All About Rabbit Ear Positions and What They Mean

rabbit ear positions

Rabbit ears are adorable. Whether your rabbit is lop-eared or uppity-eared, they always add to the overall cuteness factor of our beloved pets. But did you know rabbit ears can tell you a lot about your rabbit’s personality?

Rabbit ear positions tell you what a rabbit is feeling. You can tell if your rabbit is confident if their ears are relaxed and scared if their ears are rigid and pointing. Angry rabbits will throw their ears back at a 45º angle, while spunky rabbits will shake their ears to tell you to go away. 

Even lop rabbits, who have much less control over their ears, are able to tell us a lot about their emotions simply by moving their ears around. Learning to watch your rabbit’s ears, alongside their body language, can help you better understand your rabbit and help your pet feel safe and happy at home.

Understanding rabbit behavior as a whole

Rabbits have their own unique way of communicating with the world. Since rabbits don’t make many sounds (they can make some soft sounds), they rely primarily on their body language to express their mood and needs. The movement and placement of rabbit ears are often the most apparent part of rabbit behavior to help humans understand what the rabbit means.

However, it’s important to remember that ears are just a tiny part of your rabbit’s entire body. You need to make sure you look at your rabbit’s ears in the context of their whole body language to get the clearest picture of what your rabbit is saying. To learn more about rabbit body language as a whole, check out my article detailing rabbit behavior.

Ear positions in rabbits

Rabbits have a lot of control over their ears. The ears can swivel 270º to listen to sounds from any direction, and they also have movement front and back with limited movement side to side. As you observe your rabbit, you’ll find that they move their ears around quite a lot. Watching the ears is a great way to figure out if your rabbit is curious, angry, or even happy.

Upright and relaxed ears

The default rabbit ear position is upright and relaxed. The ears won’t look rigid or be obviously pointed in any specific direction. The ears will usually be wide apart and this time, and not touching or close together, but that can depend on the breed of rabbit. Some breeds naturally have close-set ears. You may also notice the ears sway or bob a little in this position as the rabbits hop around.

alert vs confident rabbit
Alert ears are more rigid and pointed than the ears of a confident or relaxed rabbit.

Upright and rigid ears

When rabbits get scared, they will stick their ears straight up and hold them in that position. The opening of the ear will often face directly forward, but the ears can also face toward a different direction where the rabbit heard a strange sound. Your rabbit might be standing on all fours, or they’ll be up on their hind legs looking for the source of danger.

This is when the rabbit goes on the alert. They may have heard a threatening sound, and they’re trying to listen closely to figure out what the danger is and where it’s coming from. You will probably see your rabbit freeze and point their ears up to listen. Then they will move to a different place and freeze to listen again. The rabbit will continue to have rigid posture and ears until they calm down and believe the danger has passed.

curious or cautious rabbit
A cautious rabbit will walk forward on their front legs while stretching out their hind legs behind them. Their ears will be directed forward and their tail stretched out and pointed down.

Ears slanted forward

When a rabbit slants their ears forward over their head, this indicates curiosity and caution. The ear’s opening will also face ahead, pointing over your rabbit’s head. Your rabbit might be curious about a new object in the room, or they might be slowly venturing to explore a new area in the house.

Along with the forward-slanted ears, you will probably see your rabbit’s nose speed up as they gather information about their surroundings through smell. You’ll also see your rabbit tiptoe to cautiously approach whatever it is they are interested in, often keeping their back feet in place as they stretch forward with their front legs.

aggressive rabbit
When rabbits are aggressive, they will raise their tail and pull back their ears while they growl and lunge forward.

Ears slanted backward

When rabbits move their ears to a back at a rigid 45º angle, this is a sign of anger or aggression. The inside of the ear will also be turned back and down, and you may hear your rabbit growl. At the same time, the rabbit’s tail will go up, and you might notice them jut out their chin, getting ready to bite.

This is your rabbit letting you know that they are getting ready to strike. They may bite or scratch you if you come any closer. Sometimes rabbits get aggressive out of fear, and the rabbit is scared of you or whoever is approaching. Other times this behavior is territorial, and the rabbit is defending their space.

relaxed rabbit ears
When rabbits sit in a relaxed position, they will often lay their ears together along their back.

Ears together along the rabbit’s back

When rabbits lay their ears down along their back, they are relaxing. Typically, you’ll notice this when the rabbit is loafing around or sprawled out to relax. The rabbit will put their ears against their back to indicate that they are very relaxed and don’t see any need to pay attention to their surroundings. They feel safe and content.

For many breeds of rabbits, the ears will naturally be close together and touching when they are relaxed like this. However, breeds with wide-set ears will also relax with ears wide along their back. My rabbit even has one droopy ear that will lay almost along her side when she’s sprawled out on the ground.

Rabbits who flatten their bodies against the ground may be scared or exhibiting a submissive behavior to a more dominant rabbit.

Ears apart along the rabbit’s back

When a rabbit lays flat on the ground with their ears spread wide on their back, the rabbit is taking a submissive position. They will do this more often around other rabbits than around humans, so you may not see this if you only have a single rabbit. The rabbit will do this to submit to the more dominant rabbit in the pair to make sure they aren’t threatening the leader.

This is also why it’s essential to take your rabbit’s whole body language into consideration. If the rabbit is lying down, relaxed, and their ears are wide apart, it’s probably a relaxed posture. If the ears are wide and rigid along the back while the rabbit is stiff against the floor, they are more likely scared and taking a submissive posture.

One ear up

Sometimes rabbits don’t feel threatened at all, but they still want to pay attention. If the rabbit is relaxed on the ground or in a loaf position, they might put one ear up to let you know they are lazily aware and paying attention. However, they don’t feel the need to go on the alert or even move much from their comfortable position.

I also see this a lot when my rabbits are eating and want to keep some level of alertness. They are mainly focused on enjoying their food, but they’ll keep one ear up to maintain a basic level of awareness. One ear up is like having a lazy and non-urgent level of alertness.

Swiveling ears

Rabbits will swivel their ears in any direction to listen to sounds around them. In some cases, they’ll only rotate one ear to catch a sound coming from one direction. Most of the time, this is just a cursory level of alertness for rabbits. Like the way humans immediately look to see any movement in the room, rabbits will instinctively move their ears around to catch any noise. 

However, you’ll also see this same behavior when your rabbit is on the alert. In these cases, the rabbit will have upright rigid ears, and they will rotate them to figure out which direction a dangerous sound is coming from. This is because rabbits can pinpoint sounds very effectively. The cupped shape of their ears allows them to collect sound information directionally. It’s a valuable survival feature for wild rabbits who try to figure out what direction a potential predator is coming from.

rabbit shaking ears
A rabbit will shake their ears because they are itchy. They will also shake to tell you to go away, or if they are happy.

Shaking ears

Sometimes you will also notice your rabbit shaking their ears. They’ll move their whole head to flop their ears around from side to side. This is a behavior that actually has a few different meanings depending on the context. Even though the behavior looks very similar, you will need to watch your rabbit closely to figure out what they are saying.

  • Itchy ears. If a rabbit shakes their ears a few times in a row, rather than just once, this typically means they have an itch in their ears. It may be followed by some ear scratching with their back legs, or they might try to clean their ear by grabbing it with their front paws and bringing it to their mouth. This is nothing to worry about if it only happens occasionally. However, frequent itchy ears can be a sign of ear mites or infection.
  • Leave me alone. If you try to pet your rabbit or go up to them when they want to be left alone, the rabbit might shake their ears at you to tell you to go away. Most often, it will happen when your rabbit is exploring. If you reach toward them, they will shake their ears and hop off to tell you they have their own business to take care of right now.
  • Mini binky. The other time you will notice your rabbit shake their ears is when they are performing a mini binky. A binky is a twisting jump that rabbits do when they are very happy. Sometimes they don’t feel like doing a full-blown binky and will instead just shake their head and shoulders to show how excited they are.
lop rabbit ears
Lop rabbits don’t have as much control over their ears, but they can still move them a little. They can move their ears forward if they are curious or cautious, or rotate them to hear better in different directions. Many lop rabbits will also airplane their ears when they are excited.

Lop-eared rabbit ear positions

Lop rabbit ears are more challenging to understand than uppity-eared rabbits. Lops have far less control over their ears and cannot always put their ears in the same position as other rabbits. Most lop rabbits can still rotate their ears, but with limited ear mobility, this is often a subtler movement that’s harder to catch.

Some lop rabbits have more control over their ears than others. They might even be able to move their ears into a fully upright position. However, most lops will not be able to raise their ears very far, and some will not be able to lift their ears at all. 

Of course, lop rabbits still have a lot of personality, and their ears are an adorable way to help them express themselves. Watch your rabbit closely to see which ear positions you can recognize.

Relaxed ears

By default, lop rabbit ears will rest gently on their sides. They won’t be rigid and will just be pointed in toward the rabbit’s body. When your rabbit moves or hops around, you see their ears bounce up and down with the rabbit’s movement since they are not being held in any particular position. 

These relaxed ears imply that the rabbit is generally happy and comfortable. They don’t feel like there is an imminent threat that they need to be aware of, so they just let their ears hang in a natural position.

Lop rabbits are unlikely to casually swivel their ears toward different sounds in the room the way uppity-eared rabbits do. This requires a stronger and more fine-tuned ear muscle that lop rabbits don’t always have.

Ears swing forward

A lop rabbit swinging their ears forward is similar to the forward slanted ears of other rabbits. They will raise their ears slightly and push them forward when the rabbit is curious or cautious about an object or sound nearby. 

You’ll often see this behavior with the same curious or cautious body language you’ll see with uppity-eared rabbits. The lop rabbit will slowly tip-toe forward or keep their feet planted in one place while they stretch forward with their front paws.

Ears swing backward

When a lop-eared rabbit rigidly swings their ears up and back a bit, this is similar to the aggressive ear signals that uppity-eared rabbits show. They are either afraid and telling you to back off, or they are defensive and protecting their territory.

Not all lop-eared rabbits have enough control of their ears to push them in this position. If you’re worried about noticing aggressive behavior in these rabbits, make sure to pay attention to the other signs. Growling, a raised tail, and a jutting chin are other signs of aggression that lop-eared rabbits will show in their body language.

Rotated ears

While lop-eared rabbits have limited mobility in their ears, they can still rotate them a little. They can swivel one of both ears in the direction of nearby sounds when they are curious or trying to pay attention.

Sometimes when a lop-eared rabbit tries to rotate one ear, they’ll also turn their head a little to more easily hear the sound. This makes them look adorable, like a curious puppy when they cock their head. 

Airplane ears

Another common position you will see in lop-eared rabbits who have greater mobility is known as airplane ears. Not all rabbits are capable of this, but those with the strength will lift their ears to a horizontal position, looking like an airplane. 

Most commonly, you will see this behavior when your rabbit is very excited about something. They’ll lift their ears and make a happy buzzing sound. However, you may also see it when your rabbit is on the alert. Holding their ears like this makes it easier for the rabbit to hear sounds around them, so they may be trying to identify the direction of a threatening noise.

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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