Rabbit Noises and What They Mean

Rabbits are primarily non-verbal and use body language as their main means of communication, however, they do make a surprising number of noises.

Honking

This can best be described as a little exhalation of breath and sounds a bit like a creaky door. The rabbit will be running around quickly, honking in time with its hops. Most commonly made by unneutered males as a sign of courtship, usually accompanied by circling of your feet or another rabbit. Females may also make this sound as they run around and males may continue to honk even after neutering.

Grunting

This noise is very like honking but is usually made when the rabbit rolls on its side in contentment (the “bunnyflop”) or when you pick it up and are squeezing too tight around its tummy.

Growling

This sounds a bit like a car revving up and is usually made by an unspayed female defending her territory. Often the rabbit will lunge at you her front feet as she growls. This disappears or greatly reduces after spaying. Rabbits may also growl when scared or in pain.

Teeth grinding / purring

A soft grinding of the teeth indicates pleasure, for example when the rabbit is settling down for a nap on a full tummy or when you are stroking your rabbit in a way it enjoys. The rabbit’s jaws move slightly from side to side and the rest of the rabbit’s body language is peaceful i.e. ears in a relaxed position, eyes half closed.

Loud teeth grinding

This is a sign of pain and the rabbit will usually be displaying other symptoms such as unwillingness to move and lack of appetite. Consult your vet asap.

Snorting / sneezing

When confronted with a smell they find offensive, rabbits often snort or exhale quickly through their nose, making a noise like “ffnuff”. A rabbit that is sneezing frequently and has a runny discharge from the nose is ill and needs to see a vet asap.

Tummy rumbling

OK, so the rabbit is not consciously making this noise but it is very useful as an owner to know how your rabbit’s stomach should sound. Put your head against your rabbit’s side and listen – a healthy stomach should be ticking, gurgling and rumbling all the time. If you can’t hear anything and the rabbit has not been eating, there is a risk of gut stasis so see a vet immediately.

Thumping

Rabbits thump on the ground with a back leg to warn other rabbits of danger. The strong vibrations carry through the ground even if the other rabbits cannot hear the noise. Thumping is also used by unneutered males as a sign of wanting to mate. House rabbits may also thump as a sign of annoyance or displeasure, for example if the TV is too loud or the vacuum cleaner is getting too close to them.

Screaming / squealing

Let’s hope you never hear this sound. Rabbits scream when they are in the grip of a predator and are terrified. Rabbits may also scream when in extreme pain, for example when suffering from VHD (Viral Haemorrhagic Disease), shortly before death occurs.

Copyright 2011 Hannah Davis / Bunnyhugga. All Rights Reserved.