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Are you confused about why your rabbit acts the way he does? The following descriptions may help you understand your rabbit companion.
Begging: Begging is sooo cute and extremely hard to resist. Rabbits may press their nose through the cage wire or run circles around your feet if you are holding a banana. Some sit up on the toes of their rear feet, stretching towards the delightful smell that has caught their attention.
Rabbits are born with the knowledge that being cute will get them whatever they want. To accommodate the begging rabbit (and the rabbit owner's inability to resist), I recommend psychological treats. For instance, a 1/2-inch slice of carrot can be cut into four pieces and given to the rabbit at four different times throughout the day.
Chewing cords: There are several theories as to why rabbits are attracted to p hone cords, antenna cords, cable TV cords, lamp cords, etc. One theory is that they are attracted by the vibration from the electricity. Another theory is that the electricity makes a noise thatis audible to the rabbit. Or could it be that the plastic that encloses the electrical wires tastes good? Who's to know? Whatever the reason, it's simply not safe to leave a rabbit alone in a non-rabbit-proofed room.
Flexible plastic tubing (like that used in fish tanks, but a larger diameter) is one of the easiest ways to protect cords. The tubing can be sliced length-wise with a utility knife and the cord pushed inside. A few rabbits will continue to chew on the plastic tubing, but this provides the time necessary to let the rabbit know (by clapping or stomping along with a verbal NO) that it is not appropriate to chew on the tubing. The plastic tubing can be replaced, if necessary, since it's much easier to replace tubing than to find out that the only phone in the house has been suddenly disconnected. And, of course, the rabbit and the house could both burn down if an electrical short were to occur.
Chewing wood: For pure chewing enjoyment and immense pleasure, there's nothing better than a nice piece of soft wood to gnaw on...for some rabbits. Many of my rabbits aren't the least bit interested in a piece of plain old wood and many never gnaw. But most do love a good piece of apple tree twig and will gnaw the bark from the twig as though it were a delicious treat. (Caution: Not to be fed are branches from apricot, cherry, peach, plum and redwood trees, listed as toxic by poison centers.)
Gnawing is not necessary to keep their constantly growing teeth under control.* Some of my rabbits eat only Timothy hay and pellets, refusing all wood, and have perfectly good teeth. Gnawing seems to be more of a recreational activity than anything else, and attention can be diverted from a chair leg to an appropriate piece of wood or to a cardboard box by consistent and diligent action.
*An exception might be when a rabbit has a slight malocclusion. Often if you can encourage these rabbits to gnaw on wood or carrots, you can avoid clipping/filing teeth or perhaps lengthen the time between clipping.
Chinning: Claiming possessions is done by chinning. Rabbits use their chin (as cats used their foreheads) to mark objects with a scent that we humans are not able to detect. In addition to all of my furniture, rabbits have claimed my arms, face and shoes.
Circling: This often means it's time to be spayed or neutered. Circling is part of a rabbit's courting behavior and is sometimes accompanied by a soft honking or oinking. Circling can also be a way to ask for food or attention from human companions.
Dancing: The House Rabbit Handbook describes dancing as a "frolicking series of sideways kicks and mid-air leaps accompanied by a few head shakes and body gyrations." That pretty well sums it up. The bunny dance is something done to indicate happiness, contentment and a great frame of mind.
Don't touch my stuff: Rabbits are often displeased when you rearrange their cage as you clean. They are creatures of habit and when they get things just right, they like them to stay that way.
Grunting: Grunts are often any reactions to a human behavior, or toward another rabbit. Watch out, or you could be bitten. However, I do have rabbits who grunt their disapproval when I pick them up or when I annoy them by touching their whiskers and that's the extend of their anger.
Lunging: This frequently occurs when you reach into the cage to clean, give food or to take the rabbit out. It also is a form of attack used against another rabbit. Getting the rabbit accustomed to whatever is occurring is the solution. In the meantime, I always place my hand on the rabbit's head while performing the task.
Playing: Rabbits like to push or toss objects around. They may also race madly around the house, jump on and off the couch and act like a kid who's had too much sugar.
Pulling hair from chest or legs. Pseudo-pregnancy occurs in unspayed females living with neutered males (or spayed females living with unneutered males). These females will occasionally think that they are pregnant and may build nests. They may even stop eating as rabbits do the day before they give birth. I've not observed this when all rabbits who live together are neutered.
Shedding: Rabbits shed the same as do all animals with fur. From my experience here in the northwest, rabbits shed every three months. They have alternate heavy and light sheds. When people tell me that "my rabbit sheds all of the time, " I know that they do not understand the importance of combing/bushing when each shed occurs. Generally it may take two weeks for a rabbit to complete his shed if the owner has combed and brushed the rabbit. Occasionally, a rabbit who will normally shed in about two weeks will shed for a longer period even with daily combing.
Sniffling: May be annoyed or just talking to you.
Spraying: Males who are not neutered will mark female rabbits in this manner, as well as their territory. Females may also spray.
Teeth grinding: This is a sign of contentment and happiness. It is a very light grinding sound and, when placing your hand on the side of her face, it will feel like a vibration from the molars. The eyes are often half closed.
Teeth chattering or crunching: This is much louder than teeth grinding and indicates pain. The rabbit often sits in a hunched up position with ears pressed against his body.
Territory droppings: Droppings that are not in a pile, but are scattered, are a sign of territoriality. This will often occur upon entrance into a new environment and is more persistent with unaltered rabbits. If another rabbit lives separately in the house this may always be a nuisance.
Throwing: Rabbits will throw anything that they can pick up with their teeth. Often owners complain about food and water bowls being turned upside down, causing a mess. A bowl is just another toy to a rabbit. Whether it's full or empty, if she decides to play and a bowl is available, she'll toss it. Bowls need to be the heavy ceramic type, or lighter bowls can be fastened to cages with a large clamp.
Thumping: "Thumper" of cartoon fame thumps many times in rapid succession before taking off for safety. That's not the way real rabbits thump. Rabbits stand on all four feet, in a somewhat tip-toe position, with their ears alert, then lift their rear feet and thump! to warn everyone in the warren (including humans) that there is "danger," in the rabbit's opinion. They may remain in the thumping posture until convinced that the danger is gone. The length of time between thumps can vary from a few seconds to a couple of minutes and may last an extended period of time (even an hour or more). This "danger" could be a furnace, refrigerator or other electrical appliance turning on or a lit cigarette when they are not used to the smoke. "Danger" could be the shadow of a bird flying across the moon or a cat walking on the window sill chasing a shadow on the floor. Thumping can occur day or night and is the rabbit's attempt to save everyone from a terrible fate.
A rabbit who is exhibiting continual thumping can die from fright and should be reassured and comforted as soon as possible.
As an expression of anger, I am sometimes given a thump when I return a rabbit to his cage after an exercise period. He either doesn't want to return (thump!) or would rather do it himself (thump!). When not at all pleased with what has just happened, a thump is often in order. For instance, when he thinks he should have another piece of fruit, and instead, I eat it myself (thump!).
by Sandi Ackerman, HRS Educator & Washington State Chapter Manager
Originally published in the Rabbit Health News, August 1993