Rabbit Sounds: What are they trying to tell you?


do rabbits make sounds?

Rabbits are very quiet pets to have. They don’t bark like dogs or meow at you when they’re annoyed. Rabbits mostly communicate with each other through their body language, but they are capable of making some very soft sounds that can help us understand how they are feeling.

Rabbits can growl when they’re angry, and purr when they are content. They’ll thump to let us know when they are scared, and honk when they are excited. Some rabbits will even snore when they are sleeping. Almost all sounds rabbits make are very quiet and hard to hear.

Once you take the time to stay quiet and listen, you will hear that there is a whole world of sounds that you can use to decipher what your rabbit is feeling. These sounds will help you understand if your rabbit is lunging at you because they are angry or because they are feeling playful. They can even help you to know when your rabbit isn’t feeling well.

SoundMeaning
Honking/OinkingHappy and excited
Teeth Grinding/PurringCalm and content
Teeth GratingPain or discomfort
GruntingAngry or annoyed
GrowlingAngry, annoyed and aggressive
HissingAngry and aggressive
ThumpingScared or Angry
ScreamingVery scared
HiccupsIf it goes on for long periods, it may be a health concern
SnoringSleeping, or if it suddenly starts it may be a health concern
Sleep TalkingSleeping
SneezingIf it’s accompanied with snot or discharge, it may be a health concern
WheezingIf it goes on for long periods, it may be a health concern

Rabbit do make noises, (but they are very quiet)

Rabbit sounds are almost all very quiet. You need to listen carefully to hear what your rabbit is saying and take the time to learn how to tell the difference between all these different, yet similar, noises. You can use these sounds that rabbits make along with their body language to learn how to know what your rabbit is telling you.

We all want to know that our sweet rabbit is happy and content with life. Sometimes they make some noises to let us know exactly how excited they are. And sometimes, like cats, they let us know how content by purring when they are being pet.

Rabbits also make sounds to let you know they are angry or annoyed with you or something in their environment. These more aggressive sounds can also mean that your rabbit is scared of something. They might be trying to warn you of danger or trying to be brave even though they are afraid.

There are other sounds that you want to listen for because they can let you know if your rabbit has some kind of health problem that needs medical attention. By paying attention and taking the time to listen to your rabbit you can learn to decipher exactly what they are telling you and understand your bunny better.

Honking/oinking

Rabbit honking is difficult to describe. It sounds a little like your rabbit is snorting or oinking. I’ve even heard some people call it buzzing or barking. Honking is a sound that rabbits make when they are happy and excited. I hear rabbits make this soft sound when they are expecting treats or when they get excited for play time. 

For most rabbits, this is a very soft sound that is difficult to hear unless you listen very closely. But some rabbits will honk more audibly when they are excited. From my experience with shelter rabbits, I know that if you stay quiet and listen closely, most will make this sound occasionally. Some of the sounds on this list are rare, but honking (or whatever you want to call it) is actually quite common.

Purring

Rabbit purring is not the same as a cat’s purr, but it means the same thing. When a rabbit is calm and content, they will gently grind their teeth together. Most often, you will notice this sound when you are petting your rabbit, but occasionally you might also see them purring when they are relaxing on their own.

Sometimes this is difficult to hear unless you put your face very close to your rabbit, but if you can’t hear it, you can feel your rabbit’s head vibrate when you’re petting them. You can also see their whiskers twitching a little as your rabbit happily grinds their teeth.

Teeth grating

There is another sound rabbits make that is very similar to their purring but means the exact opposite. When your rabbit is very loudly grinding their teeth together it is an indication that they are uncomfortable or in pain. This is much less common and is not one of the first symptoms of rabbit illness I look out for. It happens most frequently if your rabbit is suffering from a dental disease, such as overgrown teeth.

This sound is more of a loud grating noise than the softer purring sound. You’ll also notice your rabbit’s body language reflect their discomfort. They will likely be sitting in an odd, hunched position, while showing a decreased appetite and low energy levels.

rabbit growling

Growling

A growling rabbit means exactly what you would expect. The rabbit is angry and giving you a warning to back off before they bite you. Rabbit growling doesn’t sound exactly the same as a dog. It’s more of a short, low pitched vibration or snort. For some rabbits, it might even sound like a little squeak. 

When a rabbit growls, they will usually also lunge or swat at whatever is annoying them to try to get it to go away. Other angry body language you can look out for is their ears going back at a 45º angle and the tail going up. These are all signs of an angry rabbit who is getting ready to attack.

Grunting

Sometimes growling is accompanied by continued grunting sounds. It might sound like a little continued squeak and is usually higher pitched than the growling sound. This is a much less common sound that rabbits are capable of making.

Rabbits might make this sound if they perceive a continued threat that they want to scare off. Toward humans, a rabbit might start grunting if they don’t want to be picked up and they want you to leave them alone. Be careful if you are trying to handle a rabbit that’s behaving like this. It’s very possible they will try to swipe at you or bite you.

Hissing

Rabbit hissing is actually not very common at all. I’ve never heard this noise in person, but it is sound that rabbits are technically capable of making. This sounds exactly like what you would expect a cat’s hissing to be, so it’s pretty easy to understand. The rabbit wants to scare away a potential threat, so they might lunge and hiss.

Here’s an example of someone who caught their rabbit hissing on camera.

Thumping

This is not a vocal sound that rabbits make with their mouths, but I want to include it because it is probably the loudest sound you will hear your rabbit make. Rabbits thump by slamming their strong back legs against the ground. It sounds as loud as dropping a textbook flat onto the ground.

Rabbits thump when they are scared and sense danger. Or in some cases, they will thump when they are annoyed with us. It stems from an instinctual behavior to warn their home warren of danger in the area. 

Sometimes rabbits will thump just once. This is more common when they are thumping because they disapprove of something you’re doing. But sometimes rabbits will continue thumping until they feel the danger is passed and everyone is safe again.

Learn more about rabbit thumping and how to tell the difference between angry thumping and scared thumping.

Screaming

Rabbits are capable of making a very loud screeching squeal, but most of you will never hear your rabbit scream. It is an incredibly uncommon and disconcerting sound. I hope you never have to hear a rabbit scream, but it’s a sound that can’t be mistaken for anything else

Rabbits will scream when they are either scared out of their mind or in a lot of pain. They have a very high pitched shrieking scream. It almost sounds like a bird call. The only time I have heard this in person was just after my elderly 13 year old rabbit had a seizure. It was a heartbreaking moment, and she passed away soon after.

There are a few exceptions, however. Some few rabbits will be quick to scream at times when other rabbits would be mostly unfazed. For example, there have been cases of rabbits who will scream when they are being picked up. For these rabbits, I would try to work with them to slowly desensitize them to being held so that they eventually get used to the sensation and stop screaming.

Hiccups

Something I’ve noticed my bunnies do a couple times is what appears to be little hiccups. They’ll make tiny, repeated squeaks while bobbing up and down for a short period of time. This usually only lasts about 30 seconds to a minute at a time, and occurs most frequently after the rabbits have been very active and zooming around.

While in most cases small bouts of hiccups are nothing to worry about, if your rabbit gets these hiccups very frequently or they last for more than 5-10 minutes, you may want to get them checked out by a rabbit veterinarian just to be sure there are no underlying health conditions causing them.

rabbit snoring

Snoring

Believe it or not, rabbits can snore. I was a little worried the first time I heard my rabbit who snore really loudly while she was sleeping. I thought she might have had a respiratory problem. But I found out that it’s perfectly normal for rabbits to make some noises in their sleep.

Luckily rabbit snoring is not nearly as annoying as human snoring is. It’s a little squeaky, and usually it’s a very soft sound. However, sometimes you’ll get a loud snoring bunny too.

A couple medical signs to look out for. If your snoring rabbit also has nasal discharge, sneezes a lot, or has runny eyes, you should look for a rabbit savvy veterinarian. In these cases, the snoring could be related to a respiratory infection and you’ll want to get your rabbit medicine as soon as possible.

Sleep talking

Another sound that rabbits can make in their sleep is a soft mumbling sound. When rabbits are deep into a sleep cycle, they will sometimes start to twitch and mumble in their sleep. Most of the time, they don’t end up making any noise even though you’ll see their mouth and nose start moving as if they are eating in their sleep. But sometimes they do make a quiet mumbling noise, that I can only compare to sleep talking in humans.

Sneezing

Like most other animals, rabbits also sneeze. Rabbit sneezes sound like cute little squeaks while they shake their heads a little. Just like humans, rabbits sneeze for many reasons. Sometimes it’s because there is dust in the air, and sometimes it for no apparent reason at all. If your rabbit just sneezes once or twice and stops with no more sneezing for the rest of the day, then it’s nothing to worry about. 

However, if your rabbit is sneezing a lot or if the sneezing is accompanied by a runny nose, runny eyes, or wheezing, then you’ll want to get your rabbit to the vet as soon as possible. This is a sign of a respiratory infection or a rabbit cold, also called snuffles, and should be treated right away.

Wheezing

Wheezing is a sound that usually means your rabbit is having trouble breathing. They may have developed a respiratory infection, or a blockage in their nose. Wheezing sounds like fast and audible breathing. You may also notice your rabbit’s nose working very hard to breathe, or in serious cases your rabbit may be trying to breathe through their mouth. If you notice your rabbit wheezing, then you’ll want to get them to a rabbit veterinarian as soon as possible.


Related Questions

Do rabbits scream when they die?

Wild rabbits scream when they believe they are about to die. This could be at a time when they are injured and sick, or it could be at a time when they are very frightened. But for house rabbits, this is not always the case. Of the many rabbits that I’ve known in my lifetime, only one of them has screamed in the end.

Do rabbits thump for attention?

Most of the time when rabbits thump, it’s because they sense danger. But sometimes it’s also an indication that your rabbit is upset with you. And I can say from experience that sometimes it’s because you’re not paying enough attention to them.

Sources:

  1. “Do You Speak Bunny?” Pethood: Behaviorist’s Corner, Petplan, www.petplan.co.uk/pet-information/rabbit/advice/understanding-rabbit-noises.

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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