can rabbits recognize themselves in mirrors?
Questions and Answers

Do Rabbits Understand Mirrors?

Place a rabbit in front of a mirror, and you’ll get a response. This will vary, depending on your rabbit’s state of mind. Some rabbits attack their reflection, some flee, and others stare as though hypnotized.

Rabbits cannot identify their own reflection. A rabbit with a mirror will assume that another rabbit is in her hutch. She will react with aggression or curiosity, depending on her personality.

Mirrors can make a helpful toy for lone rabbits. At sight of her reflection, your pet will be interested. This can alleviate short-term loneliness. A mirror cannot be relied upon to provide companionship for a solo rabbit, though. Like all toys, the novelty will wear thin after a while.

Do Pet Rabbits Like Mirrors?

A rabbit’s reaction to a mirror depends on the pet’s persona. Rabbits do not recognize their own reflections. When your rabbit sees a mirror, she will believe it’s another rabbit.

According to Animal Welfare, most single rabbits take pleasure from mirrors. Rabbits dislike living alone. Mirrors provide the illusion of company in the short-term. Nervous rabbits may react adversely, though. Your pet may worry that her territory has been invaded.

The study found that single female rabbits were happiest with mirrors. The grooming habits of the rabbits dropped from near-constant to sporadic. As over-grooming is linked to stress, the rabbits were clearly feeling far less anxious than they were previously.

Let your rabbit run free in the home and watch how she reacts to mirrors. If she is curious, you can add mirrors to her hutch as a toy. If she becomes frightened or aggressive, avoid reflective surfaces.

Can Rabbits Have Mirrors in a Hutch?

A study published in Applied Animal Behaviour Science shows that rabbits enjoy mirrors in a hutch. The study provided a group of rabbits with a large pen. One side of this pen was covered with mirrors, and the other hosted a solid wall. 72% of the rabbits gravitated to the mirrors.

Another study in Animals adds further credence to this understanding. They found that rabbits surrounded by mirrors engaged in more natural behaviors. When actions are mirrored in a reflection, a rabbit considers them appropriate. This ensures that the use of mirrors can speed up training.

It’s fine to add mirrors to your rabbit’s hutch. Mirrors create the illusion of company. As there is safety in numbers, this relaxes a rabbit. Mirrors also make a hutch seem larger. Undertake some safety caveats before applying mirrors:

  • Never leave a loose mirror in a rabbit hutch.
  • If the mirror is cracked or broken, remove it.
  • Clean the mirror whenever you clean the hutch.
  • Removing and returning the mirror will keep it interesting for longer.
  • If the mirror distresses your rabbit in any way, you should remove it.

If you prefer not to leave any glass in a rabbit hutch, make your own mirror. Get reflective foil from a hardware store, and glue it to cardboard. This can be fastened to your rabbit’s hutch as a safe toy.

My Rabbit Fights Her Own Mirror Reflection

A rabbit may react aggressively to a mirror as she sees an infiltrator in her territory. This could result in a display of dominance. Look out for the following warning signs of aggression:

You will need to deter these behaviors. Your rabbit will mistake her reflection for a similar act of aggression from this new rabbit. This will likely result in the conflict escalating further.

Prevent your rabbit from physically reacting to her reflection. She could knock a mirror over or break the glass. The conflict will also be stressful for your rabbit. If your rabbit reacts aggressively at all times, remove mirrors from her hutch.

If your rabbit shows sporadic aggression to mirrors, investigate the cause. Often, this will be food-related. Your pet will glimpse another rabbit eating ‘her’ food. A single rabbit will not be used for sharing. Ensure your rabbit’s food bowl is not facing a mirror.

It’s also possible that your rabbit was startled. Rabbits are always on alert for a threat. This sparks a fight-or-flight response. A brave rabbit may make a display of ballast to frighten off an invader. If your rabbit calms and backs down, there is no real concern.

Do Rabbits Understand Mirrors?

My Rabbit Runs Away from Mirrors

A nervous rabbit will be afraid of mirrors. Catching an unexpected glimpse of another animal will provoke fear. Your rabbit will assume that a new, more dominant pet has arrived. She will run to avoid an immediate conflict.

If your rabbit runs from a mirror, then returns, watch how she behaves. If she bows before the mirror, it is a display of submission. Your rabbit is informing this new arrival that she is not a threat. Your rabbit may then retreat to a corner of her hutch.

It is advisable to remove a mirror from a hutch in these circumstances. Do not wait for your rabbit to understand the mirror. She will never acknowledge her own reflection. At best, your rabbit will learn that this ‘other’ rabbit will not harm her.

It’s likelier that your pet will feel unsafe in her hutch. Constant anxiety is detrimental to a rabbit’s quality of life, and that of an owner. Your pet will be reluctant to return to her hutch after exercise. Obedience training will suffer, as will your bond with your pet.

My Rabbit Stares at a Mirror for Hours

There are two reasons why a rabbit would become transfixed by her reflection.

Your pet is captivated by the new rabbit in her hutch. The new arrival does everything your pet does. If your rabbit digs, the new rabbit digs. If your rabbit binkies, the new rabbit binkies.

Your rabbit’s interest may look harmless, but she may become aggressive. She will wonder why this other rabbit keeps following her. If she feels threatened, a rabbit will react.

It’s equally likely that your rabbit is lonely. Rabbits do not enjoy living on their own. As The Veterinary Nurse explains, having company is essential. Your pet’s reflection is the closest thing she has to a mate. Other warning signs of loneliness in rabbits include:

  • Following your around
  • Constantly nudging, nipping, and biting you for attention
  • Withdrawn and depressed
  • Destroying furniture or possessions

For the sake of your rabbit’s health, adopt a second rabbit. Loneliness can be fatal for rabbits. Too much time alone causes stress. Stress, in turn, places undue pressure on a rabbit’s heart. This can lead to sudden death in otherwise-healthy rabbits.

My Rabbit Ignores Her Mirror

Not all rabbits are interested in mirrors. If your pet is not interested in interacting with another rabbit, she’ll ignore a mirror. This is common in older rabbits.

Just like any toy, rabbits also tire of mirrors quickly. While your rabbit will never understand her own reflection, she will grow bored with repetition. A mirror image also produces no smell. This lack of sensory impact will become dull in time.

To keep mirrors interesting, periodically add and remove them from a hutch. Use mirrors of different shapes and sizes, in a variety of locations. The novelty of something new will attract a rabbit’s attention again, albeit temporarily. There are better ways to keep a rabbit entertained.