I care for rabbits and enjoy sharing husbandry and housing tips.
If you spend any amount of time with bunnies, you will notice how much their cute little noses twitch. But why does a bunny twitch its nose so much, and what can you learn from it? It's normal for a rabbit's nose to twitch almost all the time. However, you might notice your bunny's nose-twitching more than usual when it is stressed out, alert, too hot, or when it is about to eat.
Experts believe that rabbits twitch their noses because twitching moves about the sensitive smelling organs in their noses and exposes them to more air. This means that they are more likely to smell a scent, even if there is very little of it in the air. This is very important if there is a predator around, as it will alert the rabbit to danger long before the predator gets close enough to try to eat the rabbit.
What does this mean for the rabbit owner? Well, if your bunny twitches its nose a lot when it is around you, it is trying to get more information about you. Humans are very reliant on what we can see, but many animals use other senses more heavily than sight. Although a rabbit has fairly good eyesight and can see almost 360 degrees in a circle around itself (apart from directly in front of its head,) it uses scent to determine if things are good, bad, or indifferent.
If a rabbit is very relaxed, its nose will not be twitching very fast at all. You may find that when you first get your rabbit, its nose twitches a lot when you are around. As it gets used to you and starts to become your friend, it will twitch its nose less. Of course, if it is feeding time, then your rabbit's nose will twitch a great deal in anticipation of being fed.
Rabbits may also twitch their noses a lot when they are stressed or hot. If you see your rabbit lying in one place, breathing heavily and twitching its nose a lot and it is a hot day, see if you can cool the rabbit down. Providing shade will help, as will providing a frozen bottle of water for your rabbit to cuddle up to and cool down with.
Make sure your rabbit can move away from the bottle since going from boiling to frostbitten is no fun for a bunny! In the wild, rabbits burrow underground to get away from the heat of the day. Rabbits don't sweat or properly pant, which means it is very hard for them to cool down in the summer months.
So, nose-twitching is a normal part of bunny behavior. Fast nose-twitching tells you that the bunny is either stressed or just interested in something, while slow nose-twitching tells you that the bunny is relaxed.
Shelbie on August 21, 2020:
I made my bunnies a new cage and they are running around like crazy and their noses are twitching really fast is this a bad thing?
Chasity vertiz on January 02, 2020:
Why does my rabbit lay down like a dog I need to find out pls
YEET girlll on September 14, 2019:
What is your name I am doing a report an I need to know who wrote this article
Isabella on February 26, 2019:
Is it weird if my rabbits nose is really fast. Can it’s cause a rabbit stress too? I need answers now
Lizzy the fox on January 06, 2018:
since I always found that the rabbits in the pet shops always twitching their noses just freakin fast . I know why ~
Dee on May 12, 2017:
Is it normal for a rabbit to shake his head?
Rabbits are relatively quiet creatures. As prey animals, it’s in their best interest to not draw too much attention to themselves. That said, they do have a unique way of communicating, from binkying to nose bonking to flopping. We’ll explore rabbit behavior here.
People unfamiliar to pet rabbits may not know that bunnies have a very dramatic way of expressing excitement and joy. They dance! Leaping in the air, contorting and twisting their bodies, and kicking their feet out, binkying rabbits are quite the spectacle. Sometimes rabbits lead up to a binky by taking a running start. Other times, a binky is a sudden burst to the side. What’s really fun is when the binkies occur in succession, creating a grand acrobatic display. I’ll submit that anyone who thinks rabbits are dull has not seen a bunny in the act of binkying.
When rabbits zip around the room in a blur, they’re performing Bunny 500s. Their bursts of speed are sometimes accompanied by fantastic binkies and demonstrate extreme excitement. Expect a Bunny 500 whenever you’re about to give your bunny a treat.
A bunny at ease will often flop in contentment. Sometimes there’s a buildup to the flop as a bunny turns his/her head a few times before finally rolling over completely onto his/her side.
Bunnies show affection by licking (grooming). You’ll often see pairs of rabbits grooming each other, which demonstrates they have a strong bond.
An excited rabbit may make honking / buzzing sounds while circling. This signifies happiness, or when done around another rabbit, it could also signify sexual excitement.
Bunnies sometimes show their enjoyment if you’re petting them by grinding their teeth. This is a rabbit’s way of purring. But teeth grinding can also signify discomfort or pain. Grinding due to pain is often louder and more frequent than grinding due to contentment. You’ll be able to tell the difference by observing other behavior in conjunction with the teeth grinding. For example, if the rabbit is lying down with his/her feet stretched out in a relaxed way, then the grinding demonstrates contentment. But if the rabbit is hunched and tense, doesn’t show an interest in moving or eating, or shows aggression, then the grinding signifies pain.
Grunting or growling is a sign your rabbit is angry or stressed. You may be invading their territory, and they’re telling you to back off. Aggressive behavior will most likely ensue, so watch out.
Rabbits generally only scream when dying or in extreme pain. Seek veterinary assistance immediately if this occurs.
Displeased rabbits may deliberately kick their feet up as they hop away from you. In a wild setting, this translates to kicking dirt into another animal’s face. Expect to get imaginary dirt kicked up at you after a nail trimming session.
Chinning is a rabbit’s way of saying, “Mine!” They rub their chin, which has special scent glands, on objects to mark their territory.
Rabbits explore their environment by sniffing and nudging. It may be a greeting or their first line of investigation. But nudging can also indicate a level of bossiness. Your rabbit might be telling you, “You’re in my way!” They may also be trying to get your attention because you’re not petting them. Sometimes if the nudge is ignored, they follow up with a nip.
Digging on your legs or feet is another way rabbits try to get your attention. “Petting me takes precedence over that important phone call!” they’re saying.
Rabbits often nip in order to get attention. In this case, they don’t mean to cause you harm, but nips are at the very least annoying. So to discourage this behavior, shriek every time it happens. The nips will become softer and less frequent, and eventually the behavior will be discontinued completely. But sometimes rabbits nip in an aggressive way. Perhaps you’ve put your hand into your rabbit’s space, and he/she’s feeling territorial. Aggressive behavior can be diminished by spaying or neutering your bunny.
Rabbits thump their hind legs when they sense danger. It serves as a warning signal for others in the area to watch out.
Although rabbits may not have a signature sound like a bark or meow, they do express themselves in their own unique way. It’s just up to you to listen properly!
Abi Cushman is a veteran house rabbit owner and a contributing editor of My House Rabbit.
When she's not writing about bunnies for My House Rabbit, Abi writes and illustrates funny books for kids. Her debut picture book, Soaked! , comes out on July 14, 2020 from Viking Children's Books. (And yes, there's a bunny in it.)
Unlike dogs or cats, which make obvious efforts to ‘speak’ to us by barking or meowing, rabbits are generally quiet creatures. So how can we decode rabbit language to better understand what they’re feeling?
The first thing to be aware of is that if rabbits do make any very loud noises, it’s usually because of great distress or fear – so a loud squeal isn’t something you’ll want to hear. Rabbits generally express themselves by means of a variety of gestures and movements, such as thumping, kicking and jumping, but they do also have a repertoire of sounds that play a part in their communication with other rabbits. Ros Lamb of the Rabbit Welfare Association says: ‘Some sounds say a lot. It’s important that we spend time with our rabbits and learn to understand what they are telling us. We need to listen carefully and to remember that their body language is also important.’
Here are some rabbit noises you might hear, and their possible meanings:
|Shaking of the ears or shaking of the head while running||High temperatures or heatstroke|
|Side swaying or head bobbing||Stress|
|Trembling or twitching of the nose||Fear or stress|
|Excessive shaking of the head with the scratching of the ear or body||Mites|
|Laying down and shaking||GI stasis|
|Laying on the side and shaking with disorientation or clumsiness||Eating something poisonous or toxic|
A rabbit can shake for a number of reasons. Luckily, some of them are less distressing than others. Hiccups are a harmless cause of shaking in rabbits. A rabbit may also have small spasms every time it hiccups. A hiccup shake can appear distressing but won’t harm a rabbit.
As long as hiccups last for less than 20 minutes, they aren’t a cause for concern. If your rabbit has been having hiccups frequently, check what you’ve been feeding it recently. Something new in your rabbit’s diet may be the culprit.
A rabbit’s shake is serious if it’s in pain. Rabbits are at the bottom of the food chain. They’re highly skilled at hiding signs of pain or weakness to avoid being hunted.
A rabbit may shake in an attempt to contain its pain. To check if your rabbit is hurting, gently feel their body to see if it reacts to you touching a specific part of its body. You may have to feel various parts of its body to detect an injury, or feel the stomach to check for gas.
It is true, the twitch, wiggle of a rabbit’s nose is a very obvious characteristic, and very important to its survival. Not only does it draw air in to fill its lungs and breathe, in the same way as we do, but it also helps the rabbit detect danger, and identify friends and potential mates.
When we sniff/smell something, our nostrils expand, lifting upwards and outwards. The same thing happens in rabbits but is more obvious because they are constantly sniffing the air, rather than just breathing it in. Rabbits have over fifty million receptor cells in their nose, compared to our meager six million. These enable rabbits to detect predators well before they may even see them. This is why, if you want to watch rabbits (or other animals) without being noticed, you should approach them downwind. That way, the wind will go past the rabbit before it picks up your scent.
Rabbits, like many other animals, have two types of scent detection cells in their nose. Olfactory sensory cells detect ordinary airborne odors, while a specialized group, the Jacobson Organ, pick up heavy moisture-borne molecules and pheromones.
Moist air carries more scent. You may have noticed that flowers smell stronger when the dew has settled in the early morning and evening, and woods smell of vegetation in the damp of autumn. When rabbits breathe in, their split top lip parts and moisten the air as it passes. This enhances any scent and helps the rabbit discover more about the ‘smelly’ world around it – who is nearby, friend, foe, or female ready to be mated, or any scrumptious food. As rabbits communicate mainly through scent, a good sniff of each other no doubt is a bit like a long human chat!
Rabbits are prey animals and their acute senses help them stay alive. The eyes, located on the side of their head and slightly above the mid-line, enable them to see behind and above them their huge, mobile ears can pick up the slightest sounds, though that constantly whiffling nose is perhaps the most important of all.