Rabbits are fluffy, adorable creatures, so it’s often a shock for owners when they bite. Sometimes, bunnies bite to communicate how they’re feeling. It’s an unpleasant behavior and can be very painful. You need to address biting so you and your bunny can live happily together.
I’ve worked with many rabbits over the years, and I’ve learned that trust between you and your rabbit is crucial. Biting can break this trust, but there’s always a reason for it. You can work on it so you can rebuild trust on both sides.
In this article, we’ll discuss all the potential reasons for a rabbit biting. We’ll also cover what to do about biting.
Why Does My Rabbit Bite Me?
Rabbits bite for various reasons, including stress, fear, pain, food aggression, and because they’re trying to display dominance. Bites can be a nip or something more serious. Finding the cause of the biting and addressing it is key to stopping the behavior.
Reasons For Biting
Bunnies are generally affectionate and gentle animals, but they can display aggressive behavior like biting in some situations. This can leave you wondering: “what does it mean when a rabbit bites you?”
There are several reasons a rabbit might bite, which we’ll discuss below.
Lack of Bond
Rabbits are prey animals, so they’re naturally nervous in new situations and around new people. If you’ve recently brought your bunny home, it’s crucial you take things slow.
Give your new pet time to get used to their environment and spend lots of time together to build a bond. If owners rush into trying to handle their rabbit right away, the rabbit may be scared and bite.
Bunnies need lots of space to run, play, and explore. A cage or hutch from a pet shop doesn’t usually provide enough room for them to live happily.
A rabbit enclosure should measure a minimum of 3m x 2m x 1m, but bigger is better.
They’re intelligent animals and need plenty of mental stimulation to be happy. Rabbits are also highly social and, ideally, need another rabbit to live with as well as lots of interaction with their owners.
If a rabbit doesn’t have these needs met, they can become bored and frustrated. They might lash out to express their unhappiness.
In the wild, rabbits live in large groups called colonies. They have a hierarchy of who is in charge, so they must fight to establish dominance. Domestic rabbits still have these innate instincts. Sometimes, they will bite or be aggressive to try to be dominant over you.
It’s more common to see this as a rabbit reaches sexual maturity, which happens between three and six months old. At this time, their hormones are raging, which can make them act out.
So, if you brought home a baby rabbit and after a few months, you’re wondering: “why is my rabbit biting me all of a sudden?” it might be because they’ve reached sexual maturity.
As we mentioned earlier, rabbits are prey animals, so their instinct is to hide if they feel threatened. If they cannot run and hide, they will often become aggressive in defending themselves.
Sometimes rabbits can feel threatened in a domestic setting, for example, if you come into their space to pick them up. Many rabbits don’t like to be handled, and it takes time to work up to this.
If you move suddenly in your rabbit’s presence, they might get a shock and become afraid. Their instinct may be to bite if they can’t escape. Moving slowly and calmly is crucial, especially when first getting to know your rabbit.
In the wild, rabbits would fight each other for food as there are limited resources.
If rabbits aren’t fed an appropriate diet, they may become aggressive out of frustration or hunger.
Even if you’re feeding your bunny plenty of food, these instincts are still present in some bunnies. They may see you as a threat and feel they must protect their food by biting.
Wild rabbits would defend their territory and their family group. As a result, sometimes pet rabbits will become territorial over their enclosure.
They may become aggressive when you enter their space and try to defend it. They may also become territorial over their belongings, such as their toys, food bowl, or litter tray.
If your rabbit is pregnant, they will likely become very territorial as they build a nest. Once they have kits (baby rabbits), this behavior may increase further as they try to protect their babies.
Pain or Illness
If a rabbit is in pain or is unwell, they may lash out if you go near them. After all, we all get grumpy when we don’t feel good!
If your rabbit is an adult and starts biting you all of a sudden when you’ve previously had a good bond, it’s time to visit the vet. Your vet will be able to rule out the physical causes of the behavior.
If you’ve adopted your bunny from a rescue center, they might have had an unpleasant life before they came to you. Unfortunately, many rabbits are mistreated or left in small cages without stimulation.
As you can imagine, this can cause them to become very fearful and even depressed.
They may fear humans because of how they were treated in the past. Thankfully, you and your rabbit overcome this with time and patience.
If you’re offering your rabbit food, they might mistake your finger for food and accidentally bite you.
They may get over-excited and bite if they’re playing instead of nipping at you. In these cases, they don’t mean to hurt you, and it’s not something to worry about.
There’s a difference between a bite and a nip or nibble. If your rabbit is gently biting at you without breaking the skin and it doesn’t hurt, it’s likely a nip rather than a bite.
If you’re wondering, “why does my rabbit nibble me?” it’s probably to show affection!
Some rabbits even give you a gentle nip when snuggling with you to let you know they want more attention. At one of the places I worked, we had a bunny nicknamed ‘nibbles’ because he did this. It was very cute!
How to Stop Your Rabbit Biting
If your rabbit is deliberately biting you, it’s crucial to deal with the issue. Rabbits have strong, big teeth, and a bite can potentially cause a lot of damage. If you are injured, you can treat it at home or get advice from your doctor.
Never punish your bunny or scold them when they bite because this only frightens them, and they don’t understand.
Below is some guidance on what you should do to help you address the problem.
Finding The Root Cause
The best way to deal with biting is to figure out the root cause and resolve the issue. For example, if your rabbit is in pain, you can take them to the vet for treatment.
If they’re unhappy with their environment, you can make changes to ensure they have enough room and stimulation. If they’re frightened, you can work on gradually getting them used to handling.
If you’re unsure about the cause, I recommend taking your time to observe your bunny. Make notes about when they bite and what you were doing at the time. This can help you to figure out what’s going on.
If in doubt, consult a vet for further guidance.
Build a Bond
Building a strong bond between you and your rabbit helps them to feel safe and enables them to trust you. A rabbit who is bonded to their owner will be more comfortable with handling and have a deeper sense of trust.
They know you’re there to help them and keep them safe, so they don’t feel the need to be aggressive.
Bonding takes time, just like it takes time for us to make friends with another human!
Spend plenty of time with your bunny. Get down to their level and talk in a calm voice. Allow them to come to you, so they control the interactions and don’t feel pressured.
You can offer them treats when they come to you as a reward for positive behavior. Over time, you’ll find they come to you for affection and attention, which is a great honor.
Meet Their Needs
Making sure you meet your bunny’s needs reduces the risk of them lashing out because they’re frustrated or bored. Ensure they have an appropriate enclosure and the proper diet.
Provide plenty of toys and play games with them to get their mind working. Give them plenty of time out of their enclosure to explore and have fun.
You can read more about how to take care of your bunny in our detailed guide to owning a happy, healthy rabbit.
When you’re interacting with your rabbit, approach them slowly and quietly. Sudden movement and loud noises will scare them. Talk to them quietly as you enter the room, so they know you’re there and don’t get a surprise.
Rabbits have a blind spot in front of their nose, so they won’t see your hand coming from this angle and will get a fright! When you reach out to stroke them, move your hand slowly and come in from the side.
Moving While Cleaning
Some owners find it helpful to move their rabbits into a different room for a short time while cleaning out their enclosure.
This is particularly helpful if your rabbit is exhibiting territorial behavior while you’re trying to clean their living area or provide fresh food. Some owners also find this reduces stress for their bunny.
Neutering Your Rabbit
The Rabbit Welfare Association and Fund explain that neutering a male rabbit or spaying a female rabbit can reduce aggression towards other rabbits and humans.
This is particularly helpful if the behavior has a hormonal cause, like the dominant behavior we discussed earlier.
Respect Their Boundaries
It’s important to respect your rabbit’s boundaries, just as it is with any animal. They have their own personalities and emotions.
Don’t try to force affection or handling if your bunny isn’t enjoying it. Instead, take your time to build trust and let them seek affection in their own time. This is far more productive and teaches your rabbit they can trust you.
Learn The Warning Signs
One of the best ways to prevent a bite is to learn how to read your rabbit’s body language.
Often they will give signs that they are unhappy before they bite. Identifying these signs allows you to give them space before things escalate. You can find out more from our guide on rabbit body language.
Rabbits bite for various reasons, including pain, fear, territoriality, and food aggression. If your rabbit bites you, it can be painful and frustrating. Figuring out the cause and taking steps to deal with it appropriately can help to resolve the problem. That way, you and your bunny can live happily together!
Did you find this article helpful? Do you have any further questions? Feel free to leave them in the comments below.