Rabbit honking is an unusual sound that you might not expect to hear from your bunny! When first hearing it, many owners confuse honking and grunting, as they sound quite similar. But, they mean very different things. Unneutered rabbits may honk in the presence of another bunny because they want to initiate mating. But, in neutered and spayed rabbits, honking can just be a sign of happiness and excitement, or a means to get some attention.
Rabbit honking isn’t usually something you need to worry about, as it’s often a sign your bunny is simply enjoying whatever is happening. But, if you have an unneutered male and an unspayed female, honking can be a sign that they need to be separated, unless you’re planning a litter of kittens!
What is Rabbit Honking?
Bunny honking might not sound exactly how you expect! It is very similar to grunting. It will be a relatively quiet noise – not like honking you hear from geese. Honking can happen by itself, or it can be accompanied by other actions. For instance, when honking is a sign of wanting to mate, you might see your rabbit circling another rabbit whilst making the noise. Looking at the behaviors that accompany honking and at the context of this vocalization will help you understand what is causing it.
Why Do Rabbits Honk?
Not all rabbit honking will mean the same thing. So, it’s important to look at the context around this vocalization. Here are some of the most common reasons why rabbits will honk:
- To preempt mating
- When enjoying something
- When very excited
- To get your attention
When related to mating, honking is most common in unneutered male rabbits. But, in females and neutered males, the noise is often a sign of being extremely happy, enjoying something a lot, or just wanting something from you.
Some studies have also suggested that honking can be a sign of distress in particularly vocal bunnies. So, if your rabbit starts honking unexpectedly or repeatedly, with no obvious cause, it can be worth booking a check up with your veterinarian.
Honking vs Grunting in Rabbits
Grunting and honking can sound very similar. Both vocalizations can be a sign that an unneutered male rabbit is looking to mate. But, in females and in neutered males, grunting and honking usually have quite different meanings.
Grunting, more often than not, has negative associations. It is usually a sign that your rabbit is feeling frustrated or angry. Most grunting will be accompanied by other frustrated behaviors, such as foot stomping or even biting and nipping at you and other pets. In contrast, honking is often a sign of excitement or happiness.
Male Rabbit Honking
Honking vocalizations in male rabbits will mean something different depending on whether or not your male bunny is neutered. If your rabbit is neutered, honking will usually mean they are excited or happy about something. It can also be a sign that they want your attention.
In sexually intact rabbits, honking is more often a sign of wanting to mate. This is especially common if you have female rabbits at home too. Your male rabbit may honk when it sees or smells them. Honking in rabbits looking to mate can be accompanied by circling, grunting, or humming noises.
Female Rabbits Honking
More often, honking in female rabbits is a sign that your rabbit is very excited or happy about something. You might hear your female bunny honking when they are eating something particularly tasty, or when they are playing a fun game. Watch what your rabbit is doing when they start making a honking noise to find out exactly what it is that’s causing such excited and happy vocalizations!
Why is My Rabbit Honking at Me?
If your rabbit is honking at your, it can just be a sign that they are trying to get your attention. For instance, if they are bored, hungry, or looking for some affection. Since honking is generally a positive vocalization, your rabbit will likely be in a good mood when honking at you. If this noise if paired with stomping or nipping, it’s likely that the noise you’re hearing is actually grunting.
Rabbit Honking and Circling
Like honking, circling is often a sign that a rabbit is looking to mate. An unneutered male rabbit may circle around female rabbits, or just move in circles near them if he cannot get to them. You may also notice grunting noises, or scent marking. And your rabbit might become increasingly restless.
It’s more likely that you’ll witness honking and circling together in male unneutered rabbits, since these are signs that a male rabbit is trying to mate. But, there’s a chance you may also see them in female rabbits. In these cases, take a look at the context of the behavior to discern what it might mean.
Rabbit Honking Whilst Eating
If your rabbit is making honking noises whilst they are eating their food, this is a sign that they are really enjoying eating whatever it is they’re consuming. Some rabbits will honk when they eat in general, no matter what they’re chomping on. Others might only honk at certain foods or treats. If your rabbit honks at certain foods, you can take this as a sign that they love the taste! But, this doesn’t necessarily mean you should give your rabbit more of this food.
Like any other pet, rabbits need a well balanced diet. They also need to consume plenty of fresh hay or grass every day to keep their teeth adequately ground down, and to fulfil their fiber requirements. Fresh leafy greens are great for rabbits, or you may choose to use pellets to ensure the right balance of nutrients is acquired.
If you offer high-sugar treats like fruit, or even certain veggies, this should be done in moderation. Offering too many treats can mean rabbits will leave their hay and pellets, leading to nutritional deficiencies and dental issues. So, even when you hear that adorable honking, keep treats to a healthy amount.
Should I be Worried About Honking?
In rare cases, honking can be a sign of stress in very vocal rabbits. But, studies have suggested it is not a sign of respiratory disease in most cases. If your unneutered male is honking, it’s likely a sign he is looking to mate. But, if your neutered male or female rabbit is honking, look at the situation they are in to work out why. In most cases, your rabbit will be doing something that makes them feel excited or happy.
If you think your rabbit is unhappy whilst they are honking, you may be mistaking the sound for grunting. But, if you are ever worried that something is wrong with your bunny, it’s always worth taking them to the veterinarian just to be sure.
Rabbit Honking – A Summary
In most cases, a honking noise is nothing to be concerned about with your rabbit. It can be a sign that your unneutered male needs to be kept away from any females in the house, but more often than not it’s a sign of excitement and happiness.
Do you have a rabbit at home? What makes them excited enough to make a honking noise? Have you heard it from your bunny yet? Let us know in the comments!
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References and Resources
- Mullen, S. & Main, D. ‘Behavior and Personality of Pet Rabbits and their Interactions with Their Owners’, Vet Record (2007)
- Crowell-Davis, S. ‘Behavior Problems in Pet Rabbits’, Journal of Exotic Pet Medicine (2007)
- Mullen, S. & Saunders, R. ‘European Rabbits (Oryctolagus Cuniculus)’, Companion Animal Care and Welfare: The UFAW Companion Animal Handbook (2018)
- Lennox, A. & Mancinelli, E. ‘Respiratory Disease’, Ferrets, Rabbits, and Rodents, Clinical Medicine and Surgery (2021)
- Stapleton, N. ‘Stranger Danger: The Importance and Perils of Companionship in Rabbits’, The Veterinary Nurse (2016)