What Does It Mean When Rabbits Thump?

Bunny rabbits make adorable pets. Not only are they cute and fluffy, they also come with their own unique personalities traits making them a wonderful choice of pet for children and adults alike.

Just like most other companion animals, rabbits communicate through their behaviours and actions. They may grunt, circle, lick, nip, mount and of course many also thump! Your bunny will display certain behaviours in a variety of situations and it can be quite puzzling for owners to understand what (if anything!) they are trying to communicate.

When your rabbit keeps thumping, it’s not unusual to feel mystified as to why they would display such behaviour. What are they trying to tell you? Does it mean anything? Rest assured thumping is a common behaviour seen in a large proportion of domestic rabbit breeds and is nothing to be concerned about. So why do rabbits thump?

Rabbit body language in general can be traced back to their wild ancestors, this is the key to deciphering why they do that they do and once you understand the origins you can easily spot why you bunny is behaving in this way.

Survival Instincts

In the wild, rabbits live in large social groups in underground burrows. As prey animal to many other species such as birds of prey, foxes, wolves, wild cats and stoats, when they’re above ground they’re open to the possibility of danger.

As a result, the wild rabbit has adopted certain natural behavioural instincts and learnt behaviours, purely for survival reasons.

Living in Large Groups

Wild rabbits live in social groups as a ‘safety in numbers’ tactic. Much like many other prey animals, for example deer – by sticking together the chances of keeping an eye out for danger are greatly increased.

Large Litters

Rabbits give birth to large litters of ‘kits’ (baby bunnies!) and short gestation periods (length of pregnancy). It’s common for rabbits to have up to 12-14 kits per pregnancy! Such large litters and short pregnancies are another strong survival need as the chances of the young reaching adulthood are slim due to the volume of predators in pursuit of them. This is a natural adaptation to ensure the best survival rate for the species.

Homes Underground

With the majority of their predators active above ground, wild rabbits are safer hidden underground in their burrows. Whilst they do need to surface to feed, they tend to stay relatively close to a burrow entry hole so they can quickly flee to safety.

Speed and Agility

Rabbits are incredibly fast and alert. They have very quick responses and are highly skilled at out manoeuvring potential threats. Where other animals may fight in the face of danger, rabbits use their speed and agility to give them the edge.

Thumping Behavioural Origins

Much like the aforementioned survival instincts, thumping is simply another survival strategy – it’s a signal for danger to other rabbits. When feeding above ground, if a rabbit spots a potential danger like an eagle overhead, by thumping their hind legs on the ground the loud sound and vibration can be heard and felt by the other rabbits in the group, both above ground and below in the burrows.

So thumping behaviour is in short a signal for danger. Now, when you notice this behaviour in your pet bunny, you may spot something that happens directly before they do it. Perhaps you see the neighbour’s cat nearby or maybe there’s a bird of prey in the sky. It might even be something that isn’t a potential predator like a plane which could be mistaken for one.

How to Avoid Thumping

Whilst it isn’t anything to be concerned about, the behaviour is a sign that your bunny is fearful and on high alert. Therefore, you may want to help minimise this stress response to help them relax a bit more. The best way to do this is to observe what happens directly before they thump and see if you can reduce the stimulus in their environment.

Triggers can be what they can see and hear, but it can also be what they smell. Therefore, it might not always be easy to work out the triggers for this response to danger, but you can but try!