So, you’ve noticed your rabbit licking itself. You may be wondering why it does this or if it is something to be concerned about. Mainly, rabbits lick themselves in order to groom. This grooming has multiple purposes though, and the act of licking itself isn’t just for grooming either. It is important for social interactions and showing affection.
Rabbits lick their fur to groom. Rabbits love being clean and will conduct grooming sessions several times a day. Rabbits will also lick each other for three main reasons. Grooming, bonding, and hierarchy. Rabbits are very social creatures and will groom each other to bond and show affection. Rabbits also have a strict hierarchy, and dominant members will lick the eyes and ears of other members after a show of submission. A rabbit will also groom its owner as a show of affection – or to say that you smell and need to take a shower.
Excessive licking in rabbits is a sign of boredom or an underlying illness. This is when a rabbit pays either particular licking attention to one spot, or conducts grooming sessions that leave its fur damp. A rabbit that is under-stimulated will turn towards this destructive behavior, which includes excessive licking. This can lead to bacterial skin problems caused by persistently damp fur. Parasites, wounds, and fungal infections can also encourage excessive licking.
Why Do Rabbits Lick Themselves?
A rabbit needs to clean itself, and it will do so by licking. This is not the only reason why a rabbit might lick itself, or others, however.
Rabbits are fastidious about keeping clean. A rabbit’s dedication to keeping clean via grooming has been likened to how frequently a cat will groom itself. A rabbit will groom itself several times a day.
As noted in Vet Record, a rabbit is a social creature with its companion. This companion is often the owner. Ideally, this companion is a rabbit. Rabbits are incredibly social creatures, and can actually become quite lonely if kept as a solo rabbit.
Grooming, for cleaning and affection, will look like licking, nuzzling, and gentle nibbling. A rabbit will groom its face and ears by licking its paws and using them as tools to reach these difficult places. It may also seek out a companion rabbit to groom these tricky places. This is a sign of trust, and also a sign that these rabbits get along very well. A rabbit may also seek you out for pets and grooming.
Unlike cats, rabbits cannot throw up hairballs to clear a digestive tract of ingested hair. Excessive grooming, which we will talk about below, can cause these hairballs (or trichobezoars) to form.
These hairballs may become large enough that they cause an internal blockage. As stated in the American Journal of the Veterinary Medical Association, these blockages can require surgical removal.
Hairballs can be kept in check by regularly brushing your rabbit. Also, by ensuring that it has plenty of hay as a part of its diet. The fiber in hay is important for digestive health.
Rabbits show affection and bond through grooming one and other. This is a common social interaction, and an important process between family groups. Meaning between you and your rabbit/s, and between rabbits themselves. Regular grooming and petting sessions are a comfort to rabbits, and affirm the bond between both parties.
Young rabbits will groom each other, just as their mother grooms them. As we’ll get into below, grooming is also important for maintaining the hierarchical structure of groups.
Rabbits Licking Each Other’s Eyes
Rabbits are very social, and also have strict hierarchies. Dominance displays and submission displays are quite common in large warrens. Severe fighting, as found by CISRO Wildlife Research, was used to select hierarchies in the 8 groups formed in a 67-head colony. It is worth noting that this sort of dominance tousle should not occur in domestic rabbits that are introduced in the correct manner. This study was on a large colony of wild rabbits, not domestic pets.
That said, there are some hierarchical behaviors that most domestic rabbits will exhibit. Submissive rabbits will lay their heads on the ground before the dominant rabbit. It will respond to this by licking the rabbits’ ears or eyes. This behavior is much like how dogs living in groups will lick at the mouth of the dominant member.
The dominant rabbit often receives more grooming from the submissive warren-mates as well.
Rabbit Licking Its Lips
This act is largely attributed to self-cleaning after eating or drinking. Much like you would lick your lips after a delicious meal, so does your rabbit. It makes sure that no morsel goes to waste and clean up.
Excessive lip licking may also indicate a dental or oral issue. Inspecting a rabbit’s mouth is not easy, and will take a vet’s expertise and equipment to verify if there is an issue. Observe your rabbit for any other signs of discomfort or odd behavior.
Rabbit Licking Its Cage
It can be a bit concerning to see your rabbit licking its cage. It appears that this isn’t an overly concerning sign, unless the rabbit is actively gnawing on the metal. This act can damage its teeth and inner mouth.
A rabbit may lick its cage much for the same reason it licks objects – to show affection. It may also enjoy the feel or taste of cool metal. Or, it may also be licking up the residue from food or treats. Waste not, want not, right?
There is also a third possible reason. If you have more than one rabbit, or the cage once housed another rabbit, its scent may linger. If your rabbit picks up on this scent, it may be either:
- Trying to remove and cover the other rabbit’s scent with its own
- Grooming the metal in place of grooming the other rabbit
If you notice that your rabbit is licking its cage, ensure that any cleaning products you use on the cage aren’t hazardous to rabbits. Perhaps a natural cleaning solution could be a better alternative.
Rabbit Licking Your Face Or Hands
Rabbits lick your face not only to clean you, but to show you that you are loved. By grooming your face, the rabbit is also acknowledging that you are the dominant member of its family.
A rabbit licking your hands and fingers may also be it letting you know that it wants to be petted. In this case, it may believe it is the dominant one. Especially if it pushes its head into your palm insistently.
Try not to let your rabbit lick your face if you are wearing makeup. Just because your makeup is safe to wear doesn’t mean it won’t cause unpleasant side effects if ingested. Hard as it is to turn away those sweet rabbit kisses, it’s better to be safe than sorry.
Rabbit Licking Furniture, Walls, And Floors
Rabbits also lick furniture to show affection, as to a rabbit licking your belongings and home is the same as grooming you. This could be entirely unprompted behavior. Or, it may begin to lick the wall, floor, or whatever surface you are on or near in response to you grooming it. This could include blankets, pillows, or the couch.
Certain surfaces can pose a risk in conjunction with this behavior. A rabbit can ingest carpet fibers, fabric, pills, or other indigestible matter. This is really only an issue if it ingests a lot in one sitting, or frequently exhibits this habit. Floors can also be cleaned with harsh chemicals. The residue of these chemicals can make your rabbit quite unwell.
Rabbit Licking Clothing
This is usually still the rabbit attempting to groom you and not noticing the difference between your skin and clothes. The texture may be different, but your clothes smell strongly of you. To a rabbit, your skin and your clothes are one and the same. This can also include your bed sheets or covers.
Excessive Licking in Rabbits
Excessive grooming in rabbits can be a sign of parasites, wounds, or fungal infections. If you notice that your rabbit is paying particular attention to one part of its body, closely inspect the area. Are there any lesions, bumps, cuts, bruises, or discolorations of the skin?
Excessive licking can also evolve into self-mutilation or barbering, which is deliberate chewing and plucking of the fur. This is common in pregnant female rabbits preparing to give birth. Neutered female rabbits may also do this.
Skin conditions in rabbits are common. Some can be easily treated, others will take repeated treatments. All of them can be uncomfortable for the rabbit, and a handful can even be transferable to humans. As such, it is important to keep an eye out for any unusual behavior (like excessive licking) or changes in the skin. This includes around the mouth and eyes, where it may be easier to see infections or dryness.
Excessive licking is one of the many symptoms of a skin condition. This condition could be, or could be a symptom of many different illness or infections. Including:
- Bacterial infections
- Fungal infections
- Pin worms
- Skin tumors
Licking can aggravate some of these ailments. It is important to get your rabbit to the vet soon as possible. Depending on the prognosis, a treatment shall be determined.
Harmless as a rabbit appears, it will exhibit a suite of destructive behaviors if it is bored. These behaviors include chewing, biting, digging, overeating, fur pulling, and excessive grooming.
Rabbits that are under-stimulated and bored will look for avenues for all of that built up energy. Excessive grooming and licking is one habit it may fall into. Ingesting this much fur can cause an internal blockage to form. Ensure that your rabbit has enough stimulation to prevent it from becoming bored and destructive.
Excessive licking can cause too much moisture to accumulate in the fur. Even semi-permanent dampness every day can cause skin to become irritated and fur to fall out. Untreated, this can develop into a bacterial infection.
Rabbits lick things usually to show affection. The ‘thing’ could be anything from its owner, other rabbits, to objects and furniture around the house. Odd as it may seem, a rabbit considers your property as a proxy. It will lick your blankets, for example, as a way to show affection through grooming – even though it isn’t actually grooming you.
Rabbits lick themselves to groom. This will happen several times a day, as rabbits love to be clean. Grooming between rabbits is also a social behavior for showing affection and forming bonds. A dominant rabbit will lick the eyes and ears of another rabbit after it lays its head on the ground, a sign of submission. Excessive grooming can either be a sign of boredom expressing itself destructively, or a sign that something is wrong health-wise.