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My Rabbit Keeps Kicking Their Back Legs

 
By Ricardo Luis Bruno, Veterinarian and ethologist. December 10, 2020
My Rabbit Keeps Kicking Their Back Legs

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Rabbits can be ideal companion animals for children. They are adorable, help us to form strong bonds and can teach lessons about responsibility. One of the most important responsibilities rabbit guardians have is ensuring their health. This not only means looking out for physical symptoms of illness, but also behavioral problems. One common behavior which often confuses first-time rabbit guardians is kicking their back legs and thumping the ground.

At AnimalWised, we look at my rabbit keeps kicking their back legs. We understand when this is normal lagomorph behavior and when thumping the ground might be the sign of a problem.

Behavioral characteristics of rabbits

To understand why rabbits kick, we need to look at some general rabbit behaviors. They are territorial, especially when it comes to the place they rest. They are also crepuscular, meaning they are most active during the twilight hours of the day. As with many mammal species, they need to socialize with other rabbits. They need to have plenty of space to run and have enough environmental enrichment to keep them stimulated.

Unlike other companion animals such as dogs or cats, rabbit teeth never stop growing. One of the reasons they chew their food constantly is to help wear their teeth down and prevent abnormal dental growth. We should also provide them with wood blocks to chew for the same purpose.

Another fundamental aspect of a rabbit's character is that they are not predatory animals. In fact, they are often prey to other companion animals such as cats and dogs, although they can live in harmony with the right socialization. Cats jump on laser pointers and dogs will pursue strange noises. This is due to a predatory instinct. The prey instinct in rabbits means they have a different set of behaviors, something which will help us to understand why they kick out their back legs and thump the ground.

Reasons why a rabbit kicks their back legs

Being a prey animal conditions rabbits to their environment. In general, they are quiet animals which often stay at rest. This is due to their survival instinct as they don't want to draw a lot of attention to themselves. They also keep their head aloft and ears out like antennae to stay alert to movement.

Some may think this means rabbits don't do anything all day and don't express their emotions, but this is not the case. In fact, they have a very particular system of communication and they connect emotionally with other rabbits. Although rabbit communication is very visual, it is not true they do not make noise. Vocalizations in rabbits are also very useful in relating their state of well-being, sending practical information and expressing needs.

Their extraordinary agility and the strength of their hind legs means they can make quite athletic movements. Although their normal standing position makes them look small, when they stretch out we can see how long their body and legs really are. Their movements can be very rapid and frenzied, using jumps and other acrobatic moves. As long as they are happy and healthy, they can be really enjoyable to witness.

Although it might appear funny to us, these frenzied movements can be a sign of trouble. If a rabbit hops and jumps happily a few times a day, they should be fine. Most of the day they will remain calm, grazing and snuggling if they need to. Kicking their back legs or thumping the ground is a form of communication which implies something is wrong.

Below, we look at the main reasons why a rabbit kicks their back legs and thumps the ground:

My Rabbit Keeps Kicking Their Back Legs - Reasons why a rabbit kicks their back legs

Rabbits kick back legs to warn of danger

Wild rabbits live in warrens which are a series of tunnels dug under the ground. They are where communities of rabbits live together, raise their young and stay safe. They will exit out to get food and other resources.

Although rabbits do use vocalizations, they don't often use them over long distances. Kicking their back legs against the ground allows the rabbit to communicate with others, especially when they are near their warren. Since the warren is made of hollow tunnels, the reverberations can be heard more easily by the other rabbits.

They may use this thumping on the ground to alert other rabbits about something which isn't dangerous. In the most part, it is used as a warning sign. If there is a predator nearby or they have seen something which seems dangerous, thumping the ground can let the rabbits in the warren know to stay where they are. The language of ground thumping is difficult for us to discern, so it is likely there are many things wild rabbits will communicate.

Domestic rabbits don't always have the same dangers, but it doesn't mean they don't get scared. There are many things which can cause a rabbit to feel threatened, especially if we don't provide the right care. A common problem is the presence of other pets. While our dog might be well-socialized and the rabbit has nothing to fear, they do not know this information. It is common to see rabbits kicking their back legs and running around if in the presence of an animal they don't know.

Even we can scare our rabbit. If we surprise them, make loud noises or in any way make them feel insecure, they might kick their back legs against the ground.

Rabbits kick back legs out of anger

Although rabbits are sensitive creatures, they have a survival instinct which means they will defend themselves. When something annoys them or displeases them, they will often thump the ground out of frustration. For example, we might not have given them enough food, they might be annoyed with their hutch-mate or children might be playing too rough with them. Kicking their back legs is a sure display they are not happy.

The reasons for a rabbit's anger can be varied, but it is essential we identify what they are. One of the most common reasons why rabbits are angry is because there is an element of their care missing. Along with the above reasons, they might have a dirty hutch or they might not feel properly stimulated. One of the best ways to understand why your rabbit is angry is to look at their basic care needs and see if anything is lacking.

Take a look at our video rabbit care guide to know more:

Rabbits kick back legs out of fear

When a rabbit is afraid, they show various signs. They might tremble, pee on you when you pick them up or even kick their back legs. When something scares the rabbit, they will kick the ground in the same way they perceive danger. For example, seeing a cat or dog will make their prey instinct kick in. However, there are other reasons why a rabbit might be afraid.

Even something as seemingly small as a drop in temperature can make a rabbit scared. Since a cold winter in the wild can cause rabbits to die due to lack of resources, domestic rabbits can be scared by changing weather. Often the signs of sickness in rabbits are hard to discern until a disease has developed. However, the rabbit will know themselves something is wrong and they make kick their back legs out of fear for their well-being.

Loud noises during the night, parties, being handled too much or any litany of things can cause a rabbit to be scared. Although naturally fearful, if they live in a happy home and have been well-socialzied, rabbits should live peacefully in the family. Conversely, when they have previously experienced trauma or suffered neglect they may kick their legs more often. Being in a constant state of fear will mean more than ground thumping, it will lead to serious stress. We need to look out for signs of stress in rabbits to best ensure their well-being and do what we can to reassure them.

What to do if a rabbit keeps kicking the ground

If your rabbit keeps kicking their back legs against the ground, we need to determine why. This means looking for the cause and eliminating it from their environment. Sometimes the cause can be related to emotional instability, often due to neglect in their care. If we are not providing enough environmental enrichment or letting them run around as much as possible, it can lead to problems.

We also need to ensure the rabbit's food and diet is of the best quality and appropriate for the individual. We need to provide them with plenty of the best hay and ensure we supplement their main diet with fruit and vegetables suitable for rabbits. Ensuring their hutch has the right space and everything they need is also vital as they will spend so much time there. Young children or negligent adults may also mishandle the rabbit, something which can lead to serious stress.

If we cannot determine the reason for behavior problems, it is imperative we take them to a veterinarian. They will examine them for physical health problems as well as provide advice on how to best help them solve their problems.

Kicking their back legs are not the only behavioral problems in rabbits. To learn more, take a look at our related article on why rabbits start biting people all of a sudden.

If you want to read similar articles to My Rabbit Keeps Kicking Their Back Legs, we recommend you visit our Facts about the animal kingdom category.

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