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Behaviourist's Corner

5 ways rabbit body language shows your pet loves you


However much love and attention you give your rabbits, it can be tricky to spot and interpret the rabbit body language that demonstrates their affection for you in return. We asked animal behaviourist Rosie Bescoby for the signs to look out for that show they care.


If, like many rabbits, yours don't seem keen to be picked up or cuddled, don't worry, they're not giving you the cold shoulder. 'Feeling restrained is very challenging for a prey species whose main coping strategy is to run away from potential threats. That's why our normal tactile signs of affection can sometimes backfire,' explains Rosie.

'Rabbits have a subtle repertoire of body language to communicate so they don't draw attention to themselves. They use these signals to bond with their hutch mates, and the humans in their lives to say 'I love you'.

Take it slow

Your rabbits need to feel safe to show their affection. 'Help them build trust in you by giving them full control of the situation when you are together,' advises Rosie.

'Let your rabbits choose if and when they want to be on your lap, or stroked. Just like people, some rabbits are more touchy-feely than others. Sitting down and allowing them the opportunity to hop onto your lap of their own accord, while not putting any pressure on them to play, will help build their confidence.

'Use tasty fresh greens as an incentive and, once they are happily hopping into your lap, they will start to feel safe enough to show their affection,' Rosie says.

Rabbit

5 rabbit behaviours that say 'I love you'

1. Ever looked on in wonder as your rabbits suddenly run super fast and leap and twist in the air as if jumping for joy? 'This is called binkying, and it's your rabbit's way of showing they are totally relaxed and happy to be with you,' says Rosie. 'Keep still and enjoy the moment, as any sudden movement could be seen as chasing and threatening.'

Rabbit

 

2. Nuzzling up to you is a true sign of affection, even if it involves the odd quick nip too. 'This means they are involving you in their grooming, in the same way as they would when grooming a rabbit they're bonded to,' explains Rosie. The occasional nip isn't necessarily a negative gesture. 'Gentle nipping is all part of the grooming ritual, but if it gets a bit rougher and hurts, your rabbits may be feeling frustrated or scared. If this happens, give them some space and then use attention and food to reinforce your affection once they are calmer and feeling sociable again.'

Rabbit

 

3. A friendly lick is another way your rabbit shows affection. 'It's that grooming instinct again, and the way rabbits relax and socialise with other rabbits they have bonded to,' says Rosie. 'They will do this if feeling relaxed, secure and content when sitting on your lap. Or they may simply hop up when you are sitting at ground level and start licking your hand,' says Rosie. 'Some mutual grooming in return, in the form of tickles and strokes will show them how much you care.'

Rabbit

 

4. Flopping in your company by just lying stretched out in super chilled mode is your rabbit's way of showing they are feeling totally unthreatened and content. 'It can look as though they are just not interested in you, or just taking a rest, but rabbits generally remain crouched and ready to run if they're not completely at ease, so your bunny lying stretched right out in your presence is a great sign,' says Rosie. 'Show how much you appreciate this trust by just sitting nearby. If they are not in the mood to socialise and are flopped, respect this feeling and don't disturb.'

Rabbit

 

5. Nudging, head butting or rubbing against you is rabbit body language for loving attention. 'Give them a stroke or cuddle, or what you know they enjoy', says Rosie. 'Rubbing their faces against you is a way of sharing their scent profile, and showing that you really are friends. A rabbit will only do this if they recognise your scent and have a positive association with you as someone they've bonded with.'

Have you noticed your rabbit displaying any of these behaviours? Share your story on social media with #PethoodStories

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