Have you ever wondered what your rabbit is trying to tell you when they make squeaks, honks, or thumps? Rabbits actually make a variety of sounds to communicate their needs and emotions. Learning to interpret rabbit noises will help you better understand your pet bunny and identify when something may be wrong. In this article, we'll explore 15 common rabbit sounds including tooth purring, honking, screaming, and more. You'll discover what each sound means and what your rabbit is trying to say. Understanding your pet's nonverbal language will bring you closer and improve their health and happiness. Let's hop right in to decoding noises from the secret world of bunnies!
Rabbits do make noises, (but they are very quiet)
Rabbits are often thought of as silent animals, but they do actually make some noises. However, rabbits don't vocalize nearly as much as cats or dogs. In fact, sometimes their sounds can be so soft that we don't pick up on them.
Rabbits have a wide range of sounds that they'll use to communicate different emotions and needs. While we can't understand exactly what they're saying, we can pick up on some of the context clues based on the situation. Paying attention to your rabbit's body language along with the noises they make will help you better understand what your rabbit is trying to tell you.
Some rabbit sounds you'll hear often include tooth purring when they're happy, honking when requesting food, and thumping to express displeasure or warn of danger. There are also other sounds that you'll likely only hear occasionally, like grunting, screaming, or wheezing which can signify pain or distress.
Learning what the typical rabbit noises mean will help you better understand your pet bunny. But it's also important to understand what sounds are abnormal so that you can identify a potential health issue early on and get your rabbit the care they need.
One of the most common vocalizations from domestic rabbits is a honking or oinking sound. This sound means your rabbit is excited, often about getting fed. Rabbits will frequently let out honks when they hear you filling up their food bowl or rustling a bag of treats.
Honking in rabbits sounds similar to the oink of a piglet. It's a short, sudden exclamation of excitement. Honking is often paired with jumping in the air or running tight circles, showing just how thrilled they are.
Some rabbits make more of a humming sound rather than a distinct honk. It has a softer tone but the same intention behind it. Gentle humming is another way rabbits express their anticipation and excitement for getting fed.
Rabbits may also honk or hum at other times when they're excited, not just about food. For example, some rabbits will honk with joy when their human comes home after being away at work all day. Or they may hum happily when given a new toy.
Honking is one of the clearest ways rabbits vocally communicate positive emotions to us. Pay attention when your rabbit honks to identify what things make them the most excited. And be sure to reward their honking with plenty of love and treats!
Tooth purring, also sometimes called tooth grinding, is the most common sound rabbits make. This soothing, rhythmic sound is made by subtly moving their jaws so that their teeth rub together.
We most often hear tooth purring when we pet rabbits in spots they love to be pet. The purring indicates contentment, pleasure, and affection. It's the rabbit version of a cat's purr and means they are happy and comfortable around you.
Tooth purring is very quiet and can be hard to notice at first. But once you recognize it, you'll find that your rabbit is probably tooth purring during every petting session.
Rabbits may also tooth purr when grooming themselves or other rabbits. So tooth purring doesn't always mean they're bonding specifically with you. But it does mean they're calm and content.
Some clues to tell apart tooth purring vs teeth grinding from pain are:
- Tooth purring is very quiet and intermittent
Painful teeth grinding is louder and more constant
Purring while being pet or grooming signals happiness
Grinding when alone signals discomfort
But when in doubt, always get potential dental issues checked out by your exotics vet.
Teeth grating is somewhat similar to tooth purring but the sound tends to be louder and more forceful. Teeth grating is generally a sign that a rabbit is in pain or discomfort.
The difference in sound occurs because tooth purring is produced by subtly rubbing the teeth together while teeth grating involves forcefully grinding the teeth. Grating causes the teeth to loudly click together rather than softly whispering.
Possible reasons for teeth grating include:
Dental disease such as tooth spurs or molar roots overgrowing into the mouth
Foreign object stuck in teeth, like a piece of hay
Recent tooth trimming leaving teeth sensitive
Sore mouth from an oral infection or abscess
Stress or fear may cause jaw tightening and teeth grinding
If your rabbit is repeatedly grinding their teeth, especially while hunched in a corner, take them to the vet for a checkup. Teeth grating usually signals irritation or pain that needs medical treatment.
Growling or snarling is an aggressive sound some rabbits make, similar to a dog's growl. It often happens during fights between bonded pairs who are sorting out dominance issues. The dominant rabbit may growl to threaten the subordinate.
Mother rabbits may also growl at others who get too close to her babies. She's warning potential predators to back away from the nest or risk being attacked.
In domestic rabbits, growling is most common when rabbits are fighting over toys, food or territory. It's rare for a rabbit to direct a true growl toward their human unless the rabbit is fearful or in pain and warning the human not to come closer.
If your rabbit is frequently growling when around you or their bonded friend, try to identify the trigger. Redirect any resource guarding tendencies, give them more personal space if fearful, or check for sources of pain.
Grunting in rabbits is a low, throaty sound, almost pig-like. But it's not the same as the happy honking sound they make at dinner time. Rabbit grunts are most often an indicator of discomfort or pain.
You may hear rabbit grunts when:
Moving in ways that aggravate joint pain or arthritis
Struggling to poop due to gastro issues or a hair blockage
Grunting during or after giving birth from contractions
General discomfort like from gas pain
Grunting means your rabbit is not feeling well. Try to identify the source of discomfort, especially checking for signs of GI stasis which requires emergency vet care. Call your vet if the grunting persists or is accompanied by other symptoms.
Rabbits whimper or whine when experiencing fear, pain or anxiety. It's a high-pitched, pleading sound often made when frightened by a threat or when stressed at the vet's office.
Pain from an injury or illness can also cause whimpering. You may notice whimpers when touching a sore area or trying to pick up a rabbit with an injured leg.
Rabbit whimpers are different from honks or oinks which have a happy tone. Whimpers will break your heart with their sadness and desperation.
If your rabbit suddenly becomes very vocal with whimpers, inspect them immediately for signs of injury or illness. Get emergency vet care for any severe issue causing audible whimpering or crying.
You may also hear whimpering during stressful situations like car rides or the vet. Try to calm your rabbit down with soothing pets and gentle reassurance if they seem anxious but not in pain.
When very frightened or threatened, some rabbits will hiss in a sharp, loud tone similar to a cat. Hissing often accompanies jumping straight up into the air which shows their explosive reaction.
You'll know a rabbit hiss when you hear one because it's an unexpected and alarming sound! Rabbits normally don't vocalize much, so when they do make a loud noise like a hiss, it signals they feel panicked and defensive.
Think about what triggered your rabbit right before the hissing episode. Common causes include:
- Being picked up when they weren't expecting it
- Loud, sudden sounds
Unfamiliar pets or people approaching them
Getting cornered when running loose
Pain from an untreated injury
A predator like a neighborhood cat or dog getting too close
The hiss is a rabbit's way of shouting "back away right now!" If you know what set your rabbit off, avoid that trigger in the future. Never punish or scold a rabbit for hissing since that will just make them more fearful.
Rabbit thumping is one of the most well known rabbit behaviors. It's that distinctive loud 'thud' you hear when they slam their strong hind legs against the ground.
This thump serves as an alert or warning signal to other rabbits. In the wild, rabbits stomp to let the warren know about a potential threat so they can run or hide. Domestic rabbits retain this instinctual thumping behavior to express:
Fear – A scary sound or sight causes a defensive thump to signal danger.
Displeasure – An angry thump if you disturb their nest or take away a treat.
Marking territory – Thumping to claim an area and warn others away.
Seeking attention – Some rabbits will thump if you walk away when they want more pets and playtime.
Pay attention to any triggers that set your rabbit off thumping. Prevent scary situations, give them space when angry, and try to provide sufficient attention to minimize demanding thumps.
You can't really train a rabbit not to thump when they feel the instinct to do so. But you can gain understanding of what situations tend to trigger those instinctual thumps.
A rabbit's scream is a piercing, tragic sound, like a cry for help. This hair-raising scream is an expression of extreme fear and pain. Some key reasons rabbits scream:
Severe fright (such as from a dog attack)
Intense pain from a serious medical emergency
Giving birth when the kits get stuck during delivery
Distress from getting severely injured by a predator
Panic from getting picked up while running loose outdoors
Shock during extreme temperature spikes
Terror during disasters like fires, floods, or earthquakes
A screaming rabbit needs immediate help. If you hear this disturbing scream, search for any injuries and contact your vet right away even if no wound is visible. Get the rabbit warm and offer hiding spots to help manage their fear until they can be seen by a veterinarian.
Take steps to prevent future screaming by keeping rabbits safe from predators, picking them up properly, and monitoring for signs of illness. But screaming can never be fully prevented since it's an instinctual reaction to severe distress.
An odd sound rabbits sometimes make is called clucking. This is a guttural, rolling sound made repeatedly at the back of the throat.
Clucking indicates dissatisfaction or unease about a situation. Your rabbit may cluck to express:
Displeasure at being picked up or held
Unhappiness about another rabbit encroaching in their space
Hesitance about entering a new environment or approaching an object/person
Discontent when temperature gets too warm
General uncertainty in response to an abnormal situation
Rabbit clucking is often described as similar to the clucking noise a hen makes, but deeper in tone. Pay attention if your rabbit clucks during handling to see if you need to adjust your approach to make them more comfortable.
You may also notice mother rabbits clucking to gather their offspring back into the nest. The babysitter rabbit watching the kits may cluck to herd them all together while the mother is away.
Rabbits get the hiccups just like humans do! You might hear a soft "hic" each time their diaphragm involuntarily spasms.
Hiccups in rabbits are caused by spasms of the diaphragm, often triggered by:
Eating foods that irritate the esophagus, such as dry, sugary treats
Eating too fast and swallowing air with the food
Drinking water too quickly after feeding
Stress, excitement, or swallowing air while playing
Gastrointestinal issues slowing down digestion
Hiccups can be annoying for rabbits, but rarely indicate any serious health problems. Make sure your rabbit has access to plenty of water and feed them hay before treats or pellets. This helps food pass smoothly through the digestive tract.
Massaging your rabbit's abdomen may relax the diaphragm and help hiccups subside faster. If hiccups last more than a few hours, contact your vet to rule out underlying digestive issues.
Lots of rabbits like to snore, just like their human owners! Rabbit snoring sounds like soft rattling or purring noises as air moves past relaxed throat tissues and the tongue.
Snoring generally occurs when rabbits are in deep sleep, especially if they slept in an awkward position with their chin or head drooping down. The sound results from the throat tissues and tongue partly obstructing airflow.
Reasons rabbits snore:
Relaxed throat muscles during sleep
Sleeping with head tilted down
Overweight rabbits may have excess tissue in the throat area
Some respiratory infections cause congestion and snoring
Purring and snoring can sound similar
As long as the snoring is soft, irregular, and doesn't contain choking sounds, it's normal and nothing to worry about. But loud, frequent snoring paired with breathing issues while awake could signal a respiratory infection. Contact your vet if you notice any concerning snoring habits.
Sleep talking in rabbits involves making soft cooing, purring, or humming sounds during sleep. These quiet vocalizations are the rabbit version of humans talking in our sleep.
Sleep talking occurs during REM sleep when dreams are most vivid and the brain is very active. While their humans can't decipher what rabbits are dreaming about, they seem to express it by gently humming, cooing and purring.
Some signs that your rabbit is sleep talking versus awake:
Their eyes remain fully closed
They remain lying down rather than getting up
Soft, intermittent sounds rather than sustained vocalizing
Lack of environmental triggers explaining the sounds
Unresponsive to external stimuli until awakened
There's no need to wake up a sleep talking rabbit. But you can record those cute sleeping noises to share with fellow bunny enthusiasts! Just make sure the camera flash doesn't disturb your slumbering pet.
Sneezing is common in rabbits, but can also indicate issues ranging from mild to severe. Sneezing results from irritation of the nasal passages and sinus cavity. Causes include:
Dust, pollen, or dander irritating the nasal passages
Dental disease or tooth root abscesses spreading infection
Pasteurella bacterial infection, common in rabbits
Upper respiratory infections
Tumors or masses blocking nasal passages
Foreign objects wedged in the nostrils
Mild, occasional sneezing is normal, especially if you also have the urge to sneeze. But recurrent rabbit sneezing warrants veterinary attention to identify the underlying cause.
Bring your sneezy rabbit in for more serious symptoms like discharge from eyes/nose, difficulty breathing, reduced appetite or lethargy. Proper medication can help resolve almost any sneezing cause.
Wheezing is a raspy, whistling sound made during breathing. This occurs when airways become constricted from illness, allergies or obesity pressing on the lungs.
Causes for wheezing in rabbits include:
Pasteurella infection spreading into lungs
Heart disease leading to fluid buildup in lungs
Cancer or abscesses obstructing airways
Inhaled allergens like hay dust triggering asthma
Pressure on lungs from severe obesity
Pain from lung trauma or pneumonia
Wheezing signifies respiratory distress and requires prompt veterinary attention. Don't wait and assume it will resolve on its own or just go away. Any audible wheezing is abnormal in rabbits.
Bring the wheezing rabbit to the vet to pinpoint the cause through x-rays and lab work. Treatment typically includes antibiotics, nebulization, pain meds, diuretics or steroids depending on the diagnosis.