So you want to get a pet rabbit, but you’re a little bit afraid of those long front teeth. You know those teeth are good at eating sticks and salad, but what if the rabbit decides to munch on your finger instead?
Rabbits can and do bite when they are feeling scared or angry. Generally, this behavior is caused by the territorial instincts of rabbits and they’ll attack when someone invades their space. The other common reason is when the rabbit feels cornered.
However, not all domestic rabbits have strong instincts to bite people, especially if they have been spayed or neutered. Many breeds of rabbits have been bred to have a friendly disposition. As long as they have been socialized with people when the rabbit is young, it’s unlikely they will randomly try to attack and bite someone.
Do all rabbits bite people?
Most rabbits are gentle animals who are not going to try to bite people most of the time. In fact, in most cases, rabbits prefer to use their claws to swat people away before they resort to biting even when the rabbit feels threatened. However, it’s important to understand that any rabbit (even very gentle and calm rabbits) has the potential to bite if they feel cornered or if they feel their territory is being threatened.
It’s important to note that biting, or attacking at all, is not a rabbit’s first instinct. If they are feeling threatened at all, most rabbits will try to run away and hide before they try to bite anyone. While there are some exceptions to this (which I’ll go over shortly), if you respect your rabbit’s boundaries and avoid overcrowding them, they are much less likely to try to bite anyone.
I work as a volunteer with rescue rabbits, so I’ve come across a whole lot of rabbits who are wary around humans. I’ve learned that there are four main reasons you might get bitten by a rabbit. If you can avoid these causes, you are unlikely to get bitten by a rabbit:
- Rabbits who are territorial. Rabbits with strong territorial instincts will attack if you enter their space. If you notice your rabbit only tries to bite you when you are cleaning out their home or otherwise sticking your hands in their enclosure, this is likely the problem. This is the most common reason that I’ve been bitten, but I also come into contact with a lot of rabbits who are unfamiliar to me so my experience may be a bit skewed.
- Rabbits who feel cornered. Scared rabbits will also bite, especially if they feel like there is no place to run away. Always make sure your rabbit has an escape route whenever you interact with them so that they don’t feel they have to resort to biting as a last resort.
- Rabbits who are enthusiastic about food. Some rabbits don’t mean to be aggressive. Instead, they just really want the food or treat that you have in your hand. In these cases, it’s best to put some kind of barrier between your hand and the rabbit. For example, give the rabbit treats on a spoon instead of from your hand or wear a thick work glove when feeding your rabbit every day.
- The rabbit has not been spayed or neutered. Some rabbits get agitated and aggressive when they reach maturity. Generally, getting a rabbit fixed will help calm down their hormones and they won’t try to bite you anymore.
Do rabbit bites hurt?
Rabbit bites do hurt. Even though they don’t have sharp teeth, bunnies have very strong jaws and teeth that can give you a pretty deep cut. I still have a scar on my thumb from when one of my bunnies bit me.
That being said, I’ve never had anything worse than a bad cut as a result of a rabbit bite. Sometimes it’s honestly no worse than a paper cut. It’ll hurt for a minute, but then you slap a band-aid on and you’re good to go.
A rabbit bite versus a nip
While rabbit bites are aggressive and hurt a lot, rabbits will also sometimes nip people instead. This will be more like a little pinch and should not break the skin at all. While a hard nip might occasionally leave a red mark on your skin, it should never break the skin. Most rabbits will nip you at some point as they try to communicate with you.
A rabbit might nip you when:
- They are annoyed. If you are petting your rabbit, but they want to go away and explore, they may nip you as a way of letting you know they no longer want attention. This happens most often if you are holding your rabbit and they want to be put down.
- You are blocking a place they want to explore. If your rabbit is determined to go somewhere but you are sitting in the way, they may nip your leg to tell you to move.
- They are trying to groom you. When rabbits groom each other, they will sometimes give little nips to help remove tangles or mats in their fur. Your rabbit might do the same thing with you, thinking they are helping you out. This is especially common if they are grooming your clothing and come across a seam.
Do bunnies bite when they play?
Rabbits do not bite each other or humans when they are feeling playful. Unlike cats and dogs, where mock-hunting can be a playful behavior, rabbits are not predator animals. They don’t need to practice hunting, so biting is a defensive and aggressive behavior and it’s never a type of play.
As I mentioned earlier, you might see some nipping as a grooming behavior, or as a way for a rabbit to communicate with you to tell you to move. But this is not serious biting and should not break the skin.
Will your rabbit bite?
The more a rabbit gets to know someone, the less likely they are to bite. This is both because your rabbit will get used to you and your scent, and because the more time you spend with your rabbit, the more you’ll be able to read their body language. You can learn when your rabbit wants to be left alone, and when they are open to socializing.
Rabbits all have their own personality too. If the rabbit you care for naturally has a laid-back personality, it’s unlikely that they will ever end up lashing out and biting anyone. Even when they get scared, rabbits with a gentle demeanor are more likely to cower or run when they feel threatened.
In the end, your rabbit could bite you, but the more you learn about their behavior and personality, the less likely it is to happen.
Are rabbit bites dangerous?
Compared to other household pets, rabbit bites are not very dangerous at all. They can hurt, for sure, but most of the time the bite will only create a cut-like wound that will heal fairly quickly.
On rare occasions, you may be dealing with a serious rabbit bite. This can happen if the rabbit teeth puncture deep into your skin (in the most serious cases, they will puncture all the way to the bone), or if the rabbit clamps on with their jaw and does not let go. If either of these scenarios happens, it’s best to seek medical attention at a hospital or urgent care facility since you may require stitches.
That being said, I don’t want to scare you. I have never experienced or been around someone who had that kind of serious rabbit bite. 90% of the time, you’ll just be dealing with a simple cut that needs a bandaid for a couple of days
First aid for rabbit bites
If you do get bitten by a rabbit, the best thing to do is basic first aid.
- Use some gauze to put pressure on the bite wound until it stops bleeding.
- Then wash the wound with some soap and water.
- Apply some antibiotic ointment and cover it with a bandage to prevent infection.
Can you catch a disease from a rabbit bite?
For the most part, you don’t have to worry about catching any disease from a rabbit bite. They are not known for spreading diseases and infections. In fact, the bite of a domestic rabbit is much less likely to spread disease than one from a domestic cat or dog.
That being said, a very serious rabbit bite could put you at risk of a tetanus infection. Animal bites don’t typically lead to tetanus, but technically it’s possible. So it’s best to make sure you are up-to-date on your tetanus shots (you should get a booster shot every 10 years).
Otherwise, the only real risk is from a bacterial infection. You can easily prevent this by cleaning and covering your bite wound to prevent bacteria from entering.
Will you get rabies from a rabbit bite?
You are highly unlikely to ever get rabies from a rabbit bite since most rabbits who are infected die before they have a chance to transmit the disease. If the rabbit who bit you is a domestic rabbit, there is no reason to worry at all.
If you were bitten by a wild rabbit, it’s best to seek medical advice. It’s still unlikely that you will get rabbit even from a wild rabbit, and there are no reported cases of this occurring. However, since it’s technically possible, you might want to talk to your doctor to decide on precautionary measures.
Why did your rabbit bite you?
If you’ve been bitten by a rabbit, it’s natural for you to wonder why. Why would your rabbit suddenly attack you? While there are many possibilities depending on your specific circumstances, typically a rabbit will bite if they feel afraid or if they are being territorial. These are some of the common scenarios a rabbit will try to bite:
- Rabbits who don’t want to be held. Most rabbits are terrified of being held because it makes them feel trapped. Your rabbit may learn to attack your hands to avoid being picked up.
- When you corner your rabbit to get them back in their enclosure. If you ever try to chase your rabbit so that you can pick them up and get them back to their home, it’s common for the rabbit to feel cornered and scared. They may attack if they’re afraid there is no place left to run.
- Rabbits who don’t like when you rearrange their space. If you’re cleaning your rabbit’s space, you may notice your rabbit getting aggressive and lunging at your hands. Try to only clean the enclosure when your rabbit is out and about exercising.
- When your rabbit gets suddenly startled. Some skittish rabbits will lash out if there is a sudden noise or nearby movement. This is especially common among rabbits who are partially blind or partially deaf since they may not realize something is nearby and they are more easily startled.
- Rabbits who try to snatch food from your hand. These rabbits may try to bite your hand while you put the food bowl down or snatch a treat from your hand. Try sprinkling some food on the ground for your rabbit to find while you sneakily replace their food.
Once you figure out the reason that your rabbit bit you, you can make some changes to the way you interact with your rabbit so that it will not happen again. This may mean waiting until your rabbit is out of their enclosure before you clean it, it could mean getting your rabbit neutered, or it could mean giving your rabbit treats on the end of a spoon instead of out of your hand.
- Learn more about techniques you can use to teach your rabbit to stop biting you