8 Signs of Stress in Rabbits & How to Help Calm Them Down

by Emily Bingham
Signs of stress in rabbits

Rabbits are known for scaring easily, but did you know they can get stressed out? Bunnies may not have the same stressors as their paw-rents do, but they can become stressed easily, which can cause digestive issues and even depression.

It’s not always easy to spot why a rabbit is stressed, but it is important to take notice of your rabbit’s reaction to things like house guests, the television, other pets, etc. Knowing what to look for will also help you in spotting what is wrong with your bunny.

Preventing stress may not sound like a simple task for a fearful bunny, but it really just takes peace and quiet, paired with lots of good food and exercise. Keep reading to learn the signs of stress in rabbits and what you can do to help your bunny if he’s stressed.

Signs of Stress in Rabbits

Rabbits are not like dogs and cats, who can hide a certain amount of stress. Stress in rabbits will be clear, and when you know what to look for, it’s easy to spot quickly. And the earlier you spot stress, the faster you can help your bunny calm down and resume his happy and healthy life.  

1. Lethargy

Believe it or not, it’s normal for rabbits to be somewhat inactive throughout the day. Instinctively, they’re most active at dawn and dusk. But stress can cause them to become unusually lethargic, even at these prime times. A rabbit may show stress by having an unusual lack of energy or constantly tired behavior. If your bunny doesn’t move throughout the day, even if he’s been let out to play, then he may be stressed out.

2. Pulling Out Their Hair

A stressed-out rabbit may lose patches of fur and may even start ripping out its own fur. This could be due to stress from an illness or if they’re not getting the proper nutrition. In female rabbits, this could also be a sign that she is about to give birth so she’s building a nest.

3. Their Ears Are Always Pinned Back

When rabbits are happy, their ears are pointed upwards and slightly angled outward. But when they’re scared or stressed out, a rabbit will pin his ears back with fearful eyes. His ears won’t move unless something scares him. If your rabbit displays this for over a day, then it’s time to contact your vet.

4. Excessive Thumping

Wild rabbits thump on the ground as a means of communication that there is something wrong. The vibration transfers to other rabbits, almost like a radio transmitter to let them know that there is danger. This instinct also happens in domesticated rabbits when they feel stressed or threatened by something, even other rabbits.

5. Shallow, Rapid Breathing, and Panting

Rabbits twitch their noses, which sometimes look like they’re breathing fast, but it’s normal. However, when they’re stressed, you’ll notice their sides moving from this rapid breathing. They may also pant; in which case you should immediately seek veterinary help. Painting or extending the neck outward is a sign of severe stress, which can be fatal.

6. Over-Agitated and Skittish

As prey animals, rabbits are naturally flighty and skittish animals. But when they’re stressed, this agitation becomes much more easily triggered and a normally social bunny will be fearful of any kind of contact or even being seen by you. Also, they will hide anywhere they can for an extended period.

7. Vocalizing

Another surprising fact about rabbits is that they do make noises, it’s just a sign of pain or aggression. They grunt when they feel threatened. This could also be because of an underlying illness, and they’re grunting in pain. Another vocalization that rabbits make when they’re in pain is squealing. It’s a high-pitched screech, and this means that it’s bad. If your rabbit is squealing, take it to the nearest emergency vet immediately.

8. Repetitive Behaviors

When bunnies are stressed or extremely bored, they will start repetitive, sometimes odd behaviors. This can include pacing, biting, and shaking the enclosure, bobbing their head, circling inside their enclosure. A rabbit showing these types of behaviors may also be sick.

What Causes Stress in Rabbits?

Causes of stress in rabbits

Rabbits are quite fragile and can become stressed out quite easily. This has a lot to do with how they’ve been handled and socialized – not just with people, but with other household pets. When a rabbit is brought into a new situation or is repeatedly scared by a dog, cat, or child, this can cause major stress.

Injury

One of the most obvious reasons for stress is an injury of some sort. This will worsen if an infection spreads. When your rabbits are showing signs of stress, you must take extra care not to make their stress worse while examining or treating an injury. Overstressing can lead to shock, which is often fatal for rabbits.

Health Problems

If your rabbit is sick, then one of the very first symptoms will be stress. Rabbits do not have strong immune systems and have sensitive digestive systems, so even having a sore tummy can induce stress in your rabbit. 

Extreme Boredom

In the house rabbit world, it’s known that many rabbit cages sold at pet stores do not meet the minimum space requirements for a rabbit. Because of that, rabbits are often stuck in tiny cages for most of the day (if they’re even let out to free roam at all).

Overstimulation

Rabbits have very sensitive senses, especially their sense of smell and hearing. Constant loud noises, being in a room where there is too much going on, and `smelling a predatory animal can stress your rabbit out.  It is best to have your rabbit in a quiet area where there’s nothing to startle them or stress them out.

Constant Threats

It’s normal for a rabbit to fear everything that exceeds their own size. However, if they don’t seem to calm down at all, it can become a problem. If your rabbit is constantly being startled or is not used to having other pets around or being improperly handled will lead to stress. 

How to Prevent Stress in Rabbits

Because of their tendency to spook, their most important things to your rabbit are shelter and safety. When a bunny feels safe, it helps them become more settled into their environment, which builds their confidence and decreases the chances of stress caused by fear.

Keep Your Home Quiet

You can prevent stress in your rabbit by creating a safe, quiet environment for them. Providing lots of exercise in a quiet bunny-proofed room is a great way to keep your bunny happy and healthy. When it comes to sudden changes like a move or a new addition to the family, whether it’s another pet or another person, it’s important to keep them separate until you can safely and slowly introduce them.

Don’t Hold Your Rabbit All the Time

While it’s good to get a bunny used to being held, they shouldn’t be constantly toted around like a lapdog. When a rabbit is being constantly held, it can cause a great deal of stress since they don’t have anywhere to escape. Most will try to scramble out of your arms, which can lead to a disaster. If you have to hold your rabbit, try sitting on the floor. Being lower to the ground will make your bunny feel safer in your arms.

Give Your Bunny Somewhere to Hide

If your home has other animals or if your bunny is still settling into your home, it’s a good idea to provide them with somewhere to hide. Even if you’ve accidentally spooked your bunny by walking into the room, having this place to hide will prevent the bunny from feeling trapped and in danger.  It’s recommended to give them a box or dome to hide in if they get scared.

How to Calm Down a Stressed-out Bunny

Calming Down a Stressed-out Bunny

The most important thing you have to do to destress your bunny is to find out what is causing the stress. When you discover the cause, you can act on that. For example, if it’s an injury, you need to give your bunny first aid or take him to the vet. Here are some other ways you can destress your bunny.

Remove Any Threat

If your bunny hasn’t been properly socialized with your other pets, they can become stressed out just by their presence. Even an old dog that takes no notice of the rabbit can cause major fear in a rabbit.

Keep It Quiet

Another stressor for rabbits is loud music or other sounds. If your rabbit is being scared or stressed out by something in your home, take them to a place where they can be safe and separated from the threat. It’s recommended that you put the enclosure in a quiet room, away from all the noise or other animals.

Keep Other Pets and Children Away

Other pets, like cats and dogs, are natural predators to bunnies, so it’s a good idea to separate them, even if they aren’t what is causing the stress. Children also should leave the bunny alone for a while, as some children may not grasp the concept of stress just yet.

Conclusion  

As naturally fearful animals, rabbits can become stressed rather easily. It’s hard to predict and prevent all the things that could stress your bunny out, but the biggest thing is being safe and happy.

A wide variety of things, from fear to illness, can cause stress. When looking to prevent stress, remember that it’s all about having a safe and quiet environment for them to live in.

If your rabbit does become stressed, you can calm them down by removing any source of danger and by minimizing stimulants like noise and bright lights in your home. If your bunny is stressed because of an illness or injury, then it’s best to take them to the vet before their stress turns into shock.

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