How rabbits clarify the hierarchy in the group
In order for rabbits to live together harmoniously, there needs to be a clear hierarchy in the group. Usually peace reigns once rabbits have established the hierarchy. However, it can also happen that the hierarchy falters or that some rabbits try to take the place of the “leader” of the group.
These rabbit friends have already sorted themselves out and hit it off – Shutterstock / Serenko Natalia
If a rabbit joins a group, the existing hierarchy gets mixed up and the long-eared rabbits have to clarify the hierarchy again. The same applies if the “boss” is getting on in years or is ailing. Then mostly younger rabbits try to secure a place at the top of the hierarchy by challenging the previous leader. Below you will learn more about the peculiarities of the hierarchy in rabbit groups.
What is the hierarchy of a rabbit group?
In the wild, rabbits live in large groups together in a network of tunnels. Several such associations live side by side. Each group is headed by a dominant animal that enjoys special privileges. There are also a few animals that are in the middle of the hierarchy and a few animals that are at the bottom of the hierarchy. This is no different with tame house rabbits.
For example, the chief rabbit can eat before everyone else and take the tastiest bites out of the food. Also, it can prompt other rabbits to clean it. It puts its head on the ground and nudges the other animal under the chin. The rabbit boss himself rarely cleans others and only briefly. In addition, the rabbits that are at the top of the ranking breed more often than the others and are healthier.
How do rabbits fight for priority?
Usually each rabbit accepts its place in the hierarchy and coexistence in the group remains peaceful. However, if something changes in the group constellation – a new rabbit is added or a group member dies – or the “leader” begins to weaken, there will be fights over the hierarchy.
These disputes about the best place in the hierarchy can manifest themselves in the following ways:
● The rabbits chase each other or run in circles around their competitor.
● The more dominant rabbit mounts the inferior animal.
● The rabbit that is stronger pinches its fellow rabbit.
● If the inferior rabbit still doesn’t give in, the dominant animal pulls on its fur and, if necessary, plucks some too.
When do you need to intervene in ranking battles?
As long as there are no bite injuries that require treatment, you should let your rabbits fight the hierarchy. After that, the hierarchy is usually clarified and the animals live together peacefully again.
In rare cases, however, it can happen that two animals simply do not get along with each other. Then the hierarchy fights last uninterrupted for several weeks or there are severe bite wounds.
It can also happen that one rabbit in the group is bullied by the others and becomes terribly afraid of their own kind. You can tell this by, for example, when it sits rigidly with its head against the wall and is bitten by the other rabbits. Or the other rabbits are constantly chasing it.
You should then separate the dominant animal from the group and after about two weeks make an attempt to reunite the rabbits. Sometimes that is enough to restore peace. If not, you must permanently separate the animals and house each in their own groups. However, keeping rabbits alone is not an option!
Can rabbit fights be avoided?
You can’t completely avoid hierarchy fights among rabbits – after all, a hierarchy has to be created first so that the animals can live together in a relaxed manner. But you can keep the potential for conflict in the group to a minimum with a few tips on keeping rabbits in a species-appropriate manner – then there will be less arguments.
For example, take care of
● sufficient food for the rabbits
● enough space and places to retreat for the animals
● a balanced gender ratio within the group (there are more frequent arguments in groups with only females or males)
● neutering your rabbits (neutered bucks are generally more peaceful than unneutered bucks, neutered bucks are better protected against certain diseases than unneutered females)
● Species-appropriate activity for the rabbits
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Understand rabbit behavior and body language