Rabbits are social creatures who can easily get lonely if they are left alone for most of the day. Unfortunately, loneliness is a familiar feeling among rabbits who are kept alone in a cage with limited time to spend with people.
Lonely rabbits will exhibit a number of attention-seeking behaviors, such as thumping, nipping, and persistent destructive tendencies. If left alone too frequently, rabbits can even become depressed and withdrawn. They may start to show aggressive behaviors or have a decreased appetite.
Even if your rabbit shows signs of being lonely right now, there is still a lot you can do to improve your rabbit’s living conditions. You can make a huge difference in their quality of life simply by spending time socializing with them. You may even consider bringing a second rabbit into your home to keep your first rabbit company.
Why do rabbits get lonely?
Rabbits are social creatures. In the wild, they would live with a whole group of rabbits living in networks of tunnels together. They are hardwired to have social needs and can quickly become lonely and even fall into a depression if those needs are not met.
The best way to help our rabbits and meet their needs is to bond them with another rabbit. However, this is not always possible. Since rabbits will often fight when they first meet, bonding is a complex process that requires a lot of time and dedication. Because it’s so difficult to bond rabbits, many of them end up living with us as single pets.
Rabbits as single pets can still gain a lot from human companionship. The problem is that many people don’t realize how social rabbits are. Even well-meaning rabbit caretakers don’t always realize how much attention rabbits need and leave their rabbits alone for most of the day. Unfortunately, this means that many pet rabbits are very lonely.
Signs of loneliness in rabbits
Not all single rabbits are lonely. If they can spend a good portion of the day with you or the rest of the family, single rabbits can be very happy. If your rabbit consistently shows signs that they are happy, you probably do not have a lonely rabbit. However, if you notice many of the following behaviors, you may want to look into ways to spend more time with your rabbit or introduce a second rabbit into the household.
1. Attention-seeking behaviors
If rabbits are lonely, the first step they’ll take is to try to find ways to get the attention they crave. They will exhibit a number of different attention-seeking behaviors to force you to come and pay attention to them. Many of these behaviors are disruptive or even destructive, so you may find yourself getting upset at your rabbit for their bad behavior when really, they are just trying to get your attention.
Common behaviors that rabbits use to get your attention include:
- Thumping. Thumping can mean a rabbit is scared, but if they learn that this loud noise will get your attention, they’ll start to purposefully thump when they feel lonely.
- Nipping. Rabbits who want your attention right away may come up to you and nip you. It’s typically not an aggressive behavior since they are not trying to hurt you, but it will definitely pinch a little.
- Digging on you. A rabbit who wants attention may come up to you, stand on their hind legs, and dig at your legs with their front paws.
- Destructive behaviors. Rabbits can learn that if they dig on the rug or chew things they shouldn’t, you will come over to stop them. They’ll begin to perform these behaviors more just to get you to come over and interact with them.
There are also any number of other ways rabbits can try to get your attention. Some of these will be gentle, such as gently nudging you for petting. Others will seem more obnoxious, such as making a racket by rattling their enclosure bars.
2. Persistent destructive behaviors
In addition to being attention-seeking, persistent destructive behaviors can also be a sign of boredom and anxiety that results from their social needs not being met. Rabbits who seem to obsessively dig out their litter box, chew on furniture legs, or other similar behaviors may be trying to keep themselves stimulated with their environment since they cannot interact with anyone.
It’s important to mention that all rabbits will show some level of destructive behavior. They all have natural instincts to dig and chew on things. That’s why it’s essential to take the time to rabbit-proof your home. If this is the only sign from this list you are seeing, it’s entirely possible this destructive behavior is just your rabbit’s personality and not a sign of loneliness.
3. A withdrawn personality
Rabbits who are too lonely will become depressed. Their personality will be more withdrawn, and they’ll stop showing their natural rabbit curiosity in their environment. In serious cases, the rabbit will also stop reacting when you do interact with them. Instead of relaxing when you pet them, they’ll simply sit there looking grumpy. They’ll also be less likely to explore or get excited about anything in their environment.
It’s normal for rabbits to relax and slow down as they age. If your elderly rabbit seems to be less curious and playful than they were as a young bunny, that doesn’t necessarily mean they are depressed or lonely. However, you should still see signs of social desire in your rabbit. They’ll still enjoy relaxing next to you, being petted, and sniffing out a new treat. They just won’t be quite as excited as their younger selves.
4. Unexplained aggressive behavior
Some rabbits will become aggressive when they get lonely and depressed. They’ll start to lash out at anyone who comes near out of frustration and boredom. This aggressive behavior will seem to occur out of nowhere, with no instigation from you.
In some cases, unexplained aggressive behavior can also be a sign of an undiagnosed illness. If your rabbit is suddenly showing aggression when they previously were very friendly, you may want to get them checked out by a rabbit veterinarian.
5. Fur pulling and overgrooming
Lonely rabbits can comfort themselves by self-grooming. It’s normal for rabbits to groom themselves frequently throughout the day, but the behavior should not lead to any fur loss or thinning areas of fur. That’s when it’s become an anxious behavior that the rabbit is partaking in to relieve anxiety.
In severe cases, this overgrooming can even lead to fur pulling, when the rabbit purposefully plucks their fur. This can also be a sign of a phantom pregnancy in female rabbits who have not been spayed, so take that into consideration if you notice fur pulling behaviors. (learn why it’s so important to spay your rabbit)
6. Lack of appetite
Most rabbits get very excited about food. They love treats, leafy greens, pellets, and even munching on their hay. For my rabbits, the highlight of their day is breakfast time when I give them their daily pellets. If your rabbit has been losing interest in eating (they don’t get excited, or they’re eating less), this may stem from depression and overall loneliness.
Of course, a lack of appetite can also be the result of any number of rabbit illnesses (such as overgrown teeth), so it’s vital to keep an eye on your rabbit. If you notice a change in your rabbit’s eating behavior, it’s important to get them checked out by a qualified veterinarian.
If your rabbit is not eating at all, this is an emergency situation. Rabbit health depends on the constant movement of their digestive system, so if they haven’t eaten or pooped for the last 10-12 hours, bring your rabbit to an urgent care veterinary clinic right away.
How to help your rabbit be less lonely
If your rabbit is lonely, there are some easy ways you can help your rabbit recover. If you change your rabbit’s lifestyle to give them more time with you or other members of the family, they can become a happier rabbit in no time.
- Socialize with your rabbit: Schedule time every day to interact with your rabbit. During this time, give all of your attention to your rabbit so that you can be available to socialize as much as they need to.
- Free roam your rabbit: Free-roaming is when a rabbit can hop around the home without being kept in an enclosure. It gives your rabbit the opportunity to passively spend time with you and come up to you for attention whenever they need it. (read more about how to free roam a pet rabbit)
- Get a second rabbit: If you can’t spend very much time with your rabbit, you may want to find a second rabbit to bond with them. Bonding is rarely an easy process, so I recommend reading as much as possible about the bonding process before starting with your rabbit.
Can rabbits bond with other household pets?
It is possible for rabbits to bond with or enjoy socializing with other pets in the household. If your rabbit can’t be bonded with another rabbit for medical reasons, or they are just too territorial, this may be an option for you.
Cats and rabbits can actually be excellent companions, especially if you have a larger rabbit that the cat will not see as prey. Of course, you still want to be careful with the two animals since they may not have compatible personalities. It can also be helpful if the cat is raised with the rabbits as a kitten, so they don’t see rabbits as prey animals.
Dogs and rabbits are typically a little more complicated. Rabbits and dogs are natural enemies, and even the gentlest dog can suddenly go into hunting mode when they see a rabbit. This doesn’t mean rabbits and dogs can’t enjoy each other’s company, but you need to be much more careful about how they are introduced and their living accommodations.
It used to be common for rabbits and guinea pigs to be kept together as pets since they are both social species that are easier to bond with members of a different species. Nowadays, this topic is a little more controversial. Rabbits can spread illnesses to guinea pigs, and there is potential for the rabbit to accidentally injure the smaller guinea pig.