Lapis ISSN 2398-2969

Behavior problems: overview

Contributor(s): Anna Meredith, Glen Cousquer, Emma Lightfoot (nee Magnus), Emma Magnus

Inappropriate elimination

  • Rabbits living in the wild will tend to use one area of their territory as their latrine and this specificity can be seen in our domestic rabbits that only toilet within one corner of their hutch or within a litter tray.
  • A breakdown in toilet training may occur during puberty when the rabbit may feel the need to mark areas of the home or hutch (sometimes even the owner)   Scent marking and spraying  or if the rabbit develops an aversion to the litter or the litter tray.

Print-off the Owner Factsheets on Litter training your rabbit and Stress in rabbits to give to your clients.

  • Rabbits can urinate on lower ranking members of the group.
  • Male rabbits urinate on female rabbits as part of the courtship process and unneutered male rabbits may spray their owners whilst circling their feet (see below). Neutered female rabbits have been known to urinate on owners in this way and both sexes are capable of urinating over a smell that upsets them or comforts them (perhaps a new perfume or dirty clothes).
  • A litter or tray aversion can occur when an owner changes the brand of litter, moves the litter tray, changes the style of tray or the rabbit feels threatened (or is otherwise upset) whilst using the tray. In such cases the rabbit may still toilet near the tray or appear to have just missed the tray. If the rabbit feels stressed or threatened when it is using the tray, it may choose an entirely different location, such as a corner of the room or somewhere more secluded. The owner can then move the tray into this location.
  • When rabbits toilet in an inappropriate location, care must be taken to ensure that they do not develop an attachment to that substrate (such as soft furnishings).
  • Any accidents should be cleaned with a warm solution of biological washing powder in order to remove all trace of the urine.
  • The motivation should be addressed and access to the area may have to be denied for a significant period of time (weeks, not days) to totally break the habit.
  • It is worth mentioning that some of the drier secondary pellets produced by rabbits may appear to be spread out across the environment, usually not in large numbers. In the wild these would be used to fertilize the ground and encourage growth of vegetation. In the home, these are simply a nuisance and should be accepted as normal behavior.

Inappropriate sexual behavior

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Thumping

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Leg circling, grunting and nipping

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Inappropriate nesting behavior

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Nervous behavior

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Further Reading

Publications

Refereed papers

  • Recent references from PubMed and VetMedResource.
  • Hansen L T & Berthelsen H (2000) The effect of envirnomental enrichment on the behaviour of caged rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus). Appl Anim Behav Sci 68 (2), 163-178 PubMed.
  • Jezierski T A & Konecka A M (1996) Handling and rearing results in young rabbits. Appl Anim Behav Sci 46 (3/4), 243-250 VetMedResource.
  • Jezierski T, Mekking P, Wiepkema P R (1993) Handling and diet-induced atherosclerosis in rabbits. Lab Anim 27 (3), 235-239 PubMed.
  • Lehman M (1991) Social behaviour in young domestic rabbits under semi-natural conditions. Appl Anim Behav Sci 32 (2-3), 269-292 VetMedResource.

Other sources of information

  • McBride A, Magnus E & Hearne G (2010) Behaviour Problems in the Domestic Rabbit. In: The APBC Book of Companion Animal Behaviour. Ed: Appleby D. Souvenir Press. ISBN: 978-0285638877.
  • McBride A (2000) Why Does my rabbit..? Souvenir Press Ltd. ISBN: 0285635506.
  • Magnus EHow to Have a Relaxed Rabbit. The Pet Behaviour Centre. Tel: 01386 750615. Website:www.petbehaviourcentre.com.


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