Rabbits are adorable, and many people have them as pets. You can even house train a bunny.
However, most of us have heard of Monty Python and the Holy Grail’s character The Killer Rabbit of Caerbannog and its “sharp pointy teeth.” Was it just a joke? Or do rabbits have a vicious side? For example, can a rabbit bite your finger off?
A rabbit can bite your finger off, although it is not common or typical behavior. They only have a bite force of around 70 Newtons, similar to the 67-73.3 Newtons of a domestic cat. This is much less than a dog’s bite force, ranging between 147-926 Newtons, depending on breed.
Rabbits are not predators, like dogs or cats, but are the prey. Thus, rabbits have a timid nature and tend to run away and hide when threatened.
However, rabbits can bite, but these wounds tend to be minor and an accident when being fed. A biting rabbit can be a sign of some problems, however, that might need to be corrected.
Grievous injury from a rabbit bite is uncommon. This is not to say it never occurs; this boy lost part of his finger when poking a bunny through its cage.
But the bite force of a rabbit is not the 600 Newtons researchers once believed. The Royal Society published an entire study on how those old numbers were a gross miscalculation.
Your average pet rabbit’s bite force is less than your average house cat’s and doesn’t begin to compare with a dog’s. Like a horse, rabbits chew a lot of roughage. Their teeth are not designed like a cat’s or dog’s to be a predator.
So while a rabbit can bite, they are not hunters prowling around plotting carnage.
Why Rabbits Bite
Rabbits might bite for several reasons such as fear, mating hormones, illness, or simply mistaking your finger for food.
Rabbits Bite Out Of Fear
Rabbits are prey animals, so their natural reaction to fear is running, hiding, or freezing. When stressed and unable to hide or run, they will squeal, thump, and breathe heavily. While occasionally exhibiting fear isn’t harmful, it is never good for any animal to be routinely kept in a stressful environment.
In the case of the boy losing part of his finger, the animal was part of a petting farm. While we don’t know precisely why the animal bit the boy, we do know the animal was stuck in a cage being exposed to many people regularly.
The boy stuck his finger through the cage, and the rabbit had no easy place to run and hide. It is possible the bunny was fearful.
Rabbits don’t always want to be held. They are fearful and prefer people who are quiet and calm. They want to approach you, not be chased. They want to have a way out, a place to run to, if overwhelmed, and sometimes will react badly when cornered.
A child should be taught how to handle a rabbit and not just handed one and hope for the best.
Rabbits Bite Mistaking Finger For Food
Children are routinely advised on how to feed animals like horses. Like rabbits, horses are vegetarians and prey animals. Yet adults usually teach children how to approach a horse and hold their hands flat when giving a treat, so the animal doesn’t mistake a finger for part of the food.
People rarely teach children proper behavior around cute little bunnies. The animals are small, humans are bigger, so people wrongly just pick them up or shove food in their faces without giving the rabbit a chance. Also, just like a horse, bunnies can’t easily see where the treat ends, and your finger begins.
Treats, especially at petting farms, are often shoved through the holes of a rabbit’s enclosure. This also leads to a bunny associating anything pushed through the holes of its hutch with food. Poor lighting or just a habit can lead to a rabbit biting first and discovering if it is food later.
Rabbits Bite Due To Hormones or Illness
Rabbits will sometimes bite when in pain or illness. If there has been a change in behavior and the bunny is biting, not nipping, do take your bunny to a vet with experience with rabbits. Nobody wants their pet to be ill or in pain.
Also, rabbits, if left intact, can become territorial and aggressive. This is because the hormones impact their adrenal gland, the very one that makes adrenaline. Thus, some will bite, especially the males who often nip with mounting.
Female rabbits can sometimes get very “cute” when in heat, wanting lots of cuddles and following you around. As adorable as that is, leaving them intact raises their chances of many problems, including a high risk of uterine cancer. In short, it is best to spay or nature any pet rabbits.
Rabbits Nip For Communication And Play
Rabbits are limited when it comes to vocal communication. They can blow air through their teeth and make a zzz noise (stressed or scared). They can also squeal (a bad sign). They can make a few other noises, which mainly mean they are ill or stressed. But mostly, they don’t vocalize. Thus, sometimes rabbits nip to communicate.
A rabbit can nip for a few reasons:
- You’ve annoyed the bunny.
- The bunny wants attention.
- The bunny wants to play chase.
How To Treat Rabbit Bite Wound
If a rabbit has bitten you, you need to clean and disinfect the wound. This will usually be enough. Bite wounds from a rabbit do not generally cause further problems. Nonetheless, if the injury should later show signs of infection, do seek medical attention and advice.
Rare Rabbit Diseases That Pass To Humans
Very rarely do diseases from a pet rabbit pass on to humans. When they do, it isn’t necessarily from a bite; some insects can transmit them. But, once again, these are rare occurrences.
Bacteria are numerous and plentiful. Most bacterial infections can be prevented by cleaning the wound. However, as mentioned above, if your injury is showing signs of infection, do seek professional medical advice.
Pasteurella is a bacteria that can cause mastitis in animals. The most common reason it passes on to a person is through a dog bite. It normally is only a problem for people with a weakened immune system, but do seek medical attention for any concerns.
Bacteria cause tetanus; however, it is rare for it to occur in humans. Most people have had the tetanus vaccine. But if you have been bitten and can’t remember when you last had your tetanus vaccine, it might be time to fix that. As always, consult your medical professional for the best advice.
Tularemia, also known as rabbit fever or deer fly fever, is nasty. It is, however, very rare. If suspected, seek medical attention immediately. It is typically treated with specific antibiotics.
Diseases Rabbits Don’t Pass To Humans
The following unpleasant conditions can impact your pet rabbit but will not impact you.
Coccidiosis is caused by protozoa doing unpleasant things to the intestinal tract of an animal.
Myxomatosis is caused by the virus myxoma and can cause disease in rabbits and hares. So while it won’t hurt you, a human, do get your bunny vaccinated against it.
People are taught to fear rabies, and rabies is indeed an ugly disease. But according to the CDC, small rodents and lagomorphs (rabbits and hares) rarely contract rabies, and there is no evidence of them giving it to people. Unfortunately, there isn’t a vaccine currently available for bunnies.
Toxoplasmosis, caused by a protozoal parasite, is the disease cats can pass to pregnant women through the litter tray. But thus far, cats seem to be the only animal that can pass the disease on while alive.
What To Do With A Biting Rabbit
If your pet bunny is biting or nipping you, there are a few things to consider.
Don’t Hit The Rabbit
Hitting a bunny will not beat the aggression out of the animal. If you hit your pet, it will become more aggressive, and the problem will only worsen. In fact, don’t hit any pets.
If it is aggressive or “naughty,” put it in a safe, clean, low-stress place where it cannot harm you. Like a timeout, but for both of you, so everyone can calm down, and you can tend to your injury.
Take The Rabbit To The Vet
If you can’t figure out why the cute little bunny has brought out its inner demon, it is probably ill, in pain, or dealing with puberty/mating urges very badly. A qualified vet who has experience with rabbits (not all do) can determine which of these potential issues is impacting your pet.
Has Something Changed?
Look around, has anything changed? Did you introduce a new pet? Are there visitors? Did you rearrange the furniture? If so, your pet bunny might be frightened. Try to keep its environment calm and provide plenty of places to hide. Stick some cardboard boxes around to create “shelters.”
They Want Food
When it comes to food, bunnies usually bite people by mistake, either too eager or your finger was in the way when it took the treat. But if you withhold a treat in your hand and the bunny knows it, they might nip in excitement and frustration that you are not giving it over.
Is Your Bunny Bored?
Like puppies and toddlers, rabbits can get bored. They usually solve this by nipping you for attention or nibbling on something in your home you wish they hadn’t. So swap the cable to your phone charger for something appropriate for your pet to occupy itself.
15 Rabbit Toys
Toys for rabbits are not like a typical cat or dog’s toys but are usually made of natural materials. Look for items made out of wood, coconut fiber, straw, and grass.
Brown Paper Bags
Yes, just an old brown paper bag can be a rabbit’s idea of a good time. Kind of like how toddlers enjoy wrapping paper more than the gift on their birthday.
Chew Toy, Hanging
A hanging chew toy can bring much delight. This one is cute and provides a variety of shapes and interests.
Coconut Fiber Balls
These coconut fiber balls provide nice roughage and amusement to allow a bunny to chew, scratch, bat, and nudge. Much better than the bunny eating your wallpaper, I’m sure you’ll agree.
Empty Toilet & Paper-Towel Rolls
Empty toilet or paper towel rolls are great fun for toddlers and rabbits alike. Just don’t let the toddler fight the rabbit for it.
Rabbits don’t like feeling exposed. Their wild cousins have to worry about birds of prey swooping down and having them for lunch. Grass hideaways are an excellent way for your pet to feel safe and secure while having something to nibble and scratch.
Grinding Claw Pad
Like nails, rabbit teeth keep growing. The only way bunnies can keep this from becoming an expensive vet bill for you is to gnaw and scratch to keep their teeth and nails at an appropriate length. Grinding claw pads give the bunny a nice surface to see to their needs and prevent boredom.
Interactive Treat Game
Sadly, you can’t teach your rabbit poker. But you can amuse yourself and your pet with an interactive treat game.
Natural Wood Toy Pack
All the toys in a natural wood toy pack make great amusements for your rabbit. Remember, like a toddler, don’t put them all out at once. Instead, put out one or two, then rotate, so your pet stays curious and away from your lamp cords.
News is now obtained from online sources and the television, rather than papers. But should you have some old newspaper to spare, your rabbit will enjoy ripping, scratching, and nibbling it.
Holes to hide make a happy bunny. A cute and soft tent would make a cozy place for your pet to relax.
A toy tree is a good height for a pet rabbit to nibble and boop their toys. The fiber is also an ideal texture to chew on.
Whisk Broom Whisk
A classic whisk broom can be your pet rabbit’s dream toy. It’s fun to scratch, yank, and nibble.
Wooden clothespins are inexpensive and fun to nibble. Some owners like to soak the pin in juice first, making it even more enticing to the rabbit.
Woven Grass Mat
A woven grass mat makes a pleasing texture for a bunny to hop on, nibble, and scratch. It keeps the animal busy as it explores the surface.
Woven Seagrass Mat With Toys
A woven seagrass mat with toys provides a slightly different texture helping keep a curious bunny interested and away from your computer cords.
Despite a rabbit technically having the potential to cause serious harm to a finger, it is highly unlikely. But do watch out for odd behavior in case your rabbit is injured.
Also, keep an eye out for boredom and ensure your pet has plenty of safe toys to stay occupied.
I have a bachelor’s degree in Film/Video/Media Studies, as well as an associates degree in Communications. I began producing videos and musical recordings nearly 15 years ago. I am a guitarist and bassist in Southwest MI and have been in a few different bands since 2009, and in 2012 I began building custom guitars and basses in my home workshop as well. When I’m home, I love spending time with my three pets (a dog, cat, and snake) and gardening in my backyard. I also like photographing wild birds, especially birds of prey.