Rabbits are quieter than other creatures but by no means silent. Most rabbit sounds are soft and low – if a wild rabbit hopped around the countryside making loud noises she would quickly attract predators.
Being quiet is one of the reasons why rabbits make great indoor companions. Having said that, they can make a lot of noise when they’re playing or want attention, for instance banging their food bowl when they’re hungry or the baby gate to be let out. Being individual, each bunny develops her own vocabulary of sounds to communicate with her caregivers.
This is a happy sound, for example one of my rabbits clucks when she’s eating a juicy pear, then licks her lips and whiskers.
These are part of the courtship behaviour, for example male rabbits usually grunt when they’re wooing a female. Even if your rabbit is neutered, she may continue to honk softly when she circles you or another rabbit.
Rabbits can also make this sound to request food or petting. My rabbit grunts when she settles down for a nap or runs through a towel draped over a chair – her favourite game.
When I have a lie-in my rabbit Carolina mutters and paws at the bed for attention. If I don’t pet her long enough, she immediately starts woofing again.
A rabbit may sigh when he’s had enough of something, for example having his fur trimmed or being syringe-fed.
Rabbits usually do this before an attack. Once I was trying to catch a friend’s rabbit to put him in his pet carrier and he ran growling towards me! If a rabbit growls at you, stop doing whatever is annoying or frightening him, or he might scratch and bite in self-defence. Learning to handle rabbits safely and gently is essential.
Soft grinding of the teeth/Tooth purring
This is a sign that your rabbit is happy, comfortable and relaxed, for example when he’s being petted. Some rabbits grind their teeth very loudly when content (not to be confused with painful crunching, below).
Loud crunching of the teeth
Loud grinding of the teeth is very different from the soft chewing described above. It denotes pain and discomfort, especially when combined with dull, bulging eyes and general apathy. Seek veterinary help immediately.
Some rabbits moan gently when you pet them in the right spot, usually behind the ears and on the upper back.
Young rabbits sometimes squeak when they’re hungry or frightened. A rabbit may also squeak softly when she ingests the soft droppings from her bottom.
Rabbits squeal when they are hurt or extremely scared, for example if they’ve been caught by a predator. When rabbits are outside it is essential to supervise them at all times to protect them from potential dangers – if a rabbit is very frightened she could die of a heart attack even before she is attacked.
Rabbit stamp a back foot loudly when they are afraid of something. In the wild, they thump to alert others that there is danger and give them a chance to run to their burrows. The vibrations made by thumping also warn the rabbits inside the burrows not to surface.
Thumping can also be a protest or threatening gesture, for example one of my rabbits thumps at the vet or when I’m about to clip her nails. Rabbits may stamp their feet if they notice something out of the ordinary (a strange object, noise or smell), to make an announcement or simply for attention. Thumping is also a sign of sexual excitement, for instance when a male rabbit meets a female rabbit.
Some rabbits protest with a combination of vocal and sniffing sounds.
Rabbits may make a fretting noise when you try to pick them up or when they don’t want to be held anymore. A nervous bunny may whimper when you put your hand in her pen. When a rabbit is ill or in pain, she may also whine softly.