Rabbits are popular pets in the UK. The PDSA pet wellbeing report states 2% of the UK adult population have a rabbit, which means there are an estimated 1.1 million pet rabbits in the UK. That’s a lot of rabbits! And with 50 different breeds recognised by the British Rabbit Council there is no shortage of variety between our furry friends either. Many owners report their rabbit licks them and are often confused as to why this is happening.
Table of contents
Licking is how rabbits naturally groom each other
As, of course, they are unable to use their paws the way primates can use their hands; so, much like horses and other animals, they use their tongue instead!
You may think your rabbit is trying to groom you if they start licking you, and this may be true, but interestingly licking is actually seen as an affectionate behaviour in rabbits. They lick people when they are showing affection and trust towards that person. So, if your rabbit is licking you, the chances are they really like and trust you – a very big compliment indeed!
Rabbit behaviour is unique and interesting and one of the reasons they are much loved family pets. Examples of other unique behaviours you may see with your pet rabbit include:
Rubbing their chins on surfaces and items
Rabbits have scent glands under their chins so they can often be seen rubbing their chins to spread their scent and mark the area they have visited or mark items as theirs. Interestingly the scent is odourless to people, so you probably won’t have noticed it before!
Lying sprawled out exposing their belly
Also known as ‘flopping’ this is a behaviour often seen when a rabbit is really relaxed in their environment and falls to the floor. It is important to note your rabbit should be calm and alert whilst doing this. If your rabbit is collapsed, not responsive, appears unwell or like they are struggling or distressed, this is likely something more serious and not an example of ‘flopping’ behaviour. You should contact your veterinary surgeon as soon as possible.
Also referred to as ‘binkies’ this is a behaviour seen when a rabbit is excitable. They can often be seen running and jumping, kicking out back legs or twisting whilst they jump. It is a sign of happiness in your rabbit. Be careful to make sure your rabbit is on a flat surface and isn’t jumping off objects or from any height, as this can risk damage to their limbs or spine.
One of the most common rabbit behaviours recognised by most people, this is when a rabbit stamps their back feet to get attention. They can also do this behaviour if they are stressed or fearful; or to warn other nearby rabbits of something they feel is potentially dangerous.
Standing on their back legs
Rabbits often do this to observe their environment and see further than they can when they are on all fours. This is an important behaviour for rabbits. And it is vitally important that an enclosure should enable a rabbit to comfortably stand on their back legs and stretch up to look around their environment. As a result, traditional hutch style enclosures are not suitable accommodation for rabbits, as they do not allow them to do this.
- Rabbits are popular pets, with an estimated 1.1 million pet rabbits in the UK alone!
- Licking is a sign of affection in rabbits, so, if your rabbit is licking you, they are showing you affection
- Rabbits have many unique behaviours including jumping, thumping and standing on their back legs, and it is important the environment we keep them in allows them to express all these natural behaviours so that their welfare needs are fully met