Rabbits aren’t just a pretty face, they are also great little personalities. Domestic rabbits are individuals and each have a character all of their own. If you are someone willing to give this amazing pet the love and kindness it deserves your likely to be entertained by binkies, flops, regular begging for treats or head strokes then just when you think rabbits couldn’t get any cuter, they’ll go and surprise you with another endearing behavior. One of the more curious things that we see from our rabbits is chin rubbing. So what does chin rubbing mean? Is our rabbit trying to tell us something? Here’s the short answer.
Why do rabbits chin? Rabbits each have their own specific scent and scent glands located underneath the chin. Chin rubbing is a rabbits way of marking out territory or indicating that something belongs to them. This is a behavior that can be seen in both male and female rabbits though is more common in bucks. Domestic rabbits may even rub the chin on their owner which many owners consider a sign of love. Chinning is normal behavior and nothing for a rabbit owner to worry about.
Other Rabbit Scent Glands
The scent glands located in the rabbits chin aren’t the only ones they have however they are the most socially acceptable. A rabbits other scent glands are located between the genitals and anus. Fortunately, your rabbit does not use these to mark territory, they are just for other rabbits.
Why is My Rabbit Chinning Everything?
Our rabbits may appear to be more or less silent to us but when it comes to communication between themselves and their fellow bunnies, they speak loudly and clearly through a range of complex body language and behaviors. Chinning is one of these behaviors.
Rabbits bought into a new environment are very interested in these surroundings and keen to make claim to this fascinating new environment (and all of the objects in it). When a rabbit rubs its chin on an object this deposits the rabbits individual scent on it. Though completely undetectable by us it’s a clear signal to other bunnies, and a rabbits way of saying ‘back off, this is mine!’
If you have more than one rabbit you’ll also probably notice them trying to immediately steal territory back with chinning if it has been chinned by another rabbit.
Is Chinning Normal Rabbit Behavior?
Yes, chinning is completely normal and is a behavior associated with territory and common in both domestic and wild rabbits. In the wild rabbits use chinning to define their territorial boundaries to other rabbits, not within their group. Along with chinning both male and female rabbits (though more so bucks) will spray their territory and scatter territorial droppings (often referred to as pills) within territorial boundaries to mark the territory of the group warren.
Domestic rabbits are also likely to display spraying behavior which can be problematic if the rabbit is a house bunny however, this behavior can largely be curbed by spaying or neutering.
Should I Try and Stop My Rabbit From Chinning?
No. Rabbit chinning is a rabbits natural behavior and a rabbit should not be punished in any way for behaving naturally. Just as we put out our home furnishings when we move into our own place, chinning is a rabbits way of doing the same. The scent left behind after has chinned something is not something that can be smelt by humans, leaves no visible residue and will not cause any damage. Just let the rabbit go about its business and be thankful it isn’t spraying urine instead.
Rabbit Rubbing Chin on You? Here’s What It Means
We understand that chin rubbing is a territorial behavior but it can seem a little strange when your rabbit starts rubbing its chin on you, its owner. What is it trying to say?
If you have a house rabbit your pet will have likely spent a sufficient amount of its time marking out its territory around your home but when it comes to property you’re included. If you carry out a good clean of a room your rabbit uses and will probably quickly notice your rabbit claiming it again. Likewise, your rabbit will also notice if your scent is different, especially if you’ve had a bath or shower. By rubbing its chin on you the pet is indicating to all other pets that you belong to them.
The other reason that rabbits may rub their chins on you is of course love. Rabbits are very affectionate animals, especially to owners that treat them with kindness. A rabbit rubbing its chin on you is a sign of affection (after all the rabbit could just as easily spray you from the other end which would be very unpleasant!) and shows that the rabbit thinks of you as important property and something worth keeping.
Rabbit Chin Rubbing on Other Rabbits
If you keep rabbits as a bonded male and female pair, you may notice them rubbing their chins on each other on occasion, again this is a sign of love and affection.
My Rabbit Is Rubbing Her Chin on Food
Food is just as important to rabbits as property. If you have a pair of rabbits sharing a home you may see one of them stake claim to items of food you place in there space, even if it was meant for sharing!
If you keep a bonded same-sex pair, for example, two bucks you may witness behavior that can often be confused with chin rubbing at first glance. When two new rabbits are introduced, particularly male-male pairings you may see one of the rabbit bowing its head very low to the floor directly in front of the head of the other rabbit.
This isn’t love, not to say that the pairing won’t eventually grow close (although this can be difficult in male-male pairings) but is actually the end of a dominance struggle whereby one rabbit (the one standing tall) has emerged as the dominant member of the pair. From then on you may see the dominant rabbit always eating first at the food bowl with the more submissive of the two waiting its turn.
Chinning and Aggression
One of the main things that chinning shows is that rabbits are very territorial, it’s very important for them to have their own space. Those lucky enough to share your home will probably recognize you as being no threat however those that have hutches outside the home may become very aggressive if you appear once a week to mess up their freshly chinned territory (also known as cleaning time!) aggression may be anything from grunting (get out of my space!), lunging or if you are very unlucky even biting. Remember, this is nothing personal, its just a rabbits way of protecting its personal space. If you are a rabbit owner and having aggression issues with your own rabbit, read our post about dealing with biting here.
Rabbits have a lot of interesting behaviors and means of communication. Most of them are subtle actions between them and a companion of the same species however chinning is one that we get to see and understand. As well as being very sweet, chinning is a very important means of communication to a rabbit. It establishes territory and gives a rabbit a space that feels like their own.
Just as a child enjoys having their own room to play rabbits feel the same way. If you are a rabbit owner yourself set out an area and fill it with interesting and enriching toys for your rabbit to chin. Where possible, keep this area and free of interruptions and respect your rabbits space.