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You can get rabbits that just…are aggressive.
Luckily it isn’t that common.
Remember that there’s a fine line between aggressive and simply not cuddly. I’d say that you have about a 50% chance of getting a rabbit that in’t into snuggling.
Naturally aggressive rabbits are much rarer – kind of like cats. Whilst some are more standoffish than others, not that many of them will casually bite you for the heck of it.
It’s more worrying if your rabbit suddenly becomes aggressive.
Now, it doesn’t automatically mean that something is wrong, per se, but there’s definitely an idication that something has changed.
You should investigate the source of this change asap, just in case it has the potential to turn into a bigger issue than you first thought.
I’m sure that there a thousand micro-reasons that could cause a rabbit to turn aggressive, but I’m just going to cover the most likely culprits.
1. Your rabbit has reached sexual maturity
This is a big one.
A rabbit’s personality can change overnight when they reach sexual maturity.
If it makes you feel any better, it’s not much fun for them either.
They go from being a carefree baby bun one minute, to having to be a full adult rabbit.
I mean, it’s not like they have to worry about rent or anything (unless I’m the only idiot out here not sending my dudes out to work) but things that didn’t matter one day (size of one’s territory, lack of offspring, trustworthiness of food bringer) suddenly matter A WHOLE LOT.
Female rabbits can start reproducing at THREE MONTHS OLD.
This is one of the many, many reasons I would only adopt older, fixed rabbits.
When I was a kid I got two baby guinea pigs. Two sisters, to be safe.
Except OF COURSE one of them was a boy.
Cue a TONNE of baby guinea pigs.
Life would be easier if you could spay before the three month mark, but you need to wait until around the 5/6 month mark.
Sure, you could keep your rabbits separate, but it’s much, much easier to adopt an older, spayed pair.
You’ve introduced another pet into the home
Rabbits are fairly territorial, especially to other rabbits, so adding another bunny, even if they can’t see each other, is likely to elicit some sort of response.
We’ve had various foster rabbits and every time we bring in a newbie there’s always an increase in that weird, sweet scent gland smell (it sometime smells a LOT like weed).
You may also find an increase of aggression. I’ve seen it most when I’ve brought in an unspayed female.
The other females not only become more aggressive but you may also see a bit of phantom pregnancy behaviour, like nest building, even if they’re spayed.
DO NOT ATTEMPT TO INTRODUCE THEM.
It’s kind of confusing, because if you bring in a young female, and the older female starts nest building, you might assume that you could bypass the whole pregnancy thing by giving the older female the younger one so she can have a baby.
They’ll most likely fight.
If you suspect the older one is wanting a baby, give her a teddy.
Do not be surprised if she attacks it.
Once you have the other rabbit spayed, you may see a decrease in aggression, but it’s not usually immediate. And be careful bonding two girls, though it’s certainly not impossible.
Bringing other animals into the home can be stressful to rabbits, and stress can bring on aggression.
Dogs and cats are predators and rabbits are prey, so always err on the side of caution when introducing them, and be sensitive to your rabbit’s feelings. If they’re uncomfortable, stop.
I know I don’t need to say this, but please don’t get a rabbit as a substitute for a cat or dog with the intention of getting a dog/cat later.
If you get a rabbit, there’s a chance that they’ll be too nervous to live with another animal, and you need to accept this.
If your rabbit acts aggressively to a cat or dog, the other animal, however friendly, may try to defend themselves, and could cause significant damage. Meetings between two animals (of whatever species) need to be done in a controlled way (preferably with bars between them).
We volunteer at our local dog shelter and used to bring dogs for sleepovers. We never let the dogs near the rabbits (they were often greyhounds, so it was NOT a risk worth taking) but the rabbits will have known the dogs were there.
One of our current rabbits is very very nervous and skittish. I wouldn’t put her through having a dog in the house.
There are certainly situations where a dog may have to be in the house. If I found a stray outside I wouldn’t leave it or anything, but in general, we’re a rabbit-only household (also a great way to tell people they can’t bring their kids over – I’m joking, I’m joking).
Your rabbit is stressed
A lot of rabbits are stressy, neurotic little creatures.
Not all of them – I’d say about 50% (from a survey of the ones I’ve lived with).
But something might be stressing your rabbit out that you don’t know about (a pigeon coos down the chimney on occasion, and Holly HATES it).
Aggression isn’t always a response that rabbits go to, but it can be, especially if they feel threatened.
If stress is a chronic problem for you rabbit (or you think it might be) and you can’t identify the source talk to your vet about herbal or hormone treatments. They’re not that common in rabbits atm, but they’re quite big in cats and dogs at the moment, so your vet may have something you could try.
Your rabbit is in pain
Rabbits are prey animals and don’t show pain.
It’s pretty common knowledge that if you see a dog in pain, you shouldn’t try to touch them because they might try to bite you.
It’s the same with rabbits. Pain makes them feel vulnerable, and can cause them to lash out.
With rabbits though, you get the double whammy that they’re a prey animal in pain, so might try extra hard to bite you (and it hurts!).
If you suspect that your rabbit is acting aggressively because they’re in pain, get them to vet asap. Don’t try and diagnose the issue yourself, because you risk further injuring both of you.
Your behaviour is provoking them
Some rabbits don’t like being petted. Or they don’t like the way you’re moving towards them. Or they want you to get out of their space.
I know it can be frustrating when you just want to love on your bunny, but some rabbits don’t like being petted.
The good news is that you can usually convince them to not be actually aggressive to you, thoguh you can’t change their personality.
Don’t sneak up on them, don’t outstay your welcome, and always, always have high value treats.
In this situation, I like to use watercress or dandelions, because you can hold one end and the rabbit eats from the other, which can help foster a bond.
If you give them smaller treats, you risk being nipped, or the rabbit will simply refuse to come close enough to you.
Some rabbits will yank the treat away though – in which case, give it up and try again the next day.
Hand feeding is a great way to bond with any pet. Many animals don’t actually associate food coming from humans – they assume it comes from the bowl. If you hand feed your pet, they’ll realise that you feed them, and that yo being close to them is a Good Thing.
Your rabbit is trying to establish a pecking order
If your rabbit is fixed (if they aren’t, get it done), and then randomly starts nipping you on occasion, or pushing you out of their territory but otherwise seem perky and happy, they may be trying to make a bid for the top spot.
We have a tendency to assume that we’re the dominant one in the relationship, but rabbits don’t always see it that way.
You may be inadvertently doing something that makes your rabbit think that they could beat you in a fight, so they push their luck.
I’ve had this happen a couple of times, and I think it’s quite funny BUT my rabbits weren’t properly aggressive.
Every now and then, I sit down on the floor to reassert my dominance. Occasionally a challenger will nudge my knee, but only big blue Isobel ever actually bit me (she was just generally aggressive, rather than suddenly aggressive).
How to deal with an aggressive bunny
You can’t shout at rabbits. All it will do is make you feel a bit better.
They don’t understand – they’ll just be frightened, which will probably just make the situation worse. Best case scenario is that they won’t give a shit.
The closet I come to shouting is a short sharp ‘ah ah’. Sometimes I mix it up with a ‘no’ or say their name in a stern voice.
Does it work? Not really. This technique is best to stop them from doing whatever destructive thing they’re doing atm, like chewing the sofa. And even then, it’s best deployed five seconds before they start the behaviour.
When training rabbits, 99% of the work is just watching them like a hawk.
You can try gently pushing their head down. I’ve seen this idea cited a few times in various articles. It CAN work, but it often doesn’t. I’ve had more success with chinning their head, which is more what a rabbit would do to another rabbit.
To be honest, I think it works because my rabbit is horrified that I’ve gotten all up in their personal space. I wouldn’t try it with a biter though.
Another common technique is to squeal if your rabbit bites you. That’s how a rabbit learns what’s acceptable when they’re still with their siblings/mother.
Properly aggressive rabbits DO NOT CARE.
Big blue Isobel found it FASCINATING if I squealed when she bit me.
Fascinated to the point that she’s bite me again just to see if I’d do it again.
A loud ‘no’ or ‘ah ah’ works better, but you need to be quick (tend to your bleeding hand later lolololol) so your rabbit knows it was the biting that got them in trouble.
I can see why people resort to spraying pets with water to get them to stop biting, but even aside from the ethics issue, who is carrying a spray bottle when their rabbit bites them?
By the time you’ve got up, got the bottle and got back to the bunny, they’ve forgotten they bit you.
They just think you’ve randomly walked up to them and sprayed them with water. Which probably won’t help the two of you bond.
If you’ve even had a reactive dog, you’ll know it’s not a case if just doing x,y and z to get your pet to behave.
You have to source the cause of the aggression, learn what sets it off, and then work on how to correct it.
To make things worse, it’s hard enough finding a cat behaviourist, never mind a rabbit one.
Here are a few tips to help aggressive rabbits:
- If they bite you when you pet them, stop petting them. They don’t like it. Work on just sitting near them.
- It’s always worth a trip to the vet to rule out a medical cause of the aggression.
- Make sure your rabbit has a safe space to retreat to. Don’t go in it, and NEVER haul them out of it. If you need to trim nails or put them in a vet box, block off the safe space rather than invading it BUT ONLY DO THIS WHEN 100% NECESSARY. We use a cardboard box that can easily be removed.