Bunnies don’t usually bite their owners, and because this behavior is initially non-existent, any emergence of chewing tendencies can make the owner worry. While the biting behavior is cause for some concern, it is reversible and can be fixed.
To get a pet bunny to stop biting, the owner must decide whether the animal bites to protect its territory, defend its food source, or display dominance. Once you know why the rabbit bites, you can change its environment, add various food sources, or assert dominance as respective solutions.
This article acts as a rabbit owner’s guide to biting behaviors and their solutions. Even if you can solve one biting behavior right away, you should know all the different potential reasons to keep the problem from occurring again. Aside from learning the reasons for biting, you’ll learn how to:
- Break familiar patterns in feeding
- Assert dominance in a safe way
- Create a positive relationship with your pet
- Keep the rabbit from getting bored
- Remove biting behaviors resulting from sexual tendencies
Find the Potential Reasons Behind the Bites
Your pet bunny may bite you because of three broad reasons: aggression, defensiveness, and dominance. It can also sometimes bite to seek attention. There are different solutions to each cause, but since the rabbit can’t declare the specific reason it bites, you might have to use multiple solutions in conjunction. Therefore, you should take the action items below to execute to minimize and eliminate biting behaviors.
First, you will remove the defensive biting behavior by changing patterns. Whatever the animal defends is likely very familiar to it. This can be anything from room temperature to its position in its cage.
Most often, though, it is just the food source. To eliminate aggression, you’ll have to build a positive relationship and perhaps desex the animal. And to get the dominance-driven biting under control, you’ll assert your dominance safely. Bookmark this post and follow the steps below.
Break Familiarity in Feeding Patterns
To correct your pet’s biting behavior, you have to understand what is causing it to bite. There is a limited list of recognizable reasons that will make your bunny bite, and the best way to discourage biting is to break familiarity in each one of them.
You should get started by breaking their feeding patterns because one of the most common reasons a bunny will bite, especially during feeding, is that it has come to associate its bowl or feeder with food. Therefore, despite the owner being the actual provider, he is seen as a threat as he often takes away the bowl. You can use several tactics to break their feeding patterns. Here are some of them:
- Use three different feeders. Using three separate bowls to feed your bunny can build enough variety in the pet’s feeding patterns that it can’t associate a single one with a permanent food supply. It is critical to use different feeders on different days and make sure their appearance varies significantly.
- Using the same feeder but alternating its placement. This is the quickest fix for a biting behavior during feeding. Instead of placing the bowl in the same spot, feed the bunny out of its cage and in different places. Let it hunt for the feeder instead of continually being the hand that feeds.
- Change feeding times. This is only helpful if the biting behavior has started very recently and you’re already using the other methods of creating variation. The reason is you don’t want to vary timing too drastically as that may interfere with your bunny’s health. A slight variation in feeding hours alongside bowl size and shape will have a positive impact.
Some pet owners are too busy to try these solutions. Others are natural creatures of habit and want to automate their routines, including feeding their pets. It will take a conscious effort to build unpredictability into your pet’s feeding patterns.
Fortunately, humans can recognize patterns over longer periods than pet bunnies. Therefore, you can still have somewhat of a routine while disguising it across a few days so that your pet can’t build a pattern and bite in defense of resources.
Think about wearing different clothes on different days. While this involves variety, you’re able to execute it as a part of a routine if you can place the different feeders next to their food stock. Whenever you pour food into a bowl, you can alternate the containers.
Best Bunny Feeders To Create Feeding Variety
Since rabbits have limited color perception, you cannot just use different colored bowls to disrupt their feeding predictability. You have to use different shaped feeders with a significant difference in size, so your pet doesn’t make an aggregate pattern that treats all feeders the same. Here are some great ones to use when feeding your bunny, click the links to find the latest prices on Amazon:
This feeder can self-balance and therefore be placed anywhere in your living space. Since you’re not hanging it from the cage wall, this allows the pet to feed in different places, which is more natural to its biology.
This hanging hay feeder is generally installed in the cage, but since your goal is to avoid creating defensive patterns, you can hang it from different places like the side of a chair during the morning feeding and from a coffee table during the evening. It does limit the number of places you can hang it from but does vary significantly from other feeders making it perfect for a multiple-feeders solution.
Finally, you have this 360-degree hay feeder that self-balances and can be placed almost anywhere. This allows you to feed your bunny in different locations, including the outdoors. Above all, it looks different from other options that the bunny will not create a robust defensive pattern around it if you use it in conjunction with others.
The Disadvantage of Feeding Variety
Before moving onto the next solution, we find it fit to disclose the critical disadvantage of using feeding variety to break defensive biting habits. While you remove the familiarity that can make the bunny see its bowl or feeders as its food source, you also build enough unpredictability that the pet cannot associate you with its food supply.
As a result, you might not have its gratitude. The easiest way to get rid of this disadvantage is to hand-feed the pet using a carrot now and then. While this can be time-consuming, you can do it while watching TV—more on this in the positive associations section.
After defending their food source, the second most prominent cause of bunny biting is asserting dominance. Therefore, you must recalibrate your chemistry with your pet and introduce yourself as the dominant one in the relationship.
This can be quite tricky because you don’t want to hurt your pet. If you are too meek in dealing with the dominance-motivated biting, you will be encouraging it to bite more often. If you are too aggressive as a response, you will force it to adopt a defensive biting behavior.
The best way to assert dominance is by using your palm to push down the bunny’s head gently. Do this immediately after it bites so it can register your authority the moment it tries to test it. Considering the animal’s biology and skeletal structure, you will not be causing any harm. By pushing down its head gently, you only make it conscious of its position on the pecking order.
Many owners are reluctant to do this because they don’t like the idea of having a dominant one in the relationship to begin with. However, you don’t get to decide whether there is a hierarchy or not, especially when your pet has already decided that there is one.
If you can establish yourself as the dominant one, there can be peace, which is healthy for both of you. But if you don’t, the pet will become the dominant one and adopt unhealthy behaviors making it unfit for readoption and integration with other pets.
Remember that pet rabbits can live up to 8 years, and a lot of things can change. You may currently live alone and might have a partner move in. You might live with a partner and eventually welcome a baby. Training your pet from a position of dominance will help it get along with others, including humans. And that is quite crucial for its longevity and safety.
If you’re reluctant to push down your rabbit’s head, you’re the perfect person to do so because you’re naturally holding back. On the other hand, you might need to consciously hold back if you’re too eager to act this out. You do not want to do this as a way of getting back at the animal. The solution is to discourage future behavior.
There is another way to assert dominance that can eliminate the biting behavior over a more extended period. Whenever the rabbit bites you, you can put it in a time out by placing it in its cage. This can take a very long time to register because the animal might be biting you to be patted or for reasons other than asserting dominance.
To stop domination-driven biting in a week, you have to practice restrained-push. Still, if you have more patience and want to eliminate the biting behavior over a month, you can put the rabbit in its cage whenever it bites. Eventually, it will associate a lack of freedom with biting and stop doing so.
Build Positive Associations
If the reason your bunny bites is that it sees you as competition or threat, you can use positive reinforcement and pavlovian associations to get the creature on your side. Bunnies can recognize faces and differentiate between voices. This section will explore how you can use these alongside feeding to get the animal to like you.
Associate Mealtime With Yourself
Elsewhere in this piece, you learned to use various feeding times and places to break any defensiveness surrounding the pet’s feeder. You can use your voice as the single familiar and consistent stimulus that results in feeding. Something as simple as “Feeding time” belted in a sing-songy way can eventually become the anchor by which the animal anticipates food. Since you’re the one who declares feeding time, you also get associated with food.
Feed With Your Hands
This is for pet owners with enough time on their hands to feed the animal at least once a day. Feeding pellets from your hand is not a good idea. On the other hand, carrots are perfect for hand-feeding as they are long enough not to discourage a shy rabbit while also safe enough for your hand.
That said, carrots are not rabbits’ natural food and are too calorie-dense for the animal. Moreover, rabbits take an awfully long time to eat, and if you leave the carrot on the floor halfway through your pet’s feeding, it will start fighting to get the carrot out of your hand. The best solution is to get long straws of hay to feed the pet. But please adopt hand-feeding only if you can consistently take out the time to feed your rabbit to its fill.
Pet the Animal
Yes, getting closer to your pet physically can be one of the solutions to your pet’s biting problems. The biggest problem with petting is that humans project their needs over the animal and assume its preferences. While we like to be held when stressed, rabbits prefer to be pet when relaxed.
And even though humans like to cuddle and are responsive to stroking across the entire body (provided consent), rabbits have areas where they would rather not be pet. To pet your rabbit according to its preferences, wait till it has eaten its fill. Bunnies are relaxed after they have had a meal making it the perfect time to pet them.
Do not touch your rabbit’s feet, belly, chin, or ears. Even if it might be a gesture of affection on your part, the animal will classify it as a punch. If you’ve made the mistake of repeatedly petting it on its ears or any other ‘non-friendly’ areas, you might have gotten yourself classified as a source of stress, which would explain the biting behavior.
In that case, you should do away with petting altogether and assert dominance to eliminate biting. After that, you should stick to getting associated with food supply before you can move on to petting. When petting your rabbit, make sure you keep most of it around the cheeks while avoiding the chin.
You can also stroke the animal behind its ears while being careful not to touch the ears. Finally, you can stroke the pet’s back closer to the shoulder and away from the tail. Touching the animal’s tail can also stress it.
If you wish to cultivate a positive association with your pet, you will have to keep in mind that this process takes time. Acknowledge that your pet is a sentient being with its own clock. Let these associations arise organically instead of accelerating the process. Finally, make sure to adopt practices you can do on your laziest days instead of creating a routine that you can only do on your active days.
Give It Attention
As a rabbit owner, you know that the little creatures need attention. While they generally nudge their owner to get attention, sometimes they resort to biting for the same reason. Suppose you already have a positive relationship with your pet, and it mentally associates you with the food supply.
In that case, you can eliminate biting behavior by squealing anytime it bites you. You have to show the animal that it is hurting you. When the rabbit learns this, it will soften its bites, and you should continue to squeal despite not being hurt till it stops biting altogether. At this stage, the animal will only nudge you, and as long as you pet it as a response, it will not go any further.
Spay and Neuter Your Rabbits
Finally, one of the most effective ways to eliminate aggression is to get your pets spayed and neutered. Since the rabbit no longer has the same hormonal makeup, it won’t have the associated aggression associated with reaching sexual maturity and wanting a partner. Remember that biting is something rabbits do while trying to mount other rabbits, especially ones they haven’t bonded well with.
Most pet owners are comfortable with spaying and neutering but delay doing so as they adopt the pet while still young. If your rabbit has reached sexual maturity, it is advisable to get it neutered or spayed so that it doesn’t develop other complications as well.
Pet bunnies are adorable and pettable. But sometimes, they can get used to biting their owners, which can be annoying and hurtful. To avoid this, you can follow the steps listed above. Here’s a recap of the post for brevity:
- Learn whether the bunny bites out of aggression, defense, or dominance
- Fix defensiveness by disrupting patterns that it protects (add various feeding sources)
- Heal aggression by building positive associations with yourself
- Assert dominance to keep the pet from biting
- Desex the rabbit to avoid biting motivated by sexual aggression