Have you been watching your rabbit and noticed that its head sometimes bobs up and down while exploring? Or maybe you see your rabbit doing it when you introduce them to a new food or toy in their pen?
What is this behavior, and is it something you have to be worried about?
If you see your rabbit bobbing their head up and down, it is likely not a cause for concern. Head bobbing is a natural behavior in rabbits when they try to gauge depth and height or encounter something new and strange.
There are times when it can be a sign of illness or injury, though. Keep reading to learn more about your rabbit’s natural reaction and when you should start to be concerned.
Five reasons your rabbit may be bobbing its head
It is fairly normal for your rabbit to bob their head up and down occasionally, especially if they only do it for a few seconds.
If your rabbit is in a new environment, or there is something new in their area, they may begin to bob their head up and down to gauge height and depth.
Since they have a blind spot in the front of their face between their eyes, they sometimes have issues with depth perception. They can bob their heads from side to side as well.
Rabbits are not the only animal to do this either. Owls and horses are two examples of other animals known to mimic the same behaviors to better understand the spaces around them.
Your bunny may bob its head when there are new items in its pen. For example, if they get a new food or bowl, they may bob to show their confusion and curiosity.
It also allows them to investigate while still keeping a safe distance to run and smell and examine the object.
They are naturally curious creatures but are easily frightened as well, so having the distance and ability to see, smell, and judge distance with a few head bobs is common for them.
When your rabbit is tired, it may start bobbing their head up and down as they begin to fall asleep. This is a similar behavior among any animals in a safe environment, even people.
If you’ve ever seen someone fall asleep sitting up, you may notice their head bobbing up and down a little at a time until they reach a surface to rest it. Animals behave the same.
Traits for certain breeds
Certain rabbit breeds seem to be more prone to head bobbing.
Lop bunnies seem to enjoy bobbing around for fun, and people think it may have something to do with the fact that their ears aren’t upright like other rabbit breeds.
There is no definitive reason or proof that they do it more than other rabbits, but it is noticed more from owners of these types of bunnies.
Albino bunnies, known as red-eyed, white rabbits, also often exhibit head bobbing. While it doesn’t happen all the time, they are seen to perform it more often than other rabbits.
Owners call it scanning. It doesn’t seem to be only with albino rabbits either. Most people that have albino rodents find that it is a similar trait amongst them all.
The assumption is that due to their different eyes, they may have a more challenging time with depth perception than similar bunnies that aren’t albino.
When rabbits are happy or proud, they may bob to show their emotions.
This may be accompanied by sucking or honking sounds to show their joy. They may also just be contented or relaxed and may be showing this joy through head bobbing.
If your rabbit feels playful, they may pick up one of their toys and start bobbing their head around with it still in their mouth. They may also walk around while doing this.
However, sometimes, rabbits have serious health issues where head bobbing is one of the prominent symptoms.
Here are some of the most common problems your rabbit may be facing when its head is bobbing.
If your rabbit is bobbing their head up and down fast, it could be because your rabbit’s body is shaking.
It is similar to panting in a dog but is just really fast breathing through their nose. It is one of the ways they cool down after playing or during a scorching day.
This situation is common on hot days, but they may overheat and risk a heatstroke if it goes on for too long.
An easy way to tell is to look at the inside of your rabbit’s ears. If they are redder than usual, they are probably overheating.
Also, if your rabbit is trying to breathe through its mouth, it is a sign something is wrong, such as a heatstroke.
This is because rabbits are obligate nose breathers, so if they start breathing through their mouths, something severe is occurring.
If your rabbit is bobbing their head a lot, it may be struggling to see.
All rabbits have a blind spot directly in front of their face between their eyes, but if your rabbit seems to be bobbing excessively, they may be having issues with their vision.
Other symptoms may be visibly cloudy eyes or extra jumpy when they hear a noise. They may also bump into objects and furniture or even be too scared to move very far from their pen.
If your rabbit has faced a shock, their heads may bob when they get too stressed. They may be unable to support their heads or bodies and may bounce, rock, or bob.
Stress in rabbits is a serious condition. When rabbits are too frightened, they can even suffer a heart attack and die.
Other symptoms they may experience with stress are shaking, bulging eyes, a lack of appetite, and heavy breathing.
With mites, rabbits will most often shake their heads from side to side as they try to get the mites out of their ears.
Sometimes, though, they may tilt their head and bounce them up and down. They may also shake and pant, excessively scratch, have hair loss, and dry skin.
Mites are incredibly common in rabbits and are one of the most common reasons people visit vets with their pet rabbits.
If your rabbit has a neurological issue, its head may bob as it cannot control its movements.
There may also be a head tilt, lots of twitches, and may be unable to avoid objects or run in a straight line without falling over.
These can be caused by stress, parasites, or brain damage due to injury. If you notice a neurological issue in your rabbit, it is worth visiting a vet right away.
How to tell the difference?
Sometimes, it can be hard to tell if your rabbit is doing something natural or showing signs of injury or illness. This is especially true if you haven’t had a rabbit as a pet before.
Even if you’ve owned a dog or other pet, they may be different enough that it is hard to initially understand your rabbit’s behaviors.
Thankfully, some key signs allow you to quickly tell the difference most of the time.
For example, if your rabbit only bobs their head a few seconds at a time and resumes life as normal, they are likely just acting like a bunny.
Try to note when your rabbit performs their head bobbing as well. If it is around a certain object when they are playing or exploring, that is also pretty common, and there is no need for concern.
However, if your rabbit is bobbing their head for a long time or doing it frequently, it is a sign that something is wrong.
They will also display the other symptoms we showed above and will not be acting right.
They may head bob at times that aren’t correlated to any specific times, objects, or moods, which is also concerning.
Head bobbing is usually a common behavior in rabbits. It is a cute, natural reaction that all rabbits perform because they are prey animals and unable to see directly in front of their face.
Whether trying to learn more about their area or playing around, there isn’t usually much to be worried about.
However, there are times that your rabbit bobbing their heads can be concerning.
This is usually accompanied by other behaviors such as eye-bulging, struggling to breathe, breathing from the mouth, or disoriented behavior.
Keeping an eye out on your rabbit and learning to understand their normal behaviors allows you to tell when something is wrong.
If you are ever unsure and concerned, it is worth taking your rabbit to the vet to have them checked out.