Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About Rabbits

This article gives some answers to the more common questions about rabbits. It is worth noting that a great many rabbit problems can be traced back to either incorrect diet and/or sexual frustration. Most of the common rabbit health issues can be avoided simply by vaccinating your rabbit against VHD and myxomatosis, neutering / spaying your rabbit and feeding it the correct hay based diet. De-sexing also prevents many common behavioural problems, along with keeping your rabbit in the correct accommodation (in bonded pairs if possible), handling it correctly and giving it plenty of exercise.

Why does my rabbit run around my feet?

Circling is a courtship ritual commonly seen in unneutered male rabbits. The rabbit will often grunt softly as it runs and may spray urine against your legs. Your rabbit may also attempt to mount your feet or another object. This behaviour is stressful for both you and your rabbit so it is kindest to have him neutered.

Circling is also often seen in de-sexed house rabbits who are begging for food; i.e. they run around your feet to get your attention.

Why does my rabbit keep shaking its head?

A small shake of the head and flick of the ears, often accompanied by a little hop or bounce, indicates that your rabbit is happy and wants to play. However, if your rabbit is persistently shaking its head and scratching inside its ears, it is likely that it has an ear infection - check inside the ears for redness and scabs and consult a vet. Rabbits who are moulting heavily may shake their heads more to dislodge loose fur that has drifted into their ears.

Why is my rabbit not eating?

Loss of appetite is often the first sign of illness in rabbits, whatever the root problem, and a vet should be consulted asap. GI stasis, where the rabbit's digestive system literally shuts down, can occur in a matter of hours and can be fatal.

The most common cause is dental disease (malocclusion). This occurs when the top and bottom teeth do not meet up correctly and are therefore not ground down at the same rate, leading to overgrown teeth or spikes which cut into the rabbit's mouth and prevent it eating. Other symptoms include dribbling, food dropping from the mouth as the rabbit eats and sticky bottom (caked droppings in the fur around the bottom).

Why does my rabbit bite me / growl at me / lunge at me?

There is a difference between an aggressive bite and a nip. House rabbits frequently nip their owners to get their attention or to ask them to move out of their way i.e. this can be seen as bossiness rather than aggression.

A normally placid rabbit can also become aggressive when ill or in pain, or when mourning the loss of a partner. True aggression in a rabbit is usually caused either by territorial behaviour, sexual frustration or fear.

Territorial behaviour is more commonly seen in female rabbits who are by nature the homemakers i.e. if you are cleaning out her hutch or litter tray she may growl at you or lunge at you. This can be reduced by spaying the rabbit. Sexual frustration can cause aggression in both males and females and can easily be eliminated or at least reduced greatly by neutering or spaying your rabbit.

As prey creatures, rabbits are not inclined to aggression but, like any animal, may defend themselves when they feel threatened. Winning over a fearful rabbit takes time and patience but is by no means impossible. Give them a space of their own which you do not intrude into, interact with them at ground level rather than picking them up, avoid loud noises and sudden movements i.e. do everything you can to make them feel secure.

Why are my rabbit's droppings soft and runny?

Rabbits produce two kinds of droppings - the hard, round ones that you see, and softer ones called caecotrophs which they take direct from their bottoms and swallow. Like cattle chewing the cud, this enables them to extract the maximum nutrients from their food and is perfectly normal.

If you see clusters of these soft droppings in the hutch or litter tray, your rabbit is producing too much of them. This is usually caused by too much vegetables and/or pellets and not enough hay. Rabbits need a high fibre diet of approximately 80% hay to keep their digestive systems running smoothly and grind their teeth down.