Happy rabbit month, CHS supporters!
If you are like me, a long time cat and dog lover, then you may find rabbits a little intimidating. Sure, they’re cute, they’re fluffy and they’re vegetarian… but for those of us more familiar with cats and dogs they are a terrifying ball of unpredictability! Today on the blog, I am delving into the mysteries of the lapin to share with you just a few of the things I learned about bunny body language in my attempt to conquer my fears of all things rabbit.
First things first… Rabbits are a prey species! Many potential rabbit owners are attracted to bunnies due to their vegetarian status and small stature. Unfortunately, in the wild this often means that rabbits are destined to be on the menu for a multitude of other species. This “prey” status in the predator/prey relationship can actually be seen just by looking at a rabbit’s face vs. a cat or dog’s face – “Eyes on the side like to run away and hide… eyes on the front like to go out and hunt!” So, knowing that about the eye placement of predators and prey… go look in the mirror. Humans also join the ranks of predators with our forward facing eyes.
What does this mean for pet rabbits? Well, it means they are a prey species living with a predator – an odd couple at best. This also means that a rabbit, as prey, will have a very different approach to the world compared to a predator.
Prey animals tend to display more vigilance than predators. They startle easily and are constantly scanning their environment for threats. Prey animals are acutely aware of changes in their environments, including sights, sounds, smells and even vibrations in the ground. While more direct movements and confident approaches may work for predator species, prey species require a softer and gentler approach to interaction.
This vigilance to the environment means it is extra important to be aware of what is going on around you when socializing with your rabbit. Think carefully about what your rabbit can see, hear, feel and smell during the interaction. Also, watch for subtle changes in the environment and observe how those affect the bunny you are greeting.
OK! On to body language!
Like other animals, rabbits have specific body language that they use to communicate with other bunnies. In reality, the rabbit body language system is very complex, so today we are going to look at only a few major bunny body language cues. If you are interested in learning more about bunny body language, we highly recommend checking out some of the great online resources, like the House Rabbit Society, for more information.
Bunny Binkies – This is the best thing ever. Seriously. This is the happiest thing I have ever learned. Are you ready???
Rabbit dance when they’re happy.
Yeah, that’s right. I’ll give you a minute to get that adorable image under control.
When rabbits are happy and having fun, they do a small hopping ‘dance’ that is often referred to as “binkies’. Want to see this cuteness in action? Of COURSE we found you a video! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TLWp86XR9-0
Laying down – Rabbits have two primary styles when they lay down. One is similar to “meatloaf pose” in cats (legs tucked under, ears laying flat against the body) and the other is the “sprawling relaxation” pose (laying on the tummy or side with the legs sprawled out). Both of these poses are usually accompanies by a relaxed eye that is partially closed and both of these poses indicate relaxation. The sprawling relaxation pose generally indicates that your bunny is extremely comfortable and is feeling absolutely no threat from their environment.
Placing the head down onto the ground while sitting in a classic sphinx rabbit pose – Many pet rabbits will do this to request petting. Many rabbits use this pose to greet other rabbits as well.
Standing up on the hind legs – Wild rabbits will do this to scan for threats. House rabbits may do this if they are worried, but may also do this out of curiosity or to get your attention.
“Thumping” the back feet – A rabbit that is thumping it’s back feet is warning other rabbits of danger. This is a good indication your rabbit is feeling uneasy. A thump followed by a quick dash away indicates you rabbit is feeling quite threatened.
Grunting, Thumping and Charging – These are territorial signs from a rabbit that you are invading their space. Some rabbits will also do this when threatened.
Screaming – Yes, rabbits can scream, but typically only do so when gravely injured or severely threatened. If your rabbit is cornered and unable to escape they may escalate from the grunting behavior into a screaming behavior.
There you have it! A few bunny body language basics. There are many, many more subtle cues within the rabbit body language system. We invite you to share them with us! Feel free to post below here on the blog, or join the discussion on our Facebook group!