Rabbits communicate with one another through subtle gestures most of which humans won’t even notice or understand As pets, rabbits are generally quiet animals, in fact, one of the advantages of a rabbit over other pets is that a rabbit is ‘neighbor-friendly’ and can be left all day without fear of annoying anyone (the way the constant barking of a dog might).
However, rabbits do make some noise, some of which can give their owner great satisfaction while others can be quite worrying. Hearing your pet rabbit click their teeth (otherwise known as purring) is a good indication that you are doing something right as an owner. Often seen when stroking the head or nose of a rabbit purring is a sure sign that a rabbit is satisfied.
On the other hand, another noise that a rabbit is capable of is the scream. The scream of a rabbit is one noise that no owner should ever wish to experience.
What causes rabbits to scream? Screaming in rabbits is an indication that a rabbit is scared for its life. Just like in humans screaming is a way that a rabbit communicates pain or fear and is a cry for help which should never be ignored. As prey animals, wild rabbits snatched by a predator may scream through pain or even as a last gasp attempt at survival.
Domestic rabbits should never be put in a situation where they feel in any danger especially from predators however domesticated rabbits may perceive certain situations as life-threatening even when an owner does not recognize it.
Common Reasons for a Rabbit to Scream
Fear of a predator or perceived danger
Wild rabbits naturally have a strong survival instinct, necessary due to being at the bottom of the food chain. As a prey species rabbits are skittish animals, aware of their surroundings and the dangers within it. Domestic rabbits also share this instinct and like their wild relatives, a natural fear helps them stay alive.
Domestic rabbits, of course, are not likely to face the same life and death situations that a wild rabbit would, however everyday occurrences such as the sight of another domestic pet (dog or a cat), a loud unexpected noise such as a door slamming, or even an unexpected human face peering in at them through the hutch can be enough strike fear into a rabbit.
Unfortunately extreme fear can also lead to the death of a rabbit. Instinctively a wild rabbit will freeze or flee at the sight of danger however a domestic rabbit, especially those confined to a hutch will be unable to exhibit this behavior if they perceive that they are trapped or there life is under threat. In such instances a rabbit’s already high resting heart rate of between 140 and 180 bpm may become elevated and unless the danger passes the stress may lead to death.
Understandably a rabbit in extreme fear for its life or feeling pain because it is nearing death may let out a scream as a result.
Rabbits having a seizure
Much like humans rabbits can also suffer epileptic seizures. White, blue-eyed rabbits and lop-eared rabbits are more prone to seizures and dwarf rabbit breeds more likely to have a suppressed immune system can also lead to increased susceptibility to bacteria such as e-cuniculi.
Other causes include Other causes for seizures include low blood sugar, genetic abnormalities, head injury and even exposure to certain chemicals.
Seizures are periods of excited cerebral activity including bouts of involuntary body movement or function in the rabbit. Symptoms of seizures are rolling of the body, signs of distress, mental confusion, head tilt, fainting, brain damage and even blindness. Seizures are very distressing to a rabbit and this can understandably cause a rabbit to scream out in fear of its life.
Rabbits screaming in pain
As prey animals rabbits in the wild will try to hide pain. This is because a predator will often single out the weakest of a group as easy prey. However when pain is excruciating or an extreme injury has occurred a rabbit may feel it has no other option especially if it feels death is close.
Aside from screaming, pain in rabbits can be identified through a number of other behaviors and as rabbit owners we should all familiarise ourselves with these signs so we can act quickly in an emergency.
Common visual signs of a rabbit in pain are tooth grinding and trembling. When it comes to pain from gastrointestinal illnesses such as stasis or gas, you may see a rabbit adopting different postures in order to get more comfortable. Rabbits with G.I. stasis will likely show an unwillingness to move and may hide away in a quiet spot to be by itself.
Pain in rabbits, even that which does not lead to screaming should never be ignored. Rabbits deteriorate very quickly when they are ill so knowing your rabbit and recognizing when there is something wrong (and acting immediately) can be the difference between life and death.
Rabbit screaming when being picked up
With rabbits being such nervous animals it can naturally take a while to build up a level of trust when you first bring one into your home. Rabbits are also happiest with all four paws firmly on the ground and from a rabbits point of view being picked up 3 or 4 feet from the ground is a lot like being lifted up by a deadly predator.
Sadly some rabbits don’t get regular human contact, particularly those that are used for breeding. One of my own rabbits, a female previously used for breeding demonstrated this perfectly. Pixie had been used for breeding for 4 years prior to being retired and me taking ownership. As far as I could tell she had spent all this time in a small 1.5 X 3 ft hutch.
Naturally, Pixie was very stressed when I first tried to pick her up and she’d often let out a scream during any attempt to handle her. Thankfully, using some of the techniques described in this article I was eventually able to build up trust with Pixie and once she knew that I was a friend and not a threat on her life, I was able to pick her up.
Another consideration when picking up rabbits is that a rabbit has a very delicate skeletal structure. Handling a rabbit without experience can lead to damage to bones, with the spine being particularly susceptible to injury. With this in mind rabbits should never be handled by children without supervision from an experienced rabbit carer.
Rabbit screaming when being attacked
As a natural reaction to fearing for its life a rabbit can be heard to scream if it is attacked by another animal. As rabbit owners and carers its up to us to ensure that our rabbits are kept safe from anything that may (either unintentionally or otherwise) do it any harm. This means providing a safe and secure home for it to play and exercise and preventing unwanted attention from predators (or even or excited domestic pets such as dogs and cats).
Even perfectly happy bonded rabbit pairs may fight from time to time, this is normal and its not unusual to hear rabbits scream during these encounters. Again, a scream indicates that a bunny is in pain, perhaps from a painful bite or the fear of losing its life. Although most rabbit pairings will have scuffles from time to time, rabbits that continuously fight should be separated to prevent injury and stress to both rabbits.
Do Rabbits Scream in Anger?
Despite what some sites may say, a rabbit is unlikely to scream out of anger in the same way that a child might. In my 15 years as a rabbit owner owning several rabbits and also rabbit sitting other peoples I have never experienced this.
A rabbit will only scream for very serious reasons when they are in fear of there lives. A rabbit showing anger will more often than not grunt, lunge or stamp their feet as a warning rather than a high pitched scream.
What Should You Do When Your Rabbit Screams
A screaming rabbit is not something to ignore. Immediate action should be taken. If your rabbit is having a seizure A rabbit screaming due to a seizure then your first action should be to reassure the distressed pet. Once the fit is over offer water to the animal before taking it to a veterinarian for a check. Aside from fitting injured rabbits that scream due to an injury should also be comforted and taken to a vet as soon as possible.
In other instances a rabbit may be screaming because of something it has seen or heard in its environment (for an outside hutch rabbit the sight or sound of a predator or perceived predator walking by). This may cause significant stress on a rabbit especially if it feels it is trapped with no means of escape or place to hide.
You can prevent this experience in a few ways. First, and regardless of whether the animal is kept outdoors or indoors you should always ensure that a quiet and secure space is provided. For indoor rabbits this should be away from other pets that may scare or harass the rabbit or small children that may scare the rabbit with loud spontaneous noise.
For outdoor rabbits (as you probably won’t be able to watch what is happening in their environment 24 hours a day) it’s important to provide a hiding space where the rabbit can go to feel safe in the same way that a wild rabbit is able to escape to a burrow.
How to Comfort a Screaming Rabbit
Most rabbits looked after in captivity will never scream however every rabbit is different. Also, if a rabbit is injured a scream may be the only way it can let you know that it needs your help.
If there is no obvious cause don’t be too quick to pick up the rabbit in case of an injury which could be aggravated by handling. Examine the rabbit carefully and look for any possible signs of injury.
If an injury has been ruled out, risk assess the environment for anything else that could have caused the rabbit to scream (e.g. predators) and remove the rabbit to somewhere quiet to calm down if necessary. Sit alongside the bunny and talk quietly to reassure them while gently stroking them. Sort out any environmental factors before thinking about returning the rabbit to the area.
Rabbits Screaming When Dying
Rabbits deteriorate quickly and a rabbit in excruciating pain may scream immediately before dying, giving you no time to consult with a vet. This is very sad but rest assured that you have provided all the comfort you could and in these unfortunate circumstances.