Rabbits are incessant nibblers. Their teeth keep growing throughout their lives. To keep them at a manageable size, they grind their teeth by constantly nibbling. They prefer to bite hard objects, and human skin is not one of them.
But there have been enough incidents of rabbit bites to raise questions about the matter.
In this article, you will learn everything you need to know about rabbit bites, starting with whether they hurt. Among other things, you will also discover the reasons behind rabbit bites and how to prevent them.
By the end, you will have a fair view of the entire picture and will be able to decide if you should adopt a rabbit in the first place.
Do Rabbits Hurt When They Bite?
Rabbit bites hurt and can be harmful if there is an intention behind them. These should not be confused with rabbit nips, which are painless and are the rabbit equivalent of a handshake. In a healthy environment, rabbits don’t usually bite humans.
Abuse, poor socialization, and a range of other nerve-related factors can compel a rabbit to bite a human. Territorial rabbits and poorly socialized rabbits can be dangerous, especially to kids and seniors. Knowing rabbit body language can also help avoid an aggressive reaction like an intentional bite.
Does that mean you cannot get close to an average bunny? No. You can get very close to rabbits, and even the ones that don’t prefer human contact won’t bite you. It is not their first instinct when dealing with larger mammals. Still, you should respect a rabbit’s personal space just to help it feel safe. A newly adopted rabbit might get too anxious upon being approached.
Different rabbit breeds have different levels of friendliness. The friendliest types of rabbits are not as likely to bite you as rabbits that are known to keep to themselves. Regardless of the species of your bunny, the best strategy remains to feed your rabbit and let it get used to your presence until it approaches you out of boredom.
Rabbits are socially intelligent enough to realize who their provider is. They can develop affection for you before they fully trust you. If you don’t break that trust, your rabbit will approach and nip you to get your attention. In contrast, if you pick up your rabbit when it is nervous, it might bite you.
How Painful Is a Rabbit’s Bite?
An aggressive rabbit bite is just as painful as a dog bite but one-third as forceful. Both bites exceed the pain threshold of the nerves located under the skin, resulting in the same pain response. The bite force of a rabbit is 70 newtons, and its long and hooked teeth can tear the flesh off.
At face value, the above being technically true is quite scary. Who would want an animal that can deal so much damage as a pet? The answer is simple: anyone who can see that the possibility of a rabbit bite is minuscule. Rabbits are less likely to bite than dogs but can inflict just as much pain if they do bite you.
They don’t generally use biting as their immediate defense because they are not carnivorous. They don’t find flesh very appetizing to bite, unlike hares. Secondly, they are scared and always choose flight over fight unless they have no choice.
A rabbit will intentionally bite if:
- It believes it has no escape.
- It thinks that it will get hurt if it does not bite.
- It is an anxious or aggressive state.
In the absence of the above circumstances, the rabbit might simply try to kick or dig its way out of a scary situation. Most adults are smart enough not to put their pets in this position anyway.
Unfortunately, the ones most likely to corner a rabbit are the ones most vulnerable to rabbit bites. Kids should be kept away from rabbits unless the rabbits belong to a very docile and calm breed.
Aside from adopting a friendly rabbit, you should educate kids on maintaining their distance and loving rabbits without picking them up by the ears or pinching them. The more you discipline your kids, the less likely they will get hurt.
Should You Punish a Rabbit for Biting?
Before you decide to punish your rabbit for biting, you need to differentiate between a bite and a nip. A nip is harmless, painless, and feels like a pinch. A bite draws blood and can lead to a serious injury. In either case, you should let out a squeal first.
This signals that the action is hurting you, which isn’t something rabbits want when they are nipping you. What do you do if the bite is an actual bite and not a nip, though?
You should discourage a rabbit from biting by scaring it with a loud noise. You can clap your hands or shout. Both non-physical punishments discourage the rabbit from resorting to biting when scared because the consequence of biting is even scarier.
Physical punishment doesn’t work on rabbits and can just break any bond they have with you. Grounding might technically work by putting physical distance between you and its teeth.
But rabbits are not smart enough to process the cause and effect except when it is instantaneous (shout, clap, squeal).
Preventing rabbit bites is a 50-50 effort where you have to do 50% of the work. You are expected to avoid annoying or scaring your rabbit.
Moreover, you need to give him chew toys that can keep him engaged. Rabbits nip to get your attention but can end up accidentally biting if they don’t get a response.
Nipping should be discouraged by exaggerating the pain. This can keep the rabbit from actually delivering a painful bite. Rabbits like to chew on semi-hard surfaces, and if they are inexperienced, they can end up biting a human body part unknowingly. Again, a display of pain is enough to discourage biting. If your rabbit starts biting predictably, then the odds of rehabilitation get lower.
Please remember not to discourage a rabbit from biting non-living things. If a rabbit bites furniture or personal effects, you need to keep the rabbit away from them and give it chew toys. Chewing is a rabbit’s instinct, and if you punish it for exercising its instincts, it will become fearful of you.
How To Manage Rabbit Teething
Teething is a part of rabbits’ development. They get their next set of teeth after a few months. However, unlike humans, rabbits have an urge to bite from the teething stage to the end of their lives. This is because their teeth keep growing throughout their lives. Rabbits need to grind their teeth with constant chewing. As a rabbit owner, you should facilitate and not discourage this.
Use Chew Toys
Toys like Sofier Rabbit Toys and Kaytee Nut Knot Nibbler can keep your rabbit happy and its teeth well-engaged to minimize unnecessary biting. Remember that chewing is a necessity for rabbits. And if you create a healthy and acceptable environment where the rabbit can chew in peace, it will become anxious and have pent-up energy. Protecting your furniture and personal items is easier if the rabbit’s instinct to chew is satisfied before it gets out of the cage.
Engage Your Rabbit More
While rabbits bite when they are anxious and threatened, they nip out of boredom. Some people find it cute, but others don’t like getting nipped for attention. If you give your rabbit attention and engage it, it will not feel the need to nip at your feet. There will still be instances where it headbutts you or sits next to you, both of which are adorable displays of affection.
Engaging your rabbit also helps develop your bond of trust. The more your rabbit trusts you, the less likely it is to bite you. It will not be on edge around you once it gets used to your presence. The prey instinct to flee will always underlie your interactions, but not to a very obvious degree.
Here are a few ways to engage your rabbit:
- Play rabbit fetch – Rabbit fetch is a lot like dog fetch, except you’re the one who brings the stick or object over and over to the rabbit. Allowing the rabbit to toss sticks or a ball can help keep it stimulated.
- Play tug of war – Rabbits can enjoy a light bout of tug of war if they take an excessive interest in a specific long chew toy. String toys designed for rabbits are ideal for this.
Don’t Agitate Your Rabbit
Rabbits only intentionally bite when they feel threatened and trapped. Given that it doesn’t take much for a rabbit to feel threatened, you need to be careful not to agitate your rabbit accidentally. Don’t force your pet to play, sit on your lap, or even eat. Rabbits and force don’t go along.
Rabbits can get agitated intentionally or unintentionally. Their upbringing and level of socialization also factor into this. If a rabbit has been abused by its previous owner, you might have to bear the brunt of its mistrust. If you’re raising a young bunny, you can socialize it to the point where you don’t have to walk on eggshells.
Understanding your pet’s body language is crucial because rabbits’ agitation is easy to miss. Rabbits do not growl, which makes it difficult to see when one might get bitten. If your rabbit has previously bitten, not nipped, you, then you have to be very careful. If a rabbit runs away from you, do not force physical contact. That’s the only thing outside of sexual frustration that can make it angry.
Spaying and neutering your rabbit at the right age also helps tone down its aggression. And for that, you must know when rabbits reach puberty and how rabbits age compared to humans.
Rabbits don’t bite humans often, but if they do, they make it hurt. Rabbit nips are harmless pinches that can get confused with bites.
As long as a rabbit doesn’t fully open its mouth to bite into flesh, it is engaging in attention-seeking behavior.
Only when it bites as a defense mechanism is it biting to hurt. To avoid such aggression, you must give your rabbit space, chew toys, and neutering treatment.