Lots of things can cause a rabbit to ‘thump’, but it’s usually a response to a frightening situation. It’s probably a way of warning other rabbits that there’s something scary nearby. In fact, it’s a bit like a dog’s bark, a meerkat’s warning screech or a parent’s worried yell. Except rabbits don’t tend to vocalise, and instead use the noise of their feet. This has the advantage that the noise will likely be easy to hear underground in their warrens, and the vibrations are likely to be felt, too.
Some rabbits will thump for reasons other than fear, including annoyance. They’re using the thumps to communicate that they want you to stop doing something, or start doing something. It can be a warning to back off and not pick them up, or it may be a demand to cuddle.
How does a rabbit make a thumping noise?
Rabbits have a special posture that they use to create a thumping noise. They tend to arch their backs a little and freeze, and will look very alert. They then use one or both feet to hit the ground hard, just like ‘Thumper’ in Bambi. Some rabbits will make one thump, others will do several in a row.
What sort of things cause a rabbit to thump?
Rabbits can thump at anything that scares them. Owners have reported them thumping at everything from the smell of peanut butter to strangers in the house. One rabbit reported in the Daily Mail even thumped at a burglar, and possibly scared him off! Many rabbits will thump in the car and at the vets, especially if they don’t have their bonded partner with them to help them cope with the stress.
Just like humans, some rabbits are more highly-strung than others. These rabbits are more likely to be anxious and may react to lots of different things. Others are pretty relaxed and may only be frightened by something that they’ve had a bad experience with, such as other animals in the house.
How can I stop my rabbit from thumping?
If your rabbit is thumping in fear, it’s sensible to try to get to the bottom of what’s frightening them and see if there’s anything you can do to stop it. Long-term stress is bad for your pet’s welfare and can cause medical problems. Start making a note of when your rabbit thumps. Every time they do, have a look around you – what could it be? If a noisy car just went past then that’s your answer, but it’s possible there’s something less obvious involved. Sounds, sights, and smells can all frighten a rabbit so it’s important to keep an open mind about what it could be. Even vibrations from passing lorries could be at fault. Try to narrow it down over several thumps and find what’s upsetting them, although remember it could be more than one thing.
Once you’ve found what’s upsetting your rabbit…
it’s time to work out how to help them feel more comfortable. Some things, such as a bird swooping past the window, are unavoidable. If it isn’t happening too often, it might be best just to leave it. However, if you’ve got some birds nesting in the rafters and each swoop terrifies your bunny, then moving them away from the window or even drawing the curtains should help.
Providing them with plenty of hiding spaces should help – cardboard boxes with holes cut in are great if they aren’t likely to get wet, or purpose-built hides can be bought for outdoors. For very nervous bunnies, tunnels leading to their food, water and toilet area can allow them to move around and do what they need to do whilst still feeling safe.
For unavoidable situations, it might be best to try desensitising your bunny. This involves exposing them to very small amounts of the threat – such as a dog at a distance, a smell in the next room, or a sound played out of speakers very quietly – and then making it seem positive. It’s best to make a desensitisation plan with your vet or a behaviourist in order to ensure it remains a positive experience. You don’t want your rabbit to get worse!
Whatever the reason for your bunny to be thumping, it’s best to try to reduce it if it’s happening often. And as always, if you’re worried, talk to your vet or vet nurse.
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