In this article, we’ll try to answer the frequently repeated question “Why does my rabbit bite me?” I’ll be using my genuine, hands-on experience with our one-year-old bunny as well as all the information I gathered through research since we bought the little fluffy rascal.
Do rabbits bite because they are aggressive by nature?
Now, this has to be made clear right away: NO, the rabbits are not aggressive by nature. Being prey animals they are timid and easily get frightened and this is why they sometimes bite as a result of the sheer state of fear that they may be in danger.
Bunnies are playful and affectionate but you do need to earn their trust and learn how to handle your pet and how to behave in their immediate environment, especially in and around their cage or hutch.
Possible reasons why your bunny may bite you and how to prevent biting
Your rabbit may bite you or your kids or other rabbits for any of the reasons mentioned below. It can happen due to a combination of several factors influencing aggressive behavior in your bunny so do read carefully in order to be able to recognize the reason and take preventive measures.
Rabbits are prey animals – it’s fear that causes biting
As you know, rabbits are prey animals. This genetic predisposition has been preserved even with the species such as my female Dwarf Hotot. This breed has been recognized by ARBA in the early 1980s and although such species are meant to be kept as pets and do not live in the wild, they still have the inherent fear of predators.
Be it because of your sudden movement, your shadow over him, your kids’ awkward handling or other pets, people your bunny isn’t familiar with – your bunny will get easily startled, afraid and bite if a hand, a leg, fingers or toes are within reach.
Do come to your bunny slowly, preferably slouched so that you appear smaller than you actually are.
Try approaching your rabbit from the side: they are prey creatures, their eyes are positioned on the sides and they don’t have a good frontal vision. As a result of this, they will recognize you easily if you’re coming from the side.
Keep your bunny where you and your family spend most of the time so that he/she can learn your voices.
Avoid exposing your rabbit to loud noise as this will startle him, too, and make him nervous enough to bite anyone close by.
Don’t leave your bunny in the open air without a place to hide and seek shelter as the noise of birds or dogs will cause great fear in him and once you try to take him or her back to its hutch or cage, he may see you as a threat and bite you.
Provide some form of shelter. Although she’s in the open air in our garden, here in this photo you can see that my bunny feels quite safe under the fig bush which provides a shadow from the sun at the same time:
Rabbits are territorial – let them feel in charge and safe in their home
Their cage needs to be a place where they will feel safe. Bunnies don’t like intruders and can get quite aggressive.
Avoid reaching straight into his cage to add hay, pellets, or water or to clean the cage – it’s best to let the bunny out and then do what you intended.
Take a look at this photo and notice how my bunny is lurking in the corner and keeping a watchful eye over her home while I change the bedding and add food and water:
For her, this is the best rabbit cage because... it's her very own home.
An often advice I hear is to get your male bunny neutered and your female bunny spayed. Since we have already covered the benefits of these two procedures in one of our previous articles, I’ll just write a few words from my own experience.
First off, my wife and I and each of our three children (eleven, nine and five years of age) got a bite or two from our fluffy bundle of joy. Spaying her, however, was not an option as the only vet nearby was inexperienced and said that the risk was too high. This is why we gave up on the idea.
My eldest, who actually claims the parenthood over our bunny as we bought Blacky (pun intended from the start) to her for her tenth birthday, took the most biting.
The problem is, she’s a child and it’s difficult to explain it to her that her pet does NOT bite her because of lack of love. “She doesn’t love me!”, says my daughter. To calm her down, I had to pass on everything I know about rabbits, and then some.
Our bunny is still at the age when she can be spayed but we’re looking for a more experienced vet to spay her.
As for all of you bunny parents who have already spayed or neutered your pet, has the aggressive behavior subsided and stopped? If it has, you’re in the clear. If it hasn’t, there are behavioral problems in your bunny for which there must be an explanation in less than perfect handling and looking after your bunny.
Biting the hand that feeds them
I’ve often read about bunnies biting their pet parents when being given food. People often ask “What’s wrong with my bunny?” but they rarely ask “Am I doing it wrong?”, which is actually the case in most instances.
Firstly, and I am repeating this again and again, you need to understand and remember that your bunny is a gentle and vulnerable prey creature. As such, their sight is not the best when it comes to what’s happening in their immediate surroundings.
Yes, they will spot an eagle in the sky, but they have a somewhat blurred vision when it comes to your hand coming very close with some hay, pellets or a veggies treat.
They may perceive this as danger and bite you. I recommend not taking tiny treats and hope for the best while getting it a few inches from their teeth. Slices of fruits or vegetables which are big enough so that there’s still a safe distance are fine.
Otherwise, just put the food or treats gently in their bowl and stand back. I’m serious.
Then there’s another thing; when your hand is so close that your bunny can smell a yummy treat or fresh hay, they can smell what’s coming but can’t see. This is why they may accidentally mistake your finger for a carrot. And… ouch!
Lastly, some bunnies are over-enthusiastic when it comes to food. Ours is just like that! Once she hears me opening the cupboard where we keep the hay and the pellets, she simply goes nuts and starts hopping in the cage erratically.
Again, teach your kids to let the bunny out, close the front door and (I do hope you read our best rabbit cage reviews) open the top door, place the food in the bowl, shut the top door, open the front door and, again, stand back.
My bunny storms into the cage and jumps at the food as a tiger, regardless of the fact that she’d eaten less than a few hours ago and that her cage is always stacked with fresh hay. All I do is murmur “Well, missy, where are your table manners…” and go about my business.
How to bond with your bunny - make them feel safe before patting
Be it a cage or the best rabbit hutch, you need to avoid units that have very small front opening doors. As we said, rabbits are prey animals and like most prey animals their eyes are placed on the sides of their head.
This is where the fact that bunnies can't see very well directly in front of themselves comes into play, again.
You need to have a door which is large enough so that you can comfortably fit your hand in without having it centered right at the bunny, which will most definitely scare him/her enough so you may get a bite.
The cage itself also needs a shelter which serves the purpose of providing your rabbit with a comfy and safe spot where they can relax and have a stress-free time for themselves. Don’t try to give them a stroke any time you feel like it.
Our bunny only sleeps in her cage. The door is wide open for the most part of the day and she is free to wander around the dining room and the living room. If left unattended she will chew everything, but we’ll cover that in a separate article.
Now, one peculiar thing I noticed when I get her out of the cage is that she rarely hops around at once. To my initial surprise, she usually hops behind the nearby armchair which is very close to the wall and she spends some time there first. I never approach to give her a stroke there.
This is another proof that rabbits do need a safe place that THEY themselves choose and find safe enough. Let your bunny find her safe spot and allow him or her to spend as much time there as he/she want. Your bunny will be less stressed and less aggressive afterward.
If you keep your bunny in the cage when you have guests, no matter how adorable they find your bunny, warn your guests not to stick their hand straight through the cage, or your rabbit hutch outside in order to give them a stroke or a pat.
Your bunny needs some time to get used to the unfamiliar voices and realize that there’s no threat around. Once they feel safe, they will come to cuddle on their own.
Again, rabbits may not feel like cuddling or letting you pat them whenever you feel like it. This is why I never get bitten when it comes to time for cuddling – I always open the door of my living room and let her come on her own for a pat or a stroke when she feels like it.