING (-): It’s so itchy!
Rabbits may also shake their ears because they feel itchy. Thorough scratching of the ears usually follows this. Please check immediately for signs of earmites.
There you have it. It’s a pretty long list. We just hope that with this, you’d be able to create a stronger bond with your rabbit. It helps to know what they’re feeling and thinking so you know how to react. Rabbits are very sensitive, but if they learn to trust and love you, they can be the sweetest companions you’ll ever have.
As we’re not able to check replies and comments as frequently as we’d like to, feel free to get in touch with our Instagram account @bunniespiggiesqc or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org
5 thoughts on “Bunny Language”
Great reference for bunny lovers
Bunny behavior is very fascinating. Thank you for your independent assessment.
Thump is incomplete. 🙂 I’ve found it to also mean annoyed/angry. My vet says it means a four letter word, haha.
Rosita thumps at me when I don’t get her cage door open fast enough for her liking. She wants it to open instantly! When I do something to her like trim her nails, she goes in her box, STOMPS and gives me the cold bunny shoulder.
Roberto liberally cussed at the vet every visit.
All my buns thump when they feel I’ve cornered them. Especially when I’m trying to catch them at the end of yard time. (C’mon guys it’s getting dark and cold!)
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OMG THIS IS ALL TRUE BEEN AN OWNER OF 14 RABBITS 😀