Rabbit Behavior Problems and Solutions

Rabbit Help

Rabbit Behavior Problems and Solutions

Most first-time rabbit caretakers are under the impression that rabbits are easy, docile pets. Many others simply believe rabbits are void of any personality at all. Oh, are they wrong! It doesn’t take long for those ideas to dissolve once bunny gets home. Once a rabbit begins to feel comfortable, the true nature of their diva-hood emerges.  

Bunny Meme with a bunny yawning and the text reading "attack"!

And that’s not a bad thing! We love our rabbits because of their fantastic, unique, and many times hilarious personalities. But, many rabbits are naturally more troublesome and naughty than their humans were prepared for. 

Some rabbit behaviors are normal, some are easily corrected, and others are actually warning signs that something is wrong with rabbit.

Below is a summary of the most common behaviors, and what they may mean. We’ve also included links to more detailed articles for each behavior. 

Never Hit Your Rabbit!

We feel the need to make this statement before getting into any of these rabbit behaviors.

We understand that some of these problem behaviors can be frustrating and some downright frightening, but hitting a rabbit will only make them more aggressive or do serious bodily harm.

Swatting them on the nose is also a big no-no. All you’re doing is causing your rabbit not to trust you. You need to provide a safe and reassuring environment, not an environment where they’re fearful.

Getting bitten or growled at can be frightening, but understanding and anticipating your rabbit’s needs is the best defense. Age plays a role here too, and rabbits usually mellow a bit after the first couple of years, so hang in there!

Gaining the trust of a rabbit takes time, but it’s incredibly gratifying to see their personality bloom, as well as their trust in you. Gaining a rabbit’s respect is not always easy. Rabbit’s take patience. Still, take the time to understand your rabbit’s behaviors and needs. You’ll eventually find yourself at a point of mutual respect while having a greater understanding of this precious and complex animal.

Rabbit Behavior Problems and Solutions

Digging & Chewing

One of the most common rabbit behaviors is digging and chewing. These are two completely natural and healthy behaviors. While natural behaviors, without guidance they can be extremely destructive.  The solution to digging and chewing behavior is to have acceptable and safe digging and chewing materials available 24/7.

rabbit digging a hole in the ground

Digging, burrowing, and chewing are your rabbit’s most primal instincts and should be nurtured. Digging and chewing helps prevent boredom, files nails and teeth down, and is good for your rabbit’s overall mental health. 

But, that doesn’t mean that their love for digging and chewing isn’t problematic for the caretaker. Rabbits can be downright destructive to flooring, furniture, etc. . Bunny proofing and providing acceptable chewing and digging options is how you solve this natural behavior while keeping your bunny happy and healthy. 

Safe Digging Options

Dig box

Cardboard Boxes (remove all tape prior)

Bunny Dig Box

There are lots of ways to make a bunny dig box, but we prefer the one’s with high walls and even a lid–helps keep the mess down because when bunnies dig, things spray out all over the place!

Photo Credit: Buddelkisten für Kaninchen 

Cardboard box for digging and chewing
Safe Chewing Options

Edible toys like hay stuffed toilet paper rolls, wicker balls, and baskets, hay woven mats, and toys, etc. 

Cardboard boxes (remove all tape prior)

Rabbit Toy Resources

DIY Toys-BunnyApproved.com

Rabbit Chew Toys-Small Pet Select

Shop Our Bunny Boutique! at House Rabbit Resource Network—unfortunately at this time we’re unable to ship our toys, only sell them in house.

Click on the image to enlarge. Photo Credit: BunnyApproved.com. This website is an awesome resource for creating a ton of awesome and safe DIY rabbit toys! Check out their DIY Toy page!

Even with safe digging and chewing options, your rabbit may prefer the carpet or the baseboards. Most likely, you’ll need to bunny-proof along with providing acceptable materials for them. 

Rabbit Behavior Problems and Solutions

Urine Spraying

Urine spraying is a smelly rabbit behavior that most intact rabbits will eventually display. But the good thing is that it has a fix that eliminates this behavior in 99% of rabbits–spay or neutering them!

Urine spraying at it’s core is a territorial marking behavior. It’s completely natural for both intact males and female rabbits to spray urine. Males are more likely to display this behavior, but females do it as well. It’s their way of telling every other rabbit that “ALL of this is MY territory.”

However, this behavior is problematic when you live with the rabbit who’s constantly spraying smelly urine everywhere! Like, this urine STINKS. We can’t begin to describe it through the screen, but just take our word for it. You can smell it from across the room, easily.

Reducing or eliminating this territorial marking behavior is just one of the many benefits of spaying or neutering your rabbit. This particular behavior is all tied up in your rabbit’s sex hormones. Get rid of the sex hormones, get rid of the sex hormone-induced behavior.

It must also be noted that the longer you wait to spay or neuter your rabbit, the more likely this behavior will “stick” even after they’ve been fixed. It becomes a habit, less driven by hormones. Same goes for cats, actually. That’s why we recommend getting your rabbit fixed ASAP. Better to fix them before they ever even start the behavior. But if they do begin to do it, don’t fret, just get them into a rabbit-savvy vet asap to discuss your options.

“Spraying is when a rabbit urinates in different areas of the house to mark their scent. They may spray onto vertical surfaces or just in the many corners of the room to spread out and claim their territory. This is a result of hormonal behaviors that cause the rabbit to be territorial.”TheBunnyLady.com 

We also want to state that Urine Spraying is different than Inappropriate Urination.

“It is important to distinguish between urine spraying and inappropriate urination due to environmental or medical factors. When rabbits spray urine, they tend to spray on vertical surfaces; however, rabbits displaying inappropriate urination will generally urinate on horizontal surfaces. In addition, if a rabbit has sprayed, the urine will have a stronger odor than urine that was released inappropriately.” Rabbit Behavioral Problems: Inappropriate Urination by Companion Animals.

If you feel your rabbit is having urination problems, you’ll want to take them to a rabbit-savvy veterinarian to get them checked out because there could be an underlying medical issue. 

Rabbit Behavior Problems and Solutions

Aggressive Rabbits

For as cute and cuddly as rabbits look, they can be downright brutal to humans and other pets in the home. Armed with sharp teeth and claws, a cute little bunny can do some damage when they want to.

**This is why we tell people that rabbits are NOT good children’s pets. Most rabbits do not like being picked up and held and can seriously injure a child who tries holding them.

An aggressive rabbit will bite, growl, claw, leg thump, and lunge at any perceived threat. Rabbits have been known to bite chunks out of caretakers’ ankles and hands. Their claw marks can leave permanent scars. Just don’t underestimate the damage that cute little bundle of fur can do.

Several factors can cause rabbit aggression.
The two most common are sex hormones and/or pain/health problems.
Hormone-induced Aggression

By far the most common reason for aggression in rabbits. Rabbits who are left unaltered will usually, at some point, become aggressive. It’s natural because, in the wild, the strongest rabbit gets the mate. For your house rabbit who isn’t in the wild fighting for mates, their sex hormones are raging through their system, telling them to breed, and they’re grumpy and frustrated because they aren’t getting to do that. Both males and females suffer from hormone-induced aggression. 99% of these cases of hormone-induced aggression are eliminated once the rabbit is spayed/neutered.

If your rabbit is at least 6 weeks post-spay/neuter surgery and is still showing signs of aggression, then you need to check that they’re not in any pain or suffering from an unseen health problem. 

Pain or Health Related Aggression

Problems such as a sore mouth from overgrown teeth or bladder infection can sometimes cause pain without showing any other symptoms.

Rabbits are good at hiding that they’re unwell or in pain. Showing any signs of weakness in the wild makes them a target to predators.

If your rabbit’s behavior suddenly changes, such as unexpected aggression, it’s a red flag that something is wrong and they need to see a vet.

If the rabbit is still aggressive after being fixed and they've gotten the "All Clear" from your veterinarian...

Than you’re most likely dealing with what is known as “Learned Aggression”.

Learned Aggression

Than you’re most likely dealing with what is known as “Learned Aggression”. 

Learned aggression in rabbits can happen for a variety of reasons. Some remain aggressive simply because they went unfixed for so long; the hormone-induced aggression has now become a learned behavior.

Other reasons for learned aggression can have psychological and emotional reasons. Rabbits have complex social structures just like humans. Your rabbit may have been bullied or not socialized well with their siblings, and it’s affected them since. Or, your rabbit’s learned aggressiveness stems from bad situations of abuse or neglect in their past. The reasons for a rabbit remaining aggressive after being fixed and getting a health check are many, but there is hope to change the behavior!

The video below covers some good strategies to start working with your rabbit’s learned aggression. The rabbit in this video had been spayed yet still had extremely aggressive behavior. The couple in the video mentions that this rabbit had been the runt of her litter and that her siblings had sort of exiled her–so there was some emotional trauma going on there for the rabbit. 

Watch the whole video. The vet helping the couple has some good suggestions to start helping your rabbit trust humans and stop always being defensive.

Rabbit Behavior Problems and Solutions

Bad Litter Box Habits

So, you’ve had your rabbit spayed or neutered, but they’re still not entirely using the litter box the way it’s intended. We’ve listed some of the rabbit behaviors that are typically associated with bad litter habits. Your rabbit may do only one of these or several. 

Urinating Over the Sides:

Most rabbits will shuffle back into the corner of the litter box and lift their tails to pee. If the litter box has short “walls” all around, many rabbits will accidentally miss and pee over the side.

Getting a litter box with a depth of at least 6 inches will usually solve this behavior instantly. If you have an elderly rabbit who can’t jump up into the litter box anymore, get them a special litterbox with a lowered entrance point that allows them to step into the box.

A litter box with a lower entrance can be helpful for elderly rabbit’s who struggle to jump over the normal litter box walls. Photo Credit: Chewy.com

Digging in the Litter Box

Rabbits love to dig, and a lovely box full of litter can be the perfect place to scratch that itch for your rabbit. You can solve this behavior in two different ways:

Get a covered or hooded litter tray so that none of the litter gets out when they dig. You can also DIY it by putting the litter box inside a cardboard box with an entrance hole cut out.

We find that generally, if you provide another alternative digging spot for your rabbit, they’ll stop digging in the litter pan. See above how to make a fun dig area for your rabbit.

Photo Credit: MyLittleBunBun.com

This blog post Help! My Rabbit is Digging in His Litter Box by MyLittleBunBun records the saga of her rabbit’s litter box digging behavior and all the things she tried. While she didn’t try giving him an alternative digging source like we usually recommend, she tried about everything else. Check out her post to find out what her eventual solution was!

Using the Bathroom Next to the Litter Box

Some rabbits will potty next to the litter box. The first thing we always recommend when a rabbit displays this behavior is to have them check by a rabbit-savvy vet to rule out any underlying health issues that may be preventing them from jumping into the litter box. For older rabbits, arthritis is a common problem associated with urinating next to the litterbox instead of inside it. If your rabbit has suffered any injury that you aren’t aware of, like a broken knee, a sudden change in litter box habits is your signal that something is wrong and they need to be checked out.

Once the rabbit has been checked for health issues and been given the green light, your rabbit could just need a bit of clarification of the boundaries of the litterbox area. This need for retraining can happen when you’re newly training a rabbit to use the litter box, or sometimes litter-trained rabbits can get confused after a big routine disrupter like a house move or a temporary stay in the vet hospital.

If your rabbit falls into this category, then re-emphasizing the litter box as the place to use the bathroom is what you need to do.

A high-sided tray can be helpful, as it makes a more precise designation between the litterbox and the rest of their pen. If you have litter material scatter throughout the cage, either take that out completely or make sure the litters in either section are distinctly different to help your rabbit understand the difference. Otherwise, it may seem like the whole cage is a litter box to your rabbit.

Smell is the main indicator when training or retraining your rabbit to use the litter box. Make sure you’re not cleaning the litter box too regularly. Your rabbit depends on smell to understand where they need to use the bathroom. If you remove all traces of that smell, it can confuse them.
To help your rabbit learn to use the litter box, avoid strongly smelling cleaners. You can also return a small portion of dirty litter to the tray after cleaning to help preserve the correct scent.

When a rabbit has an accident outside the litter box, place any scattered droppings into the box, and soak up urine with a tissue and place it in the litter box. This helps explain to your rabbit with smell where they need to go next time.

To help keep the smells of the litter box and other areas very clear and distinct, clean the accidents up with white vinegar. White vinegar is non-toxic and will neutralize the scent so your rabbit won’t get confused by the smell of the bathroom being everywhere.

For general litter box training and information, check out our page Rabbit Litter Box Information.

Rabbit Behavior Problems and Solutions

Learn to Speak "Bunny"

Since rabbits can’t vocalize speech as humans can, they speak to us with their body language. It’s not always easy to understand what your rabbit is telling you, so here’s a list of the general rabbit behaviors and what your rabbit is trying to say to you.

It’s a long list, so we’ve provided a PDF for you.

Learn to Speak Rabbit-Rabbit Behavior and Communication PDF

Rabbit Behavior Problems and Solutions

How to Know When Something is Wrong

As we’ve talked about on this page, there are many reasons why your rabbit is misbehaving. While some behaviors such as urine spraying usually have a straightforward and obvious cause (sex hormones), other behaviors such as bad litter box habits have a wider variety of reasons. One of them is pain/sickness.

The biggest red flag that something is wrong with your rabbit is for their habit or pattern to change suddenly, without any obvious external trigger.

Example: Your fixed, litter-trained rabbit suddenly starts using the bathroom next to his litter box, not going in it. It’s abnormal for a perfectly healthy adult rabbit who is fixed and has been litter trained to suddenly not use the litter box. Now, again, there’s a lot of reasons why this could be happening. Some of the more innocent and easily fixed reasons can be: you changed litter, you changed the cleaner you use for the litter box, they recently had surgery or an extended stay at the vet, and they’re still getting readjusted. Things like that can make a rabbit’s litter box habits change.

However, if you can quickly eliminate these possibilities, you need to take them to a rabbit-savvy veterinarian to make sure there’s not an underlying problem going on. Rabbits are very good at hiding pain or injury, but signs can show up places like changes in behavior.

The same goes for your rabbit suddenly becoming aggressive towards you, their rabbit friend, or other animals in the home. Some causes for this can be adding a new animal to the family, stress, moving, etc. But a big concern with sudden onset of aggression in a fixed adult rabbit is pain causing them to lash out. So be on the safe side and get your bunny checked out.