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Home > Rabbits > Do Rabbits Know When Their Owners Are Sad? What Science Says

Do Rabbits Know When Their Owners Are Sad? What Science Says

man holding a gray rabbit

Like dogs and cats, many breeds of rabbits have been domesticated for a long time. In the beginning, rabbits were domesticated for their fur and meat. However, they’ve recently been kept primarily as pets. While there are some rabbit farms around, most rabbits bred today are kept as pets.

Similarly to dogs and cats, you’d expect pet rabbits to communicate somewhat with humans. When an animal lives primarily with people, it’s vital for them to understand human communication. As many animals have become domesticated, they have become more human-like. For instance, we know dogs understand human gestures, and cats meow at a similar pitch that infants cry.

The truth is, we don’t know much about how rabbits and humans communicate. We do know that they communicate somewhat, but studies on the subject are scarce.

When you rely on humans for your survival, communicating across species is vital. Let’s explore how rabbits communicate with their owners!

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Rabbit and Human Communication

One study done on rabbits for therapeutic use involved six adult male psychiatric patients with severe illnesses.1 (Their illnesses weren’t specified, but all of them were hospitalized due to communication difficulties.) The results found that having an animal present around psychiatric patients had a huge benefit to the patients—enough to make up for the potential downsides of having an animal.

Less regressed patients found the rabbit to be a source of joy. However, others reported that it was a source of irritation (though this may have been due to their particular illnesses or personality). Some used the rabbit as an excuse to avoid interactions they didn’t like.

More regressed patients incorporated the rabbit into their own reality, and some utilized it as a bridge to access the external reality.

Sadly, there wasn’t much information on the rabbit itself. We don’t know how it behaved around other people or if this differed. This information could have helped us determine if the rabbit was understanding the distress of those around it. We do know that the rabbit was at least receptive enough to be a source of joy for some of the patients. This study illustrates that rabbits can be great companions and therapeutic animals, just like dogs and cats.

There haven’t been any studies on rabbits and their ability to communicate with humans. You’ll find lots of claims across the internet from rabbit owners saying that their rabbit understood their emotions at a particular point and time. For instance, the r/Rabbits community on Reddit is full of tales involving rabbits responding in a surprising way to their humans.

Still, all of this is anecdotal evidence, which isn’t the best. We simply don’t know to what extent rabbits communicate with humans or understand their owners’ emotions.

We can guess that rabbits understand at least a little bit. They’ve been domesticated for a long time, after all. However, we don’t know the extent of this communication or understanding.

rabbit resting her head on the shoulder of her owner
Image By: Dean Clarke, Shutterstock

How Long Does It Take for a Rabbit to Forget You?

Rabbits have an extremely short-term memory of only 5 minutes. Therefore, much of the information the rabbit learned before the last 5 minutes isn’t accessible. However, rabbits also have long-term memory, just like people. They don’t get their whole mind wiped every 5 minutes; they just forget the details.

For instance, you may not remember what you had for breakfast last week, but you likely remember your loved ones. It isn’t odd for someone not to recount details for the day or even a few hours before. However, it is odd for someone to forget important details or large brushstrokes. Someone isn’t likely to remember who they sat next to in eighth grade, but they’ll probably remember where they went to school.

It’s the same for rabbits. They may not be able to remember the exact details of what happened 10 minutes ago, but they likely won’t forget their owner or any new person they meet. Experiences charged with emotion are more memorable. Rabbits may also remember certain things better than others for no apparent reason.

For reference, a human’s short-term memory may be as short as 15 seconds.1 Therefore, a rabbit’s short-term memory isn’t all that short compared to ours.

You don’t have to worry about your rabbit forgetting you when you leave the room. That isn’t exactly how short-term memory works.

Do Rabbits Have Feelings for Their Owners?

This question is a bit complicated. In all honesty, we don’t really know if rabbits have feelings for their owners. We cannot ask rabbits, and emotions are difficult to study in a clinical setting. Furthermore, many of the studies done on companion animals are done on cats and dogs—not rabbits. Therefore, we just don’t have a lot of information to know what rabbits feel about their owners—if anything.

We do know that some rabbits are pretty affectionate. Therefore, they at least don’t despise their owners. Because rabbits have been raised in captivity for a while, they likely do develop a relationship with their humans. It doesn’t make much sense for a domesticated companion animal not to build a relationship with their humans, after all. However, we don’t know exactly the extent of the relationship from the rabbit’s point of view.

Young woman with adorable rabbit indoors
Image By: New Africa, Shutterstock

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Conclusion

There aren’t very many studies done on rabbits and their communication with people. We don’t know for sure if rabbits can detect their owner’s feelings. Lots of anecdotal evidence describes rabbits as cuddling with a human when they’re down or performing other actions that the owner perceived as trying to cheer them up.

However, anecdotal evidence isn’t rated highly, as it is up for interpretation. It’s all subjective. Therefore, we can’t say from a scientific standpoint that rabbits do respond to their owner’s feelings.

Sadly, we’ll just have to wait for more science to be done on the subject.

See also:


Featured Image Credit: cottonbro, Pexels

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