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I got a female mini rex back in august for our family. we had the sweetest one ever just before that and had to put to sleep she got sick. i knew this one wasnt the same. shes always been skiddish and timid but loving. recentely she has become very mean. she growls and tries to attack my hand any time i try to open her cage to feed her or let her out. shes never done this before. shes always loved her cage opened. she likes to roam around and is litter trained. IM so upset and frustrated shes going to hurt me or the kids that im tempted to take her to a shelter but i would feel bad because I know this is not really her. ive had several bunnies in past and never seen this. please help!!!

Answer
Dear Wendy,

I am sorry for the delay, caused by a very sad death in my family.  Everything kind of got put on hold.

Ah, you have a frightened, defensive bunny.  There are many reasons for a bunny to exhibit aggression, but usually it is because she is insecure and frightened. Also, if she is not spayed, the surgery might help calm her.  (Or it might not; it depends on the reason for her aggression.)

Sometimes the aggressive ones are the very SMART ones!  Once you gain their trust, they become the most wonderful companions of all.  But it takes patience and positive reinforcement.  The *worst* thing you can do is meet her aggression with punishment, which rabbits see only as further aggression and proof that they are correct to be aggressive themselves.  

Meet her aggression with gentleness, stroking her on the head and back instead of flinching.  If she nips, make a strong, loud sound to let her know it hurt!  You can squirt her with a water bottle if she is attacking for no reason (i.e., when someone is just walking by), but positive reinforcement works better.

For more tips on how to win the trust of an aggressive bunny, please read:

http://www.rabbit.org/faq/sections/aggression.html

http://www.rabbit.org/journal/4-1/HRJ4.1_Letters.html

As you can see from all the information there, you are not the first (nor will you be the last) person to have this problem.  It is fixable!  :)

Hope all goes well.

Dana  

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Dana Krempels, Ph.D.

Expertise

I've lived with companion rabbits for more than 35 years, and consider them members of my family. I can answer any questions about the biology and health of rabbits, from the commonplace to the unusual. But please note:

RULE #1:
THE INTERNET IS NOT THE PLACE TO SEEK HELP IN AN EMERGENCY.

...it is an EMERGENCY.

Find a rabbit vet at www.rabbit.org/vet for immediate help, and don't risk your bunny's life by spending time asking questions online! If you can't get in touch with your vet, read these Emergency Sick Bunny Instructions.

If you have found a wild baby rabbit, please read these EMERGENCY INSTRUCTIONS FOR WILD BABY RABBITS and then use this link to FIND A LOCAL WILDLIFE REHABILITATOR who can give you the right advice.


RULE #2:
Help me help you! Please make your subject line informative if you have an urgent question. then LET ME KNOW IN THE SUBJECT LINE so I can give your question highest priority over non-urgent questions. If you don't do this, then I can't guarantee timely assistance!

For all the best, most accurate rabbit health, care and behavior information, visit The House Rabbit Society.

Experience

I have been rescuing and rehabilitating domestic and wild rabbits for about 30 years. I have written articles for many rabbit rescue publications, as well as for the veterinary journal, Exotic DVM. I own EtherBun, the internet's largest listserve dedicated to health, care, and behavior of domestic rabbits.

Organizations
Houserabbit Adoption, Rescue, and Education, Inc. (H.A.R.E., Inc.) president National House Rabbit Society (Board member)

Publications
Exotic DVM
Warren Peace (Journal of the House Rabbit Society of Miami)
Various newsletters of the House Rabbit Society, nationwide

Education/Credentials
Ph.D - Biology
B.S. - Biology
B.A. - English

Awards and Honors
Lightspan Academic Excellence Award for web site on rabbit health and biology
(http://www.bio.miami.edu/hare)

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