If you have a pet rabbit, then you already know they can be very loving pets and often display a wide variety of non-verbal cues to try and communicate with each other and their owners. You may be wondering what they are trying to communicate with their owners and how they show affection or signs tell you they are stressed.
There are two main ways rabbits communicate with each other and with their owners. Most commonly rabbits use non-verbal communication and less frequently they will use verbal communication to urgently express a message like danger or fear.
Verbal communication consists of vocalization while nonverbal communication is classified by different types of body language such as licking, following you around, and many other things.
As stated before, rabbits communicate in a number of different ways. Rabbits are often communicating to each other and their owners contentment and affection. Other messages may include stress, pain, or anxiety.
All interactions with your rabbit should be watched closely because if your pet becomes sick, their communication patterns will most likely change drastically. They can become anti-social and withdrawn which are two things to never ignore in your pet as they can signify illness or even impending death.
A happy bunny will grind their teeth, jump around, lick you, and flop over. A scared rabbit will sometimes vocalize, lay down completely flat, or stomp its feet. Foot stomping is your rabbit’s way of telling other rabbits that there is a threat nearby. It is their way of telling you that it is uncomfortable with something you are doing.
Your pet rabbit will also communicate when it has reached sexual maturity, claiming certain spots in the house by rubbing its scent glands on it. Rabbits also communicate a number of other different things through silent cues and verbal grunts.
Rabbit to Human Communication
Rabbit communication can be a little more tricky to understand than communication with another pet such as a dog or cat. When a dog or cat likes their owner it is easy to tell by wagging tails and purring. Rabbits have a much more complex communication system that can be difficult to interpret at times.
For example, do rabbits show love? If so, how? There are at least five different ways pet rabbits show affection and love to their owners. First and not hard to interpret is licking.
When your rabbit likes you, it will often lick your hands to show how fond it is of you. However, not all rabbits like showing affection through licking so if your bunny doesn’t lick your hand don’t be too upset.
Besides licking, rabbits often nip at you and your chin when they are being affectionate. Nipping can be a sign that your rabbit is enjoying spending time with you. Chinning on the other hand is when a rabbit will rub its scent glands that are located on its chin onto a person or thing it likes. If your rabbit chews on you and is chinning you, it can be interpreted as a sign of friendship and love.
Your rabbit will display many different communication patterns depending on what message it is trying to tell you. For example, aggression will have completely different communication patterns from affection or anxiety.
Rabbit to Rabbit Body Language
Pet rabbit’s primary mode of communication with each other is nonverbal body language, making body language much more important than vocalization. The position of their ears, the movement of their feet, and whether or not they touch noses with each other all serve to communicate something important.
For example, rabbits that are trying to assess a threat will often have their ears straight up. If they are scared, they will thump their feet to tell other rabbits there is a threat nearby. A less dominant bunny may lay down in front of an alpha, but if an alpha lays down in front of a less dominant bunny it is requesting to be groomed.
If you are concerned whether or not your rabbits will get along, there are several non-verbal communication signs to look for. For instance, rabbits that like each other will often sit or lay down together.
They may also groom each other, roll on their back, or push their ears and nose forward to show they like each other and are enjoying spending time together.
Even though rabbits are often portrayed as quiet and soundless creatures, they still use vocalization to communicate with other rabbits and their caregivers. Most vocalizations are reserved for when your rabbit is scared, threatened, overwhelmed, or stressed out.
Rabbits may whimper to their humans as a way of showing they are uncomfortable or don’t want to be held. If you hear your pet rabbit whimpering, it may be a good idea to make sure it isn’t injured, especially if you have more than one rabbit.
Rabbits can often chase each other with the intention of biting each other so it is important to make sure both rabbits are getting along.
Bunnies can also vocalize for other reasons too. Honking or grunting is a sign of sexual maturity. If your rabbit is honking and following you or another rabbit around, it may be time to spay or neuter it unless you want baby bunnies.
Following the Leader
Your rabbit can be following you for several different reasons. However, there are two main reasons why your pet rabbit may follow you: sexual maturity, or they want affection.
In the case of sexual maturity, your rabbit will most likely be circling between your legs and grunting. When this happens it is a sign that your pet is ready for some adult interaction. If you have more than one rabbit, you’ll need to separate them as soon as this starts happening until you can get them spayed or neutered.
The second reason your rabbit may be following you around is because it wants your attention. Rabbits are extremely affectionate pets that bond very easily with their owners.
One way to tell if your pet rabbit wants your attention is if it nudges you with their nose or gives you a playful nip. If this is the case, it most likely wants you to stop what you are doing and pet it or play with it.
Even though rabbits are portrayed as silent creatures, they are actually communicating in a number of complex ways. Verbal communication is usually reserved for when your pet is urgently trying to communicate with you because something is most likely wrong.
Nonverbal communication and body language are a rabbit’s primary way of communication. This goes for communication with their owners as well as communication with other rabbits.
Even slight changes in their body can send a completely different message to their communicative partner. It is important to interact with your rabbit often so you are familiar with their personality and nonverbal cues.
Rabbits will often follow you or another bunny around for two main reasons. First, they have most likely reached sexual maturity and are looking for a mate, and second they are looking for attention and affection.
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.