Do rabbits bite? The short answer is yes. Rabbits bite and rabbit bites can be both painful and serious. More important questions, though, are why they bite, and how a rabbit owner can reduce the chance of a bite before it happens. It’s also important to know how to treat a bite to yourself or to another pet.
Why Do Rabbits Bite?
We don’t generally think of a rabbit as an aggressive pet. A bunny attack rarely makes the news. But rabbits do bite, and it’s important to understand why, if you want to prevent it from happening.
Do Bunnies Bite Humans?
A cute, fluffy bunny may not look aggressive, and most pet rabbits aren’t. When a bunny bites its owner, it’s rarely a sign of pure aggression. Most of the time, rabbit bites are defensive. If you don’t understand what your bunny is defending against, however, a bite may seem to occur out of nowhere.
Many rabbits don’t enjoy being picked up or held. In fact, many are frightened by it. A bunny may bite out of fear if it feels cornered or threatened, or if it’s trying to get away.
Signs of fear may include puffed out fur, wide eyes, and thumping its hind legs. If your bunny is showing fear, don’t try to pick it up. Instead, back away, speak in a calm voice, and give your rabbit a bit of time to calm down.
If you absolutely must handle your rabbit against its will, for example for a trip to the vet, wear long sleeves and thick gloves.
Some rabbits are territorial. An owner may end up bitten by a rabbit who wants to guard its territory. In general, females are more territorial than males. This is especially true if the female is not spayed, or if she’s guarding her litter.
A rabbit may bite if it’s in pain. If you suspect your rabbit is in pain, take it to the vet immediately, but be sure to protect yourself.
Rabbits may also nip a person, or nip each other affectionately. This isn’t necessarily a sign of aggression. If your rabbit is calmly nibbling your fingers or toes, and it doesn’t hurt or break the surface, this is an affectionate behavior, and is nothing to worry about.
Your bunny may also bite you without meaning to.
Rabbits have poor close-up vision and may mistake a finger for a piece of food. They may also mistake an incoming hand for a predator.
A bunny may also bite if you surprise it.
And, like all of us, some bunnies get carried away during play. Instead of giving a playful nip, they may deliver a painful bite instead.
Do Rabbits Bite Each Other?
The short answer is yes. And there are lots of reasons bites between rabbits may occur, from health to territorial issues, and more.
Biting and nipping are part of normal rabbit behaviour. A rabbit may give another rabbit a nip to establish boundaries, or to tell the other rabbit that it has overstepped.
Also, rabbit may bite another rabbit to establish dominance. This may happen as one or more of the rabbits reaches sexual maturity. Having your rabbits spayed or neutered can eliminate or greatly reduce this cause of biting.
Certain changes can alter the power balance between rabbits. If one rabbit becomes ill or weak, the other may start a fight in order to become Top Bunny.
Just because these behaviours are natural doesn’t mean that they’re harmless. If your rabbit is bitten, especially if the teeth break the surface, treat the wound to prevent infection, separate your rabbits, and take measures to prevent a future attack.
Stress makes all of us grumpy, or even aggressive. And a bite may occur if your rabbit is feeling stressed.
Good rabbit care includes proper housing, and a major cause of stress for rabbits is too little space.
A rabbit’s hutch should be large enough for a rabbit to stand up on its hind legs without its ears brushing the ceiling. In addition, a rabbit should be able to stretch out fully on the floor, and hop three times from one end of the hutch to the other.
The Rabbit Welfare Association and Fund recommends a minimum hutch size of three metres (10 feet) by two metres (6.6 feet) by one metre (3.3 feet) high per rabbit.
Additionally, stress may ccur if your rabbits see, hear or smell another animal, especially a predator in their area. Take care to predator-proof your rabbit enclosure, and if your rabbit seems frightened of your dog, cat, or other animal, be sure to keep that animal away from your bunnies’ house.
Do Rabbits Bite Themselves?
Yes, bunnies may also bite themselves.
Once in a while, this behaviour is normal and harmless. If your rabbit is scratching an itch, it may look like it’s biting itself.
However, if the behaviour becomes frequent or compulsive, it could be the sign of an infection, a parasite problem, or a behavior issue. What’s more, your rabbit could actually hurt itself.
Your pet rabbit may bite itself if it’s suffering from dermatitis, parasites, or a dermal infection. It may also signal another health problem, such as neurological disease.
If your rabbit is compulsively biting or chewing at itself, a trip to the vet is in order.
Are Some Rabbits More Prone to Biting Than Others?
Unaltered pet rabbits, both male and female, are typically more aggressive than rabbits who have been neutered. Spayed and neutered rabbits are typically less aggressive.
Some bunny breeds are also more prone to aggression. The Netherland Dwarf bunny, for example, is quicker to bite and scratch than some other breeds when frightened. This is because wild rabbits have made such a large and recent genetic contribution to the breed.
Some bunny individuals may be more prone to biting than others. Bunnies who have been abused, neglected, or raised in stressful environments may resort to biting and scratching more quickly than other individuals.
And some individual rabbits, like some individual people, are simply more prickly than others.
Remember, though, that when it comes to people, nipping and biting are often defensive. So before blaming your bunny, ask what you might be doing to stress or frighten your rabbit.
Are Rabbit Bites Dangerous?
Any bite is potentially dangerous to humans and other animals, including bites from bunnies.
While nipping isn’t likely to hurt anyone, a proper bite, where the teeth break the skin, may be cause for concern.
If Your Rabbit Bites A Person
If your pet bites you, first, wash the wound. If the rabbit’s teeth break the skin, treat the wound with an antiseptic cream and a bandage.
Seek medical attention if:
- Symptoms of infection develop, such as redness, swelling, oozing, or burning
- The rabbit bite is bleeding profusely
- You haven’t had a tetanus shot in the past 10 years
- You’re concerned about possible transmissible diseases
If you have any other concerns about your rabbit bite, consult a doctor or other medical professional.
If Your Rabbit Bites Another Pet
If your rabbit bites another pet, including another pet rabbit, first, separate the animals immediately. Next, examine the wound. If the skin is broken, treat the wound as you would a rabbit bite to your own body.
Seek medical attention if the wound is bleeding a lot, and watch for symptoms of infection.
Take care to determine the reason for the aggression, and keep the animals separate until you do.
If Your Rabbit Bites Itself
First, treat any places where your rabbit’s bites may have broken the skin. Next, search your bunny’s body for other bites, and treat those if necessary. Finally, search for possible causes for this behaviour. Look for:
- Flaking or irritated skin
- Other signs of a skin infection
Also, examine your rabbit’s environment and lifestyle. Does your rabbit have enough space to move around, exercise, and hide away when it needs to? Does your bunny have regular access to exercise space? Does he or she have enough toys? Does he or she get enough social interaction with other rabbits and / or with you?
If self-biting becomes continuous, especially if it results in bleeding, it’s time to consult a veterinary professional.
How to Prevent a Rabbit Bite
Sometimes a rabbit bite can seem like it came out of nowhere. But if you’re paying attention, you can often see the signs and head off an attack before it happens.
Remember that many rabbit bites are defensive in nature. So pay attention to potential warning signals from your rabbit.
A frightened rabbit may:
- Thump its back foot
- Puff out its coat (cats do this, too)
- Widen its eyes
If you see your rabbit displaying these behaviours, back off and leave them alone. And if you must handle them at this time, protect your arms and hands with gloves and long sleeves. Also keep your rabbit safe by gently wrapping it in a towel (a “bunny burrito”) to prevent struggle or escape.
You see your house, garden and property as yours. However, your rabbit very likely sees its enclosure as theirs.
If your rabbit lunges or bites when you enter its space, be respectful. Rather than reaching into the cage, hutch, bunny house, or run to grab your pet, let them come to you.
Sit quietly in their area with a bit of food or some treats in your hand. Reward them for coming to you on their terms. Eventually, they may deign to allow you into their territory unchallenged.
Human body language and bunny body language are very different. To make things even more complicated, bunny body language is different from that of cats and dogs.
Some bites occur when rabbits and people misunderstand one another. A human coming in for a cuddle, for example, may look like a predator bearing down for a meal, where a rabbit is concerned.
I’d bite, too, wouldn’t you?
To better understand your rabbits–and to be better understood by them–check out our articles on rabbit behavior and communication.
Chances are, your rabbit doesn’t want to hurt you. But misunderstandings may still happen from time to time. It can help to respond like a rabbit.
If your bunny gets carried away during play, the next time it bites, try letting out a shrill cry, like an injured rabbit would. A playful bunny isn’t intending to hurt you, and letting it know that it has may remind your bunny to rein in its playful nipping.
Protect Yourself And Your Pet
Rabbits bite for a variety of reasons, including territoriality, fear, and pain. Although many rabbit bites are defensive, some rabbits may bite aggressively for a variety of reasons.
Rabbit bites can be painful and serious. If a bite bleeds excessively, shows symptoms of infection, or concerns you in any way, it’s best to seek medical attention.
You can reduce the chances of a rabbit bite by watching for signals of fear or aggression. Understanding rabbit body language can also help to stop an attack before it begins. And if you must handle your rabbit when it’s agitated, wear protective clothing.
Have you ever had a bitey rabbit? Do you have any tips for our readers? We’d love to hear them.