Rabbits have many different ways of communicating, most of which are a mystery to the majority of us bunny owners. They are loving and playful animals with a whole repertoire of sounds and movements. But, what does it mean when your rabbit headbutts you? What are they trying to say? Here’s what you’ll need to know.
So, why does my rabbit headbutt me, then? Rabbits will often headbutt you – or nudge you – when they want to get your attention because they want something from you. It can even be your bunny’s friendly way of saying hello to you. In some cases, however, it can mean your rabbit feels you’re in the way and wants to assert dominance over you.
Most of the time, this is a behavior with purely positive intentions.
It will often mean something along the lines of ‘I want a treat,’ ‘I want you to pay attention to me,’ or ‘I want a cuddle.’
But not always.
It can sometimes indicate that something has gone awry.
Sometimes it’s minor, but other times, it can indicate something a little more serious.
So, let us delve deeper to get an understanding of how to differentiate the good from the bad and how you can stop headbutting; if it is something you want to stop!
Is Headbutting Normal In Rabbits?
Headbutting is normal in rabbits, although it does depend on the particular bunny how much they engage in this behavior.
Some bunny parents get confused and think they’ve done something wrong – most of the time, the opposite is the case!
Nine times out of ten, it isn’t that your bunny is angry or hurt – they may just want something from you.
And that something could simply be a cuddle.
A Bid for Attention
Most rabbits will nudge you or headbutt you in a bid for some loving attention.
You may be quietly sitting on the sofa when you feel a nose give you a nudge – your rabbit is showing you love!
They’re saying, “I’m more important; pay attention to me!” So give your bunny a stroke, a treat, a cuddle – whatever you know your bunny will like.
You may notice that if you have nice cuddling or feeding sessions with your bunny, they may start headbutting you to say, “Don’t stop!”
Some bunnies nudge you to say hello. If you approach your bunny’s living space to find your rabbit with its nose up against the cage, it may be them greeting you.
Bonding With You
When rabbits headbutt or nudge you or otherwise rub their faces against you, they are sharing their scent with you.
In bunny language, they are saying, “We’re friends!” Your rabbit recognizes you as someone they have an affectionate bond with, and they associate you with positive feelings.
In fact, rabbits are loving and intelligent creatures who can bond with their humans in the same way that dogs do.
Your rabbit knows your voice, and some rabbits can be trained to come when called. My pet rabbit, who wandered freely around our house, used to follow me from room to room!
You’re in Their Way
It may be that you’re in between your rabbit and what they want: a toy, a piece of food, another rabbit friend, or something else. Your bunny may just be saying, “Hey! You’re blocking my view!”
If you notice your bunny nudging random objects in your house, such as books, furniture, or other items, it may simply be that your rabbit is investigating them with a nudge and a sniff.
Rabbits will often do this with strange things, so it’s nothing to be concerned about.
They Want To Show Aggression Or Dominance
Some rabbits who may not feel at ease with you will headbutt you vigorously as a way to get you to move.
Repeated, strong headbutting that becomes a bit urgent may just be your bunny’s way of saying, “I want to be left alone.” So leave them to their own devices for a while to calm down.
Rabbits can also headbutt aggressively to say, “I’m in charge here,” and in this case, you may want to take steps to stop this behavior (see further on for how to do that).
Other Things Your Rabbit Might Do In Addition to Headbutting
There are a number of behaviors that may run alongside headbutting that you should absolutely look out for.
Snuggling Or Nipping
In addition to headbutting, your bunny may also snuggle up against you and even give you a quick nip.
They are not showing aggression when they nip you quickly like this – they are including you in their grooming.
Bunnies who are bonded together will groom each other, and your bunny is showing that they are bonded to you.
Of course, if your bunny’s nips get rough and start to hurt, it may be that your rabbit is feeling frightened.
If this happens, give your friend some space, and then once they’re calm again, reinforce their calm behavior with food or affection.
Positive reinforcement, as a rule, is way more effective for animals than any punishment.
If you aren’t familiar with the term binkying, it means when your rabbit runs very quickly and leaps in the air, twisting as they do so.
It looks like your bunny is literally jumping for joy – and in a way, that’s just what it is.
Your bunny is showing you that they are happy and relaxed in your company.
So just sit and watch them quietly – if you make any sudden movements, they might see it as you wanting to chase them and get frightened.
Your bunny may give you a friendly lick, which is another thing they do as part of their grooming of those they are bonded with.
Your bunny might do this when sitting on your lap, or they might hop up to you and lick your hand. Either way, they’re saying they love you!
So give them some gentle strokes or nuzzles in return that you know they like.
If your bunny flops down beside you and looks very relaxed and stretched out, it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re exhausted.
Your bunny is usually showing that they are happy and chilled out.
Your rabbit stretching out on the ground beside you is showing a lot of trust in you, so show your bunny appreciation for their confidence in you by sitting near them.
Usually, when bunnies flop out on the ground, they want to relax and don’t want to be disturbed, so let your bunny enjoy the atmosphere in your company.
Can You Stop A Rabbit Headbutting You?
Yes, you can stop this behavior. If your rabbit headbutts you as a way to try to assert dominance rather than as a show of affection, you may well want to put a stop to it.
If, however, your rabbit is headbutting you as a bid for affection, you may not want to disrupt this display of love.
Better to respond to your rabbit with gentle strokes or with other forms of loving attention than to try to get your rabbit to say “I love you” in different ways.
We all show love differently, after all!
Generally speaking, animal behaviorists say that you can best stop a rabbit from headbutting you by displaying calm behavior and keeping quiet while asserting your dominance over your friend.
How To Stop Your Rabbit From Headbutting You
If you really want to stop your rabbit from headbutting you, here are some ways you can do that.
Your Hand On Their Head
When your bunny headbutts you, gently place your hand on top of their head.
Try using a few gentle pats to calm your bunny down. Your bunny needs to know that they won’t get anywhere with this behavior, but they need to get the message with you remaining calm and gentle.
If your bunny is still insisting on headbutting you, you can place your hand more firmly on top of their head and pause.
The idea is to leave your hand there for a bit while your bunny is relaxed, letting your friend know that you are the one in charge.
Most rabbits will calm down with this method. Once your bunny is calm, you can reinforce this good behavior with gentle strokes or a treat, whichever you know your bunny will appreciate most.
The main thing to keep in mind is that you want to be gentle and patient with your rabbit.
Gentle reminders that happen often will do more good than trying to force things, so go at your bunny’s pace. Try to watch their body language to see how they are reacting to what you’re doing.
Keep Your Voice Down
Most people might be tempted to say a quick ‘No!’ if their rabbit does something they don’t want.
Don’t raise your voice when training your rabbit – or at any other time, for that matter.
With bunnies, the last thing you want to do is lose your patience, shout or get angry, or make any sudden movements. Gently does it, especially with bunnies!
Rabbits are easily frightened, and loud noises signal danger to them. You won’t get much cooperation from your bunny if they’re scared.
In fact, if your bunny becomes more anxious around you, this could negatively impact your relationship as well as potentially lead to long-term anxiety for your bunny.
Anxiety in rabbits causes the release of chemicals into their bodies which can cause damage to their organs and tissues if left untreated.
As highly sensitive creatures, rabbits can suffer from the following due to stress or anxiety:
- Digestive problems such as gut problems or stomach ulcers
- Weakened immune system
- Mobility, causing urinary problems (e.g., cystitis)
- Kidney or liver damage
- Heart attack (and possibly death)
So treat your rabbit gently and lovingly, and you’ll have many happy times together!
So that’s headbutting in rabbits in a nutshell.
Should you be concerned? Most likely not.
May you be now worried? Perhaps.
With such information, do try to get an appreciation of whether your rabbit is headbutting for positive or negative reasons.
If it’s the latter, you can and probably should contact a vet.
Just to rule out any potential issues, at least.
Wondering why else your rabbit does other interesting things? Then my following guides may be of help!
- Why Does My Rabbit Nibble My Clothes?
- Why Does My Rabbit Run Away From Me?
- Why Does My Rabbit Follow Me?
- Why Does My Rabbit Stare At Me?
- Why Do Rabbits Dig At Your Clothes?
I am a practiced pet owner with decades of experience owning a number of different pets. I am also the main writer and chief editor here at Pet Educate; a site I created to share everything I’ve learned about pet ownership over the years and my extensive research along the way.