Rabbits can be very skittish. A loud noise can cause them to dash away and find a safe place to hide. A lot of the time, these loud noises are a one time occurance, such as something falling over. But thunderstorms are different. They can continue on for hours with random bursts of loud and startling peals of thunder.
Are rabbits afraid of thunder? Not all rabbits are afraid of thunder, but many are. Loud sounds, such as fireworks and thunder, can easily startle rabbits, causing them to be stressed and anxious. However, as rabbits get older and experience many thunderstorms, they will often get used to it and not be as scared anymore.
If your rabbit is afraid of thunder, there is a lot you can do to help your rabbit. By being a calm and comforting presence, your rabbit will learn to relax. Over time they may even stop being afraid of thunderstorms all together.
Why are rabbits afraid of thunder?
Rabbits are prey animals. They 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. If the sound continues periodically, as thunder does, and the rabbit can’t figure out where it’s coming from, this can lead to prolonged periods of fear and anxiety in rabbits.
This is especially a problem for rabbits that are kept in an outdoor hutch. There are no walls to mute the sound and protect the rabbits from the sound of thunder. Rabbit fur also does not dry off very quickly, so if they get wet from rain they may suffer from hypothermia before they dry off. I recommend that pet rabbits always be housed indoors, but even more so during thunderstorms. However, indoor rabbits can also be afraid during thunderstorms and can use your help staying calm.
Many times rabbits that live in areas where thunderstorms are common will get used to it over time. Young rabbits are more likely to experience a high level of fear and anxiety, while older rabbits have heard it enough times that they will stay calm.
How to know if your rabbit is afraid of thunder
Rabbit body language is not always as obvious to us as other common pets. It may take some time of watching your rabbit’s behavior before you know exactly when they are on high alert and showing signs of anxiety and stress. However, there are some common ways our rabbits will let us know how they’re feeling. 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.
- 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 a thunderstorm 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.
How to comfort your rabbit during a thunderstorm
If your rabbit is showing signs of fear during a thunderstorm, there are a number of actions you can take to help comfort and calm your rabbit until the storm passes. The most important thing you can do is stay calm yourself. If you stay calm and don’t stress about the storm, then the hope is that your rabbit will learn from your behavior and eventually stop being afraid.
In the meantime, try to comfort your rabbit and help them feel as safe as possible. Every rabbit is different and responds to different kinds of comfort. Some rabbits will really want you to pay attention to them and pet them, but others will prefer to have a comfortable place to hide until the storm is over. Try out these different ideas to see what works best for your rabbit.
Set up a comfortable hiding place
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 storm. You can give your rabbit hiding houses or tunnels to help them feel safe. Even giving them blankets to burrow under can be very comforting for rabbits.
You’ll also want to make sure their flooring isn’t slick and slippery. Rabbits’ feet can’t get traction on a slippery floor, such as hardwood or tile. They can potentially injure themselves (back injuries are not uncommon) if they get scared and suddenly try to run away on a slippery floor.
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.
Reduce the noise
As much as possible, try to reduce the sound of the loud peals of thunder. Make sure all windows are closed and try closing the curtains to mute the sound. If possible, you can even move your rabbit into a different room in the house that is farther away from windows and outdoor noises.
To help even more you can try to reduce the outdoor sound by using white noise. There are small white noise machines that are used to block out sounds from neighboring rooms. They work surprisingly well to mute sounds of thunderstorms as well. If you don’t have one of these clever machines, you can also use the sound of a fan to act as white noise
Soothing music can be helpful in this kind of situation as well. 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.
Stay with your rabbit
Even if your rabbit doesn’t want to come out of hiding, they can still be comforted by your presence in the room. Calmly sitting where your rabbit can see you makes you an anchor to let your rabbit know there is no danger in the room. Rabbits that love their caretakers also take comfort in knowing where they are. They know that you are safe and there is no need to be worried about your safety.
Over time, calmly staying with your rabbit can help teach them that thunderstorms are nothing to be afraid of. You can try to give them some attention if they want it, but if your rabbit prefers to be left alone, that’s also okay. It’s always best to respect your rabbit’s boundaries. Rabbits that have a choice in their interactions will become more confident over time.
Interact with your rabbit
Many rabbits can be comforted when you stay close and interact with them. 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.
Distract your rabbit
Sometimes rabbits respond better to distractions. If they can spend time looking for treats, they might forget that they were scared to begin with. They may even start to positively associate future thunderstorms with getting 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. So 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 without destroying anything.
You can create 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.
What NOT to do
Just like there are actions you can take that can calm your rabbit down, there are also behaviors that can stress your rabbit out and cause them to be even more afraid. Some of these behaviors you may partake in because you believe they will be helpful. To avoid accidentally stressing your rabbit during a thunderstorm, don’t do these things.
Pick up your rabbit
Babies can get a lot of comfort from being held when they are scared, so you might believe that rabbits can be comforted by being picked up. Unfortunately this is not the case. Most rabbits hate being held. It makes them feel trapped, as if they won’t be able to get away from any oncoming danger.
There is the occasional exception to the rule (I have known a couple rabbits who actually enjoyed being held), but for most rabbits you would only be making the situation worse. Instead, try to get down on your rabbit’s level and pet them while they have all four feet safely on the floor.
Force your rabbit out of hiding
We all want to see our rabbits be brave and learn to not be afraid during a thunderstorm. However, forcing a rabbit out of hiding or taking away their hiding spaces is not an effective way to teach them to be more confident. It is more likely to make your rabbit even more afraid because you have taken away their safety net.
Instead it’s best to encourage a rabbit to come out of hiding of their own volition. You can try to lure your rabbit out with treats or fun toys, but always make sure they have the choice. If you force your rabbit out before they are ready, it will likely take even longer before your rabbit is brave enough to face the storm on their own.
Blast loud music to cover the sound of thunder
While it is a good idea to put on some white noise or soothing music to help cover the sounds of thunder, you don’t want to blast music around your rabbit. Loud music can stress a rabbit out as much as other loud sounds. Music that’s too loud can end up causing even more stress than thunder because the music is continuous. There is at least some silence in between peals of thunder. This means that you probably won’t be able to completely drown out the sound of thunder, but you won’t be causing your rabbit even more stress with music that’s even louder.
Can rabbits go into shock because of a thunderstorm?
Shock is a serious condition that is caused when a rabbit suffers from extreme fright or stress. It can cause a rabbit to suddenly become unresponsive, with a slow pulse and a falling body temperature, and it can be fatal in severe cases. It is possible for a sudden, loud peal of thunder to cause a rabbit to go into shock. However, in my experience, thunder is not a common cause of shock in rabbits.
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