A rabbit's primary defense is its ability to sense danger and flee. Rabbits have keen vision and hearing and are constantly on alert for predators. This propensity for observational vigilance means that oftentimes rabbits are not calm, but instead nervous or agitated. Take steps to help soothe your bunny's flight reflex and in doing so, calm it down.
Spay or Neuter Your Bunny
Rabbits possess hormones that affect their temperaments. Spaying or neutering alters the endocrinological profile of your animal and reduces aggression. While surgery ameliorates hormonally induced behavior, such as aggression, nipping and territorial marking, age-related behavior changes with time and maturity. Spay or neuter your bunny, preferably at the height of adolescence (4 to 8 months), but keep in mind that some behavior may not change immediately.
Socialize Your Bunny
Conditioning your bunny to be handled is part of socializing him. Start by wearing gloves to protect yourself. To reduce the chances of being bitten, approach the rabbit from above since rabbits tend to lunge forward when attempting to bite. Do not approach the rabbit from the front or place your hand in front of its face. Gently press your rabbit's head down and stroke its forehead. Pet your rabbit several times per day, but not for too long each time.
Understand Behavior Triggers
Understanding and removing triggers that prompt aggressive behavior in your rabbit, helps calm him down. For example, some otherwise friendly rabbits don't like it when you handle their food and will react poorly if they see you doing so. Fear can trigger learned aggression, which is aggressive behavior that has been successful in the past at driving away something that has frightened your rabbit. Remove the trigger of fear aggression by not withdrawing your presence and by showing your bunny that you are not someone to fear.
Create a Positive Association
Create a positive association with your presence. Talk to your bunny in a soothing voice. Try sitting next to the cage and reading out loud. Keep in verbal contact with your bunny while in the same room to avoid unexpectedly coming into close proximity and startling the animal. Ensure that you spend some time beside the cage that is not immediately followed by cage cleaning, so that your bunny doesn't associate your presence with stress and disruption. Place an old article of your clothing covered with your scent in the cage and place rabbit treats on it to create a positive association with you.
When to See a Veterinarian
Sometimes pain, such as from overgrown teeth, a bladder infection or other illness can prompt less than ideal behavior from your bunny, so consider a vet check up for your pet if you can't soothe his stress by changing your handling methods.
Nancy Lovering is a writer, photographer and teaching assistant. She took novel writing at Langara College and photography at British Columbia Institute of Technology. She obtained her teaching assistant certificate through Delta School District Continuing Education. She previously worked as an assistant controller while in the Certified General Accountants program, and has training in dog psychology through Custom Canine Teaching Ltd. in Vancouver, BC.