This post may contain affiliate links. Read the full disclosure here.
As animals go, you can’t get more stare-y than a rabbit.
It can be unnerving when a rabbit stares as you (though not as unnerving when they’re staring at what looks like nothing) because they have massive eyes and they don’t blink very often.
They also don’t let up.
Don’t enter a staring competition with a rabbit.
Rabbits stare when they’re on high alert
This stare is the easiest to diagnose.
If your rabbit hears a strange noise or smells a weird smell, they will go into high alert mode. It typically also includes standing on their hind legs.
When we’re trying to hear a faint noise, we will often close our eyes to help us hear better. Fewer distractions make it easier to concentrate.
Remember when you were a kid, and you were in the car with a parent, and they’d always turn down the radio so they could concentrate better?
Rabbits can’t exactly do that.
Well they could, but only the once.
If the rabbit is trying to listen for a fox sneaking up on them, closing their eyes so they can hear better is just asking for trouble.
So they go all starey instead, trying to take in as much sensory information as possible. Concentrating is great in theory, but not if you’re about to be someone’s supper.
Rabbits stare when they’re feeling relaxed
If they’re feeling super relaxed, they flop, or go into that loaf shape and stare at you.
Sure, they could close their eyes, but as I mentioned before, closing their eyes isn’t that natural for rabbits.
It’s relaxing for humans to close their eyes and sleep, because they’re not so worried that someone’s going to break into their house and eat them.
Prior to houses, humans had strong social bonds, so whilst one group of humans slept, the others kept an eye out for sabretoothed tigers etc. Rabbits, though very social, need to eat a lot of the time, so don’t have the luxury of being able to split the work like we can.
I assume when bunnies stare at us, they mean it as a compliment, but it’s a bit creepy, especially if they fall asleep in that position.
I also get the distinct impression that rabbits stare at us so that we know it’s our turn to stand guard. Like how dogs stare at you when they pee to let us know that should another dog crop up, we’ll have to fight it off.
Another thing rabbits do when they’re feeling super chilled is close their eyes (sometimes only partially) and chatter their teeth. It’s super cute, but terrifying to new bunny owners since grinding teeth and chattering teeth sound so similar.
Rabbits stare when they’re asleep
Like I said before, it’s not in a rabbit’s best interest to close their eyes, even when they’re asleep.
Very few animals (if any) sleep like humans do, i.e. settle down for the whole 8 hours every night. Societal norms dictate that we ALL do that. There’s no taking shifts so that we can all keep a look out for bears or whatever.
It’s so intrinsic to our being that when we hear of people that work nights (whether you’re serving coffee or doing open heart-surgery) we commiserate them on their work hours. Even though they can still (in theory) get the same hours of sleep as everyone else.
(I know this because my boyfriend worked nights for YEARS, and people used to act as if he was a human crash test dummy or something. Fun fact – after spending over a decade sleeping during the day, he can now only sleep in pitch darkness).
Rabbits sleep a lot. They’re crepuscular (I really hate that word – it sounds horrible), so they’re at their most active in the morning and evening.
According to Google, rabbits sleep about 8 hours a day, but in my experience, they’re more akin to cats and dogs – unless they’re eating or playing, they’re sleeping. I think 16 hours a day plus.
Rabbits stare in the hope of getting food
Rabbits are second only to dogs when it comes to begging for food off your plate, with the disadvantage that they are far harder to train to stop doing it.
It’s not that they’re less intelligent, it’s just that dogs fall at the first hurdle when it comes to engaging in behaviours that please us. Rabbits do not care about pleasing us one little bit, more like cats.
The only thing you can do is ignore them. And they may very well bite you.
As cute and intoxicating as puppy dog eyes are, there are few things as captivating as big brown bunny eyes.
Rabbits stare when they’re nervous
You’ll probably notice when you bring your brand new bunny home they’ll stare at you a lot.
Again, we’re back to rabbits being prey animals.
Your rabbit needs to stare at you, because they don’t yet know why they’re there and whether or not you’re going to eat them.
Now, some rabbit seem to be born with an innate confidence and dgaf about where they are. We rescued a dumped baby bunny once and he was flumped in his litter box seconds after he was put in his pen.
But most rabbits need a bit of time to assess the situation and realise that they’re safe.
Remember that whilst you can aid the process by staying very quiet and calm and leaving bunny pretty much alone (no picking up or anything), some rabbits are just…nervous.
One of ours is, and it pretty much depends on her mood. Sometimes she’s very skittish and won’t take her eyes off us, flinching every time we get up to go to the kitchen, and other times she’s flop right on her back a couple of feet away.
Rabbits are the way they are and there isn’t a lot you can do to change them.
We’ve had nervous rabbits before, but Holly is by far the most skittish.The only thing we can do is be patient. It’s been a year, and we can (sometimes) sit down by her and stroke her between the eyes.
Personally, I think something in her past made her this way, because we get occasional glimpses at a VERY playful rabbit. Shes loves to run and jump, and likes to play a HILARIOUS game where she chews the sofa (having first moved the barricades) and then runs away when we reprimand her, flicking her tail because apparently it’s a super fun game.
It can take a lot of getting used to, having a rabbit stare at you for hours, especially if you’re used to dog’s which use eye contact to establish dominance.
Your rabbit is not trying assert their dominance.
All rabbits are naturally dominant – it’s just the way of the world. They run the joint.