rabbits teeth Biting & aggression in rabbits towards owners: how to deal with it

Biting & aggression in rabbits towards owners: how to deal with it

Aggression towards humans has many causes. Watch your rabbit’s behavior closely to find out what causes the aggression.

However, the most common cause is

A husbandry in which the rabbit cannot act out, so that it is frustrated and not used to its full potential (e.g. confinement in a cage/pen instead of a large enclosure that can also be used at night)
Species-appropriate outdoor housing
Species-appropriate balcony housing
Species-appropriate housing
a missing conspecific and
handling the rabbit in a way that makes it feel threatened (lifting, carrying, cuddling, harassing).

With a conspecific in a large enclosure with employment opportunities, almost all rabbits, if left alone, become absolutely unproblematic again within a few days.

Read the linked subpages carefully to optimize the attitude, a suitable conspecific to join and also to learn how to tame rabbits without scaring them (then they often show fear aggression so that you leave them alone!).
In order for the rabbit to associate the human with something positive, whenever you go to the rabbit, you can go to eye level and bring something especially tasty to eat. In doing so, the rabbit should not be cornered, disturbed or forced, it should voluntarily approach the human despite having enough space and evasion options. If the rabbit attacks extremely despite optimal posture and partner animal, even if one neither presses it, nor constricts, but leaves it absolutely in peace and always approaches carefully and slowly, goes into the crouch and moves slowly, then this behavior is usually so extremely anerlernt by years of wrong posture that it must be retrained. For this, affected keepers should get help from experienced keepers.

Possible causes:

  • Body language (pinching, pushing away).
  • To the normal body language belongs the pushing away and pinching of conspecifics. However, this does not result in any wounds. This behavior is also used towards humans. Often, e.g., at the shoe or trouser leg is pulled, in order to make attentive on itself or to beg food. The rabbit communicates in this way with its owner.
  • Fear aggression (biting when the rabbit has no escape)
  • When rabbits feel confined, they either freeze or fight back. If a rabbit feels threatened, it will bite. Threatening situations occur when you approach the animal in the wrong way (the correct way to handle rabbits), e.g. from above or in some other frightening way. But also bad experiences can lead to fear aggression. If the rabbit is afraid of being picked up, carried around, or cuddled, it may also become aggressive. Rabbits want to stay on the floor and be petted there. Picking them up and pinning them down scares them, and it is out of this fear that they bite. Do not constrict your rabbits but approach them with respect and give them the opportunity to flee when you pet them.
  • Territory defense
  • Some rabbits tend to defend their food, bowl or hutch/cage. If someone reaches in to refill food, they will bite hard. This behavior is especially prevalent in solitary and confined housing. Also un-neutered males show such behavior. The behavior can be corrected by neutering un-neutered males, socializing single animals and purchasing an enclosure several square meters in size with an additional run. In addition, bowls should be eliminated (except for the water bowl) and food should be distributed and hidden throughout the enclosure. This way there is no special feeding place that can be defended. Also advisable is a large digging box so it can relieve itself. Close retreats that are defended (hutch) and create new shelters, in the case of a cage, remove the top and put the tub in a new place in the enclosure as a toilet.
  • Frustration aggression
  • This form of aggression is redirected frustration. The animal is not utilized or needs something for its basic needs, as an outlet for its displeasure it becomes aggressive. The most common reason for frustration-aggressiveness is a general lack of activity. Rabbits need a lot of variety, environmental stimuli, social contact with other rabbits, space to let off steam, a burrow box, occupation and exercise. Many husbandries do not do this justice. To remedy the frustration-aggressiveness, socialize your single animal, build a very large enclosure with min. 6 m² floor space and daily changing occupation, a large digging box with sand, daily free run and variety. Other reasons can also be a lack of retreats (in which it is really undisturbed and which it also accepts) or the annoyance (e.g. of children).Younger, fit rabbits often become aggressive when their partner rabbit is older and weakened, so that they can no longer do so much with him. This frustration is sometimes even taken out on the older rabbits. Therefore, it is important to always socialize similarly aged and active rabbits.
  • Sexually frustrated rabbits
  • Sexually frustrated rabbits (un-neutered males, un-neutered females during heat/pregnancy, twins, or rabbits with hormonal imbalances) often suffer from exaggerated sexual behavior that manifests itself in frustration-aggressiveness. The animal suffers from its hormonal excess, with which it can do nothing. Such animals should be neutered as soon as possible.
  • Learned aggression
  • Perhaps your rabbit bit out of frustration one day and realized they were (understandably) flinching back. Some rabbits learn from this to bite anything that is in their way or bothers them. The only way to correct this behavior is to react completely differently in the future so that the rabbit learns that biting will get them nowhere. It is best to stop reaching your hand near the animal.

Buy a soft brush (extend the handle if necessary) and stroke the rabbit very carefully and considerately with it. If it bites the brush, leave the brush where it is and do not pull it back. Allow the rabbit to escape if it becomes frightened. Repeat the brush trick twice a day until the behavior has improved and you can pet the rabbit with your hand. An alternative to the brush is thick gloves that can be used for petting.
If an animal feels really uncomfortable, it reacts grumpily to the environment and aggressively to approaches and touches. Bites may also occur. In females, uterine diseases are often behind it, which cause severe pain but remain symptom-free or not noticeable externally. In ram rabbits often invisible middle ear infections are the cause. But also tooth root diseases are a common cause! If the animal is treated by a veterinarian and is free of pain again, the aggressiveness will subside by itself. If there is no cause, you can give 1-3 days of painkillers in high dosage (Metacam 1mg/kg/day divided into 2 doses + Novalgin) and observe the behavior. If the behavior is pain related, an improvement is noticeable. If it is a behavioral problem, the rabbit will show no change in behavior.
Heat, false pregnancy
Female rabbits have phases several times a year when they are hot or seemingly pregnant (nest building, plucking out fur, carrying hay, grass, etc. around in their mouths, burrowing, digging, aggression, grumpy reactions). However, these phases pass after a few days, so that the aggressions occur only for a short time. Afterwards the animal is as balanced as before. During this time, a large sand box helps the animals to get rid of their aggression. Otherwise, it is best to leave them alone and wait until the phase is over. Other tips

Aggression towards other rabbits:
“My rabbit doesn’t get along with other rabbits”.

The social behavior of rabbits is not easy, you have to know them quite well so that you can get strange rabbits used to each other. That’s why it often happens that owners have problems with “seemingly incompatible” rabbits that can’t be socialized, are aggressive or “prefer to live alone”.

In principle, we can say that rabbits are highly social animals, there are no incompatible rabbits. We regularly take in incompatible rabbits for socialization or rehoming and none of them have ever been truly incompatible, all of them have found a suitable mate.Then why do some rabbits seem like they don’t get along with other rabbits?

  • Ignorance about the normal behavior during the combination (fights, Rammeln, chasing etc. are normal behavior and serve the rank order clarification, aggressions at the fence are likewise completely normal! In the territory rabbits are sometimes extremely aggressive etc.).
  • Wrong procedure when bringing the rabbits together, non-compliance with the VG rules (Common VG mistakes, procedure of socialization)
  • The choice of partner is not suitable (young animal to old rabbit, same-sex animals… see choice of partner)

If rabbits are brought together exactly according to the rules of socialization and the partner animal is chosen correctly, there are very rarely incompatibilities. If nevertheless one should occur, this does not mean that the animal is generally incompatible. Possibly another rabbit is better suited as a partner.
“My rabbit has hurt/bitten another rabbit”.

There are many causes that lead to rabbits biting each other. However, the main causes are:

  • Confined housing (confinement in a hutch or cage… Educate yourself on species appropriate housing. Rabbits need space even at night!)
  • Poor group composition (the animals do not fit together, see “who fits together?”)
  • Extremely mobbed rabbits fight back one day
  • Ranking fights in a group
  • Puberty (around the 6th to 14th month of life), hormonal imbalance, heatiness, false pregnancy (info on this)
  • Diseases (the rabbit is in pain etc. – often uterine diseases in females)
  • Spring weather
  • New ranking clarification in the group because a rabbit has died, weakened (sick/old) or grown up.
  • Reuniting after separations
  • Incorrect reuniting of rabbits
  • Unneutered males (these must be neutered so that they can live species-appropriate in company)

Usually these factors first lead to chasing and several points must come together for bite injuries to occur. For example, when strange rabbits meet each other in the territory of one rabbit or when a group is extremely inharmonious, badly put together in the spring rank fights and a rabbit that has always been mobbed suddenly fights back.

However, it is not a solution to keep these animals alone! Much more the cause should be stopped, socialized according to rules and an ideal environment should be created, so that they can live happily in company as a pair.

Since we often take in extremely incompatible animals that have bitten other rabbits badly or dead, or where numerous attempts at socialization have failed, we are also familiar with very special cases. The spectrum ranges from extremely territorial rabbits that immediately form a territory in the neutral area, to rabbits that have learned an extremely problematic social behavior, to rabbits with (invisible) diseases, especially thymomas/lymphomas and heart diseases are often not detected despite blood work, because they are not visible there. With the right medication and tricks for re-education, however, we have now been able to socialize each.

Confusion with food
In exceptional cases, the rabbit may mistake its finger for food, especially if it greedily pounces on the food in its hand. In doing so, it may catch the finger.
Aggression when interfering in fights
It is a bad idea to go between two fighting rabbits with your bare skin. In doing so, the rabbit may accidentally catch the skin (with the intention of biting the other rabbit).

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