Rabbits make wonderful pets. They are social, playful, curious, highly intelligent, and have unique personalities. As a rabbit owner, you need to understand their behavior and body language. But can we talk about rabbit bites? Did you know that rabbits can bite?
Yes, rabbits do bite sometimes, and it is important to understand why.
They can bite or nip to communicate different things. Nipping and biting can be aggressive or non-aggressive, and it is easy to tell the difference.
Nipping and biting
A rabbit’s nip is common behavior, and it is not aggressive. Nipping is a soft bite, gentle, and less painful-usually feels like a sharp pinch. When a rabbit nips you, he is trying to communicate something and wants you to listen. Usually, a nip is a call for your attention. However, a nip can sometimes be a gentle warning before a bite.
Biting, on the other hand, is uncommon, but it happens. It is severe and painful. Rabbits can become a little aggressive and bite for various reasons.
Why do rabbits bite?
There are various reasons for your rabbit’s biting behavior.
If rabbits feel scared, threatened, or uncomfortable, they might use biting as a defense mechanism. Since they are naturally prey animals, their response when they are in danger is fight or flight. Naturally, they run away. But if they feel cornered or unable to run, they attack.
For instance, rabbits do not like being picked up or held. They can bite you to try and get away from that situation since they are scared. If you notice signs of fear, such as standing up straight, alert ears, wide-eyed, teeth grinding, etc., step back and give them time to calm down.
If your rabbit bites you suddenly, it could indicate that he is in pain or unwell. Pain can cause him to bite, especially when touched.
It is difficult to tell if a rabbit is sick because they are good at hiding weaknesses. Therefore, you must be observant of signs such as; loss of appetite, body posture (eyes half closed, will sit hunched up, not willing to move, etc.), and teeth grinding. If you suspect he is in pain, call or visit the vet immediately.
To assert dominance
A dominant rabbit can bite you or other rabbits to communicate that he is in charge. This aggression is mostly from male rabbits. However, some female rabbits also bite to establish dominance. So, if you notice two rabbits biting on each other, they are trying to decide who is the most dominant.
This behavior is most common when rabbits reach sexual maturity, usually 3-6 months depending on breed. They begin to bite on you or each other. This can establish a habit if you do not spay or neuter them.
A bored rabbit is a bad rabbit. Rabbits need to play and exercise their brains to get enough mental stimulation to make their days and boost their mental health.
If you keep your rabbit caged all day with nothing to do (no play time, no attention, and no space to run around), he might become aggressive and resort to biting anyone nearby because he needs to release some of that energy anyway.
Besides biting, other signs of a bored rabbit are overeating, overgrooming, chewing on things he shouldn’t, and digging where he shouldn’t.
Even after being desexed, rabbits can be very protective of their territory and possessions, and an attempt to invade their territory can make them bite you.
You might get bitten if you try to take something they own, such as a food bowl, toys, or a litter box.
Female rabbits can bite to protect their kittens from being picked up or held. Additionally, pregnant rabbits may suddenly start biting if you invade their territory because their maternal instincts kick in as they prepare to welcome and protect their kittens.
Have you ever offered your rabbit food or a treat only for him to bite you? Rabbits can become aggressive over food because food is important to them. In their little minds, food has to be defended. So, this can happen even if you are providing enough food.
The process of giving food triggers them. How you stretch your hand to provide food and step back mimics how rabbits examine a food source in the wild, where they move in, sniff around, and move back quickly.
What happens when a rabbit bites you?
Bites from a rabbit can be harmful depending on the intensity of the bite. Some bites might be painful, and others might not.
It is important to know that a rabbit’s teeth are sharp and long, so if he bites you hard, you could feel severe pain and even bleed. Normally, a rabbit bites hard if under stress or feeling threatened. The most common harm a rabbit’s bite can cause is bleeding.
Rabbits can carry a variety of diseases. The good thing is that some viruses and bacteria cannot survive in the human body. An example is myxomatosis, a common disease in rabbits that is often fatal. It is only spread between rabbits by blood-sucking insects such as fleas and mosquitoes.
However, rabbits can transmit some infections through bites, such as:
- Snuffles: This condition is caused by the bacteria Pasteurella multocida, which is found in a rabbit’s oral cavity and upper respiratory tract. Usually, rabbits don’t show any signs of it at all.
- Tularemia: Also known as rabbit fever, Tularemia is a bacterial infection. It can be potentially dangerous, but you can treat it with antibiotics.
- Rabies: This is a viral disease that affects the central nervous system of a rabbit. Though it’s very rare in domestic rabbits, it can be deadly.
- Tetanus: You can contract tetanus through a serious rabbit bite when toxic levels of bacteria enter your body. The good news is that there’s a vaccine against tetanus infection.
In addition to these infections, you can contract fungal infections and external parasites through a rabbit bite.
Steps to take if a rabbit bites you
Being prey animals, no matter how peaceful and friendly your rabbits are, they’re easily frightened. For this reason, they panic easily, especially if they’re stressed or threatened, and may bite. Therefore, it’s important to know what to do if a rabbit bites you.
Convince the rabbit to let go
On some rare occasions, a rabbit can bite you, cling tightly to you, and refuse to let go. This kind of attack mainly happens when they are guarding their territory. In this case, before you figure out the intensity of the cut and how to treat it, you need to get the rabbit to let go.
Try not to hit or toss him around the room while hurling curses. I understand the need to react this way, but it’s not the best idea.
The best thing to do is to encourage him to go back to his cage, where he feels safe and will be able to calm down.
Apply gentle pressure on the wound
Since rabbits have sharp, strong, long teeth, their bites can cut deep and cause bleeding. If bleeding happens, use a glove or a clean cloth to apply pressure to the wound. Hold on for a few minutes to stop the bleeding.
During this time, check the wound. Some bites might be severe, and others might be mild.
Most bites are mild since rabbits are herbivores and their teeth are designed to cut through the grass or hay. You can treat a minor wound in a few minutes. However, some cuts might be deep. A deep wound:
- Is deeper than one centimeter
- Is in a sensitive area such as the face
- Continues to bleed for more than 10 minutes
You need to visit a medical professional for stitches if it’s severe.
Clean the wound
The rabbit’s teeth are not clean. Hence, their bites can spread bacteria. If the bite is mild, you need to clean the wound to get rid of bacteria from the bite area once the bleeding stops. You will need running water, a clean damp cloth, and an antibacterial soap to clean.
After you’ve cleaned the wound:
- Dry the area with a clean, lint-free cloth.
- Apply an antibiotic cream such as Neosporin to prevent bacteria and speed healing.
- Apply a thin layer, rub it gently, and cover with a dressing or bandage.
Check for signs of infection
If you use a dressing or bandage, you must change it every couple of days. When changing, examine the wound to see if it’s healing or not. If blood has soaked the bandage, it might be hard and painful to pull it off. Use water to soak them for easy removal.
Clean the wound with soap and water after successfully removing it. Pat dry with a cloth and examine. If the wound is not showing signs of recovery, there’s a possibility of infection. Here are some signs to check out:
- Bad smell
If you notice the above signs, visit a doctor.
How to stop a rabbit from biting you
We have seen that a rabbit’s aggressive behavior is caused by various things: pain, territorial aggression, food aggression, fear, and hormonal aggression. After you have determined why a rabbit bit you, you must take precautions to prevent rabbit bites in the future.
- Let your rabbit know when you’re approaching. Don’t surprise him.
- Let the rabbit come to you to be petted or picked up.
- Bond with your rabbit to let him know he doesn’t have to be scared of you and doesn’t need to attack you.
- Spay or neuter your rabbit once he reaches sexual maturity.
- Give your rabbit a large enclosure.
- Add toys to the cage for mental stimulation
- Take your rabbit out to play and exercise at least once a day
- Have a feeding routine
- If you suspect your rabbit is in pain or unwell, take him to the vet.
Rabbits are not generally aggressive. They do not bite for fun. So, biting is a way to communicate how they’re feeling.
It can be frustrating when your rabbit bites you. But by trying to understand what triggered him, you can deal with that to prevent biting in the future.
Also, remember not to hit your rabbit no matter how badly it bites you. Rabbits are fragile and easily scared. You could end up hurting the rabbit and terrifying him even more.