It's hard to tell exactly what our rabbits are thinking most of the time. As a prey animal, they're naturals when it comes to hiding how they really feel as a form of protecting themselves... especially when they're feeling unwell.
Rabbits have very subtle ways of telling us how they're feeling through their body language. It can help us determine if they stressed, unhappy, in pain or simply just relaxed in your company. So how can you tell?
When a rabbit feels relaxed in their environment, there are certain behaviours and body languages that tell us they're feeling happy and trust the company that they're in, these include:
- Binky: when a rabbit does a binky, it's the most obvious way of knowing they're feeling very joyful and excited. A binky is an over-exaggerated hop where you rabbit sometimes twists and jerks their body while hopping. They might also run around the room really quickly while doing this too.
- Loafed / Splooting: Loafing or splooting is when your rabbit is in relaxation mode. They're either bundled up and looking like a little loaf with their front legs tucked in to form a rounded shape or stretched out with their back legs stretched out behind them.
- Grooming: Taking the time in their environment to sit down and groom themselves or their buddy shows that the rabbit feels safe and content in your company and are quite happy to focus their attention on getting clean.
As we know, rabbits are naturally prey species meaning they are always going to be on guard and on the the lookout for predators. It's quite normal for rabbits to therefore experience fear and stress when they're uncomfortable in their environment and unsure of a situation.
Rabbits who are stressed are likely to to show behaviours including:
- Hiding: some rabbits may choose to hide away. Although burrowing and hiding can be seen as a normal behaviour, if they're feeling stressed or upset they're more likely to hide for longer than normal.
- Aggression: if a rabbit is stressed they may show signs of aggression such as growling and biting at either their owner or bonded buddy. This is a defence to a situation that's making them frightened or uncomfortable.
- Physical changes: it can be apparent that your rabbit is stressed through changes in their body also. You may notice their eyes bulge more than normal and they're breathing heavily. A stressed rabbit will also hold its ears flat against its head alongside these other behaviours.
It's not always an easy task to determine if your rabbit is unwell. As a prey animal they instinctive hide signs of pain in order to survive in the wild and this is seen in pet rabbits too. Some more obvious signs your rabbit is unwell or not themselves are:
- Change in activity & posture: you might notice that your rabbit isn't as active as normal and seems lethargic. When you try to move your rabbit they might be reluctant to co-operate and go back to their resting position. Their posture may include being hunched up or pressing their stomach against the floor. They may shift between these two positions often.
- Teeth grinding: sometimes teeth grinding can mean contentment however, when coupled with the changes in their posture and when the tooth grinding becomes particularly loud, this can indicate they're in pain.
- Change in appetite: if you rabbit is showing no or little interest in their food, this is usually a sign that something isn't right. They naturally forage throughout the day so if long periods of time have went by without eating you should seek vet advice immediately.
For more information on rabbit behaviours, visit the Rabbit Welfare Association HERE.