Why Do Rabbits Rub Their Chin on Everything?

Have you ever noticed your furry friend rubbing their chin on practically everything in sight? This behavior, known as chinning, is quite common among rabbits. Your pet rabbit isn’t just trying to get your attention or show some bunny affection. They’re actually laying claim to their territory using a very personal calling card – their scent.

Every rabbit has scent glands located underneath their chin. These glands secrete a subtle odor that’s undetectable to humans but is a big deal in the world of rabbits. When your rabbit rubs their chin on objects, they’re not just scratching an itch, they are marking their possessions (you included).

The next time you see your bunny chinning away, remember it’s just their way of saying, “This is mine!” They do this to set boundaries and establish control over their space, which is as natural to them as a handshake or a hug might be to you.

Chinning is a rabbits way of claiming things

When you see your rabbit rubbing their chin on various objects around the house, they’re doing what’s known as “chinning.” You might notice this behavior on everything from their favorite toys to the corners of the couch. But why do they do it?

Essentially, rabbits have scent glands under their chin, which release a subtle but distinct scent, undetectable to humans. When your bunny chins something, they’re saying, “This is mine!” Chinning is a rabbit’s unique way of establishing ownership and claiming their space.

You’ll find that objects aren’t the only things getting marked. If there’s a particular food they want to eat later, it’s not uncommon for them to claim it with a quick chin rub. It’s like they’re putting a post-it note on their snacks for later.

What’s more, chinning helps them define the borders around areas they consider their own. When another rabbit comes into the picture, these chin marks can communicate boundaries and established territories without any thumping or biting.

So, next time you catch your bunny in action, understand they’re not just being cute; they’re mapping out their world, one chin rub at a time. It’s their way of navigating the environment and feeling secure in their domain.

Rabbit will chin objects anytime they enter a new space

Whenever you bring your rabbit’s somewhere new, you’ll notice their chinning behavior intensifies. This is because any time they are in a new space, your rabbit has to spread their scent and make a claim to the new territory. At home, in their usual living space, their scent is already all over the place, so they only have to re-up it occasionally.

The behavior isn’t random either; rabbits tend to focus on the borders of a room. They frequently go for the edges of furniture, baseboards and door frames to establish their territory. These spots are prime real estate for your bunny’s scent-marking endeavors. 

As creatures of habit, rabbits feel more secure when they establish their presence, especially around the border of the room. It’s like they’re saying, “I’ve been here; this is my space.” They’re not just exploring their surroundings; they’re setting up a cozy, secure, and personal environment.

Multiple rabbits tend to chin the same objects

If you have more than one rabbit, the other really common chinning behavior is the tendency for each of the rabbits to mark the same spots. This behavior is their way of creating a communal scent that defines their territory and relationships. It isn’t just about claiming ownership; it’s also about comfort and familiarity. When multiple rabbits chin the same objects, they’re participating in a shared social bond.

Alternatively, if the rabbits are not bonded, but have a shared play area they will mark the same objects to try to mask over the previous scent. The rabbit may be thinking that “now that it’s my turn out to play, this is my territory!”

I see this behavior all the time at the shelter where I work with rescue rabbits. Since the rabbits are not all bonded, I let one out at a time to get more exercise. They always end up finding the same cabinets and furniture to rub their chin on and claim as their own, covering the previous scent. Shared items or prominent fixtures become hotspots for chinning because they’re central to the rabbits’ territory.

Why do some rabbits chin people?

When you’re hanging out with a rabbit, you might notice they do a quirky little thing where they rub their chin on you. Many people assume that this is just a rabbit’s way of claiming you, as if saying you belong to them now. But I believe it’s more social than that. Instead, it’s a way for rabbits to mix their scent with you, essentially including you as part of their family, the same way they mix their scent with other rabbits in their family group.

When is it most common to see a rabbit chinning a person?

  • When you smell like another animal (someone else’s pet dog or cat, for example). This is your rabbit’s way of changing the scent back to what it should be.
  • When you sweat a lot (this is also why you’ll see rabbits chinning pillows or clothing that you’re not wearing anymore). This is your rabbit’s way of trying to add their scent to yours.

If your clothes smell super like you, from your perfume to your natural scent, your rabbit might chin them to mix in their scent with yours. It’s their way of fitting into your world, sort of blending the boundaries between their stuff and yours. Next time this happens, just think of it as your rabbit’s way of making sure everyone knows you’re part of their inner circle.

What if your rabbit is chinning another rabbit?

The other weird thing you might see is one rabbit chinning another rabbit (usually when they are bonded together). Just like with humans, this is a way of scent sharing. The rabbits create a common scent identity between them to help them better identify each other and maintain a social order.

It’s not something that I would necessarily say is an affectionate behavior between rabbits (but it can be depending on the dynamics of the bonded pair or group). Instead, I would categorize it under dominance behaviors, since typically the more dominant rabbit will be the one chinning the other rabbits.

Because it can be a dominance behavior in some bonded pairs, keep an eye on the context of the chinning—if it’s calm and your rabbits seem relaxed, it’s just a part of how they interact. However, if you notice any aggression or stress, it might be worth monitoring their behavior more closely to ensure all is well in your rabbit family.

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Amy Pratt

Amy Pratt is a lifelong rabbit owner who has been specializing with rabbits at the Humane Rescue Alliance. She helps to socialize the rabbits and educate volunteers on the care and behavior of these small mammals.

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