Rabbits are quiet but very expressive animals, who use body language and gesturing to convey a wide variety of moods and desires. By learning how to recognize rabbit body language and behavior, you can start understanding your bunny and learn how to communicate back! Perhaps even more importantly, by understanding what their different posturing means, you can recognize signs of illness in your rabbit, leading to quicker response times.
A comprehensive guide called the Language of the Lagomorphs can be found online here. It covers everything from the meaning of playful binkies to the signs of sadness and fear. Though an older website, it is possibly the best of its kind online.
Below is a quick reference guide by Nancy LaRoche, which lists a few of the common bunny behaviors that are most helpful to know.
Interpreting Common Bunny Behavior
by Nancy J. LaRoche
Copyright 2008 – All Rights Reserved
(May be copied for free distribution)
Thumping can mean a variety of things, depending on the context in which it occurs. It can signal danger, indicate nervousness, or be a statement of “I don’t like what you’re doing.” If it occurs when you are intruding into the rabbit’s home, it may be all three.
Rabbits’ eyes bulge because of either fear or pain. It obviously indicates fear if their eyes bulge when you enter their space.
Ears Laid Flat Against Shoulders
When rabbits lay their ears back, they are are frightened or preparing to do battle.
Ears Held Forward
When rabbits hold their ears forward, they are showing interest. If you are entering their space, such ears indicate that they are curious about you.
Rabbits “tooth purr” when they are very content and happy, by rubbing their teeth together gently. If you are walking past and happen to see this happening, about all you will notice is their cheeks appear to be quivering.
When rabbits leap into the air and fling their rumps around, or do aerobics in the air, they are expressing the joy of being alive and having space. These dances in the air have come to be known as “binkies.”
Flopping Onto Side
Rabbits have a way of lifting their feet and falling onto their sides in a single sudden move that can make someone not familiar with rabbits think the rabbit has had a seizure or died on the spot. Actually, it’s just a way for rabbits to express that they feel very safe and relaxed.
Sitting Motionless For Long Periods
A depressed rabbit will sit in a single position for very long periods of time, staring at nothing. This is very similar to a severely depressed human and not to be confused with a sleepy rabbit. Happy rabbits nibble at hay or other food stuffs, groom themselves and perhaps their companions, play with toys, and generally take an interest in life.
Aggression: tail lifted high, ears back, leaping forward (some rabbits are very protective of their mates and will attack if you touch the mate)
Urinating: tail lifted slightly, crouching
Relaxed: tail not lifted, ears forward or hanging down (in the case of lops)