Pet Rabbit Behaviour

Pet rabbits behave similarly to their wild ancesters. Read about rabbit behaviour in the wild and how it compares to their behaviour in captivity.

In The Wild

In the wild European rabbits are sociable and territorial animals, living in large groups in undergrown tunnels known as warrens which they have dug. They are crepuscular, meaning they are most active at dawn and dusk, although are also active for much of the night. Rabbits spend most of the day in their underground burrows safe from predators, but they may also be seen outside during the day in undisturbed areas.

Within the group the rabbits have a dominance hierarchy with the most dominant male having mating rights with the females and females will produce several litters during spring and summer.

Wild rabbits are a food source for many meat eating predators and when out of their burrows rabbits are naturally cautious and will stand on their hindlegs to scan their surroundings for predators. The location of their eyes on the side of their head gives them a broad field of vision and they have good long range sight. They also have a keen sense of smell that enables them to smell nearby predators. Rabbits will rarely face danger, preferring when threatened to dart down into their warren to escape harm. Rabbits are extremely fast and able to achieve speeds up to 50mph in short bursts and their strong hindlegs allow them to leap great distances, being able to jump up to one metre high and 3 metres long. When chased this speed and agility enables them to out-manoeuvre many predators using fast, irregular movements.

When a rabbit senses danger it will thump its hind legs on the ground to warn other rabbits of the danger and may also make a loud scream.

In the wild rabbits feed mostly on grass, but will also eat leafy plants, bulbs, bark and twigs when grass is scarce.

In Captivity

Pet rabbits behave similarly to their wild ancesters and without a warren, they appreciate having an enclosed nesting area into which they can retreat to relax and feel safe, even if kept indoors as a house rabbit.

Pet rabbits are also sociable although males (bucks) kept together will most often fight to establish dominance. However, neutered bucks will live happily together and females (does) will also live happily together if introduced at a young age or carefully introduced at an older age.

Rabbits also enjoy human companionship and are rarely aggressive, making them an ideal pet. However, although it is rare for pet rabbits to be aggressive, without the option to retreat and hide in a warren, rabbits can display a degree of aggression if they feel upset or threatened.