Do Rabbits Feel Emotion?


rabbit emotions

Rabbits are adorable! There is no denying that. They have a way of bouncing into the room and lighting up our days. We love our rabbits with all our hearts, and get frustrated when they chew on something they shouldn’t. We feel nervous when it’s time to clip the bunny’s nails, and calm when there’s nothing else to do but sit and pet our sweet bunnies. But what about the rabbits? How can we tell how much they feel when they are spending time with us?

Do rabbits feel emotion? Rabbits probably do not have emotions the way humans do. However, rabbits do show physiological and behavioral signs that they are capable of simple emotions, such as happiness, fear, sadness, and anger. By learning about a rabbit’s body language, we can figure out what emotions they are feeling.

If you live with a house rabbit, it’s an undeniable fact that our little friends have an abundance of personality and emotion. They greet us at the door, and get scared when the neighbors dog barks. Our rabbits lick and groom us to show affections, and thump their feet when they get annoyed. But some signs of rabbit emotion are not as obvious. Let’s look at the different rabbit emotions, and what their behavior is telling us about what they feel.

Rabbits are happy and excited

When rabbits are happy and excited, they will usually be bouncing with energy. They’ll be racing around the room and running circles around your feet. These adorable bundles of joy will be jumping into the air as they dance around, loving life. If they are excited about treats, rabbits will sometimes make soft and adorable honking or oinking noises.

And when they completely tire themselves out, rabbits will calm down while you pet them. They will softly grind their teeth to make a purring sound. This is a way that rabbits tell us they are comfortable and content.

A binky is a jump for joy that rabbits do when they are super happy.

How do you know if your rabbit is happy?

  • Binky: A binky is literally a jump for joy. It’s a silly jump and twist-in-the-air that rabbits do when they are very happy.
  • Zoom: This is when the rabbit races in circles around the room. It means your rabbit is very happy and excited and they’re full of energy.
  • Purring: If you listen very closely when you pet your rabbit, you might hear them softly grinding their teeth together. And if you put your hand on top of their head, you’ll be able to feel a slight vibration. 
  • Honking/oinking: This is a very soft, almost imperceptible sound that rabbits make when they expect a treat or are happy to see you. It sounds a little like your rabbit is snorting or oinking.

Rabbits are mad

Rabbits can have really spunky personalities. They can get mad or frustrated, and they’re not afraid to show it! Rabbits can get aggressive if they want to, swiping at you with their claws, or even trying to bite. They might even growl or grunt at you, to vocalize how upset they are.

But rabbits can be more subtle and standoffish to show how mad they are too. They might be mad at you for picking them up and flick you off before completely ignoring you for hours. Or they might give one thump of their strong hind legs and run off to tell you how disappointed they are in you. It can be funny to see a cute little rabbit when they’re mad, especially because we know they’ll forgive us eventually (especially if you bribe them with a yummy treat).

aggressive rabbit
When rabbits are aggressive, they will raise their tail and pull back their ears with a raised head. Rabbits will growl and lunge forward as well.

How do you know if your rabbit is mad?

  • Swiping: They will pull their ears back and bring their tail up as they make a quick lunge forward with their front feet.
  • Growling: A growling or grunting rabbit means your rabbit is angry and giving you a warning.
  • Thumping: This is when your rabbit thumps their hind legs against the ground. If it happens just once, it is your rabbit’s way of showing you their disapproval.
  • Flick off: When a rabbit flicks their feet at you as they hop away it means they are upset with you. 
  • Cold shoulder: Some rabbits can really hold a grudge. They will let you know they are disappointed in you by purposefully sitting with their butt facing you and giving you the cold shoulder.

Rabbits are sleepy

Sometimes it’s really obvious that a rabbit is tired. They’ll throw themselves onto their side and go into a deep sleep. Or they’ll be sprawled out on the ground as their little heads slowly start to fall and their eyes start to droop. They’ll start to sink into the ground as they fall asleep until something startles them enough to wake them up again.

Sometimes it’s a lot more difficult to tell when a rabbit is sleepy. They’ll look like they’re just sitting around with their eyes wide open, when secretly they’ve been asleep for a while. You just have to look at their nose. If it completely stops twitching, it usually means that your rabbit is sleeping.

When rabbits feel tired and safe they will flop over on their side and go to sleep.

How do you know if your rabbit is sleepy?

  • Flopping: Flopping is when rabbits throw themselves onto their side and sleep. Sometimes they even roll all the way onto their back.
  • Loafing: Loafing is when your rabbit fluffs up into a ball and looks like a loaf of bread. This is generally a comfortable position for rabbits and they’ll often sleep in this position.
  • Sprawling out: This is when a rabbit is laying down on their side or belly, but is not completely flopped over. Sometimes they’ll even put their head down on their paws and look super cute while they sleep. 

Rabbits are scared

Rabbits can get scared and spooked pretty easily. Any loud or sudden noise could put them on edge, even if it’s not nearby. Since rabbits are prey animals, their first instinct is usually to run away and hide or freeze on the spot.

If your rabbit is scared of something, you might notice them cowering in one of their hiding boxes, or you might see their ears alert as they try to figure out what the sound was. You may also notice that your rabbit starts thumping up a storm. This is their way of telling you that they sense danger.

When rabbits are on high alert, their ears will be facing forward while they try to figure out where the danger is coming from.

How do you know if your rabbit is scared?

  • Thumping (again): sometimes a rabbit will keep thumping many times. If your rabbit won’t stop thumping it’s probably because they are afraid of something and they are trying to warn you.
  • Alert: If your rabbit has their ears forward and is looking intently in a certain direction it means they are on high alert. They could be standing up on their hind legs or alert with all four feet on the ground. 
  • Run away and hide: Unlike zooming, which is more of a continuous dashing around the room, suddenly running away to hide somewhere means that something spooked your rabbit.

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Rabbits are affectionate

While often shy at first, rabbits have ways of showing their love for us after they learn to trust us. Rabbits can be incredibly affectionate and lovable pets if we give them the chance. They’ll come greet us at the door, or they will come and lay down next to us. Rabbits have to trust you a lot if they’re going to sprawl out on the floor next to you.

Sometimes, if you are very lucky, you’ll have a rabbit who likes to lick you and groom your clothing. Rabbits that live together will show affection by grooming each other. So this is a rabbit’s way of telling you that you are part of the group now, and they are going to care for you and help keep you clean. 

rabbit circling
Rabbits will show you they love you and are excited to see you by running circles around your feet.

How do you know that your rabbit loves you?

  • Licking/grooming: When your rabbit starts to lick you or your clothing, it means that they see you as part of their bunny family. They trust you and love you enough to care about your cleanliness and well being. 
  • Laying next to you: If a rabbit comes and flops or sprawls on the ground next to you, that means they trust you a lot. Sprawled out, rabbits are not able to instantly dash away if danger comes because they will have to get up first.
  • Circling your feet: When a rabbit runs circles around your feet, this is a sign of excitement and love. 

Rabbits are curious

There is no pet more curious than a rabbit. These little fluffers will get into all kinds of trouble as they make their way through your home. They’ll sniff out the latest gadget you left lying on the floor, or somehow find their way behind the TV to get at all the wires (hopefully you have them covered!).

These adorable, curious creatures will find ways up onto high places so they can scope out the room. And they will take slow sneaky steps toward anything new that they want to check out, while their nose and ears give away their curious intentions.

curious rabbit
A curious rabbit will cautiously approach an object. Their ears will be directed forward and their tail stretched out and pointed down while their nose twitches quickly.

How do you know when your rabbit is curious?

  • Nose wiggle: Sometimes rabbits will wiggle their nose really fast or scan the ground with their nose. They will spend a lot of time identifying a new object by sniffing at it.
  • Sneaking forward: When a rabbit is curious, they will slowly approach the object of interest on tiptoe with their ears forward.
  • Periscoping: When your rabbit stands on her hind legs, it means she is curious and is trying to get a better vantage point.

Rabbits are sad

Rabbits can get sad and lonely too. If they don’t have much interaction with people or other rabbits, they can get depressed. They’ll stop being curious and active, and instead they’ll sit around all day. If your rabbit recently lost their bonded partner, you should look out for signs of depression and give your rabbit as much love and affection as you can.

That’s also why it’s so important to bring your rabbit inside and make them a part of the family. You’ll be able to give a house rabbit much more attention on a daily basis, and make sure they are not getting too lonely.

person sitting with a rabbit
Spending some time with your rabbit inside can keep them from getting lonely or depressed.

How do you know when your rabbit is sad?

  • Little interest in self grooming: If a rabbit is depressed, their coat might become dull and start to have more mats and tangles because they are not caring for it as well as they should.
  • Lethargy: As rabbits become sad they will have less energy and they’ll be sitting around more, even if they have the time and space to exercise.
  • Little interest in food: Sometimes when rabbits get depressed they no longer have much interest in eating. Even their favorite treats won’t lure them out anymore.

Sources:

  1. Roberts, Robert. “Propositions and Animal Emotion.” Cambridge University Press. January 30, 2009. Accessed: https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/philosophy/article/propositions-and-animal-emotion/F22934C5CEFD52BE707C98ED9ED36BA0.

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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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