Is my rabbit suffering from stress?

Behaviour logo © RSPCA publications and brand 2010

Your pet rabbits will need to be able to comfortably carry out their natural behaviours to be happy and healthy. All rabbits are individual, however if your rabbit’s behaviour changes suddenly, please consult your vet for advice. A rabbit’s behaviour can vary based on their age, personality or past experiences, however it’s common to see rabbits who are frightened or in pain develop habits such as aggression or hiding. Other signs that a rabbit may be suffering from stress or fear include chewing cage bars, over-grooming, altered feeding or toileting habits, or repeatedly circling the enclosure.

Rabbits need:

  • Access to all the things they require (e.g. space, food, water, safe hiding places, companion rabbits, toilet areas and toys) at all times.
  • Safe toys to play with/chew and regular opportunities to play with other friendly rabbits and/or people.

    - Rabbits are highly social, playful and inquisitive and need to interact and play with other friendly rabbits.

    - Many enjoy interacting with people.

Rabbits with enrichment toys © Andrew Forsyth / RSPCA Photolibrary
  • Constant access to safe hiding places so they can escape if they feel afraid. Rabbits must be able to hide from things that scare them.

    - As they are prey species, they need to be able to hide somewhere secure, away from the sight and smell of predators (e.g. foxes / cats / dogs / ferrets / birds of prey).

  • Opportunities to exercise daily to stay fit and healthy.

    - Rabbits are active animals needing regular, frequent exercise ideally with access to a large area during their most active periods (early morning, late afternoon and overnight) when they like to graze, forage and be sociable.

  • Constant access to good quality hay; it’s important for emotional wellbeing as well as dental and digestive health.
  • Suitable materials that allow digging (e.g. sand box), and areas to mark territory with chin secretions, urine and droppings.

    - Scents are important communication methods for rabbits.

  • Rabbit with hiding places © Andrew Forsyth / RSPCA Photolibrary
  • You to be observant. If your rabbit’s behaviour changes or shows signs of stress/fear, seek advice from a vet or qualified animal behaviourist - they could be distressed, bored, ill or injured.

    - Rabbit’s behaviour depends on age/personality/past experiences.

    - Rabbits that are frightened/in pain may change their behaviour/develop unwanted habits e.g. aggression/hiding.

    - Signs a rabbit may be suffering from stress/fear can include hiding/chewing cage bars/over-grooming/altered feeding or toileting habits/over-drinking/playing with the water bottle/sitting hunched/reluctance to move/repeatedly circling the enclosure.

  • Kindness! Never shout at or punish rabbits, they are very unlikely to understand and can become more nervous/scared. If your rabbit's behaviour becomes an ongoing problem, seek expert advice.
Share this...
Did you find this useful?