Maybe you just got a new little bunny and they do this thing where they run in fast circles around your feet. It’s a little odd since this isn’t a behavior that’s seen in most common house pets. But for rabbits, this is a perfectly normal behavior that you’ll, especially among younger rabbits.
A rabbit running in circles around a person’s feet is showing affection. They will usually show this behavior when greeting a person entering the room, when they expect a treat, or when they are feeling playful. Overall, it’s a positive behavior that you want to see.
- Related reading: How to know your rabbit loves you
Should you let your rabbit circle your feet?
There is nothing wrong with allowing your rabbit to run in circles around your feet. Circling is one way that rabbits will show their affection for the people who they feel close to. It’s an indication that your rabbit is excited to see you. You might even notice they are making a quiet oinking or buzzing sound while they do it (sometimes called honking too). Rabbits only make this noise when they are super excited.
Most rabbits will run a few circles around your feet and look up at you expectantly. Sometimes they’re waiting for a treat, and sometimes they’re playing a game and they want you to make the next move. There are a couple of ways you can respond to your rabbit that will help them understand you reciprocate their feelings and give you a closer bond with your rabbit:
- Give your rabbit a treat
- Play with your rabbit
- Pet your rabbit
What if your rabbit nips you?
It’s not common, but occasionally you’ll come across a rabbit who likes to hop around your feet and then nip your ankles. This rabbit behavior is not an aggressive act. It’s meant to be more of a love bite combined with a ‘tag, you’re it!’ type of energy. The rabbit doesn’t realize that this hurts you.
To discourage your pet rabbit from nipping you, make a yelping sound when they bite. Then sit down with your back to your rabbit and ignore them. This is something that rabbits do when they are upset or holding a grudge. It’s similar to giving someone the cold shoulder. Reacting like this will tell your rabbit that you’re upset with them, and teach your rabbit to not nip next time.
- Read more: rabbit body language when they hold a grudge
Why does your rabbit circle your feet?
Generally, rabbits will circle people’s feet when they are in an energetic, positive mood. They’ll most often do this when you first enter a room or when you stand up after being seated for a while. Your rabbit is greeting you while also saying they are ready for some treats or attention.
1. Your rabbit is feeling playful and wants attention
Just like when rabbits binky (a jump for joy) or zoom around the room, circling is a behavior that rabbits do when they are very happy. The difference is that with circling, your rabbit is directing that joy toward a specific thing (you!) because they also want to play.
Your rabbit does this as a way of asking for attention. They want you to play with them, pet them, or interact with them.
2. Your rabbit is happy to see you
Sometimes rabbits are just genuinely happy to see you. If you notice your rabbit greets you this way every day when you come home from work, it’s the same as a dog coming to greet you at the door. Rabbits are very social creatures who get attached to their people, so it’s no wonder they’ve developed happy ways of saying hello.
3. Your rabbit expects a treat
Many rabbits know that if they come to you excitedly, they will end up getting a treat out of it. Many will even stand up on their hind legs and box your leg to beg for something after racing around your legs a couple of times.
Since circling is a non-destructive behavior, it’s okay to give your rabbit a treat to reinforce it. Just be sure you’re not giving your rabbit too many treats since that can be bad for their digestion. I like to cut my treats up into small pieces so that I can reward my rabbits more frequently throughout the day.
How to respond when your rabbit starts circling you
Rabbits can start circling at inconvenient times. Maybe you’re walking across the room with your hands full, or maybe you’re getting up to use the restroom. How you respond will be different depending on what else you need to do. Whatever you do, don’t ignore your rabbit completely. That would be akin to ignoring a kid and walking away when they ran up to you for a hug.
The first thing you should do is be careful where you step. When your rabbit is in one of these playful moods they aren’t always thinking about where they are going. In their trajectory, they’re not taking into account that you might step forward. To avoid accidentally kicking my bunnies, I will stop walking completely and stand still while they circle my feet a couple of times. If I have to move, I’ll take very small shuffling steps forward so I don’t ever step down on them.
After your rabbit circles your feet a few times, they’ll look up to you or nudge you to let you know it’s your turn. Find a place to safely put down anything in your arms, then turn your attention to the bunny. Try responding to your rabbit in one of these ways.
- Find a toy and play with your rabbit. If there are any toys nearby, you can kneel down with your rabbit and play with them for a bit. My rabbits also love it when I get on my hands and knees and drape a blanket over my back, creating a tunnel for them to run under over and over again. (learn more about how to play with rabbits)
- Pet your rabbit. If you don’t have much time, give your rabbit a few head scritches. This mimics the licking rabbits do to groom each other. It will let your rabbit know that you love them and are not shunning them, but it also doesn’t take much time so you can run out to the restroom if you want to. You can also pet your rabbit for longer periods of time and give them a full massage.
- Reward your rabbit. Give your rabbit a treat or two to reinforce this happy behavior. You can even do some impromptu training to teach your rabbit how to high-five, spin in a circle, or give you kisses. (learn more about training rabbits)
What does it mean when a rabbit circles another rabbit
Not all body language between rabbits translates directly to a human and rabbit relationship, and circling has a very different meaning. A rabbit circling another rabbit does not mean the same thing as when they circle people. It usually has to do with dominance and hierarchy among the rabbits in question.
- Mating dance. Rabbits who have not been neutered or spayed may circle each other as a courtship behavior. Typically the male rabbit will circle the female rabbit before making his move. Once the rabbits have been fixed and the reproductive hormones have time to settle down, these mating dance tendencies should come to a stop, along with other common territorial behaviors (such as spraying).
- Dominance display. Among pairs of rabbits, you might also see this kind of circling behavior when one rabbit is trying to assert their dominance or claim their territory. This can also look more like a chase if the non-dominant rabbit runs away. This kind of circling happens more often during the bonding process and not often after the two rabbits have been living together for a while.
- Watch for violent behavior. When two rabbits try to circle each other, it can quickly turn into dangerously aggressive behavior. They can start something called a bunny tornado, where the two rabbits circle each other faster and faster until they are a blur of fur. The two rabbits are attacking each other, trying to bite the flank or underside of the other rabbit. This is violent behavior that can end in serious injury for the rabbits and if it ever happens the rabbits should be separated immediately.
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- Hay: Second Cutting Timothy Hay from Small Pet Select
- Pellets: Oxbow Garden Select Food for Rabbits
- Treats: Oxbow Simple Rewards
- Toys: Small Pet Select Natural Toys
- Enclosure/cage: A rabbit exercise pen
- Rabbit carrier: SleepyPod Mobile Pet Bed