We often think of a rabbit as an easily-frightened animal that will flee from perceived threats. So, you may be wondering if your pet rabbit is scared of loud noises, such as thunder and lightning.
Rabbits are highly tuned to their surroundings, especially sounds. While it may be impossible to remove all loud noises from your rabbit’s environment, you can take steps to reduce them. Changing the location where your rabbit lives is a good place to start.
Why Are Rabbits Scared Of Loud Noises?
Rabbits are at the bottom of the food chain in the wild. For predators, they don’t only make a filling meal, but they’re also available in abundant supplies, making them tempting to hunt.
Rabbits are conditioned to sense danger in a variety of ways. They have powerful hearing skills and have the ability to move quickly and avoid being attacked. Doing so makes them jittery and easily afraid, but it also helps them to survive.
A rabbit’s sense of fear is a survival tactic. Therefore, it’s easy for a rabbit to get nervous and frightened, especially during noisy conditions.
Rabbits were initially domesticated so that they could be bred for human food. Although they were bred to be tamer, their ability to get scared wasn’t removed. Therefore, old instincts such as fear remain strong in domestic rabbits.
How Do Rabbits Show Fear?
Rabbits are highly sensitive to thunder, loud bangs from fireworks, and very noisy children. They’re also likely to run away when you turn on your hoover. Typical signs of distress in rabbits include:
- Staying motionless / playing dead
- Trying to escape
- Stamping their hind feet
- Change in litter box habits
- Appetite changes
Are Rabbits Scared of Fireworks?
Bonfire Night or 4th July celebrations frightens and disturbs many pets, not just rabbits. Some may get scared enough to run away. An alarming number of road traffic accidents occur every year as a result of animals getting distressed by fireworks and running to a road.
Rabbits are also known to die of fear when fireworks are set off close to where they live. Fortunately, there are ways you can keep your rabbits calm and comfortable during fireworks.
How to Calm Down a Scared Rabbit
Whether your rabbit is housed outdoors or indoors, loud noises can make your pet extremely anxious. In some cases, rabbits can get frightened to death. There are many steps rabbit owners can take to soothe and protect their pets during firework displays and thunderstorms.
Check for Signs of Fear
Screaming may occur when a rabbit is afraid. It may run back and forth in its enclosure. Nervousness may cause a rabbit to expose its teeth, widen its eyes, and flatten its ears.
Your rabbit may remain motionless with its fur puffed up. Fear can also make your rabbit walk in circles in its cage repeatedly, or sit in a hunched position and gnawing at the hutch bars.
Bring Your Rabbit’s Hutch Indoors
Rabbits housed outdoors should be moved inside during noisy conditions, such as thunderstorms, fireworks, construction work, and loud neighborhood parties.
If possible, bring your rabbit’s hutch inside your house. You can leave the cage outside and take your rabbit in if the cage is too large or difficult to bring it inside.
If you cannot bring your rabbit’s hutch inside, prepare an enclosed area for your rabbit. The enclosure should include comfortable bedding, favorite toys, and hiding places. Prepare the cage inside your home ahead of time if you know that a storm is coming.
Never leave your rabbit outside when it is too loud. Covering your rabbit’s hutch with a large blanket may block out some of the noise, but your rabbit is still likely to become distressed.
Offer Safe Hiding Places for Your Rabbit
If you can bring your rabbit’s hutch inside, prepare a comfortable hiding spot inside the hutch with plenty of cozy bedding. To prepare a separate hiding area within an enclosure, follow these steps:
- Cut an opening out of a small cardboard box so that your rabbit can rest inside it. Be sure to place ample bedding inside the box.
- Place some hay inside the box or hiding spot so that your rabbit has something to nibble on.
- Finish up by placing some of your rabbit’s favorite toys inside the box.
Block Out Loud Noises
Your rabbit may continue to feel jittery if it can hear lightning, thunder, or fireworks. Reduce the amount of noise entering your house by closing the windows and drawing the curtains.
Turning on some white noise, such as a fan, television, radio, or air conditioner can help distract your rabbit. Playing some soothing music may also be beneficial — rabbits like music.
Interact with Your Rabbit
Your rabbit may want to stay close to you to alleviate its fear. Rabbits are social animals and are known to bond more during stressful situations. Let your rabbit come to you first. Rabbits are incredibly affectionate, but prefer to show their love only when they feel like it.
Remember that rabbits don’t always enjoy too much handling or cuddling. If your rabbit is stressed and doesn’t feel comfortable with you holding it, hang out with your pet quietly without touching. Sit next to your rabbit and let it bond with you in its own way.
If you do bring your rabbit’s hutch inside, leave your rabbit in it until the storm or fireworks are over. Your rabbit may feel more comfortable in its familiar space. Therefore, you don’t have to take it out or interact with it.
Cover Your Rabbit’s Eyes
If your rabbit tolerates being near you, try covering its eyes gently. Covering your rabbit’s eyes can help reduce its stress, at least temporarily. Reach from the back and rest your fingers comfortably near your rabbit’s nose.
Don’t do this if your rabbit is already in its hiding spot. Leave your rabbit alone if it is hiding. The last thing you want to do is stress your rabbit more by forcing it to come out of its hiding place.
If your rabbit seems up for it, consider playing interactive games to distract it from the loud noise.
- Play reverse fetch. Let your rabbit toss something towards you using its teeth.
- Go bowling. Set up a few items that can act as bowling pins and let your rabbit knock them over with its nose.
- Snatch. Let your rabbit snatch something from your hands and run away with it. This can be junk mail or a piece of newspaper.
If your rabbit continues to feel stressed, avoid forcing it to play games or interact with you. Let your rabbit be if it would rather rest quietly in its hiding place.
When to Seek Veterinary Help
If your rabbit is screaming or is showing less concerning signs of fear that may not hurt it, continue calming it down at home. However, if your rabbit’s skittishness has caused it to injure itself (e.g. fractured limbs or spinal injury), it will need veterinary attention.
There aren’t any synthetic pheromones for soothing stressed rabbits like there are for other pets. Fear can also cause a heart attack in rabbits, which calls for immediate veterinary care.
If your rabbit has broken its back, its back legs will become entirely or partially paralyzed. This depends on the severity of the injury. Your rabbit may not be able to defecate or urinate as well. You may be able to find the break by placing your hand gently on its back.
If your rabbit has fractured a limb, it may drag the injured limb across the floor. Your rabbit may also be depressed and more guarded.
If your rabbit is lying motionless, place your fingers on its chest, near the elbows. See if you can find its heartbeat. If you cannot feel a pulse, do not perform CPR. Instead, perform chest compressions by squeezing its chest with your fingertips. Use one hand to do 1-2 compressions per second.
In an emergency, contact your local veterinary emergency clinic. You can visit an emergency hospital without calling. But letting the staff know about your arrival will help them become more aware of the situation and prepare for it appropriately.
To transport your rabbit safely, wrap it up snuggly in a dry towel before placing it in a carrier. Be very careful while handling your rabbit if you suspect a back injury.
Can Rabbits Die of Fear?
A frightening situation, such as a thunderstorm, can stimulate the release of neurotransmitters from the pituitary gland found at the base of the brain. These neurotransmitters interact with numerous tissues in the rabbit’s body, particularly the adrenal glands. The adrenal glands release epinephrine (adrenaline). During prolonged stress, they also release glucocorticosteroids.
Epinephrine increases a rabbit’s heart rate and blood pressure. When a rabbit perceives a threat, its blood flow is directed to the vital organs and away from non-essential tissues. The rabbit’s eyes dilate, its respiratory rate increases and its blood sugar levels skyrocket.
Fear can also cause the gastrointestinal tract in rabbits to stop moving, for reasons that aren’t yet understood. In the short-term, the effects of stress are obvious. The above reactions heighten a rabbit’s senses and allow it to run away from danger.
However, in situations that cause prolonged or extreme stress, the effects of stress can affect your rabbit negatively. Limited blood supply to non-essential tissues causes them to stop working. Changes in the GI tract may cause diarrhea, gut stasis, enteritis, and enterotoxaemia. Exhaustion of energy stores in the liver starves the body tissues, making the condition life-threatening.
A loud noise is often enough to shock your rabbit and there is a high chance it can kill your pet. According to Pathophysiology, hypotension, arterial hypertension and heart failures are common in stress-sensitive animals, such as rabbits.
Rabbits are likely to go into a “fright paralysis,” a temporary and reversible state of deep motor inhibition that causes an animal to go passive or appear dead. According to Depression and Anxiety, tonic immobility is a technique to reduce the interest in an attacker or a hunter.