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What Do a Rabbit’s Ear Positions Mean?

Rachael Gerkensmeyer

Rabbits are cute and cuddly animals that make excellent pets for households of all shapes and sizes. They do not take up excessive space, they do not eat much, and they do not bark or meow as dogs and cats do. However, they do have their own way of communicating with each other and their human companions. For instance, they will sometimes move the position of their ears when they want to convey a message of some kind. So, what do a rabbit’s ear positions mean? This is a great question! Here is everything that you need to know about what the positions of your rabbit’s ears could mean.

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Understanding the Correlation Between Ear Position and Behavior

Rabbits do use their ears to communicate, but they typically show other behaviors at the same time. So, it is a good idea to look for other behaviors that your rabbit might be displaying when you notice a change in their ear position to verify whether they are actually communicating with you or whether the ear position change is superficial.

In addition to discussing what rabbit ear positions mean, we offer insight into other behaviors to look for when you notice that your rabbit’s ear positions change.

Ears That Point Outward

A bunny with slightly erect ears that point outward is typically happy and feeling confident in their environment. You will likely see your rabbit spread out and relaxing in their favorite spot or lying down near your feet with their front paws protruding out from their body. They might also tuck all their legs under their bodies and curl up like a cat would.

rabbit with ears pointing outward
Image Credit: A Beijeman, Pixabay

Ears That Are Upright and Rigid

A rabbit that gets startled or frightened due to noise will perch their ears upright and make them go rigid. While upright and rigid, the ear openings may point straight forward or direct to the sides to determine what the source of the noise is. When your rabbit goes on alert and their ears turn rigid and upright, they may stand on their hind legs and look around or stand completely still on all four legs until the source of the noise is determined and the threat has passed.

Ears That Are Slanted Forward

A curious yet cautious rabbit will usually slant their ears forward, over their head. They could do this while investigating a new toy in their habitat or new object in the home when they are out exploring. This ear position does not mean that your rabbit is scared, but it does mean that they are being careful during their investigation. In addition to forward-slanting ears, a curious and cautious rabbit will typically sniff aggressively, which makes their nose look like it is shivering. The rabbit might slow down a little and proceed to a new toy or object as if sneaking up on it.

rabbit with ears slanting forward
Image Credit: R3D00D84, Pixabay

Ears That Are Slanted Backward

Sometimes, rabbits get angry and aggressive. A rabbit might get mad when another rabbit tries to move in on the food that they are eating or a toy they are chewing on. They can also turn aggressive when humans scare or overwhelm them with excessive handling. No matter the reason for getting upset or aggressive, a rabbit will let anyone around them know of their displeasure by pointing their ears backward, lifting their tail upward, and sticking their chin slightly outward in preparation for biting.

Ears That Lay Together Along the Back

If a rabbit is feeling laidback and wants to rest, they will sometimes lay their ears backward along their back. The ears will be close together and look limp. Unlike when a happy rabbit’s ears point outward, a rabbit with ears together laying backward is relaxed and ready to preserve their energy by lounging or napping. Therefore, you will almost always catch your rabbit laying down when their ears are in this position.

rabbit in a hole
Image Credit: Denise McQuillen, Pixabay

Ears That Lay Apart Along the Back

A submissive rabbit will lie down on the ground with their legs underneath them and spread their ears apart while resting them along their back. The ears will be stiff instead of relaxed, as will the body. This type of communication can happen when a rabbit is introduced to a new habitat where one or more other rabbits have already been established or when working out the hierarchy with siblings as they age.

One Ear That Is Up While One Is Down

If you notice that your rabbit has one ear up while the other is down, they are probably just curious about the noises going on around them. The erect year may turn in different directions to determine which direction the noise being heard is coming from. Their bodies should be relaxed and calm during this time because they are not startled or scared. They just want to figure out the noise they are hearing and where it is coming from.

rabbit with one ear up
Image Credit: Esi Grünhagen, Pixabay

Ears That Are Shaking

When your rabbit shakes their ears and moves them from side to side, it could mean a variety of different things, so close attention must be paid to determine the exact cause of this type of ear behavior. One reason for a rabbit shaking their ears is itchiness. When the ears get itchy, a rabbit will rapidly shake their ears several times in a row. They may follow this behavior up with a foot scratch or a roll on the ground.

Another reason a rabbit might shake their ears is that they want to be left alone. This most often happens when someone moves toward the rabbit when the rabbit does not want to interact for some reason. As the human approaches, the rabbit will quickly shake their ears and move away.

Finally, shaking ears could indicate that your rabbit is extremely excited and happy. The shaking ears will be accompanied by a move called the mini binky, in which the rabbit twists their body while jumping.

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A Few Final Thoughts

Now that you know more about what a rabbit’s ear positions mean, you should be able to more effectively communicate with your pet rabbit as time goes on. However, keep in mind that all rabbits are different, and their ear positions may vary slightly depending on things like their age and breed. So, it is important to watch all the body language that comes with a change of ear position. What ear positions does your rabbit seem to display the most?


Featured Image Credit: Pexels, Pixabay

Rachael Gerkensmeyer

Rachael has been a freelance writer since 2000, in which time she has had an opportunity to research and write about many different topics while working to master the art of fusing high-quality content with effective content marketing strategies. She is an artist at heart and loves to read, paint, and make jewelry in her spare time. As a vegan, Rachael is obsessed with helping animals in need both in her community and anywhere in the world where she feels she can make a difference. Animals also happen to be her favorite topic to write about! She lives off the grid in Hawaii with her husband, her garden, and her rescue animals including 5 dogs, a cat, a goat, and dozens of chickens.