Understanding Rabbit Body Language

By Karen MacDonald, Animal Friends Volunteer

Rabbits have a complex way of communicating, despite the fact that they have few vocalizations. By observing and understanding rabbits’ body language, we can ensure that our domesticated bunnies are living happy and healthy lives.

Here are some examples of common rabbit body language and their meanings:

A binky is a large jump and twist. It’s literally a bunny’s happy dance and sometimes will occur when a rabbit runs laps around the room – a behavior that many call “zoomies.” When rabbits display these behaviors, they’re showing us that they are full of energy, happy and excited!

Flopping is when a bunny flops onto their side to rest or sleep, sometimes even rolling onto their back. This can be frightening for a rabbit owner because it can look like a medical emergency. But really, it is just a rabbit’s (somewhat dramatic!) way of saying that they feel completely safe.

When a rabbit stands on their hind legs, known as periscoping, it means that they are curious and trying to find a better vantage point, similar to when we stand on our tiptoes.

If a rabbit thumps their strong hind legs against the ground, it generally means either, “I sense danger and I’m trying to warn you” or “you have made me angry!” As cute as it is, it is meant to be a warning.

Bunnies have scent glands under their chins. As a result, pet rabbits often rub their chins against furniture, walls or any other object they want to claim. Rabbits will most often “chin” things when smelling odors left behind from other animals or exploring new spaces.

A rabbit will run circles around and between your feet, sometimes while making a honking noise, as a sign of excitement and affection. Circling, as it’s known, usually happens when a rabbit expects food or a treat.

Boxing and lunging are aggressive behaviors. A rabbit will stand on their hind legs and punch with their front legs as if to “box” you or lunge at you. A rabbit may exhibit this behavior if they are frightened or uncomfortable with you entering their territory and touching their belongings.

A rabbit’s natural instinct is to burrow. Wild rabbits dig tunnels for nesting or hiding. Domestic rabbits share this instinct and might try digging in corners and under doors. Dig boxes fulfill this urge and also provide enrichment. To create a dig box, place shredded paper, paper towel tube slices or hay in a box and sprinkle in a few pellets or herbs.

To see these behaviors and more in action, visit Animal Friends’ adoptable rabbits at our BunRuns, held nearly every Saturday from 2:30-4 p.m. Because the bunnies are free to roam, their personalities really shine! And, our knowledgeable staff and volunteers will be on hand to answer any questions you may have.

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