Rabbit bites are not common. While you will occasionally come across an aggressive rabbit, most of them see biting and scratching as a last resort when they feel scared and cornered. However, that doesn’t mean rabbits never bite. You’ll want to make sure you’re prepared to handle the situation if it happens to you.
Basic first aid is usually enough to treat a rabbit bite wound. Rabbit bites that create a deep puncture hole may require extra attention to prevent infection, but most rabbit bites heal quickly. If a wild rabbit bites you, talk to your doctor about rabies or other potential diseases.
It’s more difficult to figure out what caused your rabbit to bite you in the first place. Once you’ve taken the time to clean and inspect your wound, you will need to observe your rabbit and figure out what caused them to bite in the first place. Once you’ve determined the cause, it will be easier to prevent rabbit bites in the future.
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Step 1: Get your rabbit to let go
Some rabbits will clamp their jaws when they bite and refuse to let go. They don’t bite like this every time, but it’s most common when rabbits attack out of territorial instincts (learn more about the causes of aggression in rabbits). In these cases, you need to convince your rabbit to let go of you before you can treat the bite wound.
Try to avoid hitting your rabbit or pulling them off since that can injure the rabbit or cause the bite wound to become more serious. The best thing to do in this situation is to try to hold as still as possible and distract your rabbit with something else.
For example, if your rabbit has clamped onto your leg, take a jacket off and try dangling it around to get your rabbit to let go and go after the jacket instead. Really, any object can work. The motion of something on your rabbit’s periphery will usually be enough to distract them.
Step 2: Restrain your rabbit in a safe space
If your rabbit is still chasing you after they bite you, find a way to put a barrier between you and the rabbit. Typically, this will mean trying to get the rabbit back into their enclosure while you take the time to clean the bite wound and assess the situation.
However, if you cannot get your rabbit back into the enclosure (or your rabbit is free roam), any kind of barrier is good enough. You could leave the room and shut the door behind you, get a laundry basket on top of your rabbit, or even throw a blanket over them to prevent them from chasing you (you can pick up the rabbit with the blanket to protect yourself while you put them back into the enclosure).
Step 3: Put pressure on the wound to make it stop bleeding
Now that you are safely away from your rabbit, it’s time to take care of the bite wound. Rabbits have strong jaws, so their long teeth can puncture deeply into the skin. Use a clean cloth to put pressure on the wound and try to stem the bleeding. This may take a few minutes, but unless your rabbit bit you in an area that tends to bleed a lot, it should stop bleeding fairly quickly.
During this time, you also want to determine how bad the bite wound is. Most rabbit bites are not severe because rabbits are herbivores. Their teeth are meant for slicing vegetation, so they cannot do so much damage when they attack other animals or people. However, if your rabbit managed to bite into a vital artery or if their bite went down to the bone, you may want to seek professional medical attention.
Step 4: Clean your wound
If the bite wound is not serious, you want to take the time to clean it out with basic first aid. Use running water from the faucet or a clean, damp cloth to wash the wound with soap and water. This will help to prevent bacteria from entering the open wound and causing an infection.
After you’ve cleaned the bite wound, simply apply an antibacterial cream (such as Neosporin) and cover it with a bandage. You may want to change the bandage every couple of days and reapply antibacterial cream. Most of the time, even deep rabbit bite wounds will completely heal within a couple of weeks.
Step 5: Determine why your rabbit attacked you
Now that you have the bite wound taken care of, you need to deal with your rabbit. By this time, your rabbit may have calmed down a little, making them easier to handle. If you are afraid to approach your rabbit, change into thick clothing, including boots and thick work gloves.
Check your rabbit to ensure they are uninjured. If you can, pet your rabbit to help them calm down and check their skin for any cuts. If your rabbit is unharmed, keep them in a safe place for a while longer while you try to figure out what caused their aggressive behavior.
Why rabbits bite people
Most of the time, rabbits are gentle animals. When they do bite, it may seem sudden and unprovoked. To figure out why your rabbit attacked you, try to think of the context of the situation. Did your baby rabbit recently reach maturity? Have you been hanging out with other animals? Were you holding food in your hand? Did you notice any loud sounds that may have caused fear in your rabbit?
By asking yourself these kinds of questions and paying attention to your rabbit’s behavior, you can determine why your rabbit attacked in the first place. From there, you can figure out how to go forward and discourage aggressive behavior in the future.
Common causes of aggression in rabbits include:
- They are hormonal: As rabbits reach about 4-6 months, their hormones will kick in. This often causes frustrated and aggressive behavior in rabbits. It’s a common reason that rabbits will suddenly turn mean when they were previously very calm and sweet. It’s best to get your rabbit spayed or neutered to prevent hormonal aggression.
- They are scared: Fearful rabbits will become aggressive as a form of self-defense. This may happen when the rabbit feels cornered or believes acting out aggressively will make people go away.
- They are territorial. Rabbits can be very territorial creatures, especially females. They may try to protect their space by attacking any invaders to chase them off. This means they may attack us, humans, if they see us as a threat. Getting your rabbit spayed or neutered will usually prevent this behavior.
- They want food. Rabbits can get protective or over-excited about their food. If you’re holding a treat in your hand and your rabbit wants it, they may bite your hand to get to the food.
- They are bored. Rabbits that live in a cage that’s too small or don’t have enough enrichment can get frustrated and bored. They will lash out in irritation and may end up biting people.
- They are in pain. Sometimes when rabbits are not feeling well, they’ll get irritable. They might try to bite anyone who comes near because they are in pain.
How to prevent rabbit bites in the future
Once you determine the cause of your rabbit’s aggressive behavior, you’ll want to take some precautions to prevent rabbit bites in the future. The prevention steps you take will depend entirely on your rabbit and the reason they bit you in the first place. You don’t need to take every single action on this list, just the ones that are useful to your situation.
Steps to prevent further aggression in rabbits:
- Get your rabbit spayed or neutered: If your rabbit has not been fixed yet, this will probably solve your problem. It can take up to a month after their surgery for your rabbit’s hormones to calm down.
- Bond with your rabbit: Spend time with your rabbit to befriend them. This will help your rabbit understand that they don’t have to be scared of you and don’t need to attack you. Learn more about how to bond with a rabbit and gain their trust.
- Give your rabbit a larger enclosure: Most cages marketed toward rabbits are actually much too small. I always recommend getting a pet playpen to use as an enclosure instead (something like this). This will help prevent boredom and frustration from being cooped up all day in a space that’s too small to hop around.
- Stay out of your rabbit’s pen: Territorial Rabbits will attack you if you enter their perceived territory. Typically this includes their enclosure and the area directly surrounding it. When feeding your rabbit and cleaning their space, make sure to let your rabbit out to exercise, so they don’t attack you in the process.
- Develop a daily feeding routine: Rabbits who resource guard their food will typically start to calm down once you have a consistent feeding routine. This way, the rabbit knows when you’ll feed them next and won’t be afraid it will disappear.
- Give your rabbit treats on a spoon: Rabbits who get overly excited about treats might bite your hand trying to get it. Put the treat on a spoon and offer it to your rabbit to prevent them from biting your hand.
- Give your rabbit toys and freedom: Make sure your rabbit has a variety of toys available and plenty of time during the day to exercise outside of their enclosure. This will prevent the frustration that comes from boredom and can also keep your rabbit healthy.
- Take your rabbit for a health checkup: If you’re not sure why your rabbit is acting out aggressively, it’s always a good idea to bring them in for a checkup. Your veterinarian can help to see if there are underlying conditions that may be causing your rabbit’s aggressive behavior.
How common are bites from pet rabbits?
Despite how this article may make it seem, rabbit bites are actually pretty uncommon. I’ve worked with dozens of rabbits at the animal shelter over the past few years, and I’ve only been bitten three times. Rabbits are much more likely to run away or try to swat at you with their claws than they are to try to bite you.
That being said, every rabbit has their own personality. Some will be more likely to bite than others. Therefore, it’s always important to pay attention to your rabbit’s body language and make sure you respect their boundaries so you can avoid a rabbit bite.
Are rabbit bites dangerous?
Rabbit bites are not dangerous. While it is theoretically possible for a rabbit bite to get infected, this is very uncommon, especially if you’ve taken the time to wash the rabbit bite. If you have a very serious rabbit bite that punctures deep, this can potentially cause tetanus. Therefore, if you have rabbits or work with rabbits, it’s best to stay up-to-date on your immunizations. But, to be honest, it’s incredibly unusual for a rabbit bite to be deep enough to cause tetanus.
Rabbit bites also will typically heal pretty quickly. The tapered shape of their teeth causes bite wounds that are able to recover more quickly than bites made by other animals, such as cats or dogs. If a rabbit bites you, basic first aid is usually more than enough.
What if you were bitten by a wild rabbit?
Bites from wild rabbits are rare since they will generally not bite unless they are completely cornered. However, if you are bitten by a wild rabbit, seek medical advice. Wild rabbits typically don’t carry any serious diseases, but it is technically possible for them to have rabies or cause a bacterial infection.
- “Pet Rabbits and Your Health.” RWAF. February 2013. https://rabbitwelfare.co.uk/rabbit-care-advice/ownership/pet-rabbits-health/
- “My Pet Rabbit Keeps Biting Me, What Should I Do?” RSPCA. May 2019. https://kb.rspca.org.au/knowledge-base/my-pet-rabbit-keeps-biting-me-what-should-i-do/