FRASER VETERINARY SURGERY Telephone: 01235 528177
FRASER VETERINARY SURGERYTelephone: 01235 528177

rabbit behaviour

Make sure your rabbits behave normally


Rabbits are highly social, playful and inquisitive animals and need to interact and play with other friendly rabbits. Many rabbits also enjoy interacting with people through gentle petting and positive reward-based training (such as clicker training). 


Rabbits need regular and frequent opportunities to exercise every day. Try to make sure your rabbits have access to a large area to exercise during their most active periods (early morning, late afternoon and overnight) and, ideally, their main shelter and living enclosure should be permanently attached.


The way a rabbit behaves will depend on his/her age, personality and past experiences but if one of your rabbits changes his/her behaviour, he/she could be distressed, bored, ill or injured.


Rabbits that are frightened or in pain may change their behaviour or develop unwanted habits, such as aggression or hiding.




Many rabbits also enjoy interacting with people through gentle petting and positive reward-based training (such as clicker training).


Signs that a rabbit may be suffering from stress or fear can include hiding, chewing cage bars, over-grooming, altered feeding or toileting habits, over-drinking or playing with the water bottle, sitting hunched, reluctance to move, and repeated circling of his/her enclosure.


Be observant.


If your rabbit’s behaviour changes or he/she shows regular signs of stress or fear, talk to your vet or a qualified animal behaviourist.


Never shout at or punish your rabbits, they are very unlikely to understand and may become more nervous or scared. If your rabbit’s behaviour becomes an ongoing problem, talk to an expert.


Rabbits need to have lots to do


The size of your rabbits’ home is very important, but what’s in their enclosure is also key to their welfare.


An interesting environment gives your rabbits mental and physical stimulation, which means that they are more likely to remain fit, healthy and happy as a result.


You’ll have fun too, spending time watching them exploring and enjoying themselves! 


Hiding places and platforms


Remember, your rabbits must be able to hide from things that scare them. They need to be able to hide in a secure place, away from the sight and smell of predators such as foxes, cats, dogs, ferrets and birds of prey.


Platforms allow rabbits to scan their environment for threats and can help them to feel safe. They can also help to build up a rabbit’s physical fitness and bone strength, as jumping on and off a platform is an important weight-bearing exercise.


But if your rabbit has previously been kept in a restricted environment with little or no opportunity to exercise and jump onto objects, ask your vet for advice before providing platforms, so that you can make sure he/she does not injure him/herself. 


Play time


Toys allow rabbits to perform normal behaviours such as digging, chewing, chin marking and investigating.


Different rabbits enjoy different types of toys, so try providing a variety of items until you find out which ones your rabbits like best!


Provide your rabbits with safe toys to play with and chew, and regular opportunities to play with other friendly rabbits and/ or people.


Rabbits tend to love the simple (and cheap!) things in life – here are a few suggestions for toys and objects that could be a hit with your bunnies:


  1. PAPER - shredded newspaper, paper bags with the handles removed and telephone directories (with the glossy covers removed). You could even bundle up your rabbits’ favourite food item in brown paper as a parcel for them to unwrap!
  2. CARDBOARD - boxes with holes cut into them make great hiding places. Cardboard tubes can be stuffed with hay and healthy treats/part of their daily food ration.
  3. TUNNELS - plastic and fabric tunnels can be purchased commercially. Tunnels can also be made from cardboard boxes, cardboard tubes and large ceramic pipes (with a wide diameter).


Digging and marking


Many rabbits love to dig so try to provide your rabbits with some form of ‘digging box’.


A large plant pot or litter tray filled with earth, a cardboard box filled with shredded paper or a sandpit filled with child-friendly sand provides a safe place for them to have fun.


Rabbits use scent as an important means of communication so you should provide objects and areas within your rabbits’ home where they can scent mark using chin secretions, urine and droppings.  This is a rabbit’s way of marking his/her territory and making it smell familiar and reassuring to him/her. These scents are not detected or noticed by people.


Safety first


Make sure any items you give your rabbits are safe and inspect them regularly to check for potential injury points.


Repair, discard or replace any items that become damaged or dangerous. If you have more than one rabbit, check that there are enough items for each rabbit.


Always ensure your rabbits can move away from a new object and keep a close eye on your rabbits when first giving them new items. If they do appear stressed or frightened by a new item, remove it and watch their behaviour – talk to your vet if you’re worried.


Regularly rotate the toys and objects that you give your rabbits to maintain their interest and prevent them from becoming bored. 




Rabbits are naturally sociable and normally prefer to be with another rabbit.


A rabbit left on his/her own can develop abnormal behaviour and may suffer if left without company and nothing to do for long periods of time.   So please keep your rabbit with at least one other friendly rabbit, unless advised otherwise by a vet or qualified animal behaviourist.


A good combination is a neutered male and a neutered female. It’s best to get your rabbits neutered, unless they are intended for breeding and provisions have been made to care for both parents and offspring.


Rabbits that are brought up together will usually get on with each other, but if introduced for the first time as adults they may fight. Neutering reduces the likelihood of fighting in both male and female rabbits, and has other benefits.


Rabbits kept together will naturally form a ‘pecking order’ with some animals being more dominant than others. A rabbit can be bullied if he/she cannot get away from other rabbits that he/she doesn’t like.


So make sure all your rabbits have constant access to places they can go to get away from each other if they want to and that there are enough hiding places for all your rabbits at all times.


Introduce new rabbits gradually and under supervision, preferably in a space that is new to both rabbits. Always talk to a qualified animal behaviourist if you are unsure or have problems.


Hands on


If you take the time to handle your rabbits regularly they will learn to see you as a friend and companion, so handle them gently every day from an early age.


To hold your rabbits correctly, you should pick them up gently but firmly, making sure that one hand supports their back and hindquarters at all times and that they feel secure by having all four feet held against your body.


 If you are unsure how to handle your rabbits, please ask your vet or a qualified animal behaviourist for advice.


If your rabbit has to be kept on his/her own for some reason it’s especially important that you interact positively with him/her every day to provide companionship.


Rabbits that receive little handling at an early age, or rough handling at any age, may find human contact distressing. This can be expressed as fearfulness, escape behaviour and aggression.


If you are concerned about your rabbit’s behaviour, speak to your vet for advice. It’s important to get your rabbit checked by a vet first to rule out any illness or injury that could be causing the behaviour problem. Your vet can then refer you to a behaviour expert.


Your rabbit’s reaction to handling is likely to depend on his/her past handling experience, so patience will be needed to help him/her grow more confident and comfortable around people.




When you are away, make sure your rabbits are cared for by a responsible person.


Never leave your rabbits unsupervised with another animal or person who may (deliberately or accidentally) harm or frighten them.


Rabbits will usually be scared of cats and dogs because they are natural predators, but if introduced to them carefully, early in life, they can develop friendships. Never leave your rabbits unsupervised with a cat or dog, even if you know they are good friends. Rabbits and guinea pigs have different needs so keeping them together is not advised. The best companion for a rabbit is another friendly rabbit.


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© 2018 K J Fraser BVM&S, Cert.V Ophthal, MRCVS