Rabbit body language
Sometimes, it can be difficult to know what our rabbits are thinking. As prey animals, the way they behave is different to other common pets and changes to their body language can be quite subtle.
If you know what to look for, their body language can be a huge giveaway as to how your rabbits are feeling. It can help you recognise if they are stressed, unhappy or if they’re just chuffed to be a rabbit.
As rabbits often try to hide any signs of illness, their body language can also indicate if there is something wrong with them. Keep an eye out for the signs below. Always take your rabbits to the vet if you notice an unexplained change in their behaviour to rule out any illnesses or medical causes.
How can I tell if my rabbits are happy?
If they’re in the right environment allowing them to express their natural behaviours, with the right company and diet, your rabbits should be happy most of the time unless something is bothering them. There are some clear indicators in your rabbits’ body language which can help you recognise if they are feeling happy:
- Relaxed body. Your rabbits won’t look tense when they are happy. Their bodies will look relaxed and comfortable and they won’t seem on edge. There are lots of ways your rabbit might show they are relaxed, usually when lying down. They might sit with their legs tucked under their bodies (like a little rabbit loaf!), or lie down completely stretched out.
- Curiosity. Rabbits who are hopping around, exploring their environment and munching are happy bunnies! Even the shyest rabbits are naturally curious and when they feel safe they’ll want to explore new objects.
- Happy hopping. When your rabbits are happy, you might notice them do a little ‘binky’. This is when they hop in the air, twist a little bit, then land back on the ground.
- Nose twitching. Happy and content rabbits will be constantly wiggling and twitching their noses, whether they’re bouncing about or relaxing.
How can I tell if my rabbits are unhappy?
If your rabbits suddenly stop behaving ‘normally’, or aren’t showing many signs of being happy, then you should first take them to your vet. They will be able to rule out any medical conditions that could cause a change in your rabbits’ behaviour. They’ll also be able to chat through your rabbits’ living situation and give you plenty of top tips on how to improve it to make your rabbits happier, even if they don’t find anything medically wrong.
There are lots of signs to look out for in your rabbits to recognise if they are unhappy.
Stress in rabbits
Rabbits can become worried or anxious if they’re put in a situation they don’t like or if they’re feeling unwell. Signs to look out for include:
- Ears. Your rabbits’ ears are a big giveaway as to how they are feeling. If they flatten their ears tightly against their body, this could mean that they are feeling stressed or anxious.
- Tense and ‘down’ body. Rabbits will usually tense up if they are stressed or worried. They might go into a crouched position, or flatten themselves against the ground – like they’re trying not to be seen, but are also ready to run if they need to. You’ll notice a split-second version of this if your rabbits are startled by a loud noise and freeze, but if they seem immobilised this is a really strong sign they’re unhappy.
- Lack of nose twitching. If your rabbits look tucked up and quiet with their chins tucked in and noses not twitching this can be a sure sign of them feeling unhappy or stressed, as this is not a normal position for a rabbit.
- Moving or running away. Your rabbits may turn and move away from you (or each other) if they’re unhappy. Sometimes chasing each other is a form of play, but sometimes a rabbit will be trying to get away from the other or from you, so watch for other signs of happiness or unhappiness to judge which it is.
- Hiding. Worried and scared rabbits will hide away a lot. If you notice your rabbits hiding, don’t try to move them. Instead, make sure they have space to come out when they feel ready. Pop a few exciting toys or their favourite veggie down to try and coax them out.
- Thumping. Thumping would originally have acted as warning to other bunnies nearby that there’s danger about. If your rabbits are unhappy or feel threatened by something they may thump the ground with their back legs and make lots of noise.
Angry and unhappy rabbits
Your rabbits will show clear signs if they’re very unhappy and feel threatened enough to become aggressive because they’re so scared or worried. Signs to look out for include:
- Tense and ‘up’ body. Rather than crouching and tensing, like a stressed or worried bunny, your rabbits may tense in a more aggressive stance if they’re unhappy. They might crouch and angle their head up, rather than having it flat against the floor.
- Boxing. If they are sitting upright and their front paws are ‘boxing’ at you, they are likely very unhappy.
- Vocalising. Rabbits don’t tend to make much noise and when they do it’s a sign they’re feeling very threatened. You may hear them grunting or growling and in extreme cases, they can scream.
- Showing their front teeth. If they show you their teeth, this is an extreme sign of fear and a ‘final warning’.
What to do if my rabbits are unhappy
If any of your rabbits are showing signs of stress or unhappiness, there could be a number of reasons for their behaviour. If you can clearly see something is causing them to be anxious or unhappy, such as an unfamiliar object or something you are doing, take it away or stop if you can.
It’s important to speak to your vet if you notice any changes in your rabbits’ behaviour and body language so they can make sure there are no medical reasons for it. They will be able to advise you on the best action to take.
The easiest way to make sure your rabbits are happy is to meet their 5 Welfare Needs:
- Health. Make sure your rabbits get regular check-ups and vaccinations to keep them healthy. Keep an eye on their teeth and feed them the right diet to avoid issues, too, as dental problems can be common in rabbits.
- Behaviour. Make sure you provide everything your rabbits need to fulfil their natural instincts and behave like bunnies.
- Companionship. Rabbits should never be kept alone. They are social animals and love having another (neutered) rabbit friend to play with.
- Diet. Make sure you feed your rabbits the best diet to keep them happy and healthy. We would not recommend a muesli type diet. Their body size of fresh hay every day is really important
- Environment. Providing the perfect home for your bunnies can go a long way to keeping them happy. As well as enough space to live in, they need an outdoor run with plenty of space to play and hop.
Your rabbits' diet
Giving your rabbits the perfect diet can help them stay happy and healthy and keep their teeth in good condition.
A lonely rabbit is an unhappy rabbit – make sure you’re giving your rabbits the company they need.