Characteristics of Rabbits

Editor’s Note: Because little information about rabbits as companion animals is available in her country, the author has made many of her own discoveries after years of observing and interacting with house rabbits.
Linda Cook, Editor.

People who don’t know much about rabbits don’t have any idea about the characteristics of these amazing creatures. If they knew, they would never think about them the same again.

Having spent many hours with my rabbits watching them, I will describe some of my observations.

If your rabbit is happy, she might run to you immediately as you enter the room after coming home from work. She might jump around, binkying.

When you sit with them and start petting them, their contentment is indicated by teeth grinding or purr-grrr-ing. They also can lick your hands, sometimes a sign of gratefulnes. If you bend down to them they also might lick your face-especially your nose.

And if you pet your rabbit and he is feeling contented and happy, you may feel in your fingers that their temperature, especially on the neck and head, becomes warmer.

Your rabbit is also happy if he is relaxing flat on the ground with his legs spread out to the sides or behind him. Some rabbits display total joy by lying on their backs with their legs in the air.

I think that very much, or most, of rabbit behavior depends on their human teachers. Spend a lot of time with your rabbits, respecting them and learning to understand their body language.

Rabbits have very good memories. They possess what I call orientation memory. Our first rabbit had been in the house only a couple days when we began to feel sorry for her because we kept her in a cage. We decided to let her roam free during the day and stay caged at night. But every evening we had the same problem: After a couple of days she discovered a spot where we couldn’t catch her, and she always returned to that spot.

Another example of a good rabbit memory is emotional memory. My last rescue almost was killed accidentally when someone stepped on him in the dark. Although up to that time he had been very friendly, afterward he felt he had to protect himself with his teeth.

From that time on, he was in great stress and began to use his teeth more and more. His human family became distrustful of him, and surrrendered him because they were afraid he would bite. When I put him in his new cage he used his teeth. But he kept only my t-shirt in his teeth. When I calmly put him down, he let go of my t-shirt and sat down in his new place. He was very well-behaved until one day when he suddenly became frightened while he was sitting on my legs, and he bit me. It was so quick that I did not realize at first what had happened.

Immediately afterward he avoided eye contact with me. After a couple of weeks he started to trust people again. He is very friendly now, not only to people he knows but also to newcomers.

Three of my four rabbits were raised by me. They know the same things, even though their personalities are totally different. For example, I taught them to destroy only carpet dedicated to that purpose, and to chew furniture only in certain places. I have a very close relationship with my fist rabbit, Ushenka. We spend a lot of time together every day after I come home from work. At first it was just the two of us, and we watched each other for hours and hours. She always has been affectionate, although she is rather timid. In her first months with me she knew only me, and no one else-I think that caused her shyness and fear of other people and animals.

I introduced her to a male, and now they lie side by side all day, grooming each other. Both are waiting for me to greet me and have a small snack when I come home.

Life with Ushenka

Ushenka takes up most of my time when I am home in the rabbit rooms. If I work on the computer for a long time without giving her attention, she stamps loudly with her back legs or starts to bite a paper box to tell me that she is there. If I pet her mate a bit longer and pay no attention to her, she stamps to frighten him away – she knows he will fly away and she will have free time for attention with me.

While I sit on a chair she sits under the chair. If I pay no attention to her, she admonishes me by biting my slippers.

When it’s late and time for bed, at first she sits on the bed, then she jumps on the bed to tell me that it’s time to sleep. Before she goes to bed she wants to be petted for at least 10 minutes, during which time she doesn’t allow her mate to come near us.

Alex, my newest rabbit, is used to, and waits for, human contact. He is very sociable-much more than the rabbits I have raised.

Teaching rabbits

Because my rabbits are free-roaming, the most important thing I have taught them is not to destroy things, especially carpets and furniture. My first pair of rabbits know not to destroy blankets, furniture and carpets. If I provide toys for them, I can leave them safely anywhere.

They sometimes chew paper, but if they do, it’s my mistake because I haven’t given them other entertainment.

If you are with your rabbits a lot, it is very important is to give them something to play with while you are away-something they can bite, taste and chew. This way you can show them what is and is not allowed.

Babbo is Ushenka’s mate. He was aggressive when he came to live with us. After a short period, he adjusted to new conditions in my house. He remained aggressive for some time, and sometimes bit me.

The problem was not solved by neutering. It was solved only after a very long time and quite by chance.

I watched him while I was cuddling with Ushenka on the bed. He was sitting on the floor watching us. Then I went to him to pet him. I took him in my arms and firmly kept cuddling him for about 20 minutes. At first he wanted to escape but later he started to be contented and he purred.

From that time on I have been very careful in treating him the same way I do Ushenka, giving him exactly the same attention as I do her, and always watching to see if he is contented. He is a different rabbit!

Incidentally, the relationship between Alex and his mate, Bielinka, wasn’t love at first sight. Although Alex always has been very sociable, looking for and loving contact with people and animals, his first days together with Bielinka weren’t ideal.

I can’t say that they didn’t like each other but, as I wrote previously, she had glaucoma and strong inner eye pressure that caused pain.

They were very happy together for short periods of time. But after an hour I had to separate them because she started to try to find a place to hide. At the present she is entirely healthy (she is missing her eye after it was surgically removed) and their relationship is wonderful. They now display common behaviors like grooming and snuggling.

By Evka Vašková, Slovakia, Europe

House Rabbit Journal Winter 2011: Volume V, Number 6