Behavior

What to Do When Your Rabbit Bites

rabbit biting on it's cage

For anyone who’s never taken care of a rabbit before or new to rabbits, it’s probably hard to believe that these cute and cuddly fur babies could bite. After all, rabbits are such gentle creatures, and they look incapable of hurting a fly.

However, like most companion animals, rabbits can display behavioral problems, ranging from growling to flopping to grunting. (Some are more bothersome than others!) One of the most troubling behaviors you can encounter if you choose to bring home a bunny for a pet is biting. 

Not all rabbits bite, of course. But if yours does, don’t despair. You’ll just have to know the right way to deal with rabbit biting to turn your bunny into the sweet and lovable companion you expected.

Rabbit Biting: What Does It Mean?

No, it doesn’t mean that your pet hates you or that you had the great misfortune of picking a neurotic bunny. Biting is a natural behavior in rabbits, even though most people don’t think these timid creatures can show aggression. So if you suffer a nip from your pet, it just means that your rabbit is being a rabbit.

The Reasons Behind Rabbit Biting

To establish dominance

Like most animals who live in social groups, rabbits in the wild need to establish social hierarchies. To show dominance, they use various methods, such as snorting, lunging, and, yes, biting. Although your bunny no longer lives in his or her natural habitat, he or she can still retain the instinctive need to display this behavior. 

As a defense mechanism

Other animals prey on rabbits. Even in a domestic setting, you may still need to protect your pet from predators, especially if your bunny lives outdoors. Because of their vulnerability, rabbits may bite to defend themselves if they feel threatened. If you pick up your pet, he or she may react by biting if they’re not used to being held.

Food aggression

In the wild, rabbits compete for food. During periods of scarcity, they need to fight to protect what little they have. We’re sure you don’t starve your pet. However, even if your bunny has his or her fill with every meal, they may still consider you a threat. Rabbit biting during feeding times can indicate that your pet is protecting its resources. 

Due to hormones

Don’t be surprised if your sweet, friendly bunny suddenly becomes aggressive when they turn around three months old. Rabbits typically reach sexual maturity by then. At that age, their raging hormones alter their behavior, and they may bite as a result.

For example, they usually compete for territory in the wild, and they view their cage as their home. So placing your hand inside the cage of your maturing pet may cause them to give you a nip for intruding into their haven.

Medical issues

vet showing rabbits teeth

Because they’re prey animals, rabbits don’t usually display indications of illness or pain to avoid alerting predators of their weakness. A sudden change in behavior, such as unusual grumpiness, can be your pet’s way of saying that he or she feels under the weather. If your typically friendly bunny suddenly bites you, a visit to the vet for a check-up would be a wise move.

How to Stop Your Rabbit from Biting

Understanding the causes behind rabbit biting can help you modify your pet’s behavior. Here are some of the ways to stop your rabbit from lashing out at you or their companion.

1.    Don’t reward rabbit biting

The easiest thing to do when your rabbit bites is to move away. However, that tells your pet that biting leads to the result they want and reinforces the negative behavior.

Instead of letting your bunny succeed in its attempt to show dominance, for example, you should be the one to assert dominance over your rabbit. You can do this by doing the following.

  • Make a sound: This alerts your pet that you don’t approve of the behavior.
  • A time-out: If your pet enjoys being out of his or her cage, placing them inside for a short time-out when they bite may help send the across the message that biting leads to unpleasant consequences.
  • Gently pushing your bunny to the floor: After placing your hand over your rabbit’s head, very gently push him or her to the floor and keep them there for several seconds. This act will indicate to your pet that you’re the dominant one and not the other way around.

2.    Socializing may help reduce the risks of rabbit biting

Some rabbits bite when they feel threatened. Socializing your pet is one great way to address the issue. However, don’t force your pet to be around people if he or she is extremely shy. Instead, let your bunny make the first move.

Have the person who your pet considers a stranger sit or lie on the floor and wait for your rabbit to approach in their time. Eventually, curiosity may drive your pet to investigate and discover that there’s nothing to fear.

3.    Minimize or modify actions that lead to rabbit biting

rabbit with kids hands all around it

Try to avoid acts that trigger your rabbit’s instinctive need to defend themselves or their territory. Grabbing, chasing, or reaching for your pet without warning are acts that may elicit aggressive reactions.

For example, reaching suddenly into their cage may make your bunny fear for his or her safety. If you need to take them out of their cage, encourage your pet to hop out instead of grabbing him or her and lifting them. You can use food to entice a hesitant bunny to move out on their own.

By the same token, don’t just pick up your pet, especially if he or she is the fearful type. Instead, let them see you approach, so they don’t startle and bite out of self-defense.

4.    Neutering and spaying may help eliminate hormonal issues that can lead to rabbit biting

Hormonal aggression sometimes drives your rabbit to attack you or their companion, especially during the breeding season. The need to defend their territory and fight off any rivals prompt this natural behavior.

Spaying or neutering should help reduce this behavior. However, desexing your pet isn’t an instant fix. Instead, expect the aggression to lessen gradually as the hormone levels drop.

5.    Have your pet examined by a vet to rule out medical issues that may be behind rabbit biting

Your rabbit may be ill without showing any symptoms. A pet who’s in pain may react by biting when you pick them up. A health check-up ensures that your bunny isn’t experiencing any medical issue causing it to lash out.

It’s not just pain from illness that can cause rabbit biting. Hearing or vision problems make rabbits startle easily, which drives them to attack. Make sure your vet checks their vision and hearing, too, when you take your pet for a check-up.

6.    Physical and mental stimulation may help reduce rabbit biting

Being cooped up inside their cage can lead to boredom and frustration, which, in turn, may increase aggression. Give your pet plenty of opportunities to stretch out and run around to get rid of pent-up energy. 

Remember to exercise their mind as well. Choose toys that challenge your rabbit mentally to keep him or her occupied throughout the day.

Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to prevent rabbit biting. With lots of patience and perseverance, you’ll have a great chance of stopping your pet’s undesirable behavior.  

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