Rabbits are very subtle in their attempts to communicate feelings to us. Their ears make for a great way to show us when they are experiencing a certain emotion. Rabbits use their ears for much more than just hearing and looking completely adorable.
Why do rabbits keep their ears down? Typically, if their ears are relaxed and lying down, it means they are content. But rigid ears fully pressed against their body are a sign of fear or anxiety. Their ears can also give answers regarding their health, so it is important to pay attention to them because they use them to communicate their mood or well-being.
Understanding how your rabbit is communicating with you is the best way to ensure they are happy and healthy. The way they put their ears down, how frequently they do it, among other factors, can help you determine exactly what your little bunny is trying to tell you.
Listening to Your Rabbit
Most people can tell you if they see a dog wagging its tail, the dog is excited. Or if they hear a cat purring, that the cat is content. You don’t always have that same level of understanding when it comes to other animals. Rabbits are no exception.
They have their own set of idiosyncrasies, quirks, and ways to communicate with us. Knowing your rabbit’s usual behavior is an important baseline to understand after you get a rabbit.
- How much do they weigh?
- What color is their nose?
- Do they enjoy making sounds and being vocal? What sounds do they make?
- Are their ears always pointed up, or do they remain down a lot?
- What is the texture of their fur like?
These are all questions that you should ask yourself and have answers to, right after you bring your bunny home. Knowing what they look, sound, or act like when they are healthy and happy will help you determine if something is wrong. It can also bring you joy, as you’ll know when your little guy or gal is happy.
Through body language, appearance, and sounds, we can find out a lot about rabbits. Their ears are one of the most notorious features. Whether they are up and at attention, or flopping around at the sides of their head, they make for an adorable attribute.
Ears Down, But Floppy
If you determine your rabbit is not a Lop breed, but you notice their ears look like that, it can mean a few different things. If your rabbit’s ears are typically erect and you begin noticing them, they are down more often. You can learn more by paying attention to a couple of key points.
You’ll want to pay special attention to the posturing of the ears. If they could be described as floppy, dangling, or relaxed, then that is a good sign. If your rabbit’s ears look like they just wanted to take a break from being so tall and noble, then they are probably content.
When their ears lay down gently on each side of their face and seem to be relaxed, it is because they are also relaxed. A happy rabbit that feels comfortable, at home, and content will let its hair down. Or in this instance – their ears.
Think of it this way: when their ears up standing on guard, so are they. It doesn’t necessarily mean they are not happy, but it means they are actively listening or busy doing something. It could also not mean anything at all, to be honest. While their ears are erect, they are in their natural state.
So, don’t start thinking that if their ears are up a lot, that they are tragically depressed. The relaxed look of those floppy ears, on the other hand, means they are just as relaxed. See? Your rabbit is trying to make it easy on you! Pay attention to those little changes, and it will make a big difference.
Other Ways Rabbits Show Happiness
You can also tell a lot by how other characteristics are paired with their ears. If you notice their ears are down and relaxed, look for some of these characteristics to confirm that he/she is a happy bunny.
Nope, this didn’t just turn into an article about cats. It may not be as frequent as it is with their feline friends, but rabbits do purr when they are content or happy. The main difference between a cat purr and a bunny purr is how they do it. Bunnies purr by lightly rubbing their teeth together. It is a tiny sound that is hard to hear, but you’ll know it when you hear it, like a miniature and adorable way of showing contentment.
If you notice the purring becomes too common, or it appears, they are grinding their teeth together too intensely. It can cause an issue within their mouths. So just be aware that it remains the light, sweet purring of happiness, rather than an actual grinding that could mean dental issues.
Bunnies love their playtime. If they are actively hopping around and excited, their ears may remain erect. But if their ears have dropped and they still seem to be enjoying their time with fellow furry friends or jumping around their play area, then it’s probably their way of saying, “I’m living my best life right now.”
A happy bunny means a full bunny. Rabbits love to eat, and the feeling of having a perfectly full belly. Have you ever noticed it almost looks like they’re smiling while they eat? If their ears are flopping at their sides, they are smiling as they enjoy their mealtime.
Licking or Grooming You
The practice of grooming is such a primal instinct to many animals. Whether it is a cat licking his sister’s head to clean her, a monkey picking bugs out of her son’s hair, or a puppy coming up and licking your face clean to show love and excitement.
Rabbits love a good cleaning too. If you are petting your bunny and see their ears drop and it’s accompanied by a few sweet licks to your hand, it is their way of saying that they are content, feel safe, and they want to thank you for making them feel that way.
They’re a Stage 5 Clinger
Your rabbit will develop a bond with you and love following you around while they are out of the cages. If you notice your rabbit has dropped their ears and they won’t seem to leave you alone, it means they are just trying to get some attention from their best pal. They’re cheerful, and they want to spend time with you.
Some rabbits may be more independent, but for those attention seekers, they will love to drop those ears, get a good rub on the head, and be by their person.
Fun Fact: The one ear up and one year down look is possibly one of the cutest things you will ever see. But it does serve a specific purpose. When they do this, they are typically listening for something. If they think they heard something in the distance and need to give a better listen for it, they will raise one ear and leave the other down. This is also a common occurrence for a bunny that is enjoying a nice sunbath. Either way, it is no cause for concern, but very much a cause to grab your camera for a picture of this adorable pose.
Ears Down, But Rigid
The good news came first, but this is where there may be some bad news. Similar to the way you can tell that the rabbit is relaxed by their ears looking more relaxed while they are down, a rigid or stiff looking ear that seems stressed, could mean exactly that.
There is a major difference between a rabbit that is taking a rest and a frightened rabbit. Here is how to tell:
A rabbit may put their ears straight back and slightly down when they want to rest. You will typically see this after playtime if they are tired out. Their ears will not touch the back of their head or body. They will simply be “at ease.” It’s basically in between being fully down and floppy and standing erect.
A frightened or tense rabbit’s ears will be similar, but they will be pressed against their body. When they appear to be pinned back against their body, it can mean they are any of the following.
None of these are feelings we want our bunny to be expressing. So, if you notice rigid ears that are pinned back, be sure to try and figure out what may be causing it. Here are some great questions to ask yourself.
- Is there anything nearby that could be frightening him/her?
- If you own other animals, maybe one of them showed aggression or got territorial with the rabbit. If you have children, it could have also been a simple mistake from the child scaring the rabbit. Look around and make sure everything is safe and sound.
- Has the rabbit been eating and going to the bathroom regularly?
- It could be a sign of simply not feeling well, and they’re not too thrilled about it. Keep an eye on their eating habits and make sure everything seems normal.
- Has anything in their environment changed?
- Maybe you recently moved, and the new house is making them anxious. Or it could be as small as you changed the brand of their food or got a new cage for them. They may just be feeling anxious over a small change.
- Were they around new people that were very excitable?
- When you see a cute bunny, it is hard to resist lunging towards them to make them your new best friend. But if someone new came over and went a little too aggressively towards them, it could spook them.
- Did they have a companion that is no longer around?
- Rabbits become attached easily. Maybe your son, who used to feed him every day, moved away for college, and your rabbit is sad to not see his pal anymore. Whether their companion was a human or a fellow furry one, if they are no longer there, it will be enough to make them sad for a while and express it through their ears.
If you notice anything out of the ordinary that could be causing the fear, sadness, or frustration, do your best to remove it from the equation or rectify the situation however you can.
When the issue is more fear-based, they will typically face the openings of their ears pointing sideways, rather than back. This helps their hearing remain vigilant as they also show their fear or anxiety over the situation.
Their overall stance will also show fear rather than anger. An angry rabbit will look like they’re about to pounce on you. There is little mistaking that look in their eyes, their ears pinned back, and a stance that says, “Watch out!” But when it is more about fear or anxiety, they will keep a timid posture that is ready to bail if they need to run, but also want to observe and analyze the situation.
If the rabbit is sad, their ears will normally be pinned back while the openings are pointing towards their backside, or down. Again, their body posturing can tell you a lot, paired with the direction their ears are pointed. Their bodies will go into full “sulking” mode. You can see that a little spring from their step may have been removed, and they seem uninterested.
Fun Fact: If a rabbit points their ears forward, it means they’re investigating. Rabbits are naturally curious creatures with an acute sense of hearing. Their ears will be erect and facing forward, while also leaning slightly forward when they are on the investigative prowl for something.
When or If you Should be Concerned
When you notice their ears are in the pinned back position showing a negative emotion, you should also keep an eye on their overall activity and health. Observe how they’re eating, sleeping, and going to the bathroom. If you notice any other symptoms, it is smart to take them to the vet at that point, as it may be more than a case of the blues.
If you notice their ears are down a lot in the floppy position, there shouldn’t be anything to worry about. This simply means you have a happy bunny on your hands, and they feel right at home.
Could it be Ear Mites?
Many people assume ear mites or some sort of infection could be causing a change in the way your rabbit holds their ears. This is typically not going to be the case, as other symptoms tend to be more prevalent in cases of ear mites.
If you’re concerned ear mites could be the culprit, PetMD has some great information on ear mites and how to detect them in your rabbit.
Functions of a Rabbit’s Ears
Before you look away, a rabbit’s ears are quite a bit more complex than just the function of hearing. Of course, just like any other mammal, a rabbit’s ear’s primary function is to hear. They allow them to monitor the environment around them for protection and be comfortable with the world around them. According to an article in Discover Wildlife, they can pick up sounds that are almost as far as 2 miles away.
Aside from hearing, their giant ears also aide them in thermoregulation. They contain a complex and extensive system of blood vessels, and they provide an ample surface area for heat exchange.
Their ears can tell us a lot about their health and mood. With such large ears that contribute so much to their overall well-being, it’s crucial to keep them in good health. Paying attention to what their ears look like, and the positions they put them in can tell us a whole bunch about these little guys.
Fun Fact: According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the longest rabbit ears measured were 31.125 inches! These giant ears belong to Nipper’s Geronimo, an English Lop, from Wichita, Kansas.
Different Rabbits, Different Ears
First and foremost, you will want to know what type of rabbit you have. While most rabbits do have erect, pointy ears, some will have ears that are always drooping at their sides.
Lop Eared Rabbits do not have the erect ears we have come to know from many rabbits. So if you have a Lop breed, you shouldn’t worry about those droopy ears, as they are completely normal for this breed.
In the U.S., 5 breeds fall under this label:
- American Fuzzy Lop
- Holland Lop
- English Lop
- French Lop
- Mini Lop
To learn more about each of these breeds and all rabbit breeds, you can check out the American Rabbit Breeders Association.
The Ears-Down Low-Down
Whether your rabbit is showing signs of love, contentment, and affection, or they may need some calming down, their ears will do the talking for them. Pay attention to any changes they make in the positions of their ears, their overall posture and attitude, and any other signs that can help you determine what it is they are trying to tell you.
Read this article if you want to learn more about understanding your rabbit’s mood based on their ear movement.