Does it seem like your pet rabbit just doesn’t like you very much? Maybe they run away when you approach, or give you the cold shoulder. Maybe your rabbit even growls at you and tries to bite you when you come near. You just want to cuddle with your sweet bunny, but they don’t want any of it. What’s up with this antisocial behavior, and why does it seem like your rabbit hates you?
Aggressive or antisocial behavior does not necessarily mean that your rabbit hates you. Instead, these behaviors are an indication that your rabbit is afraid. Your behavior or your rabbit’s past experiences have caused them to be afraid of people, making them lash out or withdraw.
By understanding the cause of your rabbit’s behavior, you can make changes that allow your rabbit to feel safe around people. If you take the necessary steps, you’ll be able to slowly but surely teach your rabbit to trust you and become an overall less fearful bunny.
Does your rabbit really hate you?
Most of the time when rabbits show antisocial or aggressive behavior it has nothing to do with a personal grudge against you or anyone. Domestic rabbits have been bred over the last few centuries to be less skittish around humans. But that doesn’t mean they will automatically be friendly with the people around them. Rabbits are still prey animals, which means they have strong instincts to run away and hide or protect themselves in any way that they can.
Rabbits that seem to hate their caretakers are usually just scared and need to be given time to trust their people. In other scenarios, people may think their rabbit hates them because of a misinterpretation of their rabbit’s behavior. You may have fallen for the myth that bunnies are supposed to be friendly or cuddly. In reality most rabbits won’t behave as an idyllic cuddle bunny.
Let’s look at some of the most common behaviors in rabbits that cause people to think their rabbits hate them. In some cases, you may inadvertently be the cause of fear or stress in your rabbit, but in other cases your rabbit’s behavior may be a result of hormonal imbalances or simply a spunky rabbit personality.
A rabbit that swats, lunges or bites people does not necessarily hate them. This aggressive rabbit behavior is often the result of territorial and hormonal behavior in rabbits, or it is caused by fear. Most rabbits are usually very gentle animals. While there are a number of possible reasons that a rabbit might show aggressive behavior, it will usually be for one of these two reasons:
- Territorial behavior. Rabbits can become aggressive when they feel they have to protect their territory. They may get aggressive when you walk near their enclosure or stick your hand in to grab food or water bowls. Most of the time, extremely aggressive territorial behavior is fixed after a rabbit has been spayed or neutered.
- Fear-related aggression. Sometimes rabbits learn that if they act aggressive toward people when they are scared, then people will go away. This type of aggression is learned and it’s based on a fear of people. This may be because you are accidentally scaring your rabbit, or because of past trauma.
Nipping in rabbits is a way for them to express minor annoyance, but is not an aggressive behavior. It’s one way that an impatient rabbit might communicate with you to get out of the way, but they are not trying to hurt you.
Rabbits that run away
People may think that a rabbit that runs away all the time means that the rabbit hates them. Usually this behavior is a result of past experiences that scared the rabbit. Your rabbit may have felt trapped or overwhelmed around people in the past, causing them to develop a phobia. As a result, your rabbit always runs away when you approach and is hesitant to spend time with you or bond with you.
Rabbits that won’t cuddle
First it’s important to clarify what I mean by cuddling. Most rabbits do enjoy being pet, but they don’t enjoy any kind of handling that makes them feel trapped. If your rabbit doesn’t enjoy being held or handled excessively, then that is actually just normal rabbit behavior. They don’t hate you, they’re just behaving like a rabbit.
A rabbit that doesn’t let you pet them, on the other hand, might have trust issues. They may have had bad experiences with human hands in the past, and been pet in ways they didn’t like, so now they avoid it altogether. It is important to note, however, that some rabbits are just more sensitive and don’t enjoy being pet, so it’s best to respect your rabbit’s boundaries if that’s the case.
Young rabbits also don’t always like to settle down to be pet. They tend to have a lot of baby bunny energy and just won’t sit still for long periods of time. In these cases, you’ll just have to be patient as your rabbit grows up and calms down a little.
Why your rabbit ‘hates’ you
If your rabbit’s aggression or fear seems to be directed at you or other people, it’s possible that some of your actions are inadvertently causing stress to your rabbit. You have to gain the trust of your rabbit so you can bond with them. Pay attention to your own behaviors and make some changes so your rabbit is no longer afraid of you.
1. Holding your rabbit
Most rabbits absolutely hate being held. The experience of having all four feet off the ground and being trapped in someone’s arms can make a rabbit really scared. If your primary way of interacting with a rabbit is to pick them up, then they will start to run away from you whenever you come near, to avoid being held.
As difficult as it is to resist holding your adorable little bunny, you’ll want to keep this to a minimum. Instead it’s best to mostly interact with your rabbit while they are on the floor. This way they’ll still be in control of their own movement. You will have to handle them occasionally, but you’ll lose your rabbit’s trust if you are always trying to pick them up (and make sure you are holding them correctly).
2. You’re too loud
Rabbits can be easily scared of loud sounds. These loud noises can be anything from loud music, slamming doors, or even talking too loudly. If you are consistently being noisy around a rabbit, they’ll start to associate you with that fear and become afraid of you.
If you want one of these skittish rabbits to trust you, you’ll have to lower the volume of your daily life. Be careful when you close doors, to make sure they don’t slam. Make sure to speak with a quiet and gentle voice when you’re around them. You can also hang out with your rabbit doing silent activities, like reading or using headphones.
3. Too much unwanted attention
Once your rabbit trusts you, it is important to give them a lot of attention. However, if your rabbit is not ready for it, too much attention can really overwhelm them. You want to avoid crowding your rabbit, or petting them when they are trying to eat, sleep or groom. You also want to avoid chasing your rabbit down just to interact with them.
If your rabbit fidgets and runs away from you, then let them. When building trust with a rabbit, you have to let them come to you on their own. This allows your rabbit to build up their self confidence and will make them more likely to trust you in the future.
4. You smell like other animals
Rabbits have a very good sense of smell. If you’ve been around other animals, then your rabbit will know about it. So if you have a dog or a cat kept in a different part of your home, your rabbit might smell their scent on you and get scared. If you spend a lot of time around a friend’s pet or at an animal shelter, your rabbit might also be scared of you until you’ve taken a shower and changed your clothing.
5. Your rabbit is territorial
Rabbits who are territorial may seem to be attacking you for no reason. They have an instinct to protect their homes from perceived threats, which include predators and other unfamiliar rabbits. Most of the time rabbits will not be territorial toward humans, but it does happen occasionally.
The first way to try to fix this behavior is to get your rabbit spayed or neutered. This will help to calm down a rabbit’s hormones, making them much less likely to be territorial. If your rabbit continues to be territorial after their surgery, then you may have to adjust your behavior to avoid going into your rabbit’s enclosure when your rabbit is around. You will have to refresh their food and water bowls, and clean the enclosure when your rabbit is out and about getting some exercise.
6. You move too fast
Rabbits can also get startled by fast movements. Rabbits that are prone to anxiety can become scared if they are kept in a high traffic part of the home, where people are constantly walking around. This can especially be a problem if you have young children in the house.
You’ll also want to pay attention to your own movements when you’re around your rabbit. You don’t want to suddenly reach out to touch your rabbit, since that may scare them. Instead, if your rabbit is afraid of fast movements, you’ll want to try to slow down around them. Try to pay attention to how quickly you do everything, from walking across the room to standing up after you’ve been sitting for a while.
7. Your rabbit doesn’t feel safe
A rabbit that doesn’t feel safe in their home environment is likely to consistently hide and run away. They’ll rarely, if ever, feel comfortable coming out to play and interact with you. A rabbit can be afraid for many reasons, but usually this kind of generalized fear comes down to having very little control over their immediate environment. Usually it’s a combination of loud noises, unusual scents, and limited places to hide.
To help your rabbit feel safe and eventually learn to trust people, you will need to make your rabbit as comfortable as possible in their home base. Make sure they have hiding houses, and try to limit the amount of jarring external stimuli your rabbit comes in contact with. You can also help your rabbit out by giving them treats for brave behavior when they do come out of hiding to help build up their confidence.
8. Past Experiences
Sometimes rabbits are afraid of people because of past experiences that we don’t know about. This is more common with rabbits who have been adopted. Many of these rabbits had to deal with scary situations in their day to day life and aren’t ready to trust new people yet. They have made negative associations with people based on their experiences, and as a result, they are scared of all humans.
In these situations it’s really important to give your rabbit a lot of time to adjust and trust you. Give your rabbit treats and spend quiet time with your rabbit to help them make new, positive associations with people.
Teach your rabbit to trust you
If your rabbit is afraid of you, a change in your behavior won’t automatically cause your rabbit to trust you again. You’ll need to work with your rabbit to help them feel safe when you are around. Over time, your rabbit will start to forget their old associations that caused them to fear people, and the fear will be replaced with a positive association that you purposefully cultivate with your rabbit.
To learn more about this technique to gain the trust of your rabbit, check out my article on how to befriend a shy rabbit.
Step 1. Classical Conditioning
For the first step, your goal is to start to get your rabbit to make a positive association with you. To do that you’re going to simply go up to your rabbit’s enclosure or hiding spot and leave a treat for them. You want to make sure your rabbit sees you leave the treat (so they don’t think it just magically appeared), then go away and leave your rabbit alone.
Do this a few times every day for a couple weeks or until your rabbit is willing to come out and get the treat almost right away. This technique is used to help your rabbit understand that people aren’t always scary and can even give you good things.
Step 2. Sit with your rabbit
The next step is to encourage your rabbit to come out of hiding while you’re still in the room and even approach you of their own free will. First you’ll want to leave the treat like you usually do, but then stay in the room and sit quietly near your rabbit. As your rabbit gets braver, you can set the treat closer and closer to where you are sitting, until they are coming up to you to get the treat.
During this time, you’ll want to basically ignore your rabbit. Watch them out of the corner of your eye to see what they’re doing, but try to keep your attention on something else, such as a book or your phone. Rabbits will be less afraid to approach you if they think you are not paying attention.
Step 3. Start petting your rabbit
After your rabbit readily comes up to you for a treat, you can add in some interaction with your rabbit. To start, you just want to give your rabbit a simple pat on the top of their head when you give them a treat. As they get more comfortable with being touched, you can start giving them scritches on their forehead and behind the ears. Eventually, you’ll even be able to give them strokes down their back and give them a nice massage.
But, of course, this is all going to take a lot of time. Your rabbit is likely to get scared and shy away at first. Always wait for your rabbit to come back to you before trying to pet them again, and never follow your rabbit to try to pet them if they’ve gone away. Eventually your rabbit will realize that you’re not going to hurt them, and they’ll be willing to stick around. After a while, they’ll likely start to settle down and enjoy being pet.
Step 4. Keeping your rabbit’s trust
After you’ve gained your rabbit’s trust, then you need to make sure you can keep it. This means you need to continue to avoid picking your rabbit up all the time, and you need to help to make sure your rabbit feels safe in their environment. Continue to avoid loud noises and be patient with your rabbit when they get scared.