two white rabbits sitting next to each other on grass outside
Thumping is a form of communication for rabbits. iStock.com/PhotoTalk

Have you ever looked at your rabbit and wondered what he or she was thinking? What would it be like if your furry friend could speak to you? Rabbits do not speak human languages, but with a little effort you might be able to understand some basics of rabbit language. Rabbits are known to vocalize, but this is less common than behavioral language. That’s right, your rabbit “talks” to you via body language, not just vocalization. Understanding what your quiet companion is saying with body language just takes some observation. Thumping is one part of rabbit vocabulary that many people who share a home with them wonder about.

Anatomy Of Rabbit Thumping

What is thumping? Not every rabbit thumps, so you may or may not witness rabbit thumping. Once you do, though, you know it! Thumping happens when a rabbit rapidly drums or stomps both hind feet to make a thumping noise. It can be one or many thumps. Afterward the rabbit might freeze in place or seek shelter. Thumper in the Disney movie “Bambi” was known for this, hence the name. Any breed or age of rabbit might thump. How often and whether it occurs at all depends on the rabbit’s personality and environment. The below video shows a rabbit thumping.

The Meaning Of Thumping

Imagine relaxing at home reading a book or watching TV while your rabbit or rabbits quietly nibble on hay or enjoy a nap. This peace is shattered when a noisy helicopter or plane flies low overhead. Next thing you know, your rabbit thumps and runs into a hideaway or under a chair. Your rabbit is warning you that he or she senses danger. Thumping is usually an alert to danger, although it can also be an expression of annoyance.

The key to knowing what your bunny friend is trying to say comes from the environment. What situation was your rabbit in before the thumping? Sometimes the cause is not as obvious as plane noise. This means you must become a detective to figure out what might be bothering your bunny.

Thumping For Danger

Rabbits are individuals with different personalities. Just like people, some are laid-back and some are tense. Some rabbits easily adapt to changes and others need more time and TLC. Some thumping is normal. If your bunny thumps a lot, though, help him or her out by discovering what triggers your companion’s danger response. Something that you consider harmless might strike fear in your rabbit. Crinkling paper, a certain odor, birds flying by the window, household noises — all seem like nothing to us, but to some rabbits these might cause heart-pounding discomfort.

You don’t want your friend living in fear, so note what happens when your rabbit thumps. Is it always at the same time of day? What’s going on in the home? Is it in a certain room? Is it around certain people? What’s going on outside the home? Is it around another rabbit or pet? on’t just think about noises. What can be seen, smelled, or even felt? A truck rumbling by could cause vibrations in your home.

Once you narrow down the possible triggers, figure out if there’s something you can do to prevent your rabbit from being exposed to it. If it’s something out of your control, such as planes overhead or the refrigerator turning on, talk to your veterinarian or a rabbit behaviorist about a plan to desensitize your rabbit to it. A local rabbit shelter operator might also have insight that can help.

Desensitizing does not mean overloading your rabbit by massive exposure to the trigger! It means redirecting your rabbit’s fear of the trigger. Try playing with your rabbit or offering a special treat when a trigger occurs. Always be comforting and never force your rabbit to do something. Get down on the floor near your rabbit and talk calmly about how safe it is. Your rabbit might choose to come snuggle against you. Note that many rabbits do not enjoy being held, so unless your rabbit is the exception, don’t assume that picking up your rabbit and holding him or her is a comfort.

Thumping In Annoyance

Thumping to alert to danger is much different than this type of thumping. The danger thump is the rabbit telling you he’s uncomfortable and you might be in danger, too. The annoyance thump is your rabbit telling you he wants you to stop doing something or start doing something. Maybe you want to pick him up and he doesn’t want that. Or it’s time for him to go in the cage and he isn’t ready. Or maybe you haven’t done something, like given him a treat or played with him. The thump is your cue to pay attention to what your rabbit wants.

Rabbit Thumping On The Internet

An interesting topic on Reddit, a discussion website, delved into why rabbits seem to thump for no apparent reason. But there were reasons, and many people posted why their rabbits thump, and those reasons were fascinating. The smell of peanut butter, wanting to be petted, furniture being rearranged and a crow cawing are just some of what set off rabbit thumps.

One large rabbit in England managed to scare off burglars with his thumping. As reported in the Daily Mail in 2013, a 2-foot long rabbit named Toby thumped five times during the night but his owner went back to sleep after hearing it. The next morning the woman found that her home had been burglarized, and although some things were missing, a pile of items was left. She believes that the very loud sound of the rabbit thumping scared off the burglars.

Visitors to the Bunspace forum have commented that perhaps excitement is another reason that bunnies thump.

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