Holidays that are celebrated with fireworks, such as Independence Day and New Year’s Day, can be stressful for pet rabbits. Suddenly there is a loud banging sound that seems to continue at random. This can easily put a rabbit into a panic, causing them to be frozen with fear all night. We all care about our pet rabbits and want to keep them happy, so we need to take some steps to keep our rabbits as stress-free as possible during holiday celebrations.
Keep your rabbit calm during fireworks by insulating them inside from the noise and providing distractions, such as toys and treats. Stay with your rabbit and pet them for comfort when you notice signs of anxiety. You can also desensitize your rabbit to loud sounds, so that they won’t get so stressed during holidays with fireworks.
Some rabbits are more skittish than others. Your rabbit may get mildly scared during fireworks, only requiring a little bit of a distraction. Other rabbits will become completely paralyzed with fear. Whatever reaction your rabbit has, you can work with them to help them calm down and eventually overcome their fear.
Why are rabbits afraid of fireworks?
Not all rabbits will be afraid when there are loud firework celebrations going on outside, but many will be. Rabbits are hard wired to be alert and quick to run away from any possible threat. Sudden loud sounds can startle a rabbit causing them to become afraid. Since fireworks usually continue for periods of time with no clear source for rabbits to find, they often get confused and anxious for prolonged periods of time. This can potentially lead to shock or other stress-related illnesses.
Fireworks are more likely to cause extreme fear in rabbits that are kept in an outdoor hutch. There are no walls to mute the noise and protect the rabbits from the loud banging sounds. I recommend that pet rabbits always be housed indoors, but even more so during holidays that are celebrated with a large amount of fireworks. Even indoor rabbits, however, can also be afraid during firework displays and may need your help staying calm.
The effect of age on fear of fireworks
As rabbits age, they usually start to get used to sudden loud noises simply by having more exposure to them. Sounds such as thunder, loud dogs barking outside, or construction in the neighborhood can slowly help a rabbit get over their fears as they age.
For this reason, young rabbits are much more likely to experience a high level of fear and anxiety during the fireworks. If you have a young rabbit who has had limited experience with loud sounds, it will be all the more important to stay home with them to help keep them calm during the festivities.
Recognizing shock in rabbits
While uncommon, it is possible for rabbits to go into shock from fear they experience during fireworks. Shock causes a rabbits body to basically start shutting down. If left untreated, it can result in death, so it’s best to be aware of the symptoms so you can help your rabbit recover.
The symptoms of shock include:
- Weak or limp rabbit. When your rabbit feels limp in your arms and does not respond when you touch them.
- Pale gums. Pull back your rabbit’s lips, they should be a healthy pink color and not pale or blue.
- Cold ears. When your rabbit’s ears and other extremities feel extremely cold to the touch.
- Weak pulse. If you can’t feel a pulse at all, or only just barely, that’s an indication of a weak pulse.
- Rapid breathing. The rabbit will be breathing as if they are hyperventilating. Sometimes their mouth will be open and the rabbit will be attempting to breathe through their mouth (this is unusual in rabbits).
- Dull eyes. It will appear as if they aren’t focusing on anything around them.
- Hypothermia. It’s dangerous for a rabbit’s body temperature to remain this low and is a clear sign that they are beginning to go into shock. This is when a rabbit’s body temperature drops below 100ºF (38.1ºC).
For more detailed information on shock in rabbits, check out my article on how to identify shock.
Signs of fear in rabbits
Rabbits don’t start barking or whining when they are afraid. Instead you need to pay attention to more subtle body language to know if your rabbit is anxious during a fireworks display. If your rabbit exhibits any combination of these behaviors during a thunderstorm, they are likely telling you that they are afraid.
- Thumping: Rabbits thump their strong back legs when they are scared. It’s their way of warning those around them that they sense danger.
- Alert body language: With their ears forward and a rigid body posture, rabbits are showing that they are on the alert, ready to run away at a moment’s notice. They might shift their legs around and appear to be perches on their tip-toes.
- Hiding: Rabbits that hide away are trying to escape whatever it is that makes them feel scared. They may poke their head out occasionally to get a vantage point and see if the danger has passed.
- Over-grooming: While it’s common for rabbits to do an excellent job keeping themselves clean, excessive grooming is a stress related behavior. You may notice your rabbit seems to be cleaning themselves a lot more often than usual during the fireworks in an attempt to comfort themselves.
- Not moving: Rabbits who are very scared may exhibit the classic deer-in-the-headlights behavior. Rather than running away to hide, they will freeze. Some rabbits may also flatten themselves onto the ground.
- Aggressive: When they are scared, some rabbits will try to act tough instead. They may growl and swat at anyone who tries to approach them as a way of trying to protect themselves from a perceived threat.
Setting up your rabbit’s habitat to minimize anxiety during fireworks
The best thing you can do when you know there will be fireworks in your area is make a plan in advance. You can set up your rabbit’s environment to minimize the amount of anxiety they’ll feel during the ongoing celebration outside and make a plan to be with your rabbit during this stressful time.
Keep your rabbit inside
Even if your rabbit normally has access to the outdoors, it’s best to keep them inside during fireworks. Indoors is more insulated from outdoor noise and does a lot to help rabbits feel safe and protected. If possible, you can even move your rabbit into a different room in the house that is farther away from windows and outdoor noises.
You’ll also want to take the time to close the windows and the blinds. This will mute the noise from the fireworks even further while also keeping out any random flashes of light if you live close enough to a place where fireworks are being set off.
Give your rabbit places to hide
You can give your rabbit hiding houses or tunnels to help them feel safe or blankets to burrow under. Understandably, rabbits feel a lot safer if they have a place to hide. Hiding is a way your rabbit can comfort themself while they weather the fireworks.
As contradictory as it may seem, having a hiding house or tunnel can actually help your rabbit be more confident in the long run. They’ll be able to gain confidence and venture out of hiding more often because they’ll know they can always dash back to shelter if they get scared again. Without a hiding place rabbits are likely to feel exposed and trapped, which only leads to greater feelings of fear.
While you’re at it, make sure their flooring in your rabbit’s enclosure isn’t slick and slippery. A bathroom or kitchen floor is not a great place for rabbits to be when you expect fireworks. Rabbit feet can’t get traction on a slippery floor, such as hardwood or tile. They can potentially injure themselves (such as back injuries) if they get scared and suddenly try to run away on a slippery floor.
Play some gentle music
Try to reduce the outdoor bangs from fireworks even more by using white noise or gentle music. There are small white noise machines that are used to block out sounds from neighboring rooms. They work surprisingly well to mute sounds of fireworks as well. If you don’t have one of these machines, you can also use the sound of a fan or air conditioning unit to act as white noise.
The other option is playing soothing music. You can put on some classical music or play the sounds of nature to cover up the sounds of a thunderstorm and keep a calm atmosphere for your rabbit. Try to avoid any nature sounds that include loud bird calls though. I found that that only served to scare my rabbits even more.
Have distractions ready
Sometimes rabbits respond better to distractions. If they can spend time looking for treats or playing with fun toys, they might forget that they were scared to begin with. They may even start to positively associate future firework noises with getting those yummy treats, making them less likely to get scared in the future.
You can distract your rabbit by doing a short training session with them. If you’ve trained them to spin in circles, give you kisses, or high fives, you can use this time to keep your rabbits skills sharp. Give them a treat when they do some tricks, and even try to teach them something new.
You can also distract your rabbit by hiding treats around for them to find. Allow them to forage for treats by hiding some in their hay bin or inside one of their favorite toys. You can even lead your rabbit on a scavenger hunt by hiding small pieces of treats around the room. Just make sure you’re not giving your rabbit too many treats, since that can be bad for their digestion.
Give your rabbit ways to use their natural behaviors
When they are stressed, rabbits can get a lot of comfort from using their natural bunny behaviors. Actions such as digging, chewing, and foraging are behaviors that your rabbit will engage in. Instead of getting mad at them for using these behaviors in a destructive way (such as digging into the carpet), it’s better to try to help your rabbit find things to dig into and chew on that won’t destroy anything.
Try creating fun digging areas for your rabbit. Make a digging box for them or put some flattened cardboard boxes on the ground for your rabbit to shred. If you have any old cotton blankets or sheets that you don’t use anymore, your rabbit can have fun burrowing into them also.
Wooden toys and branches can be a way to let your rabbit use their natural chewing instincts. You can give them apple branches, dried out pine cones, hanging toys, or even DIY cardboard toys. Offer your rabbit a variety of toys so they can choose their favorites. They can chew on it when they are feeling happy and when they are feeling stressed too.
Plan to be home with your rabbit
If this is your rabbit’s first experience of fireworks or you know that they get extremely scared, then you may want to make sure your plans include getting home for the evening. This way you can be with your rabbit to comfort them if they show signs of fear.
Many rabbits can be comforted when you stay close and interact with them, especially if you and your rabbit have a close bond. This can mean petting your rabbit and giving them a nice massage to help them calm down. I like to lay down next to my rabbit and give her scritches on her head and behind her ears. This can mimic the behaviors that rabbits in pairs and groups exhibit. They will often groom each other as a way to comfort their partner rabbit when they are anxious or scared.
For rabbits that are very stressed it can be helpful to gently cover their eyes with your hands. This decreases the amount of external stimulus that is reaching the rabbit’s brain and can keep them from being overwhelmed by their senses. To do this, gently cup your hands over your rabbit’s head so that your fingers and palm cover your rabbit’s eyes.
Speaking softly to your rabbit can also help them to understand there is no danger right now. Your voice is familiar to your rabbit. By talking to them without any panic, they’ll learn that everything is going to be okay, even if they can’t understand your words.
Make sure your rabbit recovers completely
Rabbits who have been overly stressed are more likely to continue being anxious over the next few days. They may be more fidgetly than usual and more likely to run away from normal household sounds. Over the next few days to a week, the rabbit’s behavior should return to normal.
It’s best to try to give your rabbit as much opportunity to relax as possible so they can destress and recover completely after the fireworks. Continue to give them a quiet environment and lots of fun toys to help them have fun and forget about that stressful night. You can also spend a lot of time with your rabbit and pet them, to help them feel even more relaxed.
Desensitizing rabbits to loud sounds
If you still have some weeks before the holiday fireworks, you can work to start desensitizing your rabbit so they won’t be as scared when the day comes. You will essentially be helping your rabbit get used to it little by little while they are in a safe and controlled environment.
The basic technique to achieve this is to find a recording of fireworks and play it while your rabbit is feeling comfortable and safe. Possibly while you are feeding them their leafy greens or some yummy treats.
Step 1: Low volume
Start with the volume very low and increase it until you see that your rabbit notices the sound, but is not showing signs of serious fear. If they start to thump or go on the alert, lower the sound. For the first few days keep it at this low volume so that your rabbit can get used to the sound of fireworks while they are feeling happy.
Step 2: Increase the volume
Then start to increase the volume a little bit each day. Only increase it a tiny bit to allow your rabbit the chance to get used to the sound. If you notice your rabbit gets too scared, lower the volume and wait a couple of days to increase it again.
Step 3: Vary the volume levels
After your rabbit is mostly comfortable with the recording of fireworks on a loud setting (similar to the volume level you might expect to hear on an actual holiday), start to vary the volume levels. Increase the volume so there are some loud firework bangs, and decrease it again for softer firework noises. This will be a little more consistent with what your rabbit will hear when there are fireworks going outside.
If your rabbit is able to get used to the recording of fireworks, they will have an easier time when they are hearing the actual thing. They’ll already have some experience and be used to the loud bangs and scary noises.