You hear this question more often with regards to other animals, and certainly a lot more with cats and dogs. Maybe that’s because there are more people who own these animals than own rabbits as pets … I don’t know. However, the answer isn’t rocket science but still yields some rather interesting information that may help you to understand more the relationship you have with your little bundle of fur.
Why does my rabbit lick me? Your rabbit licks you to show you affection as if it is grooming you and you are part of its family. Your rabbit licking you shows it trusts you and feels comfortable in your presence.
Reasons Why Your Rabbit Licks You
There is one primary reason why your rabbit will want to lick you so we’re just going to focus on this. However, I will mention the other one as a lot of people talk about it as being a reason, incorrectly.
1) Your Rabbit is Showing Affection
This is the most simple answer and it is also most likely to be the case. Your rabbit associates you with safety and also as a provider of food.
If you study two rabbits who are very close you will notice they can be very affectionate towards each other, more so (in my experience) than other pets, such as cats. The rabbits will want to eat together, they will want to use the litter tray together, play together and they will want to groom each other. It is this last point that is of particular interest to us.
It most likely won’t happen overnight but over time, your rabbit will bond with you. Eventually, and this amount of time can vary between rabbits, they will consider you as part of their family. It’s unlikely you’ll join them on the litter tray, but you will play with them, you will pet them (grooming) and they will want to reciprocate this affection. This is achieved by the rabbit licking you!
I think a better question might be, ‘why doesn’t my rabbit lick me?’ – as this could indicate that you haven’t properly bonded with your rabbit yet. This could be simply because the rabbit hasn’t had enough time to fully trust you.
Or it could be that your rabbit is particularly nervous (could be for numerous reasons) – and may always be this way. Remember, rabbits are individuals and they may just not be the type to want to give affection or trust in this way.
2) Your Rabbit Likes the taste of Salt on You
Although a lot of people in forums suggest this is the main reason why your rabbit licks you, it is most likely not the case. Your rabbit will get all the salt it needs in its diet (more on this below). Is there any truth in this? Well, until we can all speak ‘rabbit’ it’s pretty difficult to say!
However, I haven’t seen any scientific evidence that a rabbit will try and lick your sweaty hands or arms to try and extract the salt from your perspiration. In fact, when you think about it – it’s a bit odd, isn’t it? If this was the case, it might suggest that the rabbit is deficient in sodium chloride but that really shouldn’t be the case. Also, how would your rabbit know that your sweat includes salt? It would have to lick you initially to discover that.
So, no – it is very unlikely, despite what people say in forums online that your rabbit is licking you to increase its salt input.
Is Your Rabbit Getting Enough Salt in Its Diet?
Well, after reading the above you will probably now appreciate that this question is irrelevant to the question, however as it is linked to it in some way, you may be wondering. Your rabbit does not need you to buy it one of these salt-licks if it’s getting a proper diet. It is not licking you to increase its salt input. So, if you see websites trying to sell you them, I’d suggest you ignore it and also consider whether any other advice on that website is trustworthy.
You see, the diet of a rabbit is quite simple really and consists primarily of hay. If you take a look at this RSPCA UK article about a rabbit’s diet, you will get all the confirmation you need. You can provide supplements if you wish of ‘greens’ and pellets and also maybe a carrot or apple occasionally as a treat.
How much hay you should give depends on their age but a rough estimate is to provide a bundle of hay that’s about the same size or your rabbit. What some people forget though is the water. This should be fresh and the bowl cleaned and replenished at least daily.
What Is Going Through Its Head?
Who knows really but most likely they are feeling safe in your company and see you as part of their family. These feelings manifest in a number of ways but are linked directly to your actions around it. How calm you are, whether it is you that feed it and how much attention you give your rabbit are three large contributors.
When they look at you they most likely have the same feelings as they do when they see and interact with someone from their family or another rabbit that they trust.
Assuming they lick you, compare how they react to you against someone they don’t know. There are several tell-tale signs to look for to be sure that you are bonding well with your rabbit, from their eye-contact to the grunting noises they make to show how relaxed they feel around you.
They are more likely to lick an adult than a child as it typically takes them a little longer to bond with a child. This is primarily because kids can just be a little more ‘jumpy’ and unpredictable than adults.
Sudden movements and loud noises in the company of your rabbit will freak them out a little and let’s face it, that’s what kids are all about 🙂 Give them time to get used to them though and you’ll see the same behavior with them.
What to do After your Rabbit has Licked You
You should always wash your hands after stroking a rabbit and also any part of your body that they have licked of course! What I’ve found the best thing to do is have one of those table-top hand sanitizers (the type you get at hospitals) and have it somewhere that you can always see.
It’s easy to forget to wash your hands if you have a lot of cuddles with your rabbit but it takes a few seconds to give the sanitizer a quick pump and clean your hands properly.
As lovely and cuddly as your little fluffy rabbit is, it will still have germs and bacteria that could make you ill if incorporated into your food preparation and the last thing you want to do is make another member of the family ill just because you didn’t clean your hands!
Do Rabbits Recognize You?
Yes, rabbits recognize us. There are a few ways they do this but primarily how we look, how we sound, how we smell and how we act. If you’ve had a rabbit for a while you’ll know how excited they become when they see you walking towards them.
Maybe that’s because they associate you with dinner time or maybe they just associate you with the feeling of being safe and secure, knowing that in your presence there is never any danger, who knows. However, they certainly do recognize you and they do it quickly but if you want to speed this up, just spend time with them.
What Is the Friendliest Rabbit Breed?
Something I didn’t realize before I first started looking into rabbits was how many different breeds there are! When I was a kid I’m sure many people walked into a pet shop and said, “Can I have a rabbit please?” – and were promptly given a rabbit – a generic ‘rabbit’.
People are more particular these days though, not just about rabbits but about all pets. We understand better that different breeds of rabbits will show different personality traits and you can look for one that matches your personality. Let me give you some examples:
Mini Rex: The Mini Rex has been called a subdued breed before but I prefer to categorize them as ‘calm’. Which they certainly are. It makes them a great choice for a family with children and will live for around 6-7 years on average.
Californian: The Californian is a little shyer than a lot of the other breeds but once they get used to you will be as affectionate as others. They are known to require quite a bit of exercise so you’ll need a lot of space for them and another thing to bear in mind is that they do shed quite a bit. The Californian rabbit breed can live for up to around 10 years, which is a great age for a rabbit.
Lionhead: The Lionhead rabbit is a lovely looking breed of rabbit and this is one of the reasons why they can be so popular with families with children. They can live for up to 10 years, have a lot of energy and are quite affectionate. Although there are several breeds I haven’t mentioned here and this is just a snippet, I would suggest the Lionhead is the friendliest of rabbit breeds!
How Do You Show Affection to a Rabbit?
So we know that your rabbit licks you to show you affection but what can you do to reciprocate? This one is simple, you can just spend time with your rabbit. They enjoy social interaction with humans (well, the right humans) and will be happy when you’re around them.
Some of them like stroking and holding more than others but the real trick is to just spend as much of your time as you can with them. Be gentle, be friendly and teach your children to be the same. It’s more difficult I know for children to be calm and subdued generally but let them know that when they jump about and shout it scares the rabbit and hopefully they will chill out a bit when they are around it!