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How To Calm An Aggressive Rabbit

Updated on August 2, 2013

Help! My Bunny Attacked Me!

Welcome To My Page. You may pet me now.

Meet Freckles. She is our cute, cuddly, friendly house bunny. The thing is we had no idea she was so territorial! When you see a cute fuzzy rabbit, you do not automatically think about things such as sharp teeth or nails. In general, rabbits are very docile creatures. They make excellent pets. Over the years we have raised many rabbits. I had not come across one that was aggressive until I met our Mini Rex. My kids love her so much, and she can be so calm and gentle when outside of her cage, but inside is another matter.

*sniff sniff* is that carrot I smell?

When we encountered our aggression issue, I wanted to look up more on the breed. We had done our research ahead of time before adopting, but I wanted to make sure I wasn't missing something. I've known lops to be very skittish for instance. I went searching and from what I found there was nothing to indicate aggressiveness in the breed.

Generally, Mini Rexes are known for their sweet docile temperament. They make excellent indoor rabbits due to their size. If I had my choice, I would have Palominos all over the house, but they are huge! Rexes are also known for their luxurious velvety fur! Oh my! I mean I've cuddled many bunnies, but this fur was like no other, very dense and soft!

The Mini Rex is a small breed who weigh less than 5 pounds. A show rabbit is less than 4 1/2 pounds. It's much different than handling an 8-9 pound Palomino! Small breeds are great because they can live comfortably in a rabbit hutch indoors.

Rabbits are hardy animals. The biggest thing will be keeping them cool if you live in warmer weather. We do this by filling 2 liter bottles with water and freezing them. Bunnies love to cuddle up with the ice in hot weather. If you are experiencing very cold weather, cover the cages with some sort of barrier such as a tarp. My husband raised Palominos in -30 degree weather without a problem by throwing old quilts over the cages and providing hay for the rabbits to snuggle down in.

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Know What You Are Getting!

That person at the pet store may have no idea what breed they have, much less the sex! Know your breeds and how to sex a rabbit! Our Netherland Dwarf turned out to be a Californian!

You will pet me.

A few months after having our Mini Rex, I noticed she started grunting when we opened her cage. She didn't do anything else, just grunt. I thought she was just a talker. Our other bunnies never grunted like this even when we went to check on babies! We even had one female that just would not mate because she hopped on top of the males! Ha! I thought she was pretty aggressive, but that didn't compare to Freckles. I really thought nothing of the grunts. She happily hopped out of her cage each day and ate snacks from our hands. I taught the kids to be gentle with her and never pick her up. She made friends with our cat right away. They enjoy chasing each other around the house.

Warning Signals Of Aggression In Rabbits

Biting: Most rabbits will groom you, but if they intentionally bite you that is a sign of aggression. It usually means "back off".

Charging: A rabbit will jump out at other rabbits, your feet, a hand put inside a cage, or other targets. This is a very aggressive move which signals that you are in their territory and they want you out now.

Ears Layed Back: A calm alert bunny will have their ears forward. If they are laying down, they may have their ears back, but this is a calm stance. If they are sitting up, legs are straight and ears back, then watch out!

Grunts: A Rabbit will generally grunt when annoyed. They are trying to tell you "don't push it buster".

Standing Position: They will have their legs straight with tail sticking up. Not to be confused with stretching!

Thumping: A rabbit will thump their back feet as a warning to other rabbits that there is a threat. They are telling you to back off!

You lookin at me?

I'm not sure when things changed. The grunts went on for about 6-7 months. I generally ignored them or had a nice little conversation with Freckles since I thought she was talking to me. I was the main care taker, so I had the most contact with her. At times, I needed to clean her cage. I tried not to pick her up too often, but there were things that needed taken care of. She has never been fully comfortable with nail clipping, but I have been able to do that without much problem. Luckily she never had teeth issues. We had clipped teeth on other bunnies in the past.

She did go through a round of ear mites that were causing her ears to get all caked up. I think that might have caused some skittishness on her part. She hated the cleanings. It didn't take long for them to go away.

Rabbit Health Guide

When Your Rabbit Needs Special Care: Traditional and Alternative Healing Methods
When Your Rabbit Needs Special Care: Traditional and Alternative Healing Methods

Find out how to cure everything from ear mites to snuffles. Your bunny's health care needs can be managed using this book.


When Rabbits Attack

After that, she became more vocal in the grunting and started lunging at me in her cage. I thought "what the heck!?" We had never had anything like that happen with any of our other bunnies. Even one of our girls that had a huge cyst that needed draining daily. I know it must have hurt, but she was so good!!

This whole lunge thing had me worried. I wasn't sure how to handle the situation. She was perfect outside her cage. I never had any issues with biting or kicking. She would calmly come up to eat or be petted, and now it was like Jekyll and Hyde. I certainly did not want the kids to get bit! What am I going to do?

Rabbit Care Products And Toys

Should I Have More Than One Rabbit?

Rabbits are social creatures. It would be beneficial to have more than one of the same sex, but it is not necessary as long as you spend time with them. The importance is in having two of the same sex! If you are unfamiliar with rabbits, it will be hard to tell the sex, but once you know how it is quite easy.

Sexing A Rabbit

With practice, you can sex a rabbit easily. As the rabbit ages, it will get easier. A good breeder will know what sexes they have. Most pet stores will have no idea, but here is how.

Flip your bunny over. Let them get comfortable in your arms for a minute. This is a position you will be using in their care for the future anyway. Take your index finger and thumb and spread the area from the anus to the sexual organs. As you gently spread and apply gentle pressure, you will notice if (or not) anything sticks up. If you do, congratulations! It's a boy!. If not, then you have yourself a girl. You may want to pick up a few bunnies to compare, but it really is not that hard to tell.

Taming the Beast

Ok folks I have a counseling degree. I took behavioral science classes. The concepts were there. I just had to apply them. I also found information online about T-touch. It is a gentle massaging motion that helps to calm animals down. There are programs regarding T-touch that can be found online.

One issue that came up was identifying the stimulus that triggered the reaction of Freckles. I am not entirely sure what started the aggression in the first place, but I decided to use operant conditioning methods using extinction and methods of exposure therapy.

Bunny Therapy Begins

I began with sticking my hand in the cage. She usually had no issue with this. One thing that I noticed was she would lunge if I touched her food bowl. I thought maybe the sound of it frightened her. It tended to make a metallic sound in her cage. I started with gently moving the bowl around the cage. If she lunged, I did not remove my hand. Yes, I did get bit. The key here is not withdrawing the stimulant (exposure). The goal was to keep introducing the stimulus (the bowl sound) until the reaction (lunging) was extinct. It took some time, but I spent quiet a bit of time each day doing this. Just moving her bowl from side to side. She grunted and lunged and bit, but over time this was reduced.

Do Not Forget To Be Positive! Use Reinforcement Correctly.

When she reacted in a way I wanted, I provided T-touch. This introduced positive reinforcement. The touch was soothing and it reinforced the behavior that I wanted (calm bunny). I would rub all over her body using T-touch, and she would lay back with her eyes closed relaxing.

Over time, Freckles had learned to be calm in her cage. She does give a grunt occasionally. That just means I need to work on reinforcement.

The thing is, if you want a happy bunny, you need to invest the time in addressing these issues. You cannot simply ignore them. An aggressive bunny is a stressed bunny. It does not mean you need to return them or get rid of them. You simply have to work with them!

I did similar things with our two feral cats who turned into the best cats ever!

Do you have pet rabbits?

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    • profile image

      Scott A McCray 4 years ago

      Whodathunkit? I had no clue that bunnies could have a 'tude! Excellent lens!

    • Blackspaniel1 profile image

      Blackspaniel1 5 years ago

      I never thought of rabbits as aggressive.

    • junecampbell profile image

      June Campbell 5 years ago from North Vancouver, BC, Canada

      I don't know much about rabbits. It never occurred to me that they could be aggressive. It makes perfect sense, though. They are animals so of course they can be aggressive. Any living thing can.

    • BryanLSC profile image

      BryanLSC 5 years ago

      Nice lens! I'd like to have a pet bunny too after reading your lens! Got me interested! Sounds fun!

    • Redneck Lady Luck profile image

      Lorelei Cohen 5 years ago from Canada

      I am so glad that you used positive reinforcement on your aggressive bunny rather than just bundling your pet off to the big bunny cage in the sky. are a wonderful pet owner and your rabbit information pages will be of benefit to many rabbit owners.

    • jadp27 profile image

      jadp27 5 years ago

      thats a rare lens topic..good work!

    • amkatee profile image

      amkatee 5 years ago

      @knit1tat2: We used to breed Palominos and they are so docile, and great mamas! It would be hard to cull for aggression. If a bunny is aggressive, then it would be wise not to breed that rabbit. A pet can be worked with one-on-one, as we have done. I used T-touch with our feral kittens with success as well.

    • profile image

      JuJuBunny 5 years ago

      The bunny is way cute! :] If you ever manage to make a video of him, that would be great to see!

    • knit1tat2 profile image

      knit1tat2 5 years ago

      I've raised rabbits for many years (angoras) and they have to be handled a lot. I bred for good temperments, and culled any that showed problems. Easier with a big herd than taking that time for one. But great ideas for any pet!

    • flycatcherrr profile image

      flycatcherrr 5 years ago

      No, but I've used T-touch with dogs... I would think it would be much harder with a Killer Bunny, though. Thanks for this; a really interesting story, and I'm sure it's going to help some bunny owners!