No matter how well you know your bunnies, you’re bound to find some of their behaviour a little baffling. To help understand what’s at the root of their actions, clinical animal behaviourist Rosie Bescoby answers some frequently asked rabbit behaviour questions and provides her tips for tackling tricky situations.
Q: My bunny is prone to overeating, is there any way I can prevent this?
A: One reason why rabbits overeat is boredom, so encouraging bunnies to work for their rabbit nuggets and vegetables will keep them mentally healthy and help to use up excess calories at the same time. For example, you could try hiding dandelion leaves inside an empty cardboard tube. Or why not place pellets in a sealed cardboard tube that has small holes poked into it? That way your rabbits will need to work out how to get the pellets to drop from the tube, ensuring they use a little more energy during their mealtimes. Keep in mind that a healthy, balanced rabbit diet means plenty of good quality hay and about an eggcup of rabbit nuggets per day, per bunny, plus green leafy herbs and vegetables (and only the occasional treat!).
Q: Why do my rabbits seem to chew on everything?
A: Chewing and nibbling may seem like destructive rabbit behaviour, but it’s really a very natural instinct for all bunnies. To house rabbits, for example, wires and cables feel like small tree roots, which they’d naturally chew while digging a burrow in the wild. It’s also to do with their teeth: bunny teeth never stop growing, so chewing helps to wear them down. An obvious solution is to keep things you don’t want chewed or nibbled out of your rabbits’ reach. It can also help to give your pets a good selection of safe things to chew on, such as untreated apple, willow or pine branches.
Q: My rabbits can sometimes act aggressively towards me. What can I do to help?
A: Rabbits usually show aggression towards humans (and other rabbits) because of fear or frustration, or because they want to defend their territory. This can include nipping, biting and thumping their feet loudly on the ground; some rabbits also scream, which can be unsettling. Approach your rabbits quietly and calmly, taking care not to startle them, and always handle them gently. And if your rabbits don’t seem to enjoy being handled, sit or crouch down beside them and let them come to you – a handful of leafy greens can help to gain their trust.
Sudden changes in rabbit behaviour can be the first sign that your bunnies are feeling poorly or in pain. If you’re concerned, trust your instinct and arrange a visit to the vet.