Most rabbits are naturally shy and nervous.
Even the softest sounds may startle them a lot.
And they may also be hard to read.
As they tend to hide any signs of discomfort.
So, as a parent…
How will you know if your bunny is anxious about something?
Keep reading to discover:
- 13 things rabbits do when they’re scared.
- What they usually do first when they see a predator.
- When you should be alarmed by their nervous behavior.
- The different sounds they’ll produce out of fear and stress.
- And so much more…
What do rabbits do when they are scared?
When rabbits are scared, they’ll do a weird stance. They may freeze, hunch, or lie flat on the ground. Some will become aggressive. While others hide. They may show changes in appetite and drinking habits too. But if they’re extremely scared, they’ll tremble, scream, thump, or click their teeth.
Scared rabbit behavior – 13 things rabbits do when they’re scared
#1: They’ll freeze
Usually, the first thing that spooked rabbits do is stay still.
They’ll freeze like a statue and their eyes will be wide-open.
This is called the ‘freeze response.’
And experts say that prey animals do this when they see a predator from afar.
But you might think,
“Isn’t it counterintuitive to stop in the face of danger?”
Well, there’s a reason why they do this.
By not moving, rabbits will be able to blend in the environment. And the predator will less likely notice them.
A study also shows that freezing is accompanied by a decrease of heart rate.
And it isn’t done as an act of submission. But rather, as a ‘parasympathetic response.’
“What is it?”
It’s when the body relaxes back to its calm state.
So as bunnies freeze, they also conserve energy. Plus, they collect information about their surroundings too.
And these would help them decide on their next steps.
Interesting fact: Freezing response is also observed in us humans. Research suggests that it helps us think about our response to danger. While another study says that freezing makes us more aware of our environment.
#2: They’ll be on high alert
Next, you can also easily spot a scared bunny by looking at their posture.
They’ll likely assume an unusual one. Say, crouching, holding their head up, or standing on their toes.
The latter position allows them to dash when necessary. And it also lets them respond to any threats quickly.
You may notice that their ears will be up and moving as well.
They’re doing it to scan the surroundings. And to find the location of the strange noise or predator.
Interesting fact: Did you know that rabbits can swivel their large ears for up to 270°? And they could also use each of them independently. Which lets them detect 2 different sounds at the same time.
However, lop-eared bunnies don’t have this ability. Due to their droopy ears.
#3: They’ll flee and hide
After freezing, rabbits will now decide what they’re going to do next.
They’ll choose between ‘fight’ or ‘flight.’
But oftentimes, if there’s a predator and it moves closer to them…
A bunny’s usual response would be to flee.
They’re small. And they could easily become targets of larger creatures.
So some rabbits will immediately run to their hiding spots. While others will dig burrows instead.
Of course, they do this to be safe from danger.
But, they may also do this to make themselves feel better. Like if they’re stressed or sick.
Scientists found a more fascinating reason behind their hiding instinct
“What is it?”
Leif Andersson and his team conducted a study about this.
Both in wild and pet rabbits.
They examined the bunnies’ magnetic resonance imaging, a.k.a. MRI.
And they saw that the amygdala of pet rabbits is 10% tinier than wild ones.
While their medial prefrontal cortex is bigger.
So, what do these mean?
First off, let me explain what the amygdala is.
It’s the part of the brain that processes emotions linked to fear. And the larger it is, the higher the anxiety.
While the medial prefrontal cortex controls our emotional reactions. Say, it can inhibit aggression or impulsivity.
Pet bunnies are less likely to have a flight response. Compared to wild rabbits who have a bigger amygdala.
Well, this is understandable.
Because bunnies in the wild need faster flight responses. As there are many predators outside.
So they’re harder to tame as
While house rabbits have been domesticated for years. And they may have adapted to their new environment.
If you want to know tips on how to befriend a wild bunny…
Read this next: 13 Simple Tips To Befriend & Tame A Wild Rabbit (How-To)
#4: They’ll lie flat on the ground
Instead of hiding, some bunnies may also lie flat on the ground. And stay like that for a while.
Like they’re stuck in the freeze response
“Why do they do that?”
Rabbits might only do this when they can’t escape anymore.
They’re frightened. And it could also be their way to show submission.
You’ll see that their body is stiff too. While all of their feet are on the ground.
Which looks like they’re about to run any time.
Note: A calm rabbit may also lie flat on the floor. But the only difference is that they’ll have a relaxed body instead. As opposed to a rigid body posture.
#5: They’ll be aggressive when held
Sometimes, rabbits might also choose to fight.
Instead of running or hiding, they’ll become aggressive.
For example, they may lunge or bite when touched. As well as if they’re picked up.
If your bunny does this all of a sudden, they might be scared of something. And it activated their defense mode.
They’re focused on protecting themselves. So they can be threatened by anyone – even their humans.
“When do they usually do this?”
Rabbits may have a fight response if they feel cornered. Or if they can’t escape from a predator.
This could also be linked to long-term anxiety. Especially if a bunny has been acting aggressive for days.
You might also like: 17 Reasons Why Your Rabbit (Suddenly) Bites You + 11 Tips
#6: They’ll lick themselves excessively
This is another sign of fear in rabbits.
If they’re bothered, they may show some repetitive behaviors too.
Among those, licking is the most common one.
So, scared bunnies may groom themselves excessively. And this is because the action itself might be comforting.
Well, think about this.
When kids are nervous, they tend to suck their thumbs, right?
While others will bite their nails instead. Or sway their bodies back and forth.
Those things won’t solve their problems.
However, they can somehow pacify them. And soothe their stress in the meantime.
But out of all the behaviors…
Why is licking so comforting for rabbits and other animals?
I found a related study about this in rodents.
When they’re born, it’s normal for mothers to groom their litter.
And they do this to keep their babies clean. As well as to comfort them.
So, it could be that licking reminds them of this maternal care. This is why they often do it when they’re nervous.
The same research also says that it might be the reason for high levels of anxiety.
As rodents who were groomed more by their mothers grew up to be often anxious.
Note: If your bunny licks you a lot, don’t worry. This is usually a sign of affection. And they’re only reciprocating your love.
#7: They’ll tremble
We humans may also shake in fear.
Doctors say that it’s a normal reaction to stress. And our furry friends can have the same response as well.
Why do we shiver in the first place?
When we’re scared, our bodies will prepare us for either a fight or flight response.
This will now make our adrenaline levels so high. And too much of this can cause trembling.
Plus, you’ll also hear your heart beating faster.
In rabbits, the shaking might be all over their body.
But some may only rock their bodies from side to side. While others will also bob their heads. As well as twitch their noses constantly.
And just like licking, these may also serve as a coping mechanism. So they can’t stop doing it until they calm down.
#8: They’ll refuse to eat
Like us, some rabbits may also lose their appetite due to anxiety.
Since they’re on high alert, they’ll be too focused on their stressor.
To the point where they can’t do anything. Including their favorite activity – which is eating.
So, this is a clear sign that something’s off with your bunny. As rabbits tend to graze hay or pellets from time to time.
Rabbits who act like this might be spooked by loud noises. Or they could also be stressed due to a new pet, family member, or stranger.
Note: Apart from stress, PDSA says that reduced appetite in bunnies can also be a result of:
- Gut stasis.
- Stomach ulcers.
- Changes in diet.
- Urine infections.
- Respiratory diseases.
So if your rabbits show any other signs, call your vet at once.
#9: They’ll overeat
When stressed, some of us might also eat more than usual. (Can you relate to this?)
It can also be a coping method. As it helps us forget about our problems.
This is because eating comfort food increases our serotonin levels.
Which is by the way called ‘feel-good’ hormones.
This is why we feel happy and comforted while eating sweets. Like chocolates or ice cream.
And guess what, rabbits may also do the same.
So you might see them consuming more hay than before.
Note: If this continues, overeating may lead to obesity. And they’re also at risk of:
- Heart diseases.
- Stomach issues.
- Dental disorders.
- Urinary tract problems.
So find out what’s causing your rabbit to act like that. Then take immediate action.
#10: They’ll become thirstier
Aside from food, some bunnies might also use water as a coping mechanism.
They’ll drink more water than usual. And experts say that rabbits can do this due to stress.
They could also be in pain. So again, if your bunny is like this, monitor them closely. Then consult an expert if needed.
#11: They’ll grunt
As I said earlier, scared bunnies can also become aggressive.
They’ll be upset about anything. And they’ll also feel threatened most of the time.
So if they’re about to be picked up by their human, they may grunt as well. Like this upset little bunny:
Besides fear, rabbits could also grunt when they’re being protective of their property. Say, their hutch or food.
But they could do this too as a way to show disapproval. Like if they don’t want to do something. Or if they hate their food.
So in short, grunting means, “Shoo!” or “Go away!” in bunny language.
Note: Rabbits who are in pain might also grunt. So, watch out for any signs of physical discomfort. And based on vets, they’re as follows:
- Pulling their fur.
- Refusing to move.
- Breathing rapidly.
- Less grooming time.
- Having a hunched body.
Continue reading: 17 Weird Reasons Why Your Rabbit Grunts (At You) + 11 Tips
#12: They’ll scream
Rabbits are known to be silent animals.
But, there are also a few instances where they would let out a loud piercing scream.
And this usually happens when they’re extremely scared or in pain.
So it’s like a call for help.
This is also accompanied by the signs I discussed above. Such as teeth grinding. As well as having a hunched posture.
#13: They thump their rear legs
Lastly, a rabbit in distress may also thump their feet loudly.
This is mostly seen in angry bunnies.
But, it could also indicate fear.
In the bunny world, leg thumping is used to warn everyone about a danger.
Since the sound it produces is quite loud, other members of the pack can hear it immediately.
Rabbits can also stomp their feet to show how nervous they are. Or if they’re upset about something.
Note: Apart from this, bunnies may also pace a lot. Plus, they could thump on different areas too. And they might do this until they settle down.
Don’t forget to check out: Why does my rabbit thump?