Marking Territory | Proctection & Defense | Rabbit Sounds | Other Behaviors

A rabbit's best developed sensory organ is its nose. Wild rabbits recognize each other outdoors by their smell. Rabbits recognize their human partners by the scent of their hands.

Scented Calling Cards

Rabbits have two scent glands that they use to mark objects. One, under the tongue, releases its scent (pheromones)-not detectable to humans-through several pores located beneath the chin. The other gland is near the anus. Rabbits also spray urine to mark objects and areas.

1) Rubbing objects with the chin: This is the rabbit's way of designating its territory and announcing to all other members of its species "I live here. This belongs to me!" Wild rabbits mark rocks, twigs, landmarks, and burrow entries and exits. Rabbits kept as household pets will mark table and chair legs and their cage, food dish, and sleeping house. A rabbit feels safe and at home in surroundings it has marked. Territories that are unmarked or marked by other rabbits, however, make the animal extremely unsure. Dominant bucks and does do the most marking.

2) Marking with the anus: With their anal gland, rabbits can voluntarily add a secretion to their droppings and thus leave chemical nameplates and calling cards. Scientists have found that rabbits, within their colony, not only recognize each other by their common familiar scent, but also "read" droppings to find out where a rabbit comes from, whether it is male or female, and how old it is. However, wild rabbits can recognize only a limited number of their kind in this way.

3) Urine Spraying: Bucks spray with urine to express ownership and to mark territory. Both males and females also spray urine when frightened or as a defensive gesture.

Marking Territory | Proctection & Defense | Rabbit Sounds | Other Behaviors

How Rabbits Protect Themselves ?

Hares and rabbits are believed to be fearful animals. "As timid as a rabbit," we say. But this does not quite conform to reality, though these animals are shy in the wild--they run or hide from enemies--simple necessity compells them to do so. Otherwise, they would eaten by weasels, martens,buzzards, hawks, foxes, dogs, or ferrets. All these animals hunt and attack rabbits which are unable to fend them off because they have no natural defenses. Their only option is to take flight or crouch and play dead. To put it briefly rabbits safeguard their existence fleeing their natural enemies and showing fear.

This behavior is also seen in pet rabbits. If a car drives by or an airplane is heard the rabbit will flatten itself against the floor, with its ears laid back, its eyes wide open, and its body quivering. A wild rabbit, relying on the color of coat as camouflage, will crouch motionless in the grass until a dangerous bird of prey has flown past. A pet rabbit exhibits similar behavior. It doer not "know" that its coat, which maybe white, is visible from a great distance, like a flare signal.

Sometimes a sudden noise that is extremely loud will cause a rabbit to take flight in panic. In the close confines of an apartment, such behavior may be dangerous. Otherwise peaceable. even-tempered rabbits may react in this way, particularly if the surroundings are unfamiliar to them. When your pet is allowed to roam free in a meadow, keep its carrier close at hand. so that the rabbit can seek refuge in it. Then the animal will have a chance to explore the new environment bit by bit and, if need be, come back to its sheltering "burrow".

If a rabbit is confronted and has no where to run, or if a rabbit is defending territory, it may fight vigorously. When rabbits fight they assume an aggressive posture: ears laid back, hair on end, and they will sometimes grunt or thump as a warning. After the initial warning a rabbit will bite, lick and punch the opponent. Intact rabbits will defend themselves more vigorously than fixed rabbits. A fixed rabbit may not defend himself in an outdoors situation (from cats or dogs) so it is advisable to keep you rabbit in a safe outdoor run to provide exercise.

Marking Territory | Proctection & Defense | Rabbit Sounds | Other Behaviors

The Language of Sounds

The sounds of wild rabbits, like those of domesticated rabbits, are almost always very soft and tentative. Often you will have to listen very carefully or you won't hear them at all.

Violent gnashing of teeth, in combination with a dull, listless gaze and general apathy: Always a sign of great pain, caused, for example, by tympanitis. Not to be confused with:

Faint grinding noise produced by jaw movement: An expression of contentment, this sound is produced primarily when the back of the rabbit's neck is scratched. It is more pronounced in some rabbits than in others.

Spitting: Always a sign of aggression. A brief spitting sound may precede an attack. It has little similarity to the spitting noises made by cats, however.

Brief growling: This sound usually is produced by bucks shortly after mating.

Cooing: Dwarf does often coo when nursing their young, and rabbits may produce this sound when communicating with each other, if they feel safe, sound, and secure. The range of sounds is quite broad, and the noises are similar to the cooing of doves, although the rabbits' cooing is less even and deeper in pitch.

Reference: Dwarf Rabbits
"A Complete Pet Owner's Manual".
Monika Wegler

Marking Territory | Proctection & Defense | Rabbit Sounds | Other Behaviors

Other Bunny Behaviors

Mounting or "Humping"

Rabbits mount for two reasons: either to mate, or to express dominance. If an unfixed male mounts an unspayed female, you can be certain that they are mating. Even males that are fixed will often mount unspayed females. Usually if a female is spayed and the male is neutered, the mounting will stop as the male loses interest in the female sexually.

But why do females mount males? Or why do two rabbits of the same sex mount? They are expressing dominance, and usually after the alpha bunny has made it clear that he/she is in charge, the mounting stops.

An intact male rabbit may hump his owner's leg, arm, or anything within reach. A humping toy may be provided to alleviate some of these sexual frustrations. A recommended "humping toy" is a fleece stuffed dog toy. These are machine washable and are available in the dog toy area of most pet stores.

Marking Territory | Proctection & Defense | Rabbit Sounds | Other Behaviors

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