Do Rabbits Recognize Their Owners?
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Rabbits can recognize their owners with the right level of care. Although they can be sensitive and timorous, rabbits are much more social animals than their reputation would sometimes suggest. In the wild, rabbits will create large and complex social groups. When living in captivity, they can forge very strong bonds with their guardians. They can even become trained and learn tricks from their human caregivers. Such a relationship can be developed, but it is important to ensure we have the right approach if we want our bunny to recognize us.
AnimalWised asks do rabbits recognize their owners? We explain how they can do so, as well as how we can best establish a bond of trust with our rabbit.
Do rabbits know their owners?
Rabbits are social animals by nature. In the wild, they live in burrows forming large social groups. They also tend to have a better quality of life in captivity when living with other rabbits rather than being alone. Interspecies relationships are also very important for these animals. Rabbits that live alone need constant interaction with their caregivers in order to display their natural social behavior.
This leads us to wonder whether rabbits can recognize their owners. The answer is yes, rabbits can recognize their owners. There are studies that show rabbits are capable of distinguishing between different people when under certain conditions. In fact, it is common for rabbits to establish a closer relationship with the family member with whom they interact the most. This includes feeding, playing and simply spending time with them.
Now that you know that rabbits recognize their owners, let's see how they do so.
How do rabbits recognize their owners?
Smell is the most developed sense in rabbits. It is of very great importance in their relationship with their immediate environment. It is especially important in their communications with their family members. As herbivores, rabbits also have a very well developed sense of hearing, but their sense of sight is somewhat less acute. Their visual field is wide (almost 360º), but their vision at short distances and their ability to differentiate colors are limited.
From this understanding, we can deduce that rabbits may find it difficult to visually recognize their owners. However, their sense of smell is enough to recognize them. When we add their visual and auditory recognition, however limited the former may be, your bunny can recognize you.
Our voice and our smell are going to play a very important role in the relationship with our rabbits. The rabbit may have difficulty recognizing their owner if we use a different voice or change our smell. We should always speak to them in a calm voice anyway, but we should ensure we use the same tone when speaking to them. A natural body odor without strong perfumes or other smells is also best when interacting with our rabbit.
Learn more about how rabbits see with our comparison on the vision of rabbits contrasted with human visual acuity.
How to know if my rabbit recognizes me
There are several signs that can indicate that your rabbit trusts you. For them to trust us, a bunny must recognize their owner. In this way they build a bond and see them as their point of reference. Your rabbit recognizes you if they do the following:
- Fall asleep in your presence: rabbits generally do not fall asleep around people they don't trust. If your rabbit seeks to fall asleep in your presence, you can feel very lucky. It means they feel comfortable and calm by your side.
- Seek your attention: rabbits can claim the attention of their keepers in many different ways. When they want to ask you for a treat or enjoy some interaction, it is common for them to run around you in circles, tap you with their snout or even climb on top of you. These behaviors are usually only performed with those people with whom they have formed a very close relationship.
- Respond to your petting: when rabbits are calmly enjoying a petting session, it is common to notice that they start to chatter their teeth. It is also common for them to lick the hands of their keepers as a sign of gratitude.
If your rabbit does not do these things with you, it might mean you need to do some things to improve your bond. Check out our article on how to tell my rabbit loves me to learn more.
What happens if a rabbit changes owners?
Although rabbits are social animals, they are also known for being sensitive and shy. This is understandable due to the fact they are prey animals in the wild. They have little recourse to avoid predation other than running away. They are very sensitive to changes in their environment, so they will run away if they think they are in danger.
This is something to keep in mind when a rabbit changes guardian. Being in a new environment surrounded by unfamiliar people will make the animal feel threatened and mistrust its surroundings. With patience and love it will be possible for the animal to establish a relationship of trust with their new caregivers.
To build such a relationship, it will be essential to provide the rabbit with a stress-free environment. If the animal feels threatened, it will be practically impossible for them to create a bond with their guardian. In this sense, it will be important to provide the rabbit with an enclosure of adequate size which is in a quiet environment and separated from other animals that can stress them out.
It will also be essential to provide the rabbit with a diet adapted to their needs, offer elements of environmental enrichment (such as toys, hiding places, etc.) and allow daily physical exercise. Providing these basic care needs will help reduce stress and make bonding with you more likely.
To help the rabbit gain trust with you, we recommend the following:
- Communicate with using a soft and calm tone of voice: in this way, the animal will recognize your voice and assume it as something familiar.
- Let the rabbit take the lead: at the beginning of the relationship, it is normal for the animal to show distrust and remain at a distance. In these cases it is preferable not to force the situation. An unpleasant experience can make it difficult to create the bond we are looking for. With time and patience, it will be the animal themselves that gets closer to us.
- Do not pick them up: rabbits feel very vulnerable when picked up. Until you have built up enough confidence with them, you should avoid picking them up. It is best to remain close, open and available when around them. Eventually, you will see they climb on top of you.
- Propose new games: play is a great tool to shorten distances and gain confidence with the animal. To encourage playing, you can provide them with a treat they especially enjoy. You can purchase the best toys for rabbits or even try out our DIY rabbit toy ideas.
If you want to read similar articles to Do Rabbits Recognize Their Owners?, we recommend you visit our Facts about the animal kingdom category.
- Martorell, J., Perucho, S., & Reyes, R. (2010). The behavior of rabbits in captivity. GRETCA Ethology Bulletin.