Why do bunnies rub their chin on things? I thought this behavior, called “chinning”, was very odd when I brought my first bunny home! But chinning is actually quite common and it makes perfect sense to your bunny! In this article, I’ll explain exactly why rabbits do this, as well as whether chinning is a gender-dependent behavior. I will also walk you through warning signs that chin rubbing in rabbits might be a signal that something is wrong, so you’ll always be able to keep your pet feeling his or her best!
- Why do bunnies rub their chin on things?
- What is this behavior?
- Why do rabbits do it?
- Do female rabbits do this?
- Why do bunnies rub their face with their paws
Why Do Bunnies Rub Their Chin on Things?
In many ways, rabbits are not unlike more traditional companion animals like dogs and cats. For example, just like cats and dogs, rabbits also have scent glands. And just like cats and dogs, rabbits have these glands in several key places on their bodies. For instance, rabbits have scent glands on either side of their anal opening, in their eyes, inside their mouths and under their chins.
Each of these glands can produce secretions. But different glands have different functions. The eye glands secrete fluid to moisten the eyes. The mouth glands secrete saliva to predigest food. And, the chin and anal area glands secrete a waxy substance laced with chemical messengers called pheromones.
Pheromones are special hormones that use scent to deliver important messages to other rabbits. The messages can vary depending on a rabbit’s age, gender, health status and more. I will go into more detail about the different types of messages in another section here. But first, let’s take a closer look at what this behavior is, and when you’re likely to see it.
What is Chin Rubbing for a Rabbit?
The first thing you need to know is that chinning is an instinctual behavior and it is very important to your rabbit. Rabbits typically mature sexually between three and six months of age. Once a rabbit reaches breeding age, their body begins producing hormones that can create changes in your bunny’s behavior.
This is usually the time in your rabbit’s life when you will first start to see chinning. Why? Because your rabbit can use the pheromones stored in the chin gland secretions to let other rabbits know they are ready to mate. This is also why both male and female rabbits will engage in hormonally driven behaviors like chinning, which can serve as an important part of the mating and breeding process.
Will Neutering or Spaying Stop This Behavior?
While neutering and spaying can certainly reduce problem behaviors associated with rabbit breeding, it is unlikely to completely stop these behaviors.
There are two reasons for this. The first reason is because even after a spay or neuter, the adrenal glands will still keep producing some amount of sex hormones. So even a “fixed” rabbit may still demonstrate some mating or breeding-type behaviors. The second reason is because rabbits engage in behaviors like chinning for other reasons besides advertising for a mate. I’ll explain all of these next.
All the Reasons for Chinning
As you know now, when a bunny rubs their chin on something (or someone), this triggers the chin gland to let out a little bit of the thick waxy fluid it stores. This fluid contains pheromones, which act like little chemical messages. And as I reviewed in the previous section here, one possible message might be “I’m ready to make baby rabbits – want to join me?”. But advertising for a mate is not the only reason a rabbit might engage in chinning behaviors. Here are some other reasons.
1. This is Mine
One reason rabbits rub their chin is to claim ownership. Your rabbit might rub their chin on a favorite toy, on the walls of their enclosure or even on you. Their purpose in doing this is simple – to stake their claim.
Sexually mature rabbits may also chin to claim ownership as part of territory or mating disputes. In this way, chin rubbing is a kind of scent “signature”. Not unlike what we do when we sign a document stating we own something.
2. I am Home
Another reason rabbits may engage in chinning is to reduce stress. It can be stressful to encounter the scent of a strange person, object or area. For this reason, changing your rabbit’s bedding or habitat might trigger chinning, as your rabbit spreads their own scent around to make things smell more “homey”.
3. I Love You
Still another trigger for this behavior is affection. Rabbits use scent to bond and reinforce those bonds. A rabbit that chins another rabbit – or you – may be expressing trust, care and even love.
4. You’re My Kind of Rabbit
Rabbits are socially gregarious animals that prefer the company of their own kind to leading solitary lives. Interestingly, some researchers believe that rabbits scent mark each other as well as areas and objects within their physical territory as part of the relational bonding process.
Do Female Rabbits Chin Rub?
Both male and female rabbits chin rub. Some rabbit experts believe that intact adult male rabbits, or bucks, chin rub more frequently and more aggressively than intact adult female rabbits, or does. But here, it is important to remember that chinning is just one of several hormonally driven rabbit behaviors. Mature bucks are more likely to urine spray and scatter fecal pellets, hum and circle, mount and challenge rivals when it comes to sexual behavior.
However, both male and female adult rabbits, whether intact or fixed, appear to engage in fairly equal amounts of chinning behavior. This may be because chinning serves multiple purposes in an adult rabbit’s life and social structure.
Why Do Bunnies Rub Their Face With Their Paws?
If you notice your bunny rubbing their chin or face with their paws, is this just another form of chinning? A rabbit might rub on their face or chin with their paws for several reasons. One reason is to spread their scent through chinning. But the most common reason is because your rabbit is grooming.
It is also important to be aware that the waxy nature of the fluid in the chin gland can sometimes lead to a blockage and even gland impaction. This is uncomfortable for your rabbit and presents an infection risk. If you suspect or know your rabbit’s chin gland is blocked or impacted, you may need to get your veterinarian involved. Your vet can show you how to examine your rabbit’s glands and teach you how to check and clean the glands regularly.
Why is my Rabbit Rubbing His Chin on Everything? A Summary!
Now you have a much clearer understanding of why your rabbit rubs their chin on things, surfaces or even you! Do you have your own ideas or theories about chinning behaviors in bunnies? We’d love to hear your stories – please share them in the comments section.