What is Fighting?
Like all animals, rabbits sometimes fight each other – these fights can be dangerous or even deadly for pet rabbits, so it is important to know what fighting looks like, why rabbits fight and how to prevent it.
Despite their docile appearance, rabbits can be quite fierce when they want to. Fighting rabbits use their sharp teeth and claws to attack each other, which can easily draw blood, and kick quite hard as well. Rabbits know how to cause damage so often attack each other’s faces, bellies and genitals.
What isn’t fighting?However, some behaviour that may seem nasty to us is actually not aggression (true aggression is usually sudden and violent). Rabbits can show affection by gently biting, mounting, chasing or circling their companion, especially if they are not neutered. Rabbits that are known to get along are unlikely to be aggressive without any changes in their lives, so a gentle nip or bite now and then is usually normal. Be wary however, as too much of this behaviour from one rabbit could indicate it is overly dominant, which can lead to aggression.
Why is fighting dangerous?
Wounds inflicted by other rabbits are very painful, cause blood loss, easily become infected and can even be fatal. Any rabbit with wounds like these should immediately be seen by a vet.
As well as the risk of injury, fighting also causes stress. Rabbits do not cope well with stress, and too much can lead to disease. Furthermore, by living together and not interacting positively, rabbits do not gain the benefits that a healthy relationship brings.
Aggressive rabbits are also a risk to their owners as well – never put your hand in between two fighting rabbits, as you can easily become injured. Separate them with something solid, like a board, and keep them apart. Refrain from petting rabbits known to be aggressive until the issue is resolved, as they are likely to turn and bite you.
Why do Rabbits Fight?
There are a number of possible reasons, including:
Rabbits that are not litter-mates need time to feel comfortable with each other. During this time, there is a risk that they can fight. To prevent this, introduce rabbits slowly and do not put them straight into a hutch together; allow them to meet elsewhere, like the garden. Look out for positive behaviour, and separate them if there is any negative behaviour.
Rabbits that have been friends for years can suddenly turn on each other for various reasons. Some causes have been listed below, but there usually needs to be some form of change in their lives that has caused upset. In these situations, it is best to separate the rabbits and re-introduce them as if they were new rabbits. Try and investigate the cause of the aggression during this time and correct it if you can.
Two male or two female rabbits are much more likely to fight than a male-female pair. This is especially true if both are not neutered and it is breeding season – if you would prefer a same-sex couple, we recommend having them neutered quickly.
During their breeding season over Spring and Summer, due to hormones, rabbits can start to mount too much, bite excessively or even fight. This behaviour can be one-sided if one rabbit is neutered and the other is not. Unless you are wanting to breed your rabbits, we recommend neutering to prevent this kind of aggression. On the topic of breeding, female rabbits with babies can also be aggressive with companions if she feels her babies are threatened – you may want to consider temporarily moving the other rabbit to prevent mum getting mad!
Different breed, size or age
Rabbits generally like to make friends with a rabbit that is similar to them. If one rabbit is bigger, older or stronger, it will often become more dominant, which can lead to fighting and aggression. It is a good idea to pair rabbits that are similar ages, sizes and breeds to maximise the chance they will get along. Bear in mind that when rabbits enter sexual maturity at 4-5 months old, their behaviour can drastically change, so be prepared to temporarily separate two very young rabbits with a few months age difference as one enters puberty.
In the wild, rabbits can roam far and wide to find what they need. Despite this, stronger rabbits will hold onto areas with lots of resources and prevent any challengers getting to it by fighting. This can be seen in captive rabbits if there is not enough of something to go around. Rabbits that are more dominant may protect their food or part of the hutch and start fighting if their companion gets too close.
In these cases, it is often a good idea to increase the amount of resources, so there is not a reason for either to fight over them – this could involve a larger hutch, more bedding, more food, or spreading the food out over a wider space rather than leaving it in a confined bowl.
Pain or stress
Just like all animals, rabbits in pain or that are stressed may lash out, both at their companion or their owner. If you can identify no obvious environmental or social issue with your rabbits, It’s best to take them to the vet – there may be hidden pain causing aggression.
If you have rescued a rabbit that, no matter what you do, is aggressive, it may have learned to be aggressive because of past experiences. If they lived with a particularly dominant rabbit, had very few resources, or were mistreated by their owner, they may be fearful and try to bite. Time and patience may help calm them down and allow you to introduce a companion – some, however, may prefer to remain solitary.