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Haha, I bet non-rabbit people think we’re WEIRD. I think rabbits do understand kisses, but not all rabbits like them.
I’ve not had my current bunnies for long enough to kiss them. They were surrendered to a rescue, and they’re pretty terrified of humans, and I’m sure my big head coming right at them won’t help.
But soon, I will nuzzle their furry foreheads, and I’m pretty sure they understand that that means I love them, not that I’m having a quick taste before unceremoniously dumping them in a cooking pot.
For whilst rabbits do probably understand kisses, they don’t understand veganism.
Proven by the many, many accounts of rabbits nicking dropped meat on the House Rabbit Society Facebook page.
- Rabbits do understand affection, and many enjoy kisses from their human
- Some rabbits like kisses more than others
- Rabbits reciprocate kisses with licks
- Kissing your rabbit is perfectly safe unless you have compromised health or are pregnant.
- You’re more like to catch a parasite from your rabbit than your rabbit catching something from you
- If your rabbit doesn’t like kisses, it doesn’t mean it isn’t happy and doesn’t love you.
Do rabbits understand affection?
Broadly I think that rabbits do understand affection, but it varies a lot from rabbit to rabbit -both how much they understand that you’re trying to bond with them, and how much they actually want that affection.
If you watch a bonded pair grooming one another, you’ll notice that they definitely enjoy the experience – going as far as to rudely shove their head under their partner’s head to make them groom them.
But they’re not doing it purely because they like it, or they need grooming – it can be a dominance thing.
So Holly grooms Daisy a lot, but I think it’s because she’s Daisy’s mother, so she’s naturally dominant.
She also makes Daisy groom her, but when Daisy asks to be groomed, Holly usually refuses.
And then Daisy tries to hump her.
Delightful, I know.
The point is that rabbits show affection to strengthen social bonds and reinforce their hierarchy.
If you watch closely you’ll notice that if one bunny grooms another, the one being groomed has a grooming reflex – they’ll either reciprocate the grooming, groom themselves, or groom the third bunny.
If you only have a single bunny, you can trigger the grooming reflex if your bunny is happy to be groomed.
It works best if you scratch their back, near their tail, but I know a lot of bunnies are mortified if you pet them there.
Ears are also good for this.
It works on cats too, but since cat’s social skills aren’t really to do with dominance within their family (since cats don’t live in groups), they’re more likely to reciprocate because they love you.
Which sounds lovely until you’ve actually been licked by a cat.
It’s quite a harrowing experience if you don’t know what to expect.
Spoilers: ever been licked with sandpaper? It’s like that.
Do rabbits enjoy kisses?
Yes, because to them, they assume you’re grooming them.
If you’re lucky, they’ll groom you back.
If you’re unlucky, then you’ve labelled yourself a submissive and they’ll hump you.
Or maybe give you a nip to tell you off for being so forward.
Usually, they just like the attention.
Don’t be upset if your bunny doesn’t like being kissed.
Remember that they’re prey animals and it must be quite frightening if you’re bearing down on them and they have no idea how pure your intentions are.
So don’t try and kiss a new bunny right away.
Wait until they’re comfortable to come up to you for pets, or even groom you first.
How can you tell if your rabbit is enjoying affection?
Er, I think it’s quite difficult, and how you can tell really depends on your rabbit’s personality.
Molly, the rex we fostered for a time, LOVED kissing and to be kissed.
In fact, she’d spend hours patiently grooming the arm of the sofa.
She’d stand on her back legs to be petted and would snuggle down into the common ‘loaf’ formation for kisses.
She’d make gentle teeth clicking noises to show her appreciation, and most importantly, not run away.
Isobel and George tolerated kisses because they just wanted a quiet life.
If I went over to them then they couldn’t be bothered to actually move.
They knew I’d leave them alone eventually, and they’d probably get a treat out of it.
A good way to tell if your rabbit is enjoying kisses, or just generally being stroked, is to stop doing it.
If they look at you or nudge you (or nip you, in some cases) then it means they want more, and we can infer they either enjoyed the sensation or the feeling of superiority that comes from being groomed.
If they don’t like it, they’ll run off.
If you’re extremely lucky (or talented at rabbit petting) they may even give you kisses, in the form of being licked.
Which is quite unsettling the first time, because my GOD rabbits have long tongues.
The definition of creepycute.
Is it dangerous to kiss your rabbit?
It’s highly unlikely that you’ll be able to catch disease or parasite from kissing your rabbit.
In doing so, you will be fairly close your rabbit’s face and front feet. So if you get it wrong, you may get told off.
So don’t go in for a smooch unless your rabbit looks chilled and happy.
That being said, let’s be sensible here. If your health is compromised in any way, I wouldn’t kiss a rabbit.
You never know.
Zoonotic diseases are a real thing (this blog post is being written during the whole Covid-19 debacle), and rabbits carry quite a few:
- External parasites such as fleas and ticks. Especially if you keep your bunnies outside. I wouldn’t recommend keeping rabbit outside for many reasons, this being one of the less important ones.
Chances are, a healthy rabbit won’t carry any of these diseases.
Even if they do, the bacteria isn’t sitting on top of their fur, and it would need to enter your bloodstream.
So unless your bunny bites or scratches you’ll be fine.
So kiss away, unless your health is compromised.
I know that being pregnant isn’t automatically health-compromising, but I’d maybe not kiss your bunny until your baby is out (and weaned, if breast-feeding) just in case.
It’s unlikely you can pass anything onto your bunny, but if you’re ill, maybe lay off the bunny smooches – this includes colds, cold sores, and any other contagious viruses.
How to bond with rabbits that don’t enjoy kisses
Some rabbits just aren’t cuddly, and they never will be.
If you get a rescue, you don’t know how humans have treated them previously, so they may have trauma or simply have no idea what you’re doing.
But remember that your rabbit is a part of your family, not a play thing.
If they don’t want to be kissed and fussed, that’s entirely their right.
You can still bond with and play with them though.
- Hand feed them
If your rabbit is aggressive, then try feeding them with something that’ll put some distance between you, like a long handled spoon.
When we got Daisy and Holly, Holly was very skittish.
I’d sit in the pen with her and wait for her to come to me, but she was too scared.
To build up her trust I’d feed her from the cup I use to measure out her food.
She’ll now come up and nudge my knee if I sit in her pen with her (I’m not allowed to move yet though), and she’ll eat from my hand.
She knows I won’t hurt her, won’t take the food away, and I’m not trying to grab her.
- Let them dictate petting
(i.e don’t try to pick them up, or anything like that)
1. Sit on the floor and wait for your bunny to approach.
2. Hold out your hand. They’re probably run away the first few times.
3. When they approach, pet them between their eyes using one finger
4. Do this for a few days – only progress to petting cheeks an behind the ears once the rabbit is comfortable
Almost all rabbits like to be stroked on their forehead between their eyes.
If you’re quiet and patient, your rabbit will quickly learn that you’re a friend
- Talk to them
This is why having indoor bunnies is so preferable to having outdoor ones – you can bond with them whilst you’re watching TV with a glass of wine.
I chat to my rabbits constantly, whether they like it or not.
We talk to them, congratulate them on epic zoomies, and can let them get comfortable with us in their own time.
I don’t need to set aside an hour or two to go and sit with them, they’re just there.
Final thoughts on whether rabbits enjoy kisses
To be honest, it varies a lot from rabbit to rabbit how much they understand kisses, and whether they like it.
If you get a rabbit that both likes and understands kisses (if they lick you back, then you know they do on both counts), then you’re very lucky.
Don’t worry if your rabbit doesn’t – they each have different preferences and experiences that dictate their behaviour – just like cats and dogs.
One of my mum’s dogs will spend hours licking her (my mum’s) feet, whilst the others are aghast at her behaviour (as am I).
As your rabbit settles in and becomes more and more comfortable, you’ll be able to get to know them and their preferences.
They may even start to groom you.
Just because you’re rabbit doesn’t enjoy being kissed doesn’t mean it doesn’t love you, and isn’t happy.
Grooming humans isn’t a benchmark of rabbit happiness – flopping, lying down, and zoomies are more reliable indicators that a rabbit is happy.