It can happen like a switch being turned on. Your rabbit is sweet and friendly one day, and the next, they are a complete menace. They’ll charge and growl at you. They might even try to bite you! This kind of sudden mean behavior is not that uncommon, especially when you’re dealing with a young rabbit who is less than a year old.
The most common reason rabbits suddenly become mean is because they hit puberty. Getting the rabbit spayed and neutered will typically fix their aggressive behavior. Other possible reasons for sudden aggression in rabbits include illness, territorial instincts, fear, partial blindness, and pregnancy.
The good news is that you can help your rabbit become less aggressive again. By pinpointing the cause of their sudden change in behavior, you can take steps to correct the problem and live peacefully with your sweet rabbit.
Your rabbit is aggressive because they have reached puberty
By far, the most common reason you will see this sudden change in your rabbit’s behavior is that they have reached sexual maturity. At this point, the rabbit’s hormones kick in, and they become much more aggressive and frustrated. Rabbits will also usually become more territorial, attacking you when you try to enter their space, and they are often more destructive.
Rabbits reach maturity at about 4-6 months old. Males will typically hit puberty earlier, around four months, while females will around six months. Sometimes, you won’t see a significant change in behavior until the springtime since this is a time of year that rabbit hormones go into overdrive. This is why you might not see a change in behavior until they are a few months older if they reached sexual maturity at some point during the winter.
Not all rabbits will become mean when they reach puberty, but there is typically some kind of change in behavior. Sometimes, it feels like this change happens overnight, while other times, it is a gradual change in behavior over a couple of months.
The only way to correct this behavior is to get your rabbit spayed or neutered. Just remember, it may take a month for your rabbit’s hormones to calm down after they have received the surgery.
Altering a rabbit will also help solve other behavioral issues, such as spraying urine, and it can prevent some serious health conditions. Female rabbits, in particular, have an incredibly high chance of contracting uterine cancer if they are not spayed. (Learn more about the benefits of spaying or neutering your rabbit)
Your rabbit is aggressive because you smell like other animals
The second most common reason for sudden aggression in rabbits is their territorial instincts. Rabbits aren’t often territorial toward humans, so they will be sweet and affectionate with you most of the time. However, if you come home smelling like another animal, your rabbit might suddenly start attacking you.
Rabbits have an excellent sense of smell and use scent to help them identify the people around them. If you smell wrong, your rabbit won’t recognize you. They’ll think you’re an invader that they need to chase out of their home. This is especially true if you come home smelling like other rabbits, but it’s also a possibility if you come home smelling like your friend’s cat or dog.
If like me, you volunteer at an animal shelter or work with other animals, the easiest way to solve this problem is by simply showering and wearing a change of clothes as soon as you come home. Put your laundry hamper in the bathroom or a closed closet to keep the scent away from your rabbit.
Added another animal to the household
The other scenario that can cause this kind of territorial aggression is when you add another animal to the household. The sudden and pervasive scent of the other animal can cause your rabbit to get confused and aggressive.
In most cases like this, your rabbit will eventually calm down on their own after they’ve gotten used to the new scent. You may be able to help them by placing a towel or toy with the new scent into the rabbit enclosure to help them adjust more quickly.
Your rabbit is aggressive because they are in pain
Sometimes sudden mean behavior in rabbits has more dire origins. It can be a sign that your rabbit is actually not feeling well. They will lash out at you because of the pain they feel, similar to how many people are more irritable when they are suffering from a headache and other forms of pain.
The problem is that it’s challenging to know when pain is the cause of aggression. You might not notice any other signs of illness, making it feel like your rabbit is just attacking you out of the blue. Since rabbits tend to hide their symptoms of illness (an instinct that would help them from being picked off by predators in the wild), it can be difficult to notice when your rabbit is sick.
Some signs of sickness you can look out for include:
- Lack of appetite (not eating at all is an emergency situation, and you should take your rabbit to an emergency clinic immediately)
- Change in litter box habits
- Lack of energy
- Watery eyes
- Snotty nose
- Sitting in an unusual position
- More signs of illness in rabbits that you might miss
If you notice any of these symptoms, it’s possible that the cause of aggression is illness or pain. You’ll want to take your rabbit to the vet to get an official diagnosis and help your rabbit recover. The solution could be as simple as giving your rabbit pain medication for arthritis, or it can be much more severe.
Your rabbit is aggressive because they are scared
While fear and anxiety are the most common cause of overall aggression in rabbits, it’s not so typical for the mean behavior to happen all of a sudden. In these cases, the rabbit will show a gradual increase in aggressive behavior as they learn the effect it has on keeping people away from them.
However, sudden aggression can occasionally be a result of fear. For example, if your rabbit gets suddenly startled by a loud sound nearby or a fast movement, they may instinctually lash out at whatever happens to be nearby. This can happen even if you were not the one making the scary sound. You just happened to be in the wrong spot at the wrong time.
This kind of aggression is usually just a one-off event and does not happen frequently. By helping your rabbit feel safe in their environment and encouraging them to gain confidence, you can prevent this kind of behavior from happening in the future.
The other reason a rabbit might suddenly become aggressive because they are afraid of people is that they were improperly handled. This can happen if the rabbit was suddenly held in a painful or precarious position.
While this is often a temporary fear, it can still take a while for the rabbit to recover. In the meantime, they may lash out whenever they believe you are going to try to pick them up. To help your rabbit recover from this fear, first, you should stop holding your rabbit for a couple of weeks.
After that, you can start to pick up your rabbit occasionally, but make sure to handle them appropriately. Always keep the front and back half of your rabbit supported. Never pick up your rabbit by the ears or the scruff of their neck. For more information about handling a rabbit, check out this article.
Your rabbit is aggressive because they can’t see properly
Another uncommon but possible reason your rabbit suddenly started lashing out at you is that they are beginning to go blind. As rabbits age, many of them start to develop cataracts in one or both eyes. This will cause the rabbit’s vision to get cloudy, and eventually, they may become fully blind.
While most of the time rabbits with cataracts can adjust to their new eyesight, some of them might get more easily startled by objects in their vicinity. For example, if they only have cloudy vision, they might not recognize your hand. They can lash out because they are startled by an unknown approaching object.
Fully blind rabbits and rabbits who are blind in one eye can have a similar problem. They may not have noticed your hand coming toward them at all. Then if you suddenly touch and pet them, they might get startled and bite.
The best way to counteract this type of aggressive behavior is to make sure your rabbit is aware of you and your hand whenever you are near. Have a habit of speaking softly to them when you’re in the room. If they are only blind in one eye, always approach them from their good side. And try to make some noises with your hand by rubbing your fingers together as you go to pet your rabbit. This way, they won’t be taken by surprise when they cannot see you.
Your rabbit is aggressive because they are bored
Boredom is another common cause of aggression. However, it’s typically not sudden. Instead, rabbits will gradually get more and more mean while they get less socialization and less to play with. I don’t think you should rule it out as a cause for your rabbit’s sudden aggressive behavior though.
While rabbits will usually become more aggressive over time due to boredom, they may be suddenly aggressive if they’ve had a recent and dramatic change in their living conditions. Maybe you moved to a new home, and your rabbit is not located in a separate room. Before, you might have socialized with them much more often, so this sudden change stresses your rabbit out, causing mean behavior.
Something similar can happen if you went on vacation for a week. Your rabbit may not have gotten as much attention or exercise when you were gone, making them feel resentful and frustrated when you get back.
In these cases, your rabbit’s attitude should return to normal once their routine is reinstated. Make sure you give your rabbit various toys to play with, so they can work off their frustration. And, of course, make sure to spend time around your rabbit, so they get enough socialization.
Your rabbit is aggressive because they are pregnant
If you have a female rabbit who has not been spayed, she may suddenly act aggressively because she is pregnant. Pregnancy can cause territorial hormones to kick into overdrive, making the rabbit fight off anyone who tries to interact with her or the babies.
This can also happen with rabbits who are kept alone and can’t possibly be pregnant. Rabbits can have false pregnancies. The rabbit’s hormones will kick in and cause her to believe she is pregnant. She’ll start building a nest and everything. Along with this behavior, the rabbit can be suddenly mean toward anyone who tries to interact with her.
The way to prevent this behavior in the future is to get your rabbit spayed. If she is actually pregnant, you will have to wait until a few weeks after the babies are fully weaned. You can separate them from the mother at about eight weeks, so give it another month after that before bringing the mother in for surgery.
If the male rabbit is still around, make sure he is neutered as soon as possible and kept separate from the mother for a month after his surgery. Male rabbits are still viable for several weeks, and the mother can get pregnant right away after giving birth to her first litter. So you’ll need to be careful to make sure she doesn’t get pregnant again right away.
- “Medical Bibliography.” House Rabbit Society, https://rabbit.org/care/bibliography.html.
- Krempels, Dana Ph.D. “Surprise Litter of Babies! What to do now?” University of Miami Biology Department. http://www.bio.miami.edu/hare/surpriselitter.html.