Biting and nipping are innate behaviors for rabbits, but getting chomped by your fluffy pet can be quite a shock! Rabbit bites can result in anything from a slight pinch to deep, bleeding wounds. If your rabbit latches on, resist the urge to pull away as this can cause serious damage. There are specific steps you must take to get them to release and properly care for the bite wound. While bites are not extremely common in domestic rabbits, they do occur and require first aid knowledge. Read on to learn what to do when your sweet bunny unexpectedly turns into the Big Bad Bun and bites you! This thorough guide covers immediate treatment, reasons for biting, prevention, and when to seek medical care if you’ve been victim to a bunny bite.
Step 1: Get your rabbit to let go
If your pet rabbit has latched onto you and is biting down, the first step is to get it to release its grip. Rabbits have extremely strong jaw muscles, so you may need to take extreme measures to get it to let go. Start by blowing forcefully into its face. Rabbits are prey animals and do not like having air blown at them. You can also pinch its ear gently but firmly or press on the pressure point between its nose and mouth. These actions will cause discomfort but should not injure your rabbit. As a last resort, you may need to insert a finger or object into its mouth to wedge its jaw open. Be very careful not to damage its teeth or injure it further if attempting this. Once your rabbit releases, immediately move away and put distance between you and the rabbit.
Step 2: Restrain your rabbit in a safe space
After being bitten, you will need to safely restrain your rabbit to avoid being bitten again. If your rabbit is small, you may be able to scruff it by the loose skin on the back of its neck. Larger rabbits can be wrapped snugly in a towel or blanket to contain them. Place your rabbit in a secure carrier or cage where it cannot bite anyone else. Make sure it has access to food, water, litter box, and a place to hide until it calms down. Never attempt to restrain an aggressive rabbit with your bare hands, as this can provoke more biting behavior. Use thick gloves, a towel, blanket or tool to handle a biting rabbit safely. Monitor your rabbit closely and contact your vet for advice if it remains aggressive after being contained.
Step 3: Put pressure on the wound to make it stop bleeding
Rabbit bites often bleed heavily because their teeth are sharp. After washing the bite wound, apply firm pressure with a clean cloth or bandage for 5-10 minutes to stop bleeding. Applying a cold compress can also help constrict blood vessels. Elevate the wounded area above heart level if possible. If bleeding does not stop after applying prolonged pressure, you may need medical treatment to close the wound. See Step 4 for cleaning wound instructions. Seek emergency medical care if blood is spurting from wound, you feel faint, or there is a large, deep laceration that will not close. Bleeding from a rabbit bite can usually be stopped with basic first aid but severe bites may require stitches, skin glue or other medical treatment.
Step 4: Clean your wound
Once bleeding is under control, you need to thoroughly clean the rabbit bite wound to avoid infection. Wash hands first then clean wound and surrounding skin with mild soap and warm running water for at least 5 minutes. Do not scrub wound as this can damage tissue. Apply an antibiotic ointment if available. Cover bite with sterile gauze or a clean cloth. Seek medical care if the wound is very deep or wide, required stitches, has dirt/debris inside that cannot be flushed out, shows signs of infection (redness, heat, swelling, pus) or if the rabbit that bit you is wild, sick or unknown. Medical evaluation is recommended for bites on the face, hands, genitals or joints. Children, elderly and those with weakened immune systems are also at higher risk of infection.
Step 5: Determine why your rabbit attacked you
Once you and your rabbit have both calmed down, try to determine the reason for the biting behavior. Rabbits most often bite out of fear, stress or pain. Was something new introduced to their environment like a pet, child or loud noise? Is the rabbit showing signs of illness like lethargy, loss of appetite, limping or respiratory symptoms? Is there a new object, smell or food in their area? Has something changed in their daily routine like feeding times? Rabbits are creatures of habit and any changes can provoke aggressive reactions. Pain from an unknown injury or illness can also cause unprovoked biting. Take your rabbit to an exotic vet for a full health examination if aggression continues with no obvious environmental trigger. With time, patience and behavior modification, biting can often be corrected but the underlying cause must be addressed first.
Why rabbits bite people
There are several key reasons why pet rabbits bite their owners:
Fear – Being prey animals, rabbits will bite when afraid or threatened. Quick movements, loud noises, unfamiliar people or restraint can provoke fear bites. These are often quick warning nips.
Stress – Changes in environment, routine, diet or housing can cause a rabbit to bite due to stress. Biting may occur when interacting with a stressed rabbit.
Pain – Rabbits in pain from an injury or illness may bite unexpectedly. Bites tend to be more aggressive.
Territorial – Un-neutered/unspayed rabbits are more territorial and prone to biting. They bite to protect their space from intruders.
Mistaken identity – Rabbits may bite fingers or feet if they mistake them for food. Their eyesight is poor so accidental bites can occur.
Maternal aggression – Mother rabbits may attack to protect their nest or kits. Their hormones make them very protective after giving birth.
Redirected aggression – A rabbit bonds strongly with their mate or human. If separated, they may bite their owner out of frustration.
Learned behavior – Rabbits will repeat behaviors that get a reaction from their owner including biting. Consistent training is needed to reverse learned biting.
How to prevent rabbit bites in the future
Spay/neuter your rabbit – This reduces territorial hormones and aggression in rabbits.
Properly introduce rabbits – When introducing a new rabbit, do so in neutral territory and allow them lots of space.
Child/rabbit supervision – Do not leave small children alone unsupervised with a rabbit. Have them sit on the floor to interact at the rabbit's level.
Avoid punishment – Hitting or yelling at a biting rabbit will only provoke more biting behavior.
Proper handling – Scoop up rabbits correctly supporting their hindquarters. Do not dangle them in the air unsupported.
Read rabbit body language – Learn to spot signs of fear, stress or aggression like flattened ears, arching their back, lunging forward or teeth grinding.
Positive reinforcement – Reward and praise good behavior in rabbits to encourage it. Distract them from unwanted biting behavior.
Regular exercise/play – Rabbits need adequate space and enrichment. Allow daily exercise and provide chew toys.
Proper diet – Feed a balanced rabbit diet with plenty of hay. Hungry rabbits may bite more.
Medication – In severe cases of biting, rabbits may need medication prescribed by a vet such as hormone therapy. This changes brain chemistry to reduce aggressive behavior.
How common are bites from pet rabbits?
Though all rabbits may bite under certain circumstances, it's relatively uncommon for pet rabbits to bite frequently or severely enough to break skin. Light nips and grabs at clothing are more common as they investigate their environment with their mouth. Blood-drawing bites usually occur when rabbits are fearful, stressed, territorial, mishandled or in pain. With proper handling techniques, supervision of children, spaying/neutering, and training not to bite, most pet rabbits can be housed safely with very minimal biting behavior. If biting remains a chronic issue, medical or behavioral intervention may be needed. Overall, bites are not considered a common problem for the average pet rabbit in a stable home environment. Caution should always be taken however as scratches and bites are possible when interacting closely with any animal.
Are rabbit bites dangerous?
Most bites from pet rabbits are not medically dangerous with proper first aid and wound care. Their teeth are small and sharp so puncture wounds and lacerations are common which carry a slight infection risk. Deep joint bites or bites to the face/hands have higher infection risks. Children, elderly and immunocompromised people are at greater risk of complications. Rabbit bites are rarely fatal. Wild rabbits pose greater risks of transmitting diseases not found in domestic rabbits through bites such as tularemia. A veterinarian should evaluate any rabbit that has bitten someone to check for signs of rabies or other zoonotic diseases although this is extremely rare in pet rabbits. With prompt cleaning and antibiotic treatment, the vast majority of rabbit bites heal without issue. Seek emergency care for profuse bleeding, very deep wounds or bites where tissue is missing.
What if you were bitten by a wild rabbit?
Bites from wild rabbits carry higher risks of infection than pet rabbit bites due to the potential for disease transmission. Wild rabbits can harbor bacteria, parasites, viruses and other pathogens not found in domestic rabbits. Any bite from a wild animal should be evaluated for the possibility of rabies infection which can be fatal. Immediately wash the wound thoroughly with soap and water then visit an urgent care clinic, emergency room or primary care doctor for additional treatment. Antibiotic prophylaxis may be prescribed to prevent infection along with a rabies booster shot if you have not been vaccinated. Report the wild rabbit bite to animal control officers so the animal can be located and tested. Seek emergency care if bitten on the head, neck, chest or bones/joints or if the bite causes severe tissue damage, profuse bleeding or high levels of pain. Take precautions when handling wild rabbits and call animal control to have them removed humanely from populated areas when possible.
Rabbit bites are common but can usually be managed safely at home with proper first aid and wound care. Learn to read rabbit body language, provide a stress-free environment, handle them properly and supervise children to prevent bites. Spay/neuter rabbits to reduce territorial hormone levels. Wild rabbit bites require medical evaluation to prevent disease transmission. With vigilance and gentle handling techniques, pet rabbits can make very loving, rewarding companions with minimal risk of being bitten.