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Aggression In Rabbits - Causes

 
By Ana Diaz Maqueda, Biologist specialized in ethology. March 12, 2019
Aggression In Rabbits - Causes

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Rabbits have been linked to humans for centuries. Since the beginning, they were hunted as food and later raised on farms for skin and meat . Currently rabbits are one of the most popular pets in the world. But rabbit history has a lot to do with understanding rabbit behavior today. One of the most commonly reported problems with rabbits is rabbit aggression. Is your rabbit aggressive towards other rabbits? If so, this article is for you.

So, what causes aggression in rabbits? If my rabbit is aggressive, does it mean my rabbit is stressed? Keep reading to find out everything you need to know about aggression in rabbits here at AnimalWised.

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Rabbit aggression: the nature of the wild rabbit

The rabbits that we currently keep as pets are descended from the common rabbit or European rabbit, Oryctolagus cuniculus, and were not domesticated until sixteenth century AD.

Both the anatomy and physiology of rabbits are designed to avoid predation, as rabbits are at the beginning of the food chain, behind primary producers and/or plants. The parts of a rabbit’s brain which are focused on the perception of smells, sounds and images are highly developed. For example, both their eyes and ears are placed on the sides of their heads, allowing them to remain constantly aware of everything around them, even when they are doing something else, like feeding.

In addition to their nearly 360° vision, rabbit’s have an excellent sense of smell and they spend most of their time sniffing air to detect specific odors. In addition, they also have a vomeronasal organ that allows them to discern pheromones in the air distinguishing between any congeners and relatives. This is a very important factor when one has two different litters from two different mothers. If you put these litters together, there is a higher chance of infanticide, a very common type of fatal rabbit aggression.

Rabbits also have extremely long legs which allow them to run quickly in the case of any threat. These legs, however, also promote rabbit fighting, necessary when a rabbit feels the need to establish hierarchy within a group. Did you know that adult female rabbits tend to be more territorial and aggressive with their congeners?

Aggressive behavior has been widely studied among wild European rabbits. There is a hierarchy of domination between females and, separately, between male rabbits. When the hierarchy of dominance is established, especially in spring, at the beginning of the reproductive season, these fights can be incredibly intense. However, during the reproductive season or estrus, intensity decreases. After childbirth, these rabbits stay close to their burrows and are intolerant to other rabbits. According to some studies, the average distance between two wild rabbits in a large seminatural enclosure is about 20.7 meters.

Rabbits that are well positioned within the hierarchy of their group are more fertile, since they suffer less stress. A rabbit’s immune system is closely related to social status.

Wild rabbits in the wild can be:

  • Solitary or gregarious.
  • Cooperating or not cooperative within group vigilance.
  • Live on the surface or underground.
  • Live in an open area or a more closed area.

Wild rabbits can change their behavior according to the risk of predation and, if they wish, choose a new habitat to live in.

In addition, dispersion or abandonment of the group by newborn individuals is a natural event within rabbit groups. More than half of the kits will leave the group once they reach about 5 months of age.

For more, we recommend reading our article about the advantages and disadvantages of having a rabbit.

Aggression In Rabbits - Causes - Rabbit aggression: the nature of the wild rabbit

Rabbit aggression towards other rabbits

Ideally, it is best to present two rabbits before they have reached sexual maturity. This is because most aggression problems in rabbits only occur after puberty. But how to you introduce two rabbits? Keep reading to find out.

Introducing two rabbits

There are several methods one can use when presenting to rabbits. Here we present the safest and least stressful method for rabbit socialization.

This rabbit socialization should occur in a neutral room, somewhere where the rabbits have not been before. Place both cages next to each other. In this way, little by little, the rabbits have a chance to become accustomed to their respective scents. After a few days, you can begin to swap the rabbits placing one in the others cage, but not together.

If you have done this a few times and your rabbits haven’t shown any symptoms of stress, you can let the rabbits out of their cages, in turns. After several days, you can open both cages and let the rabbits interact freely. It is important to take into account the size of the room or enclosure, because, if it is not big enough, these animals can become stressed if they feel they have no way of escaping. You may be wondering however, how can you tell if a rabbit is stressed? For more, read our article about signs of stress in rabbits.

In addition, at this time of meeting, we must separate the cages and place them at either ends of the room. If each cage has two holes, one for entry and one for exit, it can help one rabbit from corraling the other. Even if both rabbits are males, a common behaviors that we may observe is that they mount each other. This serves to mark the hierarchy, practice adult behavior or play.

In this situation, we must carefully observe the behavior of both rabbits and let them solve this hierarchy between themselves. Only interfere in this process if one becomes excessively aggressive or bites/attacks the other.

It is important to remember that all animal socialization processes must be carried out gradually, without forcing the animals and remaining patient.

It is not advisable to have two rabbits, of the same or different sex, in the same cage. If the rabbits are adults and haven’t been sterilized, postpone this ‘bunny bonding’ until one month after the sterilization of both rabbits. For more, we recommend reading our article about neutering a rabbit - benefits and aftercare.

Aggression In Rabbits - Causes - Rabbit aggression towards other rabbits

Aggresive rabbit: bunny bonding

The correct socialization in domestic rabbits will depend on the ability of understanding their natural behavior inherited from their wild ancestors. By taking this information into account, here are some of our tips on preventing rabbit aggression:

  • Their cage should be wide enough and safe enough.
  • Rabbits should be sterilized before reaching sexual maturity, this will reduce the likelihood of one rabbit biting another. In addition, we will also avoid marking the territory, other pets or us with urine.
  • Offer each rabbit enough space to behave naturally and exercise several hours a day to stay healthy.
  • We recommend adopting more than one rabbit, naturally making sure they have been socialized correctly.
  • All spaces where the rabbit can roam freely should be supervised and safe. For example, do not leave cables within reach of your rabbits.
  • Offer your rabbits toys so they can gnaw and a place to dig.
  • All members of your household must learn how to hold a rabbit.Are you wondering ‘Why does my rabbit nip me?’ Rabbits do this when they feel unsafe. If you hold your rabbit incorrectly you can split its spine, hurt it or cause it stress. NEVER hold your rabbit by its ears.
  • Daily management is important if you want that your rabbit is comfortable with you. Always use positive reinforcement when in contact with your rabbit.
  • Always use positive reinforcement, NEVER hit or punish your rabbit.

For more about dealing with rabbits and rabbit care, we recommend reading our article where we discuss everything you need to know about rabbit adoption.

Rabbit aggression: in cages

Aggression between rabbits should never be ignored, much less if it appears suddenly. So, if you notice that your rabbit is suddenly aggressive with other rabbits, you should observe and analyze this behavior. Make sure your rabbit is receiving adequate care, a high-quality diet and sufficient opportunity to exercise.

Any change in your rabbit’s behavior can be a symptom of stress or pain. If two rabbits that have previously always got along start attacking each other, consult a veterinarian.

As always, take into account the nature of the species. For example, rabbits become aggressive when it comes to breeding, since in the wild they must compete with other females for the best nesting place.

If you do not sterilize your domestic rabbits, they are immediately prone to rabbit aggression. We recommend that before adopting a rabbit, you inform yourself of its ethological and physical needs, in this way avoiding future problems.

For more about understanding rabbit behavior, we recommend reading these following articles:

Aggression In Rabbits - Causes - Rabbit aggression: in cages

If you want to read similar articles to Aggression In Rabbits - Causes, we recommend you visit our Behavioral problems category.

Bibliography
  • Crowell-Davis, S. L. 2007. Behavior problems in pet rabbits. Journal of exotic pet medicine, 16(1), 38 - 44.
  • Jenkins, J. R. 2001. Rabbit behavior. Veterinary Clinics of North America: Exotic Animal Practice, 4(3), 669 - 679.
  • Szendrő, Z., & McNitt, J. I. 2012. Housing of rabbit does: group and individual systems: a review. Livestock Science, 150(1-3), 1 - 10.
  • Zomeño, C., Birolo, M., Zuffellato, A., Xiccato, G., & Trocino, A. 2017. Aggressiveness in group-housed rabbit does: Influence of group size and pen characteristics. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 194, 79 - 85.

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