How do rabbits communicate

Rabbits may be renowned for their quiet demeanor, but they don’t need a large repertoire of noises to make themselves understood to each other or their human companions. They communicate through a variety of subtle vocalizations, body language, and nonvocal sounds.

Body language

Bunnies, like all animals, have a rich nonverbal language that conveys their feelings quite easily. A rabbit’s most eloquent communication tool (at least for the traditional up-eared breeds) is her highly mobile and expressive ears. Forward-pointing ears indicates a state of alertness or aggression, and is usually accompanied by a tense body, poised to bolt for cover or dart forward in attack mode in an instant. Ears laid back flat against the back show the bunny is in a mellow mood, at rest and feeling safe and secure.

A bunny’s short little cotton tail isn’t as useful in communicating his feelings as a cat or dog’s tails, but it can express joy or playfulness with a quick little waggle, and is likely to be followed by a happy “binkie” (a horizontal leap into the air usually with a mid-air 180-degree turn). No species has ever invented a more unambiguous sign of pure joie de vivre.

When a rabbit is totally comfortable with his human companion, he will probably “present” himself for grooming – this involves approaching the intended groomer and lowering his head. It’s easy for the uninitiated human to mistake this posture for a submissive gesture. It looks like the bunny is bowing to you. But, in fact, she’s politely requesting your service. It’s usually the dominant bunny who expects to be groomed by her companions (though it’s usually reciprocated).

Another kind of body language is circling. If your rabbit likes to run in circles around your feet, he is likely not just being playful or expending his excess energy. Circling is a form of “courting” behavior.

Thumping

Most people are familiar with the rabbit’s thumping. Both domesticated and wild rabbits thump to sound the alarm when something is threatening. For house rabbits, thumping is more likely a signal that your furry companion is annoyed with something you’ve done or failed to do. Bunnies of the more laid-back variety rarely if ever put their foot down in this way, but others seem to have no end of reasons to register their emphatic disapproval and dissatisfaction with their humans’ inadequacies.

Vocalizations

Though most people think of rabbits as essentially nonvocal, they are capable of making a number of sounds ranging from nearly inaudible grunts to loud honking and even screams. Screams register extreme pain or fear, and, hopefully, your bunnies will never make this noise.

Grunts and honks can mean a wide variety of things, from contentment and pleasure during a grooming session to enthusiastic appreciation of a tasty meal, to annoyance at not getting enough attention. A honk can register happiness or frustration, and you may have to observe your rabbit’s body language and other signs to properly interpret them accurately.

You may be surprised to learn that bunnies also are capable of a kind of purring, known among rabbit people as “tooth purring.” This is a subtle sound made by rubbing the teeth together quietly to indicate a state of peaceful contentment and bliss. This writers rabbits have often made this sound during a long, grooming session, and they frequently combine it with a state of extreme, trance-like relaxation. If you’re fortunate enough to experience an entranced tooth-purring rabbit, you have been blessed with the highest of praise from a very happy house rabbit.