Why Rabbits Thump their Feet
As a rule, rabbits are not very vocal, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t quite capable of getting their point across when they need to. One effective means of communication all rabbits seem to use instinctively is thumping. Anyone who’s ever seen the animated movie, “Bambi” should be familiar with this technique from Bambi’s bunny pal, Thumper. But the foot thump is not limited to wild rabbits – domesticated bunnies may never have to alert their warren mates about approaching predators, but they certainly know what a powerful statement those big rear paws can make. So what exactly do rabbits mean when they thump their feet?
Obviously, rabbits in the wild use the foot thump to warn others about danger. The rabbit’s back legs are very strong, capable of eviscerating an enemy in combat. Having once been accidentally “thumped” in the face by a panicky bunny I was trying to “encourage” into his carrier for an unwanted trip, I can testify to the enormous force those cute little critters can pack into a well-placed kick. A quick, powerful thump on the ground can send out a loud sound, and possibly transfer vibrations through the ground as well.
The sense of “danger” connected with foot thumping is obvious if you watch your bunny’s body language as he prepares to thump. He will generally “freeze” in a tense, hyperalert stance, looking ready to dart at a moment’s notice in any direction. Ears are up and pointed forward (assuming he’s not a lop-eared bunny). Everything about him says “there’s danger afoot and I’m on the case.”
My first bunny thumped only once in her nine years – when a trio of squirrels unexpectedly dropped through a hole in the kitchen ceiling early one morning, and were running amok in a desperate search for an escape route. If I managed to sleep through the sound of skittering claws and broken nicknacks being knocked off windowsills, I couldn’t ignore the resounding thumps urging me to get up and escort these intruders out the door.
But, whether or not this applies to wild rabbits, house bunnies probably use the foot thump more often to express their anger or frustration with their animal or human companions. They are rarely threatened by low-flying hawks or marauding foxes, and only occasionally by intruding squirrels. But house bunnies are often provoked into registering their annoyance in the most emphatic way. Both of my current rabbits engage in disapproving thumping from time to time – one a lot more frequently than the other.
Finally, if anyone had asked me last week, for example, why bunnies thump their feet, I’d have said it’s mostly just to annoy their humans. My high-frequency thumper kept me up for two nights in a row, thumping very regularly every 5 seconds or so for hours on end. When I dragged myself out of bed to ask what his problem was, he just sat there looking at me with those big innocent eyes, like it must have some other rabbit in his room doing all that thumping. The message here seemed to be, “I will not be ignored!” Sometimes a bunny just wants a little extra attention.