Understanding your rabbit's noises and body language

It's Rabbit Awareness Week, and this year the focus is on raising awareness about Rabbit Viral Haemorrhagic Disease 2, a new variant of RVHD1, which is often fatal.

Many rabbits in the UK are not vaccinated against this deadly disease and are therefore at risk. This year, the organisation are asking all rabbit owners in the UK to make sure that their rabbits are vaccinated against this and other fatal diseases. 

If you would like to understand more about vaccinations, please contact your vet who will be happy to provide guidance. Many practices are also offering a discount on rabbit vaccinations at the moment to encourage more rabbit owners to get them protected!

It's important to keep your rabbit healthy, but also it's great to understand the different ways they communicate, to help keep them happy too, and for you both to get the most out of your relationship.

 

Translating your rabbit's noises

Rabbits make a number of different noises to communicate different emotions. Because they are a prey animal, most vocalisations or noises are quiet and can be heard only when you’re fairly close to your rabbits.

• Grinding their teeth slowly when being stroked: this sort of teeth grinding is slow, quiet and relaxed, it can sometimes be known as purring.

• Grunting like noises when seeing you: gentle grunting noises can be heard when your rabbits are pleased to see you.

• Screaming: screaming is a rare and traumatic occurrence, it signals severe pain or distress and should never be ignored. The scream is typically a high pitched loud single note and occasionally rabbits will scream silently.

• Growling: rabbits that are acting aggressively will often growl, this is a warning, indicating that they are not happy and rabbits tend to react aggressively if provoked.

• Grinding their teeth hard and loud: rabbits that are in pain will often grind their teeth. Compared to the gentle grinding of a content rabbits, this sounds harsh and loud, it often accompanies gut pain or abdominal pain. Seek veterinary advice if your rabbits display any of these signs.

 

 

Translating your rabbit's body language

Body language is very important in rabbits, but just like vocalisation it is subtle, so that they do not attract attention from predators. Rabbits use their, ears, whiskers and nose positions to signal rank, pleasure, pain, fear or intention.

• Lying down with their feet out: rabbits like lying down or ‘flopping’ with their feet out as it is a relaxed and comfortable position. When your rabbits display this body language they are showing signs of trust and contentment, as in the wild a rabbit in recline will be more vulnerable.

• Reaching up to you: rabbits sitting on their hind legs and stretching up are actively seeking attention, and asking to be picked up. This is a compliment as it is showing a sign of trust and affection.

• Licking you: licking is a form of grooming, this means you are accepted as a companion. It shows signs of affection as rabbits mutually groom their bonded companions.

• Rubbing their chin on you: rabbits communicate using scent and one of the scent glands is located under the chin, which is why they may rub their chin on you. This signals that your rabbits are marking you as theirs and that you are their territory.

• Small nibble or licking you: nibbling or licking is a sign of affection and mutual respect, this behaviour shows a strong bond between you and your rabbits.

• Ears perked forward: rabbits will perk their ears forward when they are listening to something or on high alert and they are sensing danger.

• Charging at you: rabbits charging or jumping towards you is a defensive movement when they are angry or stressed. They have decided that running away is not an option so they need to protect themselves and fight.

• Keeping very still: rabbits keeping very still are trying to actively avoid predation, this might mean that they are feeling that they are in danger, or they could be so unwell that keeping still is the safest option. 

• Nudging you: rabbits nudging is a sign they are asking for attention, a nudge that is ignored can lead to a light nip to further seek your attention.