It can be hard to understand your bunny’s body language. One social behavior that is common in rabbits is circling. This is where a rabbit runs in circles, usually around another rabbit or your feet.
Circling is usually a form of courtship behavior, indicating that your rabbit wants to mate. It may be accompanied by honking noises. In neutered rabbits, circling can be a means of establishing dominance. Rabbits can also circle when they want attention, are bored, or are initiating play.
We’ll explore the reasons why your rabbit is running in circles, and how to stop this behavior. You’ll also find out the difference between circling and spinning, which can be a sign of a medical problem.
What It Means When a Rabbit Runs in Circles
Running in circles – known as “circling” – is a very common behavior in domestic rabbits. It forms a vital part of social conduct.
You may see your rabbit circling around your feet, another rabbit, or even one of your non-rabbit pets. When your rabbit is circling, they’re trying to tell you something. The hard part is figuring out what they’re trying to say.
There are five main reasons why rabbits run in circles:
- Courtship behavior. Circling can be a kind of mating dance. Bunnies that have not been spayed or neutered will often circle other rabbits. It’s a way of asking them to mate.
- Establishing dominance. Like mounting, circling can be a way for your rabbit to try and establish dominance. They’re saying “I’m the top rabbit.”
- Attention seeking. Some rabbits circle their owners to try and get their attention. They may be asking you for food, grooming, or to move out of the way.
- It is initiating play. Rabbits can chase each other in circles as a form of play. It’s often accompanied by a “binky” – a jump with a twist in the middle.
- Boredom. Bored rabbits often exhibit compulsive behaviors, such as pacing back and forth or hopping in circles. This can be the case if your rabbit’s cage is too small, or they don’t have enough to do.
Let’s now take a look at each scenario in which your rabbit might demonstrate circling behavior.
Why Is My Rabbit Circling and Honking?
Courtship is the main reason why rabbits circle one another. They are indicating their readiness to mate. If this is the case, the circling will often be accompanied by soft honking or oinking noises.
If your male rabbit is trying to court a female rabbit, you’ll also notice him mounting her. If she’s receptive, she will raise her hindquarters and allow him to mate. She’ll have a litter of bunnies in a month’s time, presuming she’s not spayed.
Some particularly hormonal rabbits can also confuse other animals – including humans – for a viable mate. This often happens in male rabbits if there are no females around. If you’ve ever wondered “why is my rabbit running in circles around me and grunting?” this may be why.
This behavior is almost always seen in unneutered males. It’s a result of reproductive hormones gone wild. You may also notice your bunny becoming territorial over their space, and even showing some aggression.
Most of the time, having your rabbit fixed will resolve most courtship behaviors.
Why Is My Neutered Rabbit Circling?
Neutered rabbits can also circle one another, and display other courtship behaviors. It’s not as common, but it can happen.
It’s most likely to happen within two months of the operation. This is because it may take several weeks for reproductive hormones to leave your rabbit’s system altogether.
All rabbits are individual, and respond to the neutering operation in different ways. Some rabbits display courtship and territorial behaviors forever, even once they’re fixed.
Neutered rabbit circling behavior is most common if the rabbit got fixed later than a year of age. At this point, it becomes a habit that’s hard to break, even when their hormones are in check.
Fortunately, these behaviors won’t cause any harm to come to you or your rabbit. At most, they may be a little annoying to deal with.
Why Are My Rabbits Circling Each Other?
If you have ever introduced two rabbits to one another, you may have noticed some circling behavior. Rabbits often circle each other as a show of dominance. They’re trying to figure out which rabbit is the top bunny.
You’ll usually see a rabbit circling another rabbit when they have not yet established a bond. The more dominant rabbit will begin the circling, while the passive rabbit sits still in the center. If both rabbits are equally dominant, they may chase each other’s tails.
In courtship behavior, it’s always the male circling the female. If they’re circling for dominance, two male rabbits circling each other is a normal sight.
Female rabbits also circle one another. Female rabbits can be fiercely territorial around other females. They usually get on better with males.
If your rabbits are circling each other, this doesn’t always mean they aren’t getting along. It just means they’re trying to figure out their relationship.
It may take several weeks of slow introductions before your rabbits stop circling one another. Even rabbits in bonded friendships can circle every now and then, just to remind the other who’s boss.
Rarely, circling can turn into fighting. This usually happens if both rabbits are equally dominant and try to circle each other simultaneously. If the circling gets faster, like a rabbit whirlwind, separate your bunnies.
Why Is My Rabbit Circling Around My Feet?
Rabbits don’t always circle other rabbits. They enjoy circling humans too, though for slightly different reasons.
It’s quite common for rabbits to circle their owner’s feet, particularly while they’re standing up. Not all bunnies do this, though most will at some point. A rabbit circling feet is a clear sign that they want attention.
If you see your pet rabbit circling your feet, it may be doing one of the following.
- They are begging for food. Rabbits will often circle you if they think you’re holding a tasty treat. They may also periscope – sit up on their hind legs and beg.
- They are asking you to move. If you’re in your rabbit’s way, they may circle you, nip you or even try to drag you. Rabbits aren’t subtle when they want you to get out of their way.
- They are telling you that they love you. Sometimes, rabbits circle because they’re happy, and they want to spend time with you. Try sitting on the floor with your rabbit and letting him jump on you.
- They are asking for pets. Rabbits enjoy being petted as it replicates grooming behavior.
- They are initiating play. If your rabbit runs around you in circles and then sprints away, they may be asking you to play with them.
Generally, your rabbit circling you is a good thing. It means they love you and want your attention, or are just happy to see you.
Why Is My Rabbit Running in Circles in Cage?
Most of the time, circling is a social behavior in rabbits. They are trying to communicate something to the rabbit or human that they are interacting with.
You will rarely see a rabbit running in circles if there are no other rabbits or animals around. However, rabbits can sometimes pace back and forth or hop in circles if they are bored. If your rabbit is running in circles in a cage, they aren’t happy at all.
Rabbits shouldn’t be kept in small cages. They should be allowed 32 square feet of space to exercise in, for a minimum of three hours per day.
Ideally, they should be allowed to free-roam in a rabbit-proofed room. If you must use a cage, it should be at least 12 feet in area.
If you keep your rabbit in a cage and notice compulsive behavior, this is a bad sign. It means you need to give your rabbit more opportunity to exercise, and more mental stimulation. Other compulsive behaviors include gnawing on the bars of the cage, and pulling out their fur.
Why is My Rabbit Spinning in Circles?
Running in circles isn’t often a bad sign in rabbits. It’s usually a social behavior, or at worst, a compulsive behavior triggered by boredom.
However, spinning on the spot is a different thing altogether. A rabbit spinning in circles could be a sign of a medical problem.
Rabbits can develop a condition called head tilt. It is usually caused by an ear infection, parasite, poisoning, head trauma or stroke. According to research in Neurology, it can even be a sign of an imbalance of chemicals in the brain.
Spinning in circles is one potential symptom of head tilt. Watch out for these other red flags:
- Head tilted to the side
- Unable to stand straight
- Head shaking or wobbling
- Drooping ear or lip
- Loss of appetite
If you’ve spotted these symptoms, take your rabbit to a veterinarian. It’s better to be safe than sorry, as rabbits with head tilt can die if left untreated. Ensure that you choose a veterinarian who is experienced with rabbits.