Rabbits are great pets but have some peculiar habits and behaviors that are directly related to them being prey animals.
Being a prey animal means that they are hunted by larger animals in the wild.
As rabbits are natural prey animals, they have developed behaviors when scared, injured, or ill to avoid being eaten.
When exposed to a larger animal or unknown situation, becoming scared is a normal reaction for them.
If you have a pet rabbit and have noticed changes in how it is behaving, continue reading to find out how to overcome your rabbit’s fear and develop a close bond with one another.
Reasons your rabbit may be suddenly scared of you:
Rabbits are timid by nature
It is common for a rabbit to be afraid at first of his or her new owner, and overcoming this just takes some time.
A rabbit comfortable with its human companion will nuzzle its owner to be petted. This behavior is very typical for a rabbit bonded with a human and one who feels safe.
A sudden movement by you
When you pick up your rabbit suddenly, this can frighten your pet, and they may struggle, which can lead to the rabbit being dropped or jumping down and getting hurt.
When a predator is after a rabbit, they move fast after their prey. Predators also pick up their prey, such as hawks or larger animals, and carry the rabbit off in the wild.
If you make very fast movements, this cuddle-time can be quickly interrupted as the rabbit may fear the movement.
A larger animal in the house
If you introduce a rabbit to a larger pet, such as a dog, or even some cats, this can result in fear because your rabbit sees the other pet as a predator who might try to eat them.
A larger animal, such as a dog or cat, may make your rabbit feel as if there is a predator near them, especially if the other pets make sudden movements or are very loud.
Rabbits like to feel safe from predators in their environment.
Other changes to the surrounding
When there are new smells, such as a change in air fresheners or colognes, or you move to a new home, for example, your rabbit no longer feeling safe.
Having new furniture brought in or just rearranging furniture in your home can create fear for a time.
The environment that feels safest is one that remains pretty stable and unchanged for your rabbit.
Four signs that your rabbit is scared of you:
After developing a bond with your rabbit, you notice that your little rabbit acts differently around you.
There are some very obvious signs that your rabbit is afraid of you or its environment.
Moving away from you
The more commonly seen signs of fear include refusal to come out of the cage, laying their ears flat, and shrinking back or moving away when you try to pet your rabbit.
If your rabbit hurries to the back of its cage when you come near, this is a clear sign of fear.
When frightened, your rabbit may suddenly seem aggressive and may thump its hind feet or may even bare teeth and grunt or even try to bite you.
This aggressive behavior is a way to protect themselves, and rabbits are not generally mean or aggressive to larger mammals, including humans, unless frightened or trying to protect their young.
This may be constant licking of the paws or cleaning themselves.
This is a type of self-soothing behavior when scared, but you will need to observe your rabbit further to ensure there are no other issues such as matted fur or an illness.
A change in appetite or toileting
Paying close attention to your rabbit’s behaviors and movements is essential.
Getting to know your rabbit’s usual eating and toileting patterns will help ensure that you can identify when your rabbit is uncomfortable or scared, or when your rabbit may require care due to illness or injury.
How to help your rabbit overcome its fear of you:
Give your rabbit time to get to know you. This is the best and most effective way to reduce your rabbit’s fear.
Unlike puppies who are ready for playtime and kisses, rabbits are more reserved and must take time with their new owners.
Allowing time for your rabbit to adjust to you and your smell, voice, and personality will permit your rabbit to gain trust and eventually bond with you.
Don’t make sudden movements or sudden loud noises near your rabbit.
While sometimes this can’t be helped, try to maintain a calm, laid-back demeanor around your rabbit to instill trust that you are not a predator but are a safe friend.
If you are loud or move in a way that scares your rabbit, talking softly and moving slowly when close to your rabbit will help the fear abate.
Another part of gaining trust and bonding with your rabbit is to let the rabbit choose when to be close.
Allowing your rabbit to come to you, even with the help of treats, gives your rabbit a choice and will ease the fear.
One way to give a choice is to leave the cage door open and sit nearby where the rabbit can come out and explore the environment and get used to you.
Give Space and Time
Allowing rabbits to have space and time to adjust to new surroundings and new people/pets reduce stress and fear.
If you have or get a new pet, such as a dog or cat, allowing for a time of adjustment or, if necessary, keeping the larger pet away from the rabbit will reduce fear and ensure safety.
If you move to a new home, it may take a bit of time for your rabbit to adjust and feel safe in the new environment.
Showing love and patience during the transition will allow you and your rabbit to grow close once again.
Develop a routine
Set a schedule where you feed and water your rabbit each day and have a selected day and time when you clean the cage.
The routine will become a regular and expected part of life for your rabbit and allows time for interaction – especially during mealtime.
Creating an environment that feels safe to your rabbit:
Creating a space for your rabbit where they feel safe and comfortable is not difficult and will benefit your rabbit and your relationship with your little pet.
Whether your rabbit lives indoors or outside makes some difference in how you set up their space but should meet the same criteria overall to ensure that your rabbit is safe.
Providing a place, such as a covered and enclosed hutch outdoors or a covered area of the cage where your rabbit can be alone, will help foster a feeling of safety and security.
This area should also be a place with lower lighting and quiet, if possible.
In the wild, rabbits live in dens that they have made by burrowing under bushes, etc., so providing a covered and quiet shelter allows your rabbit to have a home that feels comfortable.
Your rabbit will feel more secure when he/she can behave naturally and do things that come naturally to rabbits, such as hiding, digging, etc.
The covered area and giving a place to dig are important.
Also, rabbits do play, and providing safe chew toys will allow your rabbit to have playtime that comes naturally.
When to seek veterinary help for your pet rabbit:
Signs of illness
It is important to know what these are and to pay close attention to severe warning signs that require veterinary care.
Although these behaviors may not indicate an illness, it is crucial to keep in mind that a sick, injured or scared rabbit may have behavioral changes that are the same, regardless of the issue at hand.
You should seek veterinary help if you notice any of the following:
- Your rabbit is over-grooming, its fur seems to look dull, or is losing a lot of fur (not shedding), veterinary care should be consulted.
- A sudden weight loss or change in appetite may indicate an illness that needs veterinary consultation and care.
- If your rabbit is sitting hunched over and is not eating or drinking, it is important to immediately get your rabbit seen by a veterinarian.
- You notice that your rabbit’s toileting has changed, such as loose stools, not going at all, extremely strong urine, blood spots in the urine, and so forth, take your rabbit to the veterinarian.
- If your rabbit screams, there is most likely a significant health issue going on, and it is best if you seek veterinary help. Rabbits make noises when they are afraid or are in pain.