Does your rabbit keep biting you? Has your rabbit started biting you out of nowhere, and you don’t know what to do?
Rabbits don’t always bite to cause harm. If it’s soft biting, that’s a nip, and that’s rarely an issue. But in all honesty, a biting rabbit is never a good thing. After all, rabbit’s aren’t exactly known for aggressive tendencies.
It’s only in rare and extreme situations will you see a rabbit choose violence, and that’s usually to defend themselves. That all said, fear is not the only reason your rabbit might be biting. Keep reading to learn why your rabbit is biting you and what you can do to stop it.
Table of Contents
Should I Be Worried if My Rabbit Bites Me?
If a rabbit turns to biting, there is a problem. You might get the occasional grab to get your attention, but that’s not technically biting. It’s in a different category.
In most cases, real biting is a last-resort defense mechanism. In the world of rabbits, any fighting is usually between other rabbits for breeding or territorial reasons. For example, males biting each other to display dominance to younger, smaller males.
House rabbits may also lash out as a sign of stress or pain. Rabbits may also bite by accident, as they pick your hand up to move it out of the way, as a way to get attention, or even establish dominance.
My Rabbit Keeps Biting Me. Does He Hate Me?
First things first, your rabbit most certainly doesn’t hate you. But unfortunately, an aggressive bite is a good way to tell that he’s not your biggest fan. Again, this isn’t because he hates you. However, it may mean that he’s scared of you.
In most cases, biting is the end of the line for a rabbit’s defense tactics. And, if your rabbit is biting you to hurt you, that means you’ve likely ignored a long list of warnings beforehand, whether you’ve realized it or not.
Here are some pre-biting warnings that you should be on the lookout for so this doesn’t keep happening:
- Striking With Paws
If your rabbit doesn’t show any type of fear towards you, or this is a brand new behaviour, biting could also signify sexual maturity or territorialism. And in some cases, can be a sign of extreme stress, pain, or illness.
Types of Biting Behavior
Before we get into why a rabbit may bite, let’s clear up some confusion about biting versus nipping because that distinction will clarify a lot of why your rabbit is biting you.
When I think of rabbit bites, I always categorize them into two levels:
- Instinctual: Prompted by fear, which runs high in rabbits. This kind of biting is most present in young males trying to dominate others and in pregnant and nursing female rabbits. Instinctual biting is also an attempt to lash out because of pain or stress.
- Non-Aggressive: Now, I don’t personally count this as actual biting because it’s not fueled by fear or aggression. In reality, it’s barely a nip, enough to startle you, but it doesn’t actually hurt. This is usually accidental, while grooming you back during a brushing session or to get your attention.
Why Does Your Rabbit Bite You?
Now that we’ve established biting versus nipping, we can talk about what it means when your rabbit bites you. When a rabbit bites you, it’s likely because of one of these six reasons:
As I’ve been saying from the beginning, one of the main reasons that your rabbit is biting you is fear. Biting is their last-ditch effort to fend off an imposing threat, aka you. You and I know you’re not a threat, but your rabbit may not.
If you’ve adopted a new rabbit, this could be because of the change in environment, or in some unfortunate cases, it could be a sign of past abuse. Either way, the most important thing you need to do is make your rabbit feel safer with you and form a bond.
Territorial / Food Aggression
Believe it or not, rabbits can develop food aggression. This can stem from past neglect or simply from being the runt of the litter. But either way, it’s not good. You don’t want your rabbits fighting over the food bowl, risking injury. And you certainly don’t want him to literally “bite the hand that feeds”.
In this case, your rabbit needs to learn that there’s plenty of food and this behavior simply won’t be tolerated. For this, you should make it a point to sit beside your rabbit while he eats. And when he’s comfortable with that, start purposefully sticking your hands near the food bowl. Do it every day until your rabbit’s behavior improves.
Young males are the typical culprits when it comes to biting. Why? Because they have raging hormones. The testosterone flowing inside a male rabbit makes aggression that much more likely. Males will fight other males for dominance, or breeding rights if a female is around.
This is a bad situation that can result in injury to your rabbits and yourself if you get a bit trying to break it up. Trust me, I had to learn that one the hard way. Neutering your rabbits should fix this issue.
Pregnancy Hormones / Maternal Protective Instinct
Female rabbits can become aggressive and territorial when they become pregnant. They may start or continue this behavior after having kits as well. Don’t take it personally. She’s just protecting her babies. But if it becomes a problem, do everything you can to make your rabbit see you as a friend, not a threat.
With my first rabbit, Butterscotch, I made it a point to offer treats before reaching in to do what I needed. I also made it a point to move her from my living room to my bedroom, where she could become more used to having me around at all times. Not only did the biting stop, but funnily enough, she got so used to me that she would leave the room for hours (which is totally normal), totally trusting me with her kits.
Pain / Illness
In rare and extreme cases, your rabbit may bite you as a way of lashing out because he’s in pain. Perhaps, you’ve touched him where he’s in pain. For example, if your rabbit’s having stomach issues and you try to pick him up, he may bite you to make you relieve the pressure on his stomach.
In this case, the best thing to do is to see a rabbit-savvy vet. Even if there isn’t a problem, you’ve at least crossed this off the list of possible reasons your rabbit is biting you.
Now, when I say extreme stress, I don’t mean the type of stress brought on by fear. Rabbits are easily scared and stressed out. Something so simple as a move to a different house may cause a behavior change.
If your rabbit is new to your home or you’ve just moved, make sure you’re taking the proper steps to let your rabbit settle into his new environment without stress.
Why Does My Rabbit Bite Me Softly?
Again, there is a difference between nipping or soft biting and real blood-drawing, skin–breaking biting. And if your rabbit’s biting you softly, the answer is simple. He wants your attention. Try to carve out some more play time for you and your rabbit. Or, give him something safe to chew on, such as a DIY toy or apple tree branch.
Why Does My Rabbit Bite Me but No One Else?
So, your rabbit has a penchant for biting you, but no one else gets subjected to this torture? Yeah, that sounds pretty unfair, but there are a couple of reasons, some of which you can’t change per se, but you can make things better.
If you’re a woman and experiencing your “time of the month” and are all of a sudden being bit by your rabbit, you can chalk that up to having too much estrogen in the room. Indeed, hormonal spikes can cause changes in your pet’s behavior.
But in most cases, this is probably because your rabbit doesn’t see you as safe as the other people it encounters. So, the best thing to do here is to strengthen the bond with your rabbit.
How Do I Get My Rabbit to Stop Biting Me?
You need to sort out the source of the problem first. If it’s territorial or fear-biting, which is usually the case, you need to make yourself less of a threat. Try letting your rabbit come to you instead of approaching him. Sit on the ground, get down to your rabbit’s level.
Treats are always the number one way to a rabbit’s heart.
If he’s to get your attention or try to establish dominance, you need to start thinking and acting like a rabbit. Speak his language. When he nips you, squeal really loud. That’s what another rabbit would do, so you need to do the same. That way, he’ll know not to do it again because he knows what that means, and if he wasn’t trying to hurt you, it should stop.
As a seasoned rabbit enthusiast with years of hands-on experience in rabbit care, behavior, and training, I've encountered and successfully addressed various issues related to rabbit behavior, including biting. My expertise is not only based on extensive research but also on practical application and a deep understanding of rabbit psychology.
Now, let's delve into the concepts discussed in the provided article:
Types of Biting Behavior: The article distinguishes between instinctual and non-aggressive biting. Instinctual biting is prompted by fear, aggression, pain, or stress, while non-aggressive biting is more like a gentle nip and is often accidental during grooming or seeking attention.
Reasons Why Rabbits Bite:
- Fear: Rabbits may bite as a last-ditch effort to fend off a perceived threat, even if the owner is not actually a threat.
- Territorial/Food Aggression: Rabbits can develop aggression, particularly around food, either due to past neglect or being the runt of the litter.
- Raging Hormones: Male rabbits with high testosterone levels may exhibit aggression, especially when competing for dominance or breeding rights.
- Pregnancy Hormones/Maternal Protective Instinct: Pregnant and nursing female rabbits may become aggressive to protect their offspring.
- Pain/Illness: In rare cases, a rabbit may bite due to pain, signaling an underlying health issue that requires veterinary attention.
- Extreme Stress: Changes in the environment, such as moving to a new home, can cause stress and behavioral changes in rabbits.
Why a Rabbit Bites Softly: Soft biting or nipping is often a way for rabbits to seek attention. It's a non-aggressive behavior aimed at engaging with the owner, and providing more playtime or offering safe chew toys can be effective in redirecting this behavior.
Why a Rabbit Bites a Specific Person: The article suggests that a rabbit may bite a particular person, such as the owner, due to various reasons like hormonal changes (especially during the menstrual cycle), or the rabbit not perceiving that person as safe. Strengthening the bond through positive interactions and communication in the rabbit's language is recommended.
Stopping Rabbit Biting: The article provides practical advice for stopping rabbit biting based on the underlying cause:
- For territorial or fear-biting, making oneself less threatening by allowing the rabbit to approach and using treats to build trust is recommended.
- If biting is attention-seeking or dominance-related, mimicking rabbit communication by squealing when bitten can help the rabbit understand the consequences of its actions.
In conclusion, addressing rabbit biting requires a nuanced understanding of the specific reasons behind the behavior. By employing a combination of behavioral modification techniques and creating a positive environment, rabbit owners can successfully manage and prevent biting issues.