Does your rabbit suddenly start scratching and digging into your shirt or bare skin while you hold it? This funny rabbit behavior may seem like a nuisance, but it’s actually your pet trying to communicate something meaningful! Digging on owners is how rabbits express their needs, feelings, and opinions. Rabbits dig when they want down, feel territorial, are bored, smell something bad, desire playtime, feel anxious, showcase dominance, wish to be petted, or experience medical issues. Learn to interpret this natural burrowing behavior so you can understand the secrets your rabbit is sharing each time it tunnels into your lap or clothes. This guide will help you translate your rabbit’s unique language!
Why Does My Rabbit Burrow On Me?
It's very common for pet rabbits to dig and burrow on their owners while being held or sitting on their lap. This behavior may seem strange, but it usually has a specific purpose and meaning. Rabbits are complex, social animals that use body language and behaviors to communicate their needs, feelings, and opinions to us. Digging and burrowing into human clothes or bare skin is one unique way rabbits express themselves to their owners.
When a rabbit starts energetically digging, scratching, and burrowing into your shirt, pants, or even bare chest and arms, it is typically trying to tell you something meaningful. The exact reason will depend on the context, your relationship with your rabbit, and your pet's unique personality. By understanding common reasons for this funny rabbit behavior, you can get insight into your rabbit's mindset and better address its needs.
Rabbit Digging Behavior
To understand why your rabbit digs on you, it helps to first appreciate the natural digging behaviors of rabbits in the wild. Digging and burrowing into the earth is an innate behavioral need and survival instinct for rabbits. In their natural environment, rabbits burrow underground to create nests and tunnel systems for shelter, reproduction, and protection from predators.
Even domestic rabbits retain these hard-wired digging instincts. A house rabbit will dig and burrow on objects in its environment like cardboard boxes, paper bags, rugs, and furniture. It scratches and digs to mimic natural burrowing behaviors. Digging on their owners takes advantage of a warm, soft surface they can energetically scratch and dig into. It allows them to exhibit their innate burrowing behaviors in a harmless way.
Rabbit Wants To Be Let Down
One of the most common reasons pet rabbits dig into your clothes or skin is they want to be let down from your lap. Rabbits prefer to have their feet on solid ground. When they've had enough lap time, they will dig and scratch at you as a signal to put them down. This light scratching is a polite request.
Rabbits may also dig on you to be let down if they are uncomfortable being held. Supporting a rabbit's feet properly with an arm under their chest is ideal. Holding them off balance can cause anxiety. The digging behavior communicates their desire to get down to stable footing. Respect your rabbit's wish to be let down when it tries burrowing out of your lap.
Rabbit Is Showing Territorial Behavior
Rabbits are very territorial by nature. In the wild they mark territory with scent glands and feces. Even domestic rabbits exhibit territorial behaviors with people and objects they consider their own. The digging, scratching and burrowing on you can be a way your rabbit marks you as its territory and property.
This is often the case when a rabbit aggressively digs or "chinning" on clothing items it recognizes as strongly belonging to you. Your scent makes it seem like a territorial object. Rabbits may be less inclined to dig on bare skin, since clothing holds your scent better. The burrowing is your rabbit marking its owner and "claiming" its territory.
Rabbit Is Experiencing Boredom
Rabbits are intelligent, social and active animals that need ample mental stimulation and playtime. Without adequate activities to engage its mind and body your rabbit may act out with undesirable behaviors like digging on you. The digging satisfies its innate need to burrow while giving it something to do.
Make sure your rabbit has enough enrichment and exercise in its daily life. Provide puzzle toys, cardboard to dig on, tunnels to run through, and chews to gnaw. Rotate toys to make existing ones seem new again. Also set aside active daily playtime with toys that allow burrowing and digging behaviors. A bored rabbit will often dig to make their own fun.
Rabbit Thinks You Smell
Rabbits have a superb sense of smell far superior to humans. They depend on scent and chemo-signals to gather information about their environment. Rabbits are known for their fastidious grooming habits because they are so scent-oriented. Your rabbit may dig on you or your clothing if something doesn't smell right to them.
Something as simple as using a new soap, skin care product or deodorant may suddenly offend your rabbit's sensitive nose. Perfumes, scented lotions or eating foods like garlic can also cause your scent to seem unpleasant to a rabbit. If your rabbit starts aggressively digging on you, evaluate any new scents on your skin, clothes or hands that may be offensive.
Rabbit Is Asking to Play
Healthy rabbits are energetic and playful. Pet rabbits often learn that digging or nibbling on their owners can initiate playtime. The digging behaviors get attention and interaction from you. Your rabbit may see your reaction to their burrowing and scratching as a fun game.
It's important to set boundaries with your rabbit about good play manners. You can redirect digging on bare skin into play by presenting a toy instead. Reward gentle interactions without digging. Any skin-scratching should be consistently ignored to discourage it. A digging rabbit wants to play with you, so initiate appropriate games with your pet.
Rabbit Is Feeling Anxious
Stress and anxiety can also cause a rabbit to dig obsessively at owners. Rabbits are prey animals programmed to detect threats. Anything unfamiliar, loud noises, new environments, and handling by strangers can make a rabbit feel insecure. The burrowing behavior is calming and self-soothing during uncomfortable situations.
Watch your rabbit's body language for other fear signs like wide eyes, upright ears, freezing, and rapid breathing. If your rabbit seems anxious, keep handling gentle and avoid overwhelming it when digging occurs. Comfort it with soothing petting and your calm presence. Use a favorite treat to build positive associations with the situation causing unease.
Rabbit Is Showing Dominance
Although cute and fluffy in appearance, rabbits have a natural social hierarchy they follow. In the wild, one dominant rabbit rules the warren. Some pet rabbits will exhibit dominance behaviors towards owners including lunging, chinning, circling feet, and digging/scratching.
A rabbit aggressively digging on your bare skin is acting out dominance behaviors. Don't punish or yell at a dominant rabbit, as this will worsen aggression. Stay calm and use hands-off training cues like hand signals to shape better manners. With time and consistency, you can teach your rabbit you are the top bunny in your home.
Rabbit Is Showing Off
Some rabbits seem to dig and burrow on their owners as a way of showing off their normal instincts. An outdoor rabbit brought inside may excitedly dig on its owner to demonstrate its natural digging talents in this new environment.
Rabbits also seem to show off their speed and agility with playful digging, especially if they get a reaction. Let your energetic rabbit burn off steam with short supervised play sessions when it tries to show off its burrowing abilities on you. Then redirect it to a more appropriate cardboard or dirt digging box.
Rabbit Is Demanding Petting
If your rabbit starts gently nuzzling and digging into your shirt or lap, it is probably asking for petting and affection. Rabbits are very social and crave attention from their owners. Light digging can communicate "pet me!" without being pushy or forceful.
Be sure to reward polite digging by petting your rabbit and providing the affection it desires. Ignore any scratching of bare skin so your rabbit asks nicely with light nose nudges instead of claws. Rabbits dig on their owners because they know it gets them the pets and love they enjoy.
Something Is Wrong
Sometimes obsessive, frantic digging on owners can indicate an underlying medical issue. Pain from an injury or illness may cause a rabbit to dig intensely without clear reason. Urinary tract infections or bladder sludge can also make rabbits dig due to bladder pain and discomfort.
Schedule a veterinary checkup if your rabbit suddenly digs persistently without its usual communicative purpose. Rule out any hidden health problems causing digging with bloodwork and an exam. Medical reasons for excavating owners are less common, but still worth investigating.
How To Prevent Rabbits from Digging On You
While rabbit digging on owners is totally normal, you may want to discourage this clingy behavior if it happens excessively. Here are some tips to prevent your rabbit from burrowing in your lap and clothes while holding it:
Provide An Outlet
Give your rabbit a designated alternative outlet for its natural digging instincts, like a grass mat, digging box or old tshirt. Allow short supervised digging sessions on these items so your rabbit satisfies the need to burrow in more appropriate ways.
Play With Your Rabbit More Often
Make sure your rabbit gets adequate exercise and playtime with you each day. Set up tunnels, toys, and activities to engage your rabbit so it doesn't dig on you from boredom. Interactive play reduces unwanted behaviors.
A rabbit that digs due to fear or insecurity needs more trust in you and its environment. Use positive reinforcement, handle your rabbit daily, and avoid overly stressful situations to build confidence. A trusting rabbit relates to their owner without anxiety digging.
Spaying or neutering can reduce territorial digging and maturity-related behaviors like dominance scratching. Altered rabbits are calmer and less likely to mark owners. Neutering is strongly recommended to improve behavior.
Use small treats to reward your rabbit when it sits with you without digging. Say a firm "no dig" and stop petting if scratching starts. Consistency trains rabbits to snuggle without excavating you for attention.
Ignore the Rabbit’s Digging
Don't yell at or punish rabbits for digging, but also avoid overly reacting or pushing them away. Simply stop petting and look away when digging happens. Only continue attention when paws stay politely on your lap.
Your Rabbit Digs On You To Communicate
When your rabbit starts energetically digging, scratching, and burrowing into your clothes and skin, it is using this natural behavior to communicate with you in its own unique way. By understanding the most common reasons for this funny rabbit activity, you can better respond to what your rabbit is trying to tell you with its digging. With time and patience, you'll learn to interpret your rabbit’s body language and reciprocate in a way that nurtures your special bond.