Rabbits are popular pets due to their sweet appearance and seemingly docile temperaments. Yet, you may find that reaching into their cages to replenish their food or even to give them a loving pat, may be an invitation for a hard chomp or nip at your unsuspecting hands.
Bunnies are rarely vicious or mean by nature, but there are definitely more cases of aggression among these creatures than you would imagine. Here are some steps that may not always work with biting bunnies, but are certainly worth a try.
Rule out Medical Causes
Irritation caused by illnesses or injuries may be the cause of your bunny’s aggression, causing it to attack anything that it might perceive as a threat in order to ‘survive’. Have it checked at the vet for conditions such as mites or wounds – and, if it has yet to be sterilised, consider spaying or neutering your bunny as sexual frustration is another likely factor to cause territorial hostility.
Physical discomfort is a major factor of aggression among animals. Hence, even if your rabbit seems to have no major health concerns, it is important to make sure that it is always also well fed and taken care of. For example, housing that is too small for the rabbit will cause it to experience stress due to boredom, so it is also necessary to ensure that its cage provides ample space for it to roam about and rest at ease.
Get to Know Your Bunny
The personalities and past experiences of an animal will largely contribute to shaping its behaviour today. Aggression is quite a common trait among rescued rabbits which were previously mistreated, and have learned in the process that biting is a self-defense mechanism that will sometimes save them from being hurt by ‘bad’ humans.
Get to know what scares or annoys your bunny, and try to work around it. For example, if your bunny tends to strike anything that moves directly in front of it, try gently patting it or picking it up from above instead, and this is far less intimidating for the rabbit than having your hand ‘approach’ it at eye level.
Sometimes, rabbits can exhibit aggressive behaviours for no apparent reason at all – or simply because they are territorial by nature. Dominant bunnies may bite to tell its owner to move his/her hand away from its ‘territory’ in the cage, so do not reward it by withdrawing your hand when it tries to do so in this case. Instead, attempt to (slowly and gently!) push its head downwards with your hands every time it exhibits aggressive or territorial behaviour. This way, you are telling it with your body language that: “I am your master.”
If your rabbit seems to bite every time you attempt to replenish its food bowl, this could be classified as food aggression, which is a survival mechanism often found among rabbits in the wild. Your bunny has an innate tendency to protect its food and whether the bowl is filled or not, any creature or thing that approaches it will be perceived as a threat. In this case, try moving the bowl around to different areas of its cage on a daily basis, so that it does not learn to recognise a fixed spot where the bowl is as its ‘territory’.
Hand-feeding is a wonderful way to bond with your pet, and also have it associate your hand with positive actions such as the giving of treats. Start off by first holding out long treats (such as hay) through its cage, so that it understands that you are giving and not taking away food, before eventually moving on to opening the doors of its cage to feed it. Also try to feed your rabbit larger chunks of food by hand, so that it does not accidentally nip your fingers.
No matter what, do not ever smack or hit your bunny as a form of punishment if it bites, else it will never learn to be friendly towards you. Allow it to identify you, its owner, with only acts of affection – and hopefully in time, your relationship with your bunny will blossom into a loving and bite-free one!