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It is one of the greatest tragedies when dealing with animal shelters that so many rabbits are rehomed or abandoned because they are displaying aggressive behaviour. Most of the time this could be avoided as it’s simply that the rabbit’s behaviour is being misunderstood.As prey animals in the wild, rabbits have needed to adapt in order to survive. A rabbit who hasn’t been socialised from a young age or is not used to being around people may see their owner as a potential predator when they try to stroke them or pick them up. This could put the rabbit into ‘prey mode’ and could lead to aggressive behaviour towards the owner as they try to protect themselves out of fear. When you put your hand in their hutch they may see it as you invading their territory. Any aggression they show is them treating this invasion as a threat. They may have learnt that acting aggressively in response to this threat might scare away their would-be attacker.
The best way to resolve this is to work to gain the trust of the rabbit and let them know you’re not a threat. Instead of trying to pick them up, hand feeding them treats gets the rabbit used to having you around. Once they seem more relaxed, you can then try stroking them, however it may take time to get to this stage. When the rabbit accepts being stroked, increase the time you spend with them, until finally you can work on getting your rabbit used to being picked up. It is important for owners to learn proper handling techniques. The general rule is that their back and hindquarters should be supported at all times and they should NEVER be lifted by their neck, ears or tail. Correct handling helps to keep the rabbit calm and also prevents injury from occurring . ┬áIf your rabbit is being aggressive, it’s important to find the root cause of the issue. As prey animals, rabbits tend to hide pain well but can be aggressive if they are ill or in pain. Hormones can also play a big part in a rabbits behaviour, especially during breeding season (springtime) and when a doe is pregnant. Rabbits that aren’t neutered or spayed are likely to be more aggressive and territorial but once neutered they should calm down as their hormone levels decrease. It is important to ensure that a rabbit has a suitably sized habitat with enough space, shelter and places to hide. They are active animals that need plenty of space to exercise and they also need enrichment and stimulation to prevent them from becoming frustrated and bored. However, as mentioned previously, the most common cause of aggression in rabbits stems from fear and the need to defend themselves. It is important to be patient and to spend time gaining their trust. Used together, these steps can transform a rabbit completely into a creature that is relaxed and content.
At some point, your rabbit may have learnt that aggression gets them something they want and this is when aggression can become learnt behaviour. Growling, lunging and biting when their owner approaches the rabbits cage can often be seen in an aggressive episode.The most common reason a rabbit learns to use aggression as a tool is that at some point they were scared and lashed out and it made the scary thing (the person/hand) go away, so next time they got scared they tried it again, and it kept working. They learnt that by being aggressive it helped them to avoid a situation that made them feel scared and uncomfortable. This is known as ‘fear aggression’.To tackle this you need to prove to the rabbit that there is no need to be scared and also that attacking isn’t going to achieve their goal of making you go away. There is no quick fix for this, it will take time to completely alter your rabbits feelings on interaction with people. Your patience and understanding are the most important factors during this potentially long process.