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Please don’t chase your rabbits unless you’re sure that’s what they’re after.
I don’t have a tonne of experience here – only one of my rabbits LOVED to be chased (to the point that she’d draw blood until we chased her) – but if I’d have read her body language earlier maybe she’d have calmed down a fraction.
Signs that your rabbit wants to be chased
There’s probably more than this, but this is my experience. It didn’t help that she was MASSIVE and BIT and TERRIFYING but she just really, really wanted to communicate and biting us…got our attention.
Lol, we did all the things you’re meant to do to stop them biting, like squeal, which she LOVED. The louder we squealed, the more she’d bite.
I can laugh about it now, but I sleep over that rabbit. I thought she hated us and was miserable, but she just liked it when we squealed.
If I’d have learned to just chase her when she chased me, I’d have saved myself a lot of heartache.
So, what are we looking for?
1. Is your rabbit chasing you?
This is usually sign one. Most animals that engage in this kind of behaviour want it reciprocated. you’ll see dogs chasing each other around the park doing it.
My mum has a whippet and no one will play with her (except, weirdly, black labs) because they know she’ll want to be chased but can’t be caught.
If your rabbit wants to chase you, it’s a pretty sure sign that they want to be chased back. You know, gently.
2. They’re exhibiting playful behaviour
This is what I missed.
You see, some rabbits (especially in the wild) will chase away intruders.
I thought Isobel was chasing me out of her space.
Not the case.
You need to observe your rabbit’s body language NOT their facial expressions.
Isobel always looked angry, even when she wasn’t.
She had a resting bitch face.
Can’t be helped.
But one night my boyfriend noticed that she was shaking her head – a pretty common sign of playfulness in a rabbit.
It can take rabbits while to settle into a new home, and Isobel had had a bit of weird life prior to her coming to us, in that she’d mainly played with cats (the kids were terrified of her, and I can’t really blame them)
But then as she got more comfortable with us (though we were still terrified of her) she’d shale her head more, and do a little twitch, like a mini-binky.
It was like she was learning how to be a rabbit again.
And then it dawned on us that she liked to play chasey games. Which of course we did, albeit in thick shoes.
Unfortunately, she passed away before we could truly tame her (though once she discovered that head scratches were her jam, the lunging stopped), but I’m so glad that we learned that she was sad, in pain, or unhappy. She was just trying to communicate in the only way she knew how.
A note of caution: don’t think you can take on aggressive rabbit unless you’re 100% sure. We were willing to wear wellies in our living room for years, if necessary.
That being said, I’d 100% adopt an aggressive rabbit again. There were times when we thought we were mad, but the first time she let me stroke her made it all worthwhile.
Should you let your rabbits chase one another?
Chasing is normal behaviour in bonded paired.
If they’re both having fun, sure. If one is bullying the other one, you may have to shut it down.
In general, it tends to be the submissive bunny doing the chasing, in an attempt at a coup, but usually the dominant one can shut this down with a well-timed growl.
If you’re in the process of bonding your rabbits, you need to keep a watchful eye. chasing is normal, and you may see a bit of nipping and fur pulling.
I separate them at this point, because I had a bad experience with a nipped ear (rabbit ears bleed A LOT and even though he wasn’t hurt, my living room looked like a set from CSI).
How to play chase games safely with your rabbit
If it’s two rabbits chasing one another, you’re the referee. Don’t be afraid to give red cards to any players that can’t play nice.
If your rabbits are newly bonded, keep delicious treats on hand to dissipate any tension. I favour something big and time-consuming to eat, like romaine lettuce leaves.
If you’re the other player in the game, then I have bad news:
You’re not allowed to win. Ever.
Your rabbit will fully lead the game, and you have to purposely, you know, not catch them. If you catch your rabbit you will have ruined everything forever, and your rabbit will probably sulk.
It’s like playing with a precocious three year-old.
Just let them win. It’s easier.
Also, like I touched on before, rabbits can get a bit over excited and nip you when they’re chasing you.
If a rabbit nips you, the usual advice is to let them know you’ve hurt them by squealing. I don’t know if this is just my rabbit, but in my experience, this makes an already great game AWESOME to your rabbit.
If your rabbit nips you, end the game. Immediately. Send them back to where ever you send them when they’re naughty.
Signs that your rabbit doesn’t like being chased
In the event that you read the signs wrong, and your rabbit didn’t want to be chased, they’ll probably return to their home base.
You’ll probably be dealing with rabbit breathing and boggy eyes. Offer them treats and speak softly to them, and then leave them to decompress on their own.
Rabbits can be very overdramatic when they think they’ve been wronged. Try not to feel bad.
Don’t do it again.
What does it mean when my rabbit chases me?
Hopefully it means that they want to play. Let them chase you, then shuffle quickly towards them without actually getting that much closer to them. Repeat.
This is all good fun – your rabbit may do a lot of head shaking.
It can also mean ‘please fuck off’. Do not confuse the two.
Usually accompanied by lunging and growling.
Do not engage. Rabbits in attack mode are not to be trifled with. Offer treats and try to atone for your sins. Do not expect forgiveness.
Or maybe your rabbit loves/fancies you.
You may also get your feet circled and a weird honking noise.
Feel privileged, and be extra careful that you don’t accidentally step on them.
Final thoughts on playing chase games with your rabbit
As prey animals, it’s not natural for rabbits to want to be chased by another animal that isn’t a rabbit.
But for those of you that were unaware, when you keep an animal in unnatural conditions, you end up with different behaviours. Like how tigers in captivity form family bonds, but wild tigers are solitary.
Just to be clear, I don’t equal ‘unnatural’ with ‘bad’. I mean, it can be, but I don’t think a rabbit enjoying a little game of chasey chasey is bad for them.
They shouldn’t have to live in fear like wild rabbits.
Just as some dogs will never return a thrown ball, some rabbits will never enjoy being chased.
We need to learn what our rabbits like and help them explore that, rather than force them to play the way think they should (yes, this is a thinly veiled attempt to get people to stop picking up their rabbits).