Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood

Has your rabbit’s behaviour left you climbing the wall? Ever wondered why your pet doesn’t fit the “cute little bunny” image you’d hoped for when you got him?

A couple of weeks ago I was doing a home visit with a lady and her small Netherland Dwarf cross rabbit. She had contacted us as she was having difficulties with him.

Her house rabbit was apparently displaying signs of aggression, and she was having great problems getting him into a travel carrier to take him to the vet. On occasion she had to call family members to babysit when she left for work, as she had been unable to catch him and put him into his cage. At his last visit to the vet he had been so worked up that the vet had seemingly abandoned his attempt to trim his claws, which were now getting dangerously long.

On arriving for our visit and entering the room I was very pleased to see an ideal rabbit environment. He had free access to the whole living room area, with an open cage in the corner of the room as a sleeping area for him. It was clear this rabbit was adored by his owner, with plenty of toys and even rabbit themed posters and ornaments around her flat. She was clearly upset that she wasn’t managing to have the relationship with the rabbit that she had hoped for.

The main reason for the rabbit’s behaviour was that he had started to view the living room as his territory. Giving your rabbit the full reign of an entire room is excellent as it provides him with more than enough space, exercise and stimulation, but it can sometimes mean that you need to do a little bit more work to remind them who’s boss of the space.

We found bunny in his usual place, hiding behind the TV unit. He was small, relaxed and very cute: not the monster I had been led to expect. I approached him as I usually would, holding my hand out just a few inches away from his nose to let him know I was there and then to let him investigate. After a few nudges of my hand I went in to pick him up.

In the meantime my partner & I continued our conversation with the owner to gain a better understanding of her rabbit’s routine, diet and most importantly how she interacted and handled him. We quickly discovered that the real problem in this case wasn’t so much the rabbit’s behaviour, but more about his owner’s confidence in dealing with him. The second he gave off a warning grunt or thump of his foot, she’d back right off.

This is sadly typical of so many rabbit owners. It’s important to understand natural rabbit behaviours so that you can build a better relationship with them. Rabbits are prey animals, and as such naturally will display aggression when they feel under threat, especially if their home (or territory) is at risk. However, as most animals, their behaviour can easily be conditioned through various positive reward exercises. Just as you would with children, you need to remind your pet who’s in charge and discipline your pet. As a rabbit owner, it’s your responsibility to become the SuperNanny of your rabbit’s world. Learn about rabbit natural behaviour, and most importantly start to understand your own rabbit’s character, and work with them on improving their behaviour to suit.

By the end of our visit, I had bunny sitting in my lap, relaxed and calm as I brushed his coat. I even managed to get him held long enough to clip his claws.

Its early days for them, but we recently heard that his owner has now managed to get him back to the vet for his booster vaccinations, she’s slowly changing his diet and is now looking for a suitable female companion for him from rabbit rescue centres so he has company when she’s out at work.

If you have an aggressive rabbit at home, think about what you could do to turn things around. Check out books from your local library. Spend more time trying to build a relationship with your rabbit. Consider having your pet neutered if you haven’t already done so. And seek advice from other rabbit owners. The Rabbit Welfare Association also have a good introductory leaflet, Biting The Hand That Feeds You. You can always get in touch with us too for your own home visit.

Important Note: If your rabbit suddenly displays unusual aggression without reason, this could be an indication of something serious. Rabbits are experts at hiding illness or injury from their predators, so you should always seek an immediate examination from a qualified, rabbit experienced vet.