In the forest or out on the plains, rabbits create communal family groups (called warrens) that band together to satisfy each other’s social needs and to provide safety. With a group of rabbits, it is much easier to keep watch for lurking predators and help raise each other’s kits.
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Sadly, statistics show that up to 45% of all pet rabbits and bunnies are raised as solo pets, meaning these animals don’t have the company of another rabbit. This raises some questions: can rabbits live alone, do rabbits get lonely, and can rabbits die of loneliness?
Yes, rabbits do get lonely. Without company for safety and mental stimulation, rabbits will begin to experience stress. A rabbit that is stressed will easily sicken and die.
Keeping a single rabbit denies them certain needs that only a partner can provide such as grooming needs, socializing, mental stimulation, safety assurance, and shared heat or cuddling. Having at least two rabbits is preferred. If you decide to have only one rabbit, then you should have another animal, such as a guinea pig, that your rabbit can sit and lay right next to, and socialize with. Alternatively, you, as your rabbit’s guardian, can choose to commit to spending a significant amount of time each day interacting with your pet bunny.
Why Rabbits Get Lonely
Rabbits, like the Lionhead rabbit or Giant Flemish, are social animals and they are used to living in large family groups. They are highly intelligent animals, and so they require mental and physical stimulation.
When a rabbit is isolated and has no other rabbits around them, they will turn to other animals such as chickens and guinea pigs to socialize with. Their sociable nature is also why bunnies make such great pets.
As a bunny owner, it is your responsibility to see to all of your rabbit’s needs, not only in terms of food and shelter but also their social and physical needs.
A bunny that prefers to be on their own is usually sick or dying. Most rabbits prefer to hang out in their family group when out grazing on tasty grasses or sleeping in their burrows.
Their social needs include playing. This can especially be seen among younger rabbits or kits. However, even older rabbits will have a quick dash around to help them bond and relax.
Rabbits are so bonded to their friends that they don’t do well if you separate them for reasons such as going to the vet for a checkup. Far better to take a bonded pair together to the vet, even if only one rabbit needs the vet.
Pet stores usually only sell rabbits or bunnies as pairs to help ensure their social needs will be met and to prevent them from sickening in their new environment. If you buy a single bunny and don’t have other bunnies at home, it will fall to you to look after their social needs.
Social needs include having a warm place to snuggle next to another animal or human. While rabbits aren’t like cats or dogs that can be held or easily picked up, they do enjoy body-to-body contact. In a hutch or run, you may find bunnies easily snuggling up to chickens or guinea pigs to share physical contact.
Solution: Ensure your bunny has a furry friend to hang out with when you can’t be around to tend to their needs. Take care to bond the pair correctly to avoid drama and injuries.
Rabbits are curious animals. It’s their curiosity that warns them when something changes in their environment or signals danger. If your rabbit is kept in isolation in their cage or hutch, they will lose interest in the world around them, which leads to serious health implications.
As a rabbit owner, you would need to provide toys and stimulation to keep your rabbit interested and physically active. By being exposed to non-threatening things in a calm manner with you, your rabbit will bond with you, which boosts their confidence in you. This makes for a happier bunny.
Solution: Take your rabbit to the park for walks and help them explore their world. This provides mental stimulation as well as physical activity.
One of the ways in which your bunny is soothed is by mutual grooming with other rabbits. By licking and chewing each other’s fur, rabbits bond and reassure each other that they aren’t alone.
While you can’t lick your bunny’s fur, you can engage in regular grooming and use a damp cloth to clean any stains from their fur. This will help your bunny feel connected and cared for. As part of socializing, bunnies groom daily.
If you are unable to groom and clean your bunny every day, they would need an animal companion that can provide that need. If not, your bunny will surely become ill and stressed.
Solution: Have a time set aside each day to provide some grooming to your rabbit. This is also a great time to socialize and hang out together. Be sure to stick to that time of day.
Shared Physical Space
Bunnies are burrowing creatures, which means they share body heat and physical space in their underground dens. If a bunny is kept in isolation, they lose the companionship that bunnies rely on.
While you may think you can snuggle with your bunny, this is not always possible, given the small size of some domestic rabbits that can easily be injured by their much larger human companions. Sleeping (see also ‘Do Rabbits Sleep With Their Eyes Open?‘) with your bunny in your bed is not an option.
Aside from the hygiene factor since bunnies are known to produce cecotropes at night, bunnies need the company of their own kind or to be near their companion.
Solution: Create a safe and happy space for your bunny to snuggle up. If they do sleep alone, you can add a thermos bottle with a furry toy to their sleep area to help keep them warm when it’s cold.
A rabbit is a prey animal, meaning there are a host of natural predators that can stalk, slay, and eat it. In the wild, rabbits have discovered there is strength and awareness in numbers. By having many rabbits grazing together, they can watch out for predators.
When bunnies sense an approaching predator, they begin thumping with their back legs, warning the predator off and also telling their family of the approaching danger. This means the bunny can rely on the rest of its family to keep it safe.
When a bunny is isolated, it creates fear in them as this is usually how they get eaten.
Solution: As your solo bunny’s only companion, you would need to assure them of their safety. This means having to keep your bunny in a quiet environment and avoiding any startling movements or sounds.
Bunny Loneliness Behavior
When your bunny gets lonely, they will begin to display certain behavior. Most of these behaviors are to attract your attention. Some of these are also harmful and can lead to your bunny’s health suffering, which can cause them to die. If you think that your bunny is acting abnormally, please consult with your veterinarian.
Excessive Thumping or Thumping at Night
While thumping is a normal reaction for bunnies when they are frightened or startled, night time thumping can tell you that your rabbit is unhappy or stressed. Thumping (see also ‘Why Do Rabbits Thump?) inside the burrow or bunny den can mean your rabbit is not able to cuddle and sleep comfortably.
Nipping and Destructive Behavior
While bunnies are generally mild natured, they can start nipping when they feel like they need to defend themselves. Chewing on non-edible things in your home is another sign your bunny is lonely.
Chewing can also lead to your bunny ingesting things they shouldn’t. A bunny with an upset stomach or blocked digestive tract is quite likely to get sick and even die.
Not Eating Like Usual
Rabbits eat almost constantly. They nibble frequently, and if your bunny suddenly has no appetite, no matter how juicy the morsel of food you offer them is, they may be depressed. By not eating, rabbits suffer damage to the delicate balance of their digestive system.
Act quickly when your rabbit doesn’t eat like normal. A visit to the vet may be in order to confirm there are no gastrointestinal blockages.
Faces the Wall
A rabbit that’s lonely and depressed will often become withdrawn. They may end up huddling in a corner of their cage, not wanting anything to do with either company or food. This behavior indicates the rabbit is mentally strained and their loss of appetite will lead to eventual death.
The Final Verdict
If you ever wondered, “do bunnies get lonely?” now you know that yes, they do.
Yes, rabbits can live alone, but it is not advisable to only keep one rabbit as a pet. Being social creatures, rabbits and bunnies require the company of other rabbits or bunnies.
Failing the presence of these, a responsible pet owner will provide their rabbit or bunny with sufficient stimulation and company by spending time with their pet rabbit.
You could also ensure your rabbit doesn’t get lonely by introducing them to a suitable animal such as a chicken or guinea pig that they can hang out with while you are at work.
A rabbit that is lonely will become depressed, lose their appetite, and they may sicken and die. Even if they continue eating, but engage in destructive behavior, this could also lead to health issues that can lead to their death.
Take care to ensure your rabbit is never lonely and that you have a long-lived bunny companion.