Rabbits stare at the humans they live with for a variety of reasons.
In this article, I will try and cover most of the common reasons why your rabbit may be staring at you.
Possible Reasons Your Rabbit May Stare at You
Sometimes your rabbit will stare at you as it’s just curious about what you are doing. They feel secure, they are well-fed, and they are relaxed enough to be curious.
Sometimes a rabbit that is staring at you is afraid of you. Rabbits are small, vulnerable animals. They are naturally cautious around people they don’t know.
Rabbits may stare at you because they want to be petted. If this is the reason your rabbit is hoping to get your attention, they will also put their head down flat on the floor.
Rabbits do this in the expectation that you will pet them on top of their head, not that you will pick them up or pet other places on their bodies.
And sometimes a rabbit that seems to be staring at you isn’t really staring at you at all.
Rabbits, like dogs, have a second, transparent eyelid that drops down over their eyes to protect them while they are asleep.
They can instantly see what is going on around them when they wake up, but they are less likely to suffer an eye injury while they are asleep.
How to Tell Your Rabbit Is Staring Out of Fear of You
In nature, rabbits are animals that larger animals hunt for food.
To survive—and the overwhelming majority of rabbits don’t, that is why they have so many offspring—rabbits have to stay keenly aware of what is going on around them.
Rabbits that have survived an encounter with an overly curious dog or a hungry cat when they are young can develop the rabbit’s equivalent of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder).
The telltale sign that your rabbit has had a harrowing experience and has rabbit PTSD is rapid blinking when he stares at you.
In this kind of blinking in rabbits, the outer, solid eyelid may not go up and down over the rabbit’s eye.
The movement may be the rabbit’s clear nictitating membrane, its second eyelid. This can be harder for you to see.
If your rabbit staring at you and blinking fast, chances are it is not sure that you are safe. So, you need to make sure you can feel safe around you.
How to Help Your Rabbit Overcome Fear of You
Your rabbit won’t overcome the fear of people or fear of other pets automatically.
It can take a couple of weeks to a couple of months of the right kind of interaction to help your rabbit feel less fearful.
What is the right kind of interaction with your rabbit?
When you see your rabbit on the floor staring at you, your natural inclination will be to pick it up and pet it.
Don’t do this.
When rabbits are picked up in nature, it’s usually because they are about to be eaten.
(Unlike dogs and cats, mother rabbits don’t move their babies around by picking them up, so your rabbit will not have had any happy experience of being picked up before you adopted them.)
Instead of picking up your rabbit, get down on the floor at their level. Facing your bunny, place your hand firmly but gently over their head.
Don’t stroke the rest of your rabbit’s body. Don’t hold the ears down. Just maintain gentle contact for a minute or two to let your rabbit know you are a friend.
If your rabbit shows aggression by grunting, growling, charging, or boxing at you, use the same technique.
Simply place your hand on their head and hold it there. All but the feistiest skittish rabbits will calm down and let you pet them in this way.
Eventually, your rabbit will trust you enough to let you pick them up.
Always be sure to support your rabbit from beneath its body. Pin its hind legs and rump between your elbow and abdomen, leaving your other hand free to catch her if she tries to get away.
It’s important not to let your rabbit jump out of your hands. Rabbits can break their backs when they fall.
Once you have passed this step in bonding with your rabbit, staring takes on a different meaning.
What Staring Means When Your Rabbit Is Used to You
Rabbits that are at ease with their owners communicate entirely different messages by staring.
When you have a generally happy rabbit, staring at you may mean that your rabbit would like a treat. This is the time to give your rabbit a carrot or a small animal treat.
You can get bags of rabbit treats online or from your pet store.
Staring at you can also be your rabbit’s way of begging for food. They may be sending you a message that their hay needs changing, or it is time for their dried rabbit food.
Rabbits that stare at their owners sometimes are trying to gauge your reaction to something. Rabbits can’t hear some low-pitched sounds that humans can, but they can hear high-pitched sounds that humans can’t.
Rabbits can hear sounds made by snakes, owls, hawks, cats, and ferrets. They can hear higher pitches than dogs can.
The same way your dog may try to get your attention to a sound that you can’t hear, your rabbit may try to alert you to the presence of an animal that you can’t hear or see.
A rabbit that is staring at you may want to be groomed. Rabbits are very clean pets.
In nature, this keeps them from being detected by predators. It also makes them desirable as house pets.
Rabbits will stare at each other, or at their owners, as a way of asking to be groomed.
This is most likely to happen with a rabbit that is comfortable being picked up, although some rabbits want you to get down into the floor to groom them.
Interpreting Complex Signals That Include Staring
Rabbits can communicate complex signals that involve more than just staring.
Here are some of the most common:
- When your rabbit is lying down, facing you, and staring at you, they are definitely relaxed. If your rabbit’s chin is flat on the floor, she wants to be petted on top of the head.
- When your rabbit is lying down and turns his head to one side to stare at you, they are watching you to see what comes next but don’t really want to be bothered. A rabbit turning one side to you means they are ready to hop away from you.
- When your rabbit is staring at you, she is twitching her nose and/or her ears are pointed straight up, she is interested in something you are doing, something you are eating, or an odor coming from your direction.
- When a rabbit stands up, stomps its foot, and stares at you, they are unhappy with something you are doing. This is your rabbit’s way of saying “Stop that right now!”
- When your rabbit is staring at you with its ears pointed backward, it is contemplating an attack. A bite or a scratch may soon follow. This kind of behavior does not occur in rabbits that have been socialized to get along with humans.
Rabbits may also make sounds when they stare at you.
- Tooth clicking, which may sound a lot like a cat’s purr, while your rabbit is staring at you means your rabbit is happy with you.
- Snorting and staring at you is a cry for attention. Snorting without staring at you may be a sign that your rabbit has a respiratory infection.
- Squealing or whimpering while your rabbit is staring at your is a sign your rabbit is in pain.
- Grunting (which sounds a lot like the oink of a pig) and staring at you is telling you “Don’t pick me up right now.”
The more time you spend with your rabbit, the easier it will be to interpret their sounds and body language.
Always let your bunny bond with you at their own pace as you gain their trust.
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