Everyone knows dogs love to lick their owners, and even many cats do, but few rabbit owners might know how liberal bunnies are when it comes to licking! Even more surprisingly, there are distinct reasons your bunny might be licking you. If you’re looking to decode the message behind your rabbit’s licks, you’re in the right place. Let’s check out each of those reasons below.
The 10 Reasons Why Rabbits Lick You
1. To Show Affection
Sometimes, your bunny’s licking doesn’t have a special message and it’s just their way of showing you love or affection. In the wild and in groups, bunnies will sometimes lick each other as a sign that they accept you as a part of their family. This is an important sign that your rabbit trusts you, and new rabbits typically take some time to display trust by licking.
2. To Groom You
Like cats, rabbits are fastidious critters that seemingly love to groom themselves and others. Pairs and groups of rabbits engage in constant grooming because, in nature, that helps prevent predators from sniffing them out. Even if your skin is clean, your rabbit may notice an offensive odor and attempt to get rid of it by grooming you. Take it as a compliment. Grooming is a behavior usually only shown towards trusted family members.
3. For Attention
Attention-deprived bunnies do all sorts of zany stuff to get attention, from their famous zoomies to old-fashioned bullying. Rabbits will shower you with physical affection like licking but also nudging or cuddling up to your side. If you have the gall to ignore their first pleas for attention, your bunny might even give you a little nip or nibble to jolt you into petting them!
Make sure you get plenty of quality playtime with your rabbit to help them not feel so neglected or consider getting them another bunny playmate to keep them occupied if you have the means.
4. To Investigate Smells
We come into contact with all kinds of stuff your rabbit probably doesn’t smell at home, whether that’s at work, the grocery store, or out and about in the world. If your rabbit smells an animal, food, or just a new and interesting scent, you can be sure they’ll be hopping up to give you a few test licks. Bunnies, like cats, are very inquisitive and curious creatures that love checking out new smells in their environment.
5. Tasting Something Interesting
Even if your hands are clean, your rabbit’s nose is so powerful that they may be able to smell what you recently ate or even just detect the salt from your sweat lingering on your skin. Rabbits are herbivores by nature, but that doesn’t stop them from sampling nearly any delectable smells clinging to your hands after dinner or after coming home from a restaurant.
6. To Act Dominant
Licking is a social behavior that serves many purposes, including showing dominance. In pairs, a dominant bunny will lick all over the submissive rabbit’s eyes, face, and ears but may display aggressive behaviors too. That could extend to you if your rabbit comes to see themselves as dominant over you, which commonly happens with unneutered males. Watch out for unprovoked aggression like nipping hard at your hands, charging or headbutting, and trying to nudge you into moving.
7. To Display Submission
Yes, licking can be both a sign of dominant or submissive behavior in bunnies, depending on how it’s used. A dominant bunny will be more aggressive or insistent, while a submissive rabbit may lie down or lay their ears back on their head. After the dominant bunny accepts their submission, the submissive bunny might lick or groom the other one. Submissive bunnies tend to do a lot more grooming than the dominant ones, which is easily observed in bonded pairs.
8. They’re Bored
Rabbits need lots of affection and attention like any other household pet, and not providing them enough outlets to play can make them bored very quickly. A bored rabbit may chew on wood or nearly anything lying on the ground as a way to stave off boredom, but they’re just as likely to come up and give you a few friendly licks to play with them.
9. Marking You as Their Territory
Rabbits are territorial creatures, especially unneutered males. Like cats and dogs, rabbits spread their scent by licking or otherwise touching stuff around their home. Spreading their scent onto you is to tell other bunnies that you’re their human, and they can definitely tell when you’ve been around other rabbits.
Licking to “mark” you is more common when you’ve just come home, especially when you smell like other animals. Licking is usually accompanied in this instance by nudging or rubbing you with their chin, AKA chinning.
10. They’re Hungry
Your bunny could start licking or nibbling on you or other household items when they get a little peckish. They’ll probably focus on your hands, which are the parts of your body they most associate food with. Think about it: when you give them a treat, what do you use? Your hands. And it’s also possible that your most recent meal could be making your rabbit even more hungry!
Rabbits are generally loving, shy creatures that love to spend time with their loved ones, whether that’s just you or they have other bunnies to play with. Licking does a lot of jobs for a bunny, whether they’re just trying to show you love, that they’re bored, or they just noticed a tasty smell on your hand.