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Are Rabbits Intelligent? (How They Compare to Dogs and Cats)

Are Rabbits Intelligent? (How They Compare to Dogs and Cats)

The purpose of this blog is to share general information and is written to the author's best knowledge. It is not intended to be used in place of veterinary advice. For health concerns, please seek proper veterinary care.

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People choose pets for a wide range of reasons. You can pick a pet based on its loyalty, compassion, cuteness, playfulness, and/or intelligence.

When it comes to rabbits, they have a reputation for being a complete bundle of joy! Besides being incredibly fluffy and cute, they’re also calm, affectionate, and highly social. But are rabbits intelligent?

Rabbits are highly underrated when it comes to smartness. They’re capable of grasping the idea of many things, do cool tricks, and can be remarkably easy to train if you use the right approach.

If you want to find out more about rabbits’ intelligence, how it compares to other popular pets, and more, keep on reading this article!

How Smart Are Rabbits?

Contrary to what some people might think, rabbits are not stupid by any means. In fact, rabbits are quite smart and they’re capable of understanding and grasping the gist of many things and tricks.

This means that, in addition to being clever and understanding various concepts, you can also train them to memorize and even respond to certain cues, so they can also be trained to expand on their intelligence.

Rabbits will usually know what they want and how to display their need for it. They’re capable of understanding the concept of a caregiver and will create a bond with them, which are signs of emotional intelligence.

If you’ve been around rabbits long enough, you’ll know that they have remarkable body language that they use to communicate with each other and even with you, which is a sign of social intelligence.

The reason why some people mistake rabbits for dump creatures is that rabbits are quite anxious when compared to some other pets. Their moves are also interpreted as erratic or random if you don’t look at them with an observing eye.

To sum things up, rabbits are quite clever and trainable pets with a remarkable level of social and emotional intelligence that allows them to understand and react adequately to their surroundings when given proper love and care.

Both wild and domestic rabbit species share a similar level of intelligence, although wild rabbits won’t accept the idea of being a pet.

How Do Rabbit’s Intelligence Compare to Dogs’ and Cats’?

One of the most common questions that people ask when discussing the smartness of rabbits is to measure it in comparison to dogs and cats.

While each pet has its own way of displaying its intelligence, it’s safe to say that rabbits’ intelligence is actually comparable to that of dogs and cats.

Like the popular domestic pets, rabbits can understand a lot of facial and even auditory cues from humans.

They can establish a bond similar to dogs and cats and recognize you as “part of the family”. They can respond to your actions and love you back for treating them with care.

Similar to cats and dogs, rabbits will also display signs of sadness, anger, jealousy, and insecurity when they are neglected or denied the love and attention they deserve!

Can You Train Rabbits to Use Litter Boxes?

As previously discussed, rabbits will understand a wide range of concepts if you put in the time to train them, and one of the best examples of rabbits’ trainability is litter training.

Rabbits are naturally clean animals, so they’ll usually pick a specific spot or corner in their hutch or enclosure to pee in it. This makes litter box training remarkably easy for these pets.

To encourage your bunny to use a litter box, fill its bottom with a thin layer of soft pellets and a thick top layer of hay, then introduce it to a convenient corner in the rabbit’s habitat, so keep it on the other side of where its food is.

With time, your rabbit will instinctively use the litter box for excretion. However, make sure that you provide him or her with soft bedding and clean the litter box regularly because a rabbit may end up sleeping in the litter box if it’s softer than their bedding.

You should also make sure that there is a litter box in the same corner at each level of the enclosure to avoid any inappropriate urination problems.

Can Rabbits Learn Their Name?

Thanks to their exceptionally large ears for their size, rabbits will usually have remarkably good hearing. Not only that, but rabbits are also capable of moving their ears independently in 270 degree angles, which allow them to pick up various sounds clearly from up to a couple of miles!

In addition to having an excellent sense of hearing, they can actually put it to good use and associate various sounds with things and situations, such as responding when they’re called with their name!

According to a study performed on rabbits, the neurological system of rabbits is complex enough to understand the concept of learning names.

This means that, if you continuously call your rabbit with a specific name, it’ll understand that it’s their name and will eventually respond when they’re called with their name.

However, this doesn’t have to happen all the time, as they may sometimes ignore when they’re called, especially if they’re exploring their environment or in the middle of a specific activity.

What Tricks Can You Teach a Rabbit?

Rabbits aren’t only smart enough to learn a plethora of tricks, but they also enjoy engaging in playtime with treats, which makes them a very good learner if you want to teach them a trick or two.

Rabbits also have good memories that allow them to remember good and bad experiences for a long time. If you associate a certain action through repetition with treats and praises, they’ll easily learn new tricks.

While the list of tricks that you can teach your rabbit is quite huge, here are some of the best tricks to teach your rabbit:

  • Spinning and Rolling: You can train your rabbit to roll on the floor or spin around itself following a cue or a command.
  • High Fives and Shake Hands: You can train your rabbit to raise its arm when you present it with yours, as if you’re shaking hands or doing a high five.
  • Sitting: One of the easiest tricks to teach your rabbit is to sit on command, which is good for administering medications
  • Jumping Through Hoops: One of the most important tricks that show rabbits do is jumping through hoops, and surprisingly, it’s a relatively easy trick for them.
  • Push Balls: You can train your rabbit to push the ball and play with you using a soft ball made of cotton.

Do Rabbits Recognize Their Owners?

As previously mentioned, rabbits have a pretty good memory. According to a study by the National Institutes of Health on the long term memory of rabbits, they’re capable of remembering events for a very long time and have a decent long-term memory.

When rabbits are continuously cared for and shown love by people, they’ll quickly recognize them and respond to them in a more positive way.

Not only that, but they’ll also recognize their voices from a distance and display signs of happiness when you’re around.

Although rabbits are generally anxious in nature, they’ll show a more laid back behavior around their owners and will even follow them around across the room. If the rabbit already responds when called, you can expect them to sit on your lap from time to time!

Do Rabbits Remember You?

According to a study based on rabbits’ ability to identify and remember humans, it was found that rabbits are actually able to tell various humans apart.

In other words, rabbits won’t only tell their caregivers apart from strangers, they’re also capable of identifying each one on a personal level and even have preferences based on a wide range of factors.

They can remember past experiences with their owners whether they’re good or bad and will react to them accordingly.

They’ll also display signs of confusion and disorientation when they’re transferred to a new house and live with new people, as rabbits are routine loving creatures who aren’t quite curious by nature.

Can Rabbits Find Their Way Home?

As a general rule, you should never allow your rabbit to roam outside the house, as they can be an easy target to birds of prey and other predators like cats.

Additionally, rabbits don’t have an excellent sense of direction that will lead them back home and they don’t have good tracking skills like dogs, so they can easily get lost when they wander freely.

However, if by “home” you mean their enclosure and they’re allowed to wander around the house, you don’t have to worry, as rabbits have enough memory capacity to memorize households and trace their way back to their habitat.

Although it’s always recommended to make sure that your bunny is never too far without supervision, there are plenty of stories about lost bunnies that actually made it back home, although many of them weren’t actually too far off, to begin with.

As previously mentioned, rabbits are usually satisfied with their surroundings, especially if you provide them with toys and activities to do. So, you don’t have to go out of your way to take them out to explore, especially if they’re new to these places.

Can Rabbits Miss You?

Combined with the rabbit’s emotional and social intelligence, their good memory allows them to capture good memories of their owners.

If you have provided your rabbit with love and care, it’ll always remember that fondly and will even display signs of missing you when you’re not around.

Similar to dogs, rabbits can actually display symptoms of separation anxiety when they’re left alone for a long time.

A lot of rabbit owners even reported that their rabbits started eating less when they were on a long trip, and their rabbits were noticeably ecstatic upon their return, even when these rabbits were surrounded by love and care during that period.

Not only that, depending on the psychological makeup of your rabbit, it might also resort to destructive behaviors as a symptom of separation anxiety. These symptoms include aggression and excessive spraying (especially for unneutered males), urination outside the litter box, chewing on carpets, and more.

At first, rabbits will be less interested in doing activities when they’re missing their owners. However, as time goes by, their destructive behavior will continue to build up if no interception is made.

Do Rabbits Dream?

Rabbits are neither diurnal nor nocturnal. Instead, they’re “crepuscular”, which means that they sleep in times between day and night and are most active during dusk and dawn. This strategy is used to protect them from both diurnal and nocturnal predators.

Ideally, a rabbit will sleep for anywhere between 6.5 to 8.5 hours a day, with most adult rabbits sleeping for about 8.5 hours. The unique sleeping pattern gives us a good chance to watch our bunnies sleeping every day.

During that time, you’ll notice that your rabbit will grind its teeth, twitch, and even kick its legs like other pets, which actually happens because they’re dreaming and you shouldn’t worry about it.

According to the Sleep Foundation, rabbits’ brain waves show that they go through the REM cycle while sleeping, which is where all creatures, including us, dream.

Despite that, it’s extremely difficult to figure out what rabbits are exactly dreaming about, although facial expressions and reactions can help us tell if it’s a good or a bad one.

Do Rabbits Watch TV?

We’ve all seen these cute videos of pets sitting on the couch or standing in front of a TV and reacting to what shows on it.

Since rabbits also enjoy our company, you might find them hanging around when you’re watching the TV, and to your surprise, your rabbit may actually find the TV interesting and look at it for some time.

The reason why this happens is that, like us, rabbits also feel bored from time to time and would enjoy some visual and mental stimulation.

Although your rabbit won’t understand the narrative of whatever is showing on the TV, the moving images, combined with sound and colors, will attract their attention. Yet, you should provide various kinds of stimulation to your rabbit, even if they don’t mind transfixing on TVs for hours.

Do Rabbits Understand Kisses?

Humans use kisses to display affection, even from an early age, so you might be tempted to kiss your pet to show him or her how much you love them. While opinions vary on whether you should kiss your pet, you should know that your rabbit will actually understand what it means.

As previously discussed, rabbits understand social cues through repetition and associations. In other words, if you always kiss your rabbit after a grooming session or during lovely playtime, it will understand that it’s a display of affection, especially if you kiss them on the top of the head, as it’s usually their favorite spot.

In return, your rabbit will use its signs of affection to let you know that they like you. So, your rabbit won’t kiss you, as they don’t kiss each other in general. However, they’ll rub against you, sit on your lap, and lick you to display affection.

Not only that, but you can actually train them to kiss you back, which can be done by associating the action with a command or a cue, such as kissing sound and turning your cheeks towards them.

Regardless, you should know that it’s not always a good idea to kiss your rabbit, so make sure that you only kiss them when they’re happy and avoid kissing them when they’re nervous or agitated.

How Do Rabbits Communicate?

As previously mentioned, rabbits have an extremely wide range of methods to communicate, whether with other rabbits or with humans, which is another sign of their high level of intelligence.

These communication methods can range from sounds made to body language. Here’s a quick look at these methods:

1 – Sounds and Vocalization

Rabbits can make a wide range of sounds to express their current state and let others know what they need. These sounds include:

  • Honking and whimpering: Mostly used during mating season to display interest in other rabbits for breeding
  • Squealing and grunting: Used to display a wide range of negative feelings which vary from being mildly annoyed and all the way to feeling quite anxious or scared. If you’re petting your rabbit and you hear these sounds, it’s their way to tell you that they don’t want you to pet them at the moment.
  • Hissing and Snorting: similar to squealing and grunting, but they’re used to display anger rather than fear.
  • Screaming: although it’s rare for rabbits to scream, you should never ignore them if they do, as it’s usually a sign of a remarkable issue, such as disease, immense fear, or pain.

2 – Stomping

Also known as “thumping”, which is when the rabbit uses its hind legs to stomp on the ground, which makes noticeable noise when they’re in metal cages.

The behavior is more common in male rabbits and is used to assert dominance and argue with other rabbits.

3 – Binkies

Binkies are a special bouncy jump that rabbits and other pets may do to display happiness and joy, which is usually done by jumping high while kicking legs and rotating the body in a different direction, especially in the middle of running around.

This is different from lunging, which is jumping directly forward, which is usually a warning sign when the rabbit is irritated.

Rabbits can do binkies while playing with other rabbits or with humans. If your rabbit is binking while playing with you, you should know that you’re doing an extremely good job and your rabbit loves you so much!

4 – Grinding Teeth

Rabbits rely on their teeth for more than just eating and self defense. They also grind their teeth to communicate with other rabbits. For example, grinding the teeth softly is the equivalent of purring in cats. It usually means that your rabbit is happy and calm.

On the flip side, when the grinding becomes noticeably loud and accompanied by tense posture, it’s a sign of pain and displeasure.

5 – Spraying

Spraying is common in many animals and is usually a sign of “marking the territory”. Unlike other inappropriate toilet behaviors, spraying is completely natural among intact males and even female rabbits, although spayed and neutered rabbits may display it for a short while after the procedure.

Spraying is similar to urine but is usually vertical and has a much stronger smell, which is interpreted as “this is mine”. In fact, rabbits may even spray their caregivers and other rabbits as a sign of affection.

6 – Licking and Chin Rubbing

As you might’ve expected, both licking and chin rubbing are among the most prominent methods of displaying affection among rabbits. They can do it to both humans and rabbits, and they’re inspired by their early days when the mothers lick and chin rub their children to apply its scent on them.

7 – Laying Flat

When a rabbit lies flat on its belly, it can be due to fear or being relaxed (called flopping, and can be on the side as well). The key here is to look at their ears. If they’re also flat on the ground, it’s because they’re scared.

What Rabbit Breeds Are the Smartest?

Now that you know more about rabbits and how smart they can be, you might be tempted to get a rabbit as a new part of your family. In that case, here are some of the smartest rabbits species out there:

  • The Belgian Hare
  • Netherland Dwarf Rabbit
  • Continental Giant Rabbit
  • The Rex Rabbit Family
  • Mini Lop
  • Harlequin Rabbit
  • Holland Lop

Final Thoughts

With that said, today’s guide about rabbits’ level of intelligence comes to an end. As you can see, there are plenty of aspects when rabbits are surprisingly smarter than we thought!

In the end, you should remember that the specific level of intelligence of a rabbit comes down to individual differences and the kind of intelligence in question (social, emotional, etc.).

Even for a smart rabbit, training is still a critical part to bring out the best of your pet, so always remember to use positive reinforcement training techniques while teaching it new tricks!

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