Rabbits are naturally territorial animals, so they have many ways they mark and defend their territory. Don’t worry though, having them spayed or neutered around 5-6 months of age will help lessen many undesirable habits that may come with this. Since they are prey animals, it is their instinct to get scared, protect themselves, or act a bit aggressive, but can you blame them?
So how do rabbits mark and defend their territory?
The most common way a rabbit will mark their territory is by spraying urine on the items they want to mark. They may even spray urine on a human to mark them as their own. Another practice rabbits partake in is known as “chinning,” which includes rubbing scent glands on the item or area the rabbit wants to claim. Being “cage protective” is a common defense mechanism amongst rabbits, as they do not want their cage items being touched or moved by others.
Spraying, Chinning, and Cage Protecting
Spraying, chinning, and cage protecting are three of the most common ways rabbits mark and defend their territory. We now know how they do it, and a background of where this behavior comes from. Now we want to know a more in-depth explanation of why they are participating in these behaviors, and how we should interact with them as pet owners.
|What||Why are they doing it?||How to approach this?|
|Spraying||The act of spraying urine to mark an item as its own is derived from a rabbit’s natural instinct of being territorial. a rabbit is a prey animal, so they are naturally timid, defensive, and may act out in fits of aggression if they feel their items, space, or self are being threatened.||This can be combated with sterilization. This is a factor that will not completely change. However, a rabbit’s behavior changes after puberty causing them to act in a way which is incompatible with household living, so spaying or neutering is essential for lessening the act of spraying for territorial purposes.|
|Chinning||While not harmful or aggressive like spraying, chinning is also an act of a rabbit claiming an item as its own. Since there are scent glands located in a bunny’s chin, they can use these glands to rub their scent on items or places they would like to claim.||These scent glands produce a scent which is odorless and unable to be seen by us, so this is an acceptable way for rabbits to mark their territory in the home. This is okay, you don’t have to do anything about this one!|
|Cage Protecting||Like chinning and spraying urine, cage protection comes from the instinct of being territorial. Instead of marking territory in this practice, the rabbit is defending a territory they already recognize as their own. In the wild a rabbit’s home is a burrow, but when a rabbit is domesticated it lives in a cage or a hutch. Since this is a rabbit’s safe space, it will arrange its hay, food, toys, or other belongings methodically around the space.||This is not to be messed with by humans, otherwise the rabbit may get aggressive in an attempt to protect their home. They may let their owner know their distaste with a little “warning” nip or bite. Let the rabbit keep its space how they please to avoid unnecessary aggression. When cleaning the space, or adding fresh food and water, do it when the bunny is playing and distracted.|
What Else Should I Know About Spraying, Chinning, and Cage Protecting?
- Growling may also be a sign of displeasure. It is not always; however, it is often seen in rabbits who are cage protecting and may come before a warning bite or nip.
- Male rabbits are often attracted to the feet, arms, or legs of their human, similar to the way an unneutered dog is.
- For cage protective bunnies, reaching into their cage to grab them may scare them resulting in aggression. Open their cage and wait for them to come out.
- If a bunny nips at you too hard in an act of defense, do not hit them as they do not understand this. Instead, squeal in a high-pitched tone. This is how they communicate, and they will understand they have hurt you.
- If a bunny nips at you after licking you it is not meant to be aggressive or territorial. They are doing it to show they want to be groomed because they are grooming you.
- Discipline does not play a role in a bunny’s evolution so this must be handled differently than a cat or dog if they are behaving out of control. A clap and a stern, “NO!” should be sufficient. However, look at the behavior first and make sure it is not behavior they need to do, or behavior that is being caused.
These are the most common ways rabbits will mark their territory or defend it, however they are not the only ways. There are many other important indicators or bits of knowledge which go along with these behaviors, and it is very helpful to know them. Here are some other behaviors which are associated with defending and marking of territory you should be aware of:
If you look at a rabbit’s head you will notice something about the location of the eyes, they are located on the side of the head! This can make perception difficult for a rabbit when an object is head on. Their vision is excellent to the sides, however, when an object is right in front of them, their vision is either nonexistent or very blurry depending on the location.
Remember how we talked about rabbits being prey animals? Well, if a prey animal perceives something as a threat when they are naturally territorial, their instinct will be to attack. A rabbit may see a blurry human hand coming towards them head-on and become scared, resulting in a lunge for self-defense. They do not realize this is not a threat, they just see a blurry object coming at them and do what they feel they need to in order to protect themselves.
In order to avoid evoking this response from a rabbit, talking before reaching from them, moving slowly, and reaching from a lower position are all effective methods. An angle which is not directly towards the face nor directly straight down will not resemble a rabbit’s natural predators. This will make the rabbit feel safer while being approached and less likely to nip or bite.
Honking and Oinking
This is a noise made as a result of hormones, which is often accompanied by spraying of urine to mark territory. When this sound is beginning to be made, that means it is definitely time to have your rabbit sterilized. Males are always ready for this procedure and females are ready 28 days out of the month. If there are no other rabbits in the house, be careful, because that honking, or oinking is usually followed with the bunny spraying you in order to mark you as their territory!
If a bunny stomps, this is their way of warning you they are not happy with something you are doing. The stomp will happen with a back foot, and they will thump as a warning sign of their dislike for a given situation. This may happen if you picked up your bunny or invaded their space in some other way. While this may be seen as an aggressive form of communication, this is actually a very passive form since the bunny is communicating without biting, nipping, or lunging.
Don’t Pick Your Rabbit Up!
Since rabbits are by nature prey animals, it should come as no surprise that they do not like to be picked up. Much of their timid, defensive, and territorial behavior centers around this fear. To be picked up in nature is to be captured, and to be captured is to be eaten. If you absolutely have to pick up your rabbit do not approach them from above, scoop them from underneath. Grabbing from above resembles their natural predators.
Rabbits would much rather be cuddled and played with on the floor or would like to jump up and join you on the couch. They also enjoy having their heads pet. Not only does picking up these animals make them anxious, but improper handling can lead to injury. Rabbits do not have the resilience when hitting the ground from heights a cat or dog might. If a bunny is dropped, their entire spine risks being broken. Picking them up by their ears carries the same risks.
We explored some of the most common forms of marking and defending territory present in rabbits. We also explored some of the other indicators that are important to keep an eye out for in your rabbit’s behavior related to these habits. Knowing the signs your rabbit is exhibiting is essential to having the best relationship with your pet and being a responsible owner. The more you can understand about your rabbit’s language, the better able you will be at providing them the space and atmosphere they need to be happy and healthy!