Do Rabbits Hold Grudges? (behavior signs)

Can a rabbit hold a grudge?

If you’ve ever done something to upset your rabbit, you may have noticed they have peculiar behavior afterward. They are no longer the friendly and loving partner you’re used to. Instead, they shun you completely, and may even lash out aggressively for a time. It might almost seem like your rabbit is holding a grudge against you. Is that even possible?

It is common for rabbits to be offended and hold grudges against people. The most common sign that a rabbit is upset is when they give you the cold shoulder, ignoring you and refusing to take any treats. Rabbits holding a grudge will also flick their feet and people and urinate in places they normally wouldn’t.

Usually, when a rabbit is upset at a person, their grudge does not last very long. You can easily get back into your rabbit’s good graces by offering their favorite treat or giving them a pleasant massage. However, some rabbits will hold a grudge for several hours or even days at a time if they feel slighted.

What causes rabbits to hold grudges?

Domestic rabbits come from a species that is very social and hierarchical. Therefore, rabbits have instinctual ways of communicating with each other when they are upset. This behavioral language comes through when our rabbits are unhappy with us. They will use their behavior to let us know they are offended until we apologize or they decide to move on and forgive us anyway.

The types of behavior that will typically offend a rabbit are when you hold your rabbit or put them into a scary or stressful situation. If you ever need to handle your rabbit, whether it be to move them from one place to another, clip their nails, or give them medication, the rabbit is likely to be upset and hold a grudge against you. Being held and handled is a scary situation for rabbits because they feel trapped with no way to escape. They will recognize that you are the cause of their fear and hold it against you.

Similarly, rabbits are also known to hold grudges when they come home from any kind of car trip, such as a visit to the vet. This is another scary and stressful situation for rabbits. They are understandably upset and may hold a grudge for a while when they are finally back to their safe space.

Some rabbits will also get upset with you if you touch their stuff. Cleaning out the rabbit enclosure or rearranging their furniture can lead to an upset bunny. They may try reorganizing on their own to get everything back to normal, or they might just sulk for a while until they get over the change.

How long will a rabbit hold a grudge against you?

Typically, rabbits do not hold a grudge for a very long period of time. Sometimes it will only be for a few minutes after you put them back on the ground or into their home territory. However, it’s not uncommon for rabbits to continue avoiding you or giving you the cold shoulder for a number of hours after the offending action.

I had one rabbit, Tenshi, who would pointedly ignore me for four to five hours after I clipped her nails. If I tried to give her any kind of attention, Tenshi would immediately hop away from me, making sure I knew how upset she was.

When a temporary grudge becomes a long term behavior pattern

Rabbit memory holds negative and scary situations more prominently than positive or neutral memories. If you are constantly putting them into stressful situations, your rabbit will remember. While the first couple of times your rabbit may have only held a grudge for a few hours, they will begin to trust you less and less every time. Eventually, their behavior when they are shunning you will become their long-term behavior unless you take the time to make amends and change your own behavior.

5 behavior signs your rabbit is holding a grudge against you

Sometimes rabbit behavior is a little difficult to read. Some of their behaviors are so subtle, you would never know they are upset with you, while others will make you think your rabbit’s personality has completely changed. While every rabbit will show their disapproval in their own unique ways, these are the most common behaviors you will find.

rabbit giving the cold shoulder
Rabbits will let you know they are disappointed in you by purposefully sitting with their butt facing you and giving you the cold shoulder.

When rabbits give you the cold shoulder

Rabbits will regularly give you the cold shoulder if they feel slighted. This is when the rabbit hops just out of reach of you, turns their back, and pointedly ignores you. They may look back over their shoulder to make sure you see them. Your rabbit wants you to know that they are upset with you. 

If you try to go up to your rabbit to pet them, they will simply hop away and continue to sit with their butt facing you. At this point, your rabbit is just sulking and is not ready for an apology. Once you let them cool off for a while, you can try to pet them again to see if they’ll accept a massage.

When rabbits flick their feet at you

Have you ever noticed your rabbit hops away from you while flicking their feet in your direction? This is similar to what we would call ‘flipping you off,’ so I have dubbed it ‘flicking you off.” It’s a subtle gesture, but it’s an undeniable sign that your rabbit is upset with something you did, and they are angrily letting you know. 

You will notice this behavior most commonly when you first put your rabbit down after holding them. They will hop away from you, flicking their feet as you go. Afterward, they will likely give you the cold shoulder for a while, until they are ready to forgive you.

rabbit flicking their feet
If your rabbit is upset with you, they will flick their feet to let you know.

Refusing treats

Some rabbits will let you know they are holding a grudge by completely refusing treats or anything from your hand. Even if you offer them their absolute favorite, your rabbit will ignore it until they are ready to forgive you. Interestingly, this is not usually accompanied by a refusal to eat in general. Most of the time rabbits who are holding a grudge will continue to eat their hay and normal food, but anything that you try to hand them will be refused.

My old bunny, Tenshi, was the queen of this technique. She absolutely loved treats, but any time I had to handle her she would get so upset that she refused to take any from me. Tenshi would hop off (flick me off) and clean herself. If I tried to give her a treat, she’d simply turn up her nose and hop away again. I would end up leaving the treat in her food bowl, and when she finally went to eat the treat, sometimes after many hours, I knew that’s when she had forgiven me.

Temporary aggressive behavior in rabbits

Some rabbits will get angry when they hold a grudge. Instead of simply hopping away when you try to come near, they will swipe at you or try to bite. They may even come up to you and give you a hard nip to tell you how upset they are with your actions.

This kind of aggressive behavior is only temporary and doesn’t mark a permanent change in your rabbit’s personality. If you give your rabbit some space, they will eventually come around and forgive you.

rabbit pees outside the litter box
A rabbit who is litter trained may pee outside the litter box if they are spraying to claim their territory or protesting an unclean litter box.

Urinating in places they shouldn’t

Rabbits are intelligent animals, they know where they’re supposed to use the bathroom. You may find if they’re upset with you, that they choose to urinate in a place they normally wouldn’t. Urinating and spreading their scent is one way that rabbits try to claim dominance and ownership of an area. By peeing outside of their litterbox, your rabbit is telling you that they are the boss and letting you know how upset they are with your actions.

This is especially common when your rabbit holds a grudge because you cleaned their area. Since you made their scent disappear from their territory, your rabbit will make sure to put it back in a way you won’t misunderstand.

How to apologize to your rabbit

Understanably, if your beloved rabbit is mad at you, you’ll want to find a way to get into their good graces. Many rabbits will only hold a grudge until you let them know how sorry they are. If you take the time to apologize, your rabbit will forgive you in no time.

Offer a treat

The easiest way to apologize to a rabbit is to offer them the treat. For many rabbits, this will immediately get you back into their good graces and they will no longer hold a grudge against you. However, even for rabbits who refuse the treat, the act of giving them something yummy doesn’t go unnoticed. 

Offer your rabbit their favorite treat and leave it in a place your rabbit can find when they are ready to forgive you. You’ll know that when they finally eat the treat, your rabbit no longer holds a grudge against you.

luring a rabbit back to their enclosure
Giving your rabbit a treat can cause them to immediately forgive you and stop holding a grudge.

Pet your rabbit

Most rabbits love being pet. It gives them all around pleasant and relaxing feelings. If your rabbit is holding a grudge against you, see if you can go up to them and give them a massage. Obviously, you want to avoid picking your rabbit up since that would only make your standing worse in your rabbits eyes, but a nice massage can go a long way for rabbits.

If your rabbit refuses to let you touch them, try to wait a little bit first. Sometimes rabbits just need 15 minutes to cool their heads before they’ll allow you to come and pet them.

Leave your rabbit alone for a while

Sometimes, the only thing you can do is leave your rabbit alone for a while. If treats and petting don’t work, then respect your rabbit’s boundaries and back off until your rabbit is ready to come up to you again. In these cases, the only way to ask for forgiveness is to give your rabbit the space they need to sort through their own emotions. Eventually, your rabbit will get over it and come running back. You just need to give them some time.

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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