Rabbit Behavior Problems (Signs, Types, Solutions)

Rabbit Behavior Problems
Rabbit Behavior Problems

Getting a rabbit for the first time can be difficult, especially if it’s showing bad behaviors that you don’t know how to stop. Your rabbit may act out due to a number of reasons, and it’s important to understand and address them to make your living experience together as positive as possible.

How do I deal with bad rabbit behavior? Each bad behavior has its own source and solution. You may be able to train some behaviors out, but others must have their core problems addressed, and some may not be preventable.

Why Is My Rabbit Behaving Badly?

This depends on the type of bad behavior. Some common causes include boredom, unhappiness, fear, and instinct. Most bad behaviors come from your rabbit being unhappy in some way, while others may be normal rabbit behaviors that you simply may not like. Destructive habits like chewing, tearing, and digging are a combination of boredom and a rabbit’s natural instinct, while other habits like fighting other animals may occur because of hormones. If your rabbit is behaving as though it doesn’t like you or is afraid of you, there may be a problem with the way you are bonding with your rabbit. It’s important to identify the source of bad behavior in each instance to understand how to stop the behavior.

What Do I Do If My Rabbit Is Behaving Badly?

More than likely, you will need to change something you are doing rather than the rabbit changing something it is doing. Most rabbit behaviors are ingrained in the rabbit because of instinct or biology, and you’ll need to provide other outlets or ways to curb the behavior that accommodate the rabbit. This goes for behaviors such as chewing, hiding, and marking territory.

However, in some cases it’s possible to retrain your rabbit not to do the unwanted action or to do something different instead. This may require a fair amount of effort, as you’ll need to be there each time the behavior is happening and then be able to respond with training actions such as encouraging a replacement behavior or discouraging the unwanted behavior. This means that while you’re retraining your rabbit, it’s important to watch it closely and respond quickly each time the behavior happens.

Should I Physically Discipline My Rabbit?

No, you should never physically discipline your rabbit. Rabbits are prey animals, and because they’re very small, they’re very fragile. Hitting, kicking, dropping, or otherwise intentionally hurting your rabbit could cause serious injury and even death. Even if your rabbit was physically okay after being struck, it would no longer trust you and would see you as a source of pain and danger. There are plenty of other ways to train your rabbit to change its behavior.

How Do I Stop My Rabbit from Behaving Badly?

There are two ways to stop your rabbit’s bad behavior. The first one is to address the underlying cause of the behavior, while the second is to retrain or redirect whenever the behavior occurs. The first course of action works best when you can identify a reason why your rabbit is acting the way it is; for example, a rabbit who is chewing on its cage may be bored, while a rabbit who bites when it is picked up may be afraid. Other potential causes include attention seeking and frustration.

The second course of action works best when there is no specific underlying cause or you need to redirect a behavior that can’t be trained out. Litter training is a good example of the former, while destructive chewing or digging is an example of the latter. You can’t stop a rabbit from going to the bathroom, and you can’t teach a rabbit not to chew. However, you can train the rabbit to do those things in a way that doesn’t disrupt the household. It’s important to be dedicated when training a rabbit in this way and to not give up on changing the behavior. Inconsistency won’t teach the rabbit the correct behaviors, and doing it wrong may only teach the rabbit that the unwanted behavior will get a reaction.

Why Is My Rabbit Digging?

Digging is a natural rabbit behavior that comes from the need out in the wild to dig burrows. Rabbit digging isn’t always destructive, but if you encourage it or allow it to escalate your rabbit may end up damaging things like comforters or carpets or digging out of an outdoor enclosure.

Digging can’t be eliminated completely, but you can discourage your rabbit from digging by distracting it. Because the behavior is instinctual and natural, it’s not helpful to try to punish it for digging. Instead, pull your rabbit away from the area where it is digging by saying its name or making noise with a toy.

Your rabbit may dig in its litter box or enclosure if it is not allowed to free roam enough. This is usually due to boredom and frustration. Give your rabbit more time outside of its enclosure with stimulation like toys, play, and petting. You should also provide toys in your rabbit’s enclosure and plenty of space for it to roam around in.

Why Is My Rabbit Peeing or Spraying?

Rabbits who pee or spray outside the litter box are marking territory. Both male and female rabbits will do this, and it’s most common when the rabbit isn’t spayed or neutered. Male rabbits can be neutered starting at about 12 weeks, and female rabbits are generally spayed around 6 months. This typically stops the behavior within a few weeks. It will also stop many other unwanted behaviors, so it’s an important step.

The next thing you should do is clean the areas where your rabbit has sprayed or peed. Use a solution of white vinegar mixed with water and spray it over the area and then blot dry. This neutralizes the scent of the urine. If your rabbit smells urine in an area, it’s more likely to pee or spray there again. Cleaning the area discourages them from repeating the behavior, especially if they’ve been spayed or neutered in the meantime.

If male rabbits are neutered later than about 6 months, they may develop what’s called habitual spraying, which is different from hormonal spraying. Habitual spraying will continue after the male is neutered. In this situation, you can try misting him with a spray bottle of water to discourage it. If he sprays in a particular spot like a couch or bed, you may also want to block him off from that area to prevent that urge.

Why Is My Rabbit Pooping Outside the Litter Box?

Pooping is another form of marking territory for rabbits. Territorial feces is different than regular feces, so you’ll know whether your rabbit is marking or simply didn’t make it to a litter box. Territorial feces smells stronger and has a shiny coating over it, which produces the smell. Rabbits will typically stop marking territory in this way after they are spayed or neutered.

However, certain life changes may cause a rabbit to mark their territory even while spayed or neutered. Marking territory serves two purposes; first, it lets others know that the area belongs to your rabbit, and second, it comforts your rabbit by making the area smell familiar. If you move homes or move your rabbit to a different room, it may mark territory to acclimate to the new area. If you bring new people into the house, it may do so to make the new people aware of its boundaries. These are typically one-off instances associated with the event.

You may want to keep your rabbit out of areas where it frequently tries to mark territory, such as another animal’s bed or enclosure or a guest room. Preventing the behavior is sometimes more effective than trying to change the behavior.

Why Won’t My Rabbit Use the Litter Box at All?

Your rabbit may not be properly litter trained. Litter training a rabbit can be done at any age but can take as much as a few weeks to do properly. If your rabbit doesn’t appear to be marking territory and simply seems as though it doesn’t know how to use a litter box, you may want to try or repeat litter training.

To litter train your rabbit, you should start in an enclosed space like a bathroom where it will be easy to clean up accidents. Monitor your rabbit and each time it uses the bathroom, pick up the waste with a paper towel and place it in the litter box. Then place your rabbit next to the waste and praise it. Repeat this until the rabbit begins to understand the association. Once your rabbit is using the litter box in that enclosed space, you can introduce it to a larger space. Each time your rabbit goes to the litter box and uses it correctly, praise it and give it a small treat. Eventually, it should use the litter box exclusively. This process may need to be repeated throughout the rabbit’s life, especially if you experience drastic lifestyle changes like moving to a new house.

Why Does My Rabbit Fight Other Rabbits?

Rabbits typically fight because of hormonal urges, and therefore will almost always stop when spayed or neutered. Both males and females will fight. Spaying or neutering will fix the issue within a few weeks, after the residual hormones have left your rabbit’s body. This will stop frequent fighting and aggression due to hormones.

However, if you have more than one rabbit they may still fight if they don’t get along well. Make sure you are keeping them in separate enclosures and giving them enough space to get away from each other if necessary. This is true even if you are trying to bond your rabbits, as they still need to get used to each other first and this requires that they be given some personal space. Keeping rabbits that don’t know each other in too small of a space can result in fighting.

Your rabbits may also fight if there is too little food or too few litter boxes. Make sure you’re providing enough resources for all your rabbits to happily coexist; this means at least one litter box per rabbit (unless you have a bonded pair) and enough food that they will not run out.

Why Does My Rabbit Hit or Bite Me When I Try to Pet It?

Rabbits don’t typically attack just to attack; they do so because they feel threatened. Your rabbit may hit you because it feels you’re invading its personal space, or it may be confusing you for a predator and think it needs to defend itself. Be mindful of your rabbit’s mood and how you’re approaching it before you try to pet it or pick it up.

Some rabbits may not like to be petted at all, but you can try building a stronger relationship with your rabbit so that it doesn’t mind you coming closer to it. Spend quiet time with your rabbit and allow it to get used to your presence, and try giving it treats and praising it when it gets close to you. It’s important to go slowly and not frighten your rabbit, as this causes the behaviors like hitting and biting.

Rabbits occasionally bite to get your attention. To discourage this behavior, squeal or yelp loudly when your rabbit does so to make it clear that you’re in pain. Your rabbit will usually begin to bite more softly or stop biting altogether when it realizes it’s hurting you.

Why Does My Rabbit Run When I Try to Pick It Up?

Rabbits are prey animals and many will never be pets that enjoy being held. Being constrained signals danger to a rabbit, so while they may approach you or lay down next to you, they usually won’t enjoy being held in your arms or on your lap. Don’t chase your rabbit to try to pick it up, as this will cause it to not trust you and see you as a predator.

You can always try to build a closer bond with your rabbit by spending time with it and giving it praise and treats when it gets near you, but it may take years of building a trusting relationship to reach a point where your rabbit will let you pick it up. Be mindful of your rabbit’s body language when you try to do this, as rabbits will usually be scared and reluctant if you lean down over them or reach out to them. Try to let your rabbit come to you if possible and don’t constrain it tightly or squeeze it.

Why Won’t My Rabbit Go Back in Its Cage?

If your rabbit refuses to go into its cage after play time, the source may be something as simple as your rabbit not wanting to be done or as serious as your rabbit being severely unhappy in its enclosure. Just like a child, a rabbit may not want to go to bed after a fun time out in the house and may run away or try to escape. You may want to try coaxing your rabbit into its enclosure with a small treat and saying a command like “It’s bedtime” or “Time to go up” each time it goes in successfully. Eventually, your rabbit will associate that command with going into its enclosure and getting a treat and should do so as soon as you say it.

It’s important to make sure that your rabbit’s enclosure is the proper size and contains everything your rabbit needs. This includes food, water, a litter box, toys, an enclosed space to sleep and about 12 square feet of hopping space. If it’s lacking any of these things, your rabbit may not be happy there. Your rabbit’s enclosure should be its safe place, not a place of punishment or unhappiness. If your rabbit is getting enough exercise and has adequate resources in its enclosure, it should have no problem going there.

Why Does My Rabbit Chew Everything?

Chewing is another rabbit behavior that is instinctual but that humans typically don’t want to see. Chewing can be destructive, especially if your rabbit does so excessively. Similar to digging, chewing is a behavior that rabbits show for a reason. They need to chew in order to grind their teeth down and keep their mouth healthy, and in the wild they’ll chew on sticks and grass to do so. In a household, they will chew on just about anything that interests them. Rabbits can be very curious and may chew wires, furniture, books, electronics – anything that is within their reach. It’s hard to discourage this behavior, but you can try to redirect it or make sure it only happens in certain contexts.

To stop your rabbit from chewing on certain things, you can try spraying the area with citrus oil mixed with water. Citrus oil isn’t harmful to rabbits, but they don’t enjoy the smell or flavor. Scents like bitter apple won’t work on rabbits, so you’ll need to use the citrus if you need to make a certain spot unappetizing to them. You should also make sure you’re providing enough chewing material like sticks and toys that your rabbit isn’t resorting to other objects for its regular chewing habits.

Your rabbit may be chewing because it’s bored or seeking attention, so you should make sure you have enough enrichment activities such as toys and interaction to keep your rabbit occupied and happy. Try to redirect chewing as quickly as possible to designated toys or areas or distract your rabbit with another activity.

Why Won’t My Rabbit Play or Move?

If your rabbit is suddenly inactive and refuses to play, it’s important to check for health issues before assuming it’s a behavioral issue. Make sure your rabbit is eating and drinking and take note of any recent changes to your rabbit’s life such as diet changes, moves, or visits to new areas. If your rabbit isn’t eating, take it to the vet. The lethargy is probably caused by illness and it should be addressed as quickly as possible. Otherwise, your rabbit may just be stressed out and need time to recover.

If you are trying to play with your rabbit during the day or at night, it may be trying to sleep. Rabbits are active at dusk and dawn, and typically nap during the day and night. Try visiting your rabbit at a different time of day to see if it’s more active.

Why Is My Rabbit Eating Poop?

While eating poop may seem gross to a human, it’s actually a normal part of a rabbit’s diet. Rabbits have two types of poop: the round, dry pellet that most people think of, and a darker, softer poop usually taken at night that the rabbit will then eat to re-digest. A rabbit’s digestive system is constantly moving and moves very quickly, so it can’t absorb all the nutrients the first time. Eating this night poop, called a cecotrope, allows the rabbit to absorb the nutrients it missed. You shouldn’t try to stop your rabbit from eating this poop, as it’s an important part of your rabbit’s health.

Related Questions

What do I do if my rabbit suddenly starts acting differently? Take note of any recent changes to your rabbit’s diet or environment and change back if possible. If your rabbit’s behavior doesn’t return to normal within a day, consult a vet.

How do I train my rabbit? Identify the behavior you want it to repeat, then reward the behavior and repeat a command that you want to associate with it. Eventually, your rabbit will learn to do the behavior when it hears the command.

Does my rabbit hate me? Behaviors like biting and running away may just mean your rabbit isn’t comfortable with you yet. Try spending quiet time together and offering treats and praise when your rabbit gets near you by itself.