Rabbits are hardly known for being noisy themselves, but how much sound from other sources can they actually register? What frequency can rabbits hear, and can they hear more or less than us? Well, bunnies’ hearing covers a much wider range of frequencies than our own, but overall it is higher pitched. So there are some deep sounds that we can register, but they can’t. Despite having such sensitive hearing however, they rely on it relatively little. So here’s everything you need to know about what your rabbit can hear, and how much it matters to them.
- What frequency can rabbits hear?
- How much do rabbits rely on their hearing?
- Do lop eared rabbits hear less well?
- Interpreting rabbit sounds
- Can your bunny hear you?
What frequency can rabbits hear?
Sound travels in waves, and its frequency is measured in waves per second, or Hertz (Hz). The frequency of a sound is also known as its pitch – sounds with a high frequency are high pitched, and sounds with a low frequency are low pitched (or deep).
Different studies have identified the hearing range of rabbits as being:
The actual answer might be somewhere between these ranges, or it could overlap all of them. Just like humans, rabbits are also likely to each have their own individual hearing range, which is different from other rabbits, and this could explain how different researchers got different results. But for now, let’s put those numbers into context by seeing how they compare with these hearing ranges for three other species:
- Human: 64 – 23,000Hz
- Dog: 67 – 45,000Hz
- Cat: 45 – 64,000Hz
So, there are some deep pitched sounds that we humans can hear, but rabbits cannot. But at the other end of the spectrum, there is a wide range of high pitched frequencies that they can hear but we can’t. In other words, rabbits have some ultrasonic hearing. Overall their hearing range is somewhere between a cat and a dog, and much, much, broader than ours.
Why can’t rabbits hear low frequencies?
How deep an animal’s hearing goes is determined by the shape and relative proportions of their cochlea – a hollow, spiral shaped bone deep in their inner ear. So, the lower limit of rabbit hearing is reached when the frequency is so low than their cochlea doesn’t register the soundwaves anymore.
How much do rabbits rely on their hearing?
Since they are a prey species for lots of other animals, the main purpose rabbits use their hearing for is detecting predators. But it’s not their only early warning system. They also rely on their eyesight and their sense of smell to tell them when a threat is approaching.
In fact, their hearing is probably the least important out of these three senses. Researchers estimate that this is because their wide angle of vision makes them less reliant on hearing to pinpoint the location of potential threats. Indeed, compared to other mammals, rabbits are relatively poor at sound localization (detecting the difference between two different sound sources).
Do lop eared rabbits hear less well?
Domestic rabbits can be divided into two categories: those with erect ears like wild rabbits, and those with lop ears that droop over the sides of their head. Lop ears have only appeared since after domestication, so would they disadvantage a rabbit in the wild?
According to data from veterinarians, lop-eared rabbits are more likely to be diagnosed with ear canal stenosis. Stenosis means ‘narrowing’, and when the ear canal becomes narrow, it does cause hearing loss. Lop eared rabbits are also more likely to need medical help for excess build up of ear wax and inflammation of the delicate skin inside the ear, which can also muffle their hearing. So overall yes, lop eared rabbits don’t hear quite as well as erect eared rabbits. But, the range of frequencies they can hear probably still far outstrips our own!
Interpreting rabbit sounds
Despite having such a wide range of hearing, rabbits rely on sound very little for communication. That’s because making a noise is likely to catch the attention of predators as well as other rabbits. We’ve already seen that two of their potential predators (cats and dogs) can hear everything another rabbit can! So to overcome this risk, rabbits mostly communicate with one another via olfactory signals (scent) and body language.
However, they are not completely noiseless! Here are some subtle sounds you might hear your rabbit make if you listen closely:
- Clucking or purring. Neither of these rumbly sounds are exactly comparable to a chicken or a cat, but these words are the closest we have to describe them! They are a unequivocal sign that your bunny is feeling safe, relaxed and content.
- Honking and grunting. These noises are used by rabbits to express excitement or convey frustration (for example if you’re taking too long handing over a treat). In the wild they are associated with courtship and mating.
- Sighing or whimpering. Rabbits don’t often use a lot of noise to tell us when they’re fed up with something, but if they’re certain it is safe to do so, they might use a little sigh to tell you that they no longer want to be held/petted/groomed, thank you very much.
- Growling. Noisy displays of aggression in rabbit are even more unusual still, since their first instinct is to run away instead. But if they are backed into a corner and escaping isn’t an option, then they might growl as a signal that they want you to back off. If it works once, there’s a greater chance of them resorting to it in future too.
Can your bunny hear you?
Yes, definitely! Not only can they hear you when you talk, their sensitive ears can detect you coming from further off than you might expect! What’s more, these clever little guys will quickly pick up on the audible clues that mean you’re about to bring them dinner or let them out for some exercise. So don’t be surprised to find them ready and waiting for you.
Best of all, the range of frequencies your rabbit can hear includes human speech. So we can teach them to respond to simple cues, like coming to the sound of their name, or sitting on command. Watch the video at the top of this article to see an example of this in action! But since rabbits are one of nature’s prey species, try to be mindful of the kinds of sounds that could cause them alarm. For example, try not to make noises immediately over their head.
What frequency can rabbits hear – summary
Most rabbits probably have a range of hearing that falls between 96 and 49,000Hz. This is broader than a dog, but not quite on a par with a cat. It includes a swathe of high pitched frequencies which are ultrasonic to humans. Despite this, rabbits rarely use sound to communicate, and their hearing isn’t even their most significant sense for detecting predators! If your rabbit has ever impressed you with their sound perception, let us know in the comments box down below.