Bunny Gone Nutty?
Young Rabbit Behavior Changes
When Good Bunnies Go Bad – The Challenges of Bunny Teenagers
Has your baby bunny gone from cute to crazy? Nice to Naughty? Litter box habits gone awry? Is he looking for hubba hubba in all the wrong places? Is she gettin’ bossy, grunting and lunging? If so, it sounds like you may have a bunny that’s reaching sexual maturity, (3–6 months). This is when hormones begin to signal rabbits to mate, mark and protect their territory, causing a whole host of challenging behaviors including, (but not limited to), destructive behaviors, mounting, aggression, and loss of litter box habits.
For rabbits outside, this may not be such a big deal, but as more and more bunnies become House Rabbits, these behaviors can be extremely challenging.
Not every bunny will react this way, but for the ones that do, it can be a problem. I hear this over and over again, and it’s one of the reasons people surrender their rabbits to shelters. This doesn’t have to happen.
So what’s the solution?
First – Make sure the behavior isn’t due to a medical issue. Urinary tract infections, illnesses, and pain related problems can also cause some of these behaviors. If you suspect these behaviors may be due to a medical problem, schedule a vet appointment with a Rabbit-Savvy Vet.
Second – Get your Bunny Spay/Neutered by a Rabbit-Savvy Vet, check out the HRS Veterinarian Section.
A few good reasons to Spay/Neuter your Bunny
- Easier for us to live with rabbits: Better litter box habits, less marking, and just a general calming down of some challenging rabbit behaviors that makes having a bunny companion more fun.
- Easier for rabbits to live with us: A rabbit’s body shape, behavior and demeanor have been domesticated over hundreds of years, but part of the “wild” is still intact. Marking, Mating, Defending, Nesting behaviors have helped their wild cousins survive, but in our homes, those hormonally driven behaviors can lead to frustration and aggression. That can’t be the best life for a bunny who is displaying these behaviors.
- Females have a higher risk of cancer of their reproductive organs as they age: Spaying/neutering solves that problem. Cancers of the
mammary glands can still happen but are less likely if the spay is done early enough.
- Bunny Bonding: If you want to get your bunny a friend, spaying/neutering not only prevents pregnancy, but can make it easier for bunnies to bond.
Steps to Spay and Neuter
It’s VERY important that you find a rabbit-savvy veterinarian. This cannot be stressed enough. A vet who is an expert in Cats and Dogs may not necessarily be an expert with Rabbits. Vets that know how to spay a bunny have been through the additional training. How rabbits react to anesthesia, certain meds and treatments is unique to rabbits. Even pre-surgery instructions differ (eg: Rabbits should never be fasted). One of the best resources about how to find a rabbit savvy vet is from the HRS Veterinarian Section.
So you decided to get your bunny neutered but the surgery is at least a month away. What do you do in the meantime?
Temporary Solutions (Until your bunny is ready to be neutered/spayed)
- Extremely Amorous – Circling, Honking, Chasing, Mounting, Nipping (love bites). Though cute at first, this can quickly get annoying, especially if your arm or leg gets assaulted. Try and redirect this behavior — Get a toy bunny (aka: stunt double) or something your bunny can work out his/her frustration on. Your bunny will catch on very quickly if you make the “Stunt Double” circle him. Once that’s been figured out, it’s all over for the stunt double. No date, no dinner, no nothin’. Just straight to bunny funny business.
- Destructo Bunny – Walls, furniture, whatever your little bunicula can sink his/ her teeth into can become enticing to a teenage bunny. Some of this behavior may be age and personality related, but hormones can put this behavior into overdrive. Make sure to supply your bunny with things that your bunny can tear up. Wood Toys are good, but during this stage I found that something as simple as a phone book helps satisfy chewing AND digging at the same time. Also, check out our Toy Test Section for homemade toys that can keep a bunny busy. For tips on how to protect your home and furniture, see our Bunny Proofing Section
- Litter Training Problems – Spraying urine and scattering poos have less to do with litter training and more to do with a territorial response. Hormones are telling your bunny to claim the place by marking it, (via spray, small pee spots, and/or scattered poo). Unfortunately, though training may help, this behavior may continue, (especially if you have other animals), until you get your bunny neutered/spayed. Supervision will be necessary during free time out. Xpens are good way to limit freedom while providing exercise if you are unable to supervise. Once your bunny has been neutered, you can slowly expand freedom with improved litter box habits.
- Strong Urine and Skunky Smell – Unfortunately there is nothing you can do about the actual smell when he’s not neutered. You just have to be extra diligent about cleaning, and look carefully for spray residue which can sometimes be clear. You should still see a thin residue on walls, floor or anywhere near where your bunny hangs out the most. A 50/50 water and white vinegar mix is a good urine cleaner!
- I like to place a basket full of fresh herbs like Rosemary, Cilantro and Basil nearby where my rabbits reside. All I have to do is break the herbs into few pieces whenever I need a fresh herb scent. It works great! (Stay away from air fresheners which can be irritating to an animals respiratory system).
- Aggression – This can be related to the urge to mate, but many times it is also territorial related. Some bunnies may lunge or growl when you set down food or reach into their cage/pen. One tip is to pet them first before giving food, but if that doesn’t help or makes things worse, then you may want to schedule feeding and cleaning when your bunny is out and about. Pet her when she’s out playing if she is offended when you reaching into her cage/pen.
Try and have patience while you wait for the surgery date. After surgery, it can take about month for the hormones to die down and for your bunny to be back on “better” behavior. (Note: male bunnies may have viable sperm for a month after surgery so don’t allow any unspayed female bunnies for at least a month.) I know it’s frustrating but you’re not the only one going through it. Check out our Forum Behavior Section to see how others are handling it.