Rabbit Behaviour

Rabbit on sentry dutyWild rabbits are territorial animals who live within a loosely organised society in a series of underground tunnels which make up the warren.  They are most active at dawn and dusk.  They prefer loose, free draining soil with cover such as pastures with hedgerows, and are rarely found in damp areas or above the tree line.

As prey animals they are wary of potential predators such as foxes and birds of prey.  They have almost 360 degree vision apart from a blind spot in front of their nose, large rotating ears and a good sense of smell.

Sentry rabbits will ‘stand on guard’, sitting on their haunches in an upright position, which allows them to see further afield.  If a threat is suspected the rabbit will thump loudly with its hind legs as a warning to the others who will run for cover in the safety of their burrows.

Rabbits spend a great deal of their time either feeding in the open or re-ingesting their caecal pellets in the safety of the burrow.  Rabbit mothers only feed their babies twice a day and rabbit milk is very rich.  The young are born blind and naked into a nest lined with the doe’s belly fur.


Rabbits scent mark their territory with droppings which are given an individual scent from the rabbit’s anal glands, and using the gland under their chin to demonstrate ownership of property such as entrance to a burrow.  Male rabbits spray urine on other males and females during the mating season.  Both sexes spray urine as a defensive gesture when threatened.


Mounting other rabbits, cushions, soft toys or owners legs, may be a sign of sexual frustration or dominance.  The female rabbit hierarchy is distinct from the male hierarchy.  They operate as two separate lines.  Fighting is rare in established colonies once this order is established and normally only occurs over receptive females or lack of available burrows.

A lot of reported ‘nuisance’ behaviour in rabbits is perfectly natural in the wild. Neutering/spaying reduces both sexual and territorial behaviour as well as eliminating the risk of unwanted litters.  What remains in all rabbits is a great sensitivity to predators.  Large humans looming above them and pick them up are naturally frightening.  A rabbit likes to have its feet firmly on the ground where it has control over its fight or flight response.  Contrary to their fluffy appearance, rabbits are none too fond of being picked up and you should lie on the ground to bond with your rabbit at his own pace to develop trust.


Although the rabbit’s first response is to flatten itself to the ground and hide or run back to the shelter of the burrow, in defence of their burrow or nest they will sometimes fight tooth and nail.  In addition, their thumping and flight response with such powerful hind legs means that in their panic they can inflict substantial injuries or even kill a guinea pig or smaller rabbit.


In the wild rabbits graze close to the warren and deposit droppings as they eat which help to fertilise the soil for further plant growth.  This behaviour can help with litter training a house rabbit by placing a hay rack next to the litter tray so he can eat and poo at the same time.

http://www.bio.miami.edu/hare/vision.html what does my rabbit see?

Rabbit Behaviour Advisory Group UK