Hop Into Spring! Effects of Spring on Rabbits
As winter recedes and springtime approaches, it is common to see rabbits hopping through fields and along hedgerows. The weather is warming and plants will begin to bloom, a huge bunny buffet! Rabbit owners learn to expect that come springtime, their rabbits can get a little wild, but what causes this behavioural change? For new rabbit owners, what should you expect?
Why Rabbit Behaviours Change In Spring
The classic line from Lewis Carroll’s Alice In Wonderland, sheds some light on how we see rabbit behaviour when spring arrives. "The March Hare will be much the most interesting, and perhaps as this is May it won't be raving mad -- at least not so mad as it was in March." This refers to the changes in behaviour that rabbit owners see when spring comes around.
The end of February and beginning of March mark the beginning of springtime. Coincidentally, this is also the start of rabbit breeding season and there will be a rise in breeding hormones: testosterone for males and oestrogen for females. Although rabbits do not have a set breeding period, it is most common for mating to halt during winter and resume when the days get longer and warmer.
The change from winter to spring triggers ritualistic mating behaviours in male rabbits, who will be driven to search for females to breed with. The change in female behaviour represents her instinct to build a safe space for her litter. Females tend to reject a male’s advances during winter as the cold weather and short food supply make it harder for her offspring to survive. As spring rolls around, the weather gets warmer and there is a plentiful supply of food. Females may be mated once a month until September or October when the weather cools. Pregnancy lasts 28-34 days and the female can fall pregnant again right after birth if she accepts a male’s advances.
Behavioural Changes You Should Expect In Your Rabbit
If you own a single male rabbit, you may notice that he starts to hump things. Footballs, cuddly toys, your leg, even other pets. Your rabbit is simply trying to satisfy his natural urge to mate. Even neutered rabbits will display these behaviours as they will still produce a low level of testosterone.
If you have 2 unneutered male rabbits together, they will show lots of territorial behaviour such as grunting, chasing and boxing. It is not uncommon for 2 neutered males to try humping one another. This is due to the hormonal change they are experiencing and they natural instinct to mate.
Owners of female rabbits should expect their pet to show nesting behaviours. She will be busy in the hutch digging around in her bedding to get it just right. If you allow your rabbit outdoor time in the garden, you may notice her trying to dig a burrow. This is normal behaviour for a rabbit preparing to breed, but you should watch them to prevent any daring garden escapes!
“Chinning” will also be more frequent during the springtime. Rabbits rub their chins on items to mark their territory. They will even rub their chins on their owners! Male rabbits will chin objects that female rabbits have chinned or urinated on. The scents rabbits leave show whether they are receptive to mating, so chinning is much more common during the spring and summer months.
Effects on Single Rabbits and Bonded Pairs
While male rabbits in the wild are polygamous, pet rabbits are not able to roam the countryside looking for mates. A bonded pair will engage in these mating behaviours, even if one or both rabbits have been spayed or neutered.
Bonded pairs may have more squabbles during the first few weeks of spring, but this usually settles down. If the behaviour becomes aggressive, you should separate them for a short time until they settle, then slowly reintroduce them.
Fights can be reduced by keeping your rabbits occupied with mentally and physically stimulating activities. If you are able, allow them time outdoors in a run. If your garden is secure, they can be allowed to explore the garden freely. Give them lots of toys, tunnels, cardboard boxes and gnaws to keep them entertained.
Single unneutered male rabbits will exhibit a considerable change in behaviour, as they will instinctively want to find as many females rabbits as possible to mate with. This often leads to problems with humping as mentioned above. This is caused by frustration since they do not have an outlet for their urge to reproduce.
Neutered males may still show these same behaviours but to a lesser extent. It is a good idea to keep your male rabbit separate from visitors while he is in a humping phase. Nobody wants an over excited rabbit attached to their leg!
Attempting to bond two single rabbits during springtime is not recommending unless you have no other option. During March and April, their hormones will be at their peak for the year. Introducing rabbits during this time may result in fights and injuries.
If you have a female rabbit, try to give her more straw or other bedding materials in her hutch during the first few weeks of spring. This will allow her to satisfy the need to burrow. Cardboard boxes and large tunnels half filled with bedding will also work well.
The most important thing as a rabbit owner is to be patient and understanding toward your rabbit. They are not being naughty or aggressive, they are simply reacting instinctively to the changes in their hormone levels. The more you can give your rabbit to do, the calmer they will be.
- Hannah Elizabeth
Animal Health and Behaviour Blogger