TABLE A-3 An ethogram for rabbits

Common rabbit postures, behaviors, and vocalizations
Purring or teeth purring—A sound made by lightly and quickly grinding/vibrating the teeth as the whiskers quiver; a sign of contentment
Oinking or honking—A sound made to gain food or attention or during courtship
Clicking—A happy sound often made after a welcomed treat is given
Wheezing or sniffing—Nasal sounds made by ‘talkative’ rabbits; can be distinguished from abnormal respiratory sounds because they are intermittent and stimulated by interaction with the rabbit
Whimpering or low squealing—A fretting noise that is made when one picks up a rabbit that is reluctant to be handled; made often by pregnant and pseudopregnant does
Chinning—Rubbing the secretions from the scent glands under the chin on inanimate objects and people to mark possession. Glands are more developed in males than females
Nudging or nuzzling—The nose is used to nudge a person’s hand or foot, or the rabbit may pull on a pant leg to signal a desire for attention. When enough petting has been done the rabbit may push the hand away
Head shaking, ear shaking, body shudder—A shake of the head or body in response to an annoying smell or unwanted handling; often occurs as the rabbit settles down and becomes relaxed enough to begin eating and grooming
Courting or circling—A sexual or social behavior whereby a rabbit circles another rabbit or the feet of a human while softly honking
Scratching at the floor—A rabbit may scratch at the floor with its forepaws in order to get a person’s attention or to be picked up
Nipping—Not always done in anger, this can mean ‘move over’ or ‘put me down’
Presentation—The head is extended forward with the feet tucked under the body and the chin placed on the floor in order for the rabbit to present itself as subordinate for petting from humans or to be groomed by another rabbit
Flattening—A fear response wherein the rabbit flattens its abdomen onto the floor with ears laid back against the head; the eyes may be bulging
Thumping—A sharp drumming of the hind feet as a warning or an alert to other rabbits of danger; often accompanied by dilation of the pupils and seeking refuge
Teeth grinding—A slower, louder teeth crunching, sometimes seen with bulging of the eyes and usually indicating discomfort, pain, or illness
Snorting or growling—A warning sound, either hissing or a short barking growl, that occurs with aggression or fear and is often seen with the ears flattened against the head and the tail up and in the grunt-lunge-bite sequence
Isolation—When a rabbit that normally seeks attention from its mates and human companions isolates itself and is less active. Such a rabbit should be checked for illness
Kicking—If a rabbit feels insecure when being picked up it will kick violently in an effort to escape. The hindquarters must be supported to prevent trauma to the spine or legs. A rabbit should be placed hind-end first into a cage in order to help prevent injuries caused by kicking
Aggression—Strained, upright stance with tail stretched out and ears laid back in defensive posture; the rabbit may also kick high and backwards
Loud, piercing scream—Similar to a human baby crying; signaling pain and fear, as when the rabbit is caught by a predator
Scanning—A rabbit with impaired vision may move its head from side to side to scan the area around it

Reprinted with permission from Macmillan Publishers Ltd: [Lab Animal] (Mayer 2007), copyright (2007). Mayer J. Use of behavioral analysis to recognize pain in small mammals. Lab Anim 36(6):43-48.

From: Appendix, Tools to Monitor and Assess Health Status and Well-Being in Stress and Distress

Cover of Recognition and Alleviation of Distress in Laboratory Animals
Recognition and Alleviation of Distress in Laboratory Animals.
National Research Council (US) Committee on Recognition and Alleviation of Distress in Laboratory Animals.
Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 2008.
Copyright © 2008, National Academy of Sciences.

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