How To Tell If Your Rabbit Is Stressed?

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How To Tell If Your Rabbit Is Stressed

Last Updated on August 2, 2021 by Rei

To tell if your rabbits are stressed, all you need to do is to look for these symptoms, which include aggressiveness, nervousness, lethargy, over/not grooming, and lack of appetite.

Rabbits, being a silent animal, has the downside of making it harder for rabbit owners to spot if they are unwell or stressed. Spotting the signs that your rabbit is stressed is an important skill to have as a rabbit owner.

If you notice any of these behaviors in your rabbits, it’s important to consult a veterinarian so that they can check if there are any underlying conditions causing it.

Aggressive

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“Angry rabbit” by Red Junasun is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Rabbits are not aggressive to people or other rabbits without a reason. One possible sign that your rabbit is stressed by its current situation is aggression towards you or their rabbit companion.

One of the most common reasons why a rabbit suddenly becomes aggressive towards its owners is boredom. Rabbits are naturally curious animals and they require lots of stimuli to be happy.

In the wild, rabbits have the whole forest to wander and explore, they always have something to do. So if your rabbit is always in its cage with no toys and exercise, it could lead to stress and aggressive behaviors.

Solution

If this is the case for your rabbits, make sure that your rabbit’s cage/hutch is large enough for them to stand and move around. Your rabbit also requires at least 4 hours of exercise where they can wander and explore.

Also, provide your rabbits with toys to help ease the boredom. The best rabbit toys are those that they can chew on like apple sticks.

Nervousness

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“Ahem!” by -Porsupah- is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Nervousness is also a sign of stress. A nervous rabbit is usually an indication of past trauma or distrust of its owners.

Here are the signs that your rabbit might be nervous around you:

  • Flat ears. Just like dogs and other animals, a rabbit ear is a big indication of what your rabbit is feeling.
  • They freeze and stare at you.
  • Running away from you and hiding.
  • No nose twitching while staring at you. Nervous rabbits would tense up and stop any unnecessary movement like nose twitching.

If your rabbit is nervous around you or with anyone, you need to be patient with them and provide as much comfort as possible. Nervousness and distrust could indicate that they have been abused in the past, especially if your rabbit is a rescue.

Solution

Here are the things you need to do to make your rabbit trust you:

  • Give your rabbit the space they need. If your rabbit doesn’t want to play or socialize with you, be patient and just let them do whatever they want.
  • Prove all their basic necessities. Your rabbit should have access to food and water at all times. Their cage/hut should be big enough for them to stand and walk around.
  • Give treats occasionally. Treats are the best way for your rabbit to trust you, rabbits are a sucker for sweet treats. The downside is that you can only give your rabbits small amounts of treats per day so you need to be patient.
  • Don’t lift up your rabbit. In the wild, once a rabbit is “lifted up” it usually means death. That’s why rabbits would do all they can to avoid getting lift up. Lifting your rabbit would just prolong the bonding process.
  • Give pets. Pet your rabbit whenever they come to you on their OWN.
  • Don’t make any loud noises. Loud noises scare your rabbit more than anything else. You should limit making any loud noises especially at the start of your relationship.

Over-grooming / not grooming

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“window grooming” by imwearingcons is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Over/not grooming is also a sign that your rabbit might be stressed and bored of its current lifestyle. The problem with your rabbit overgrooming is their skin could get inflamed and could cause patches of hair to be lost.

If your rabbit is over/not grooming, you need to look for the cause. Here causes of stress in rabbits:

  • No exercise. Rabbits are not meant to be confined in cages all day. The best possible environment for rabbits is the one that they have in the wild — which means lots of exercise and stimuli.
  • New environment. Changes in their environment could also cause stress to rabbits because they are territorial and they don’t like changing environments.
  • Being lift up. Lifting a rabbit up causes stress to rabbits because instinctively, in the wild, once a rabbit is “lifted up”, usually by a predator‘s mouth — it means death.
  • Sickness or pain. A sick or in-pain rabbit could also cause overgrooming and stress. The usual suspect is mange and ticks. If you notice any odd behaviors or patches or changes in your rabbit’s skin, bring them to a veterinarian for proper guidance.

Solution

Make sure that your rabbit is getting at least 4 hours of exercise. Let your rabbit out of their cage/hut to run around freely for 4 hours a day.

When changing environments, just make sure that you’re there for your rabbit when they need you. Just having you around would ease your rabbit’s worries.

If you suspect that your rabbit might be suffering from ticks or mange, bring your rabbit to a veterinarian for proper advice.

Lack of appetite and lethargy

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“Rabbit Fest 2013” by Tjflex2 is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

The most dangerous symptom of stress is the lack of appetite. Rabbits who are not eating enough fiber would eventually develop GI stasis which could lead to organ failure and death.

Solution

If notice that your rabbit is not eating, IMMEDIATELY bring your rabbit to a veterinarian because GI stasis is fatal extremely fast.

Summary

Symptoms of stress in rabbits include sudden aggressiveness, nervousness, over/not grooming, lack of appetite, and lethargy.

Aggressiveness in rabbits is usually caused by boredom or being kept in their cages for long periods of time without getting exercise. Rabbits are not meant to be kept in small cages all day.

The best environment for rabbits is the one that mimics what they have in the wild. They need constant exercise and stimuli.

Nervousness is usually caused by a lack of trust in their owners or past trauma. You can tell that a rabbit is nervous around you when they suddenly get tensed and their ears are down.

The only thing you can do to a nervous rabbit is to be patient and earn their trust.

Overgrooming and not grooming is also a sign of boredom. If your rabbit is showing this behavior, you need to stop it immediately because it could lead to skin inflammation and loss of fur.

Lack of appetite should be looked at by a veterinarian because it could lead to GI stasis, which is dangerous and could be fatal extremely fast.

Cite this article:

Bunny Horde (November 21, 2021) How To Tell If Your Rabbit Is Stressed?. Retrieved from https://bunnyhorde.com/how-to-tell-if-your-rabbit-is-stressed/.
"How To Tell If Your Rabbit Is Stressed?." Bunny Horde - November 21, 2021, https://bunnyhorde.com/how-to-tell-if-your-rabbit-is-stressed/

Sources and further reading

  • Buseth, Marit Emilie., and Richard A. Saunders. Rabbit Behaviour, Health, and Care. CABI, 2014.
  • Lebas, F. The Rabbit: Husbandry, Health, and Production. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 1997.
  • Patry, Karen, et al. The Rabbit-Raising Problem Solver: Your Questions Answered about Housing, Feeding, Behavior, Health Care, Breeding, and Kindling. Storey Publishing, 2014.
  • Overgrooming
  • Rabbit’s body language