Cats claw curtains. Dogs chew up your furniture (not to mention your expensive shoes). And bunnies? Well, they bite your clothes. And sometimes rabbits chew on cardboard, too, but more on that another time.
You might think this is odd behavior coming from domestic rabbits, which are considered to be pretty social creatures. Surely they know the difference between food (like mangoes), chew toys, and your clothes, which are most certainly not toothy accessories. So why do they do it at all?
Never fear, because that’s just what this article is here to answer. You’ll no longer be bugged about why your rabbit nibbles your clothes, and maybe you’ll even get them to stop doing it altogether.
Without further ado, here are the different reasons why rabbits bite your clothes and what you can do about it.
13 reasons why rabbits bite your clothes
Wonder no more why your bunny is biting your clothing. Here are some of the most common reasons.
1. Hormonal changes
You’ve surely heard that rabbits breed very easily. That means they get those urges fairly often, too, and they can shift to aggressive behavior when they can’t find a healthy outlet for them. So they’ll be more inclined to bite just about anything, and this can include your clothes.
They may even do it intentionally to try and get your attention and let you know that something is wrong. For them, it’s normal behavior that wouldn’t be discouraged in the wild, so not being able to breed freely doesn’t feel natural to them.
Male rabbits can demonstrate aggressive behavior during mating season thanks to hormonal changes, even though they’re social animals. So, your furry friend might take it out on your clothes if you get too close.
It’s best to get acquainted with your adult rabbit’s sexual needs and find ways of relieving their tension.
2. They’re annoyed
They might be the most adorable bundles of fluff, but like any uber-cute small pet, they can get annoyed with constant attention or unsolicited hugs and pets.
Don’t forget that being hugged or kissed, which for humans is a sign of love and affection, can feel claustrophobic and potentially dangerous to a small animal. If you do it repeatedly, you might be putting your precious pet under undue stress, and they may respond with gentle bites on your clothes to communicate their dilemma. This doesn’t necessarily mean they’re an aggressive rabbit, they’re just struggling to show your their discomfort any other way.
That’s not to say you can’t cuddle them at all! Bunnies love a good petting session, but they also need some alone time in a safe space they can retreat to and rest.
3. You smell too strongly
No, it’s not that you smell bad. But strong perfumes and even scents from fabric softeners or essential oils on clothes can upset a bunny’s super-sensitive sense of smell.
But why bite your clothes if they don’t like the smell? The smells that are so familiar and enjoyed by us aren’t familiar to them. They don’t understand what the odor is, and they could surmise that it might pose a threat, so they’d rather attack it to try and remove it from you.
4. They’re scared
Sadly, if your bun-bun is feeling insecure and afraid, their natural instinct is to hide. If you happen to be holding them when they feel this urge, they might nibble on your clothes in an attempt to burrow into you and hide away.
You’re probably wondering why your fluffball would get so scared, but those big ears are very sensitive to noises. If they hear something that upsets them, like loud thumping, metal utensils, or even hear a TV that’s turned on too high, they can panic and try to escape the sound.
Try to reduce noise around your bunny’s environment, and comfort them if any unexpected loud bangs do occur while you’re holding them. Don’t take the nibbling personally.
5. They’re bored
Just like other pets, young rabbits and old alike need stimulation in their day, otherwise they can get bored and resort to destructive behavior. This can mean chewing on your clothes simply because there’s nothing else to do.
6. It’s just their natural instinct
Fun fact: rabbits’ teeth never stop growing, just like full-sized guinea pigs. They can grow up to 4.7 inches (12 cm) in a year. This means they are natural chewers with an inclination to constantly chew and keep those chompers at a reasonable size.
If they stop biting, they can get overgrown teeth, which causes all sorts of problems for them. So if they’re running low on things to bite, they may resort to your clothes. The obvious option here is to keep your bunny fully stocked with rabbit chews to avoid the problem from occurring.
7. They’re frustrated
Pets are more complex than we give them credit for at times. Just like other animals, rabbits can get frustrated. A frustrated pup will bark at their owner endlessly, but a rabbit doesn’t have quite the same vocal range. So they resort to chewing to show how unhappy they are.
It can be that you left your bunny in their cage too long and they want some play time outside. It might be that they feel like hopping but are confined. When they can’t do what they want, they’ll start biting whatever is within reach, and if you’re holding them, that means your clothes are their number one target.
8. They’re trying to groom you
Not all reasons for rabbits biting your clothes are necessarily bad. This reason is pretty sweet and means that your bunny loves you very much. When rabbits shed (and yes, they can shed a lot), they gently nibble on and rub against each other to help dispatch the itchy fur.
If they’re snuggled up to you, rubbing against you, and gently nibbling at your clothes, it means they’re including you in their grooming ritual (aw!).
9. They might be sick
Animals often chew as a symptom of an underlying medical issue. It’s one way for them to try and alleviate whatever is causing the discomfort. They’ll typically bite at the affected area, but if the problem or pain is generalized, they may resort to simply biting their toys and your clothes harder to try and cope.
You’ll notice the difference — grooming nibbles are gentle, but pain-induced bites are much harder. Also, you’ll see your bun doing it constantly to many things, not only to your clothes. In this case, a vet visit is in order.
10. Their nails might be too long
Long nails on a rabbit cause pain, too. Indoor rabbits especially tend to get longer nails, so trimming them with a nail trimmer on a regular basis is very important. Otherwise, the pain can cause them to bite at your clothes as though they were sick.
So if you suspect your bunny is biting your clothes from pain or illness, check their nails first to rule that out as a cause before rushing to the vet for an overpriced pet pedicure.
11. They might not trust you
If you adopt or are given an adult rabbit, odds are they won’t trust you right away. They’ll need time to adapt to their new surroundings and you. Loving pets are hard to resist, though, and there’s no need to keep your hands off your bunny.
But if they bite at your clothes while you do so, it’s their way of defining a boundary or telling you that they’re still uncomfortable with your proximity.
Don’t feel bad. In time, you’ll earn your pet’s trust and they’ll no longer bite at your clothes out of insecurity.
12. On the other hand, it might be a sign they love you
It can be pretty confusing, right? But if you’ve had your bunny since it was a baby fluffball, odds are they trust you completely and love you in their own rabbit way. They can show you this by giving you playful and gentle love nibbles on your clothes to show affection.
If your bunny often nibbles at your clothes in this calm manner and none of the other reasons seem apparent, it might just be that they’re happily bonding with you.
13. It might be a symptom of an abusive past
If you’ve adopted a bunny, there’s sometimes no telling how their previous owners treated them or what they went through before they came to you. Sometimes it’s a loving environment; other times, not so much.
If they have been abused in any manner previously, they might be apprehensive of humans and bite your clothes out of anxiety and fear. Just like with other rescue pets, they need time and sometimes a behaviorist to help coax them out of their fearful shells.
But once you establish your love and care, their aggressive bites might turn into gentle nibbles that express a feeling of safety and affection instead.
Should I stop my rabbit from biting my clothes?
It’s a good idea to encourage them to stop if it’s a frequent problem, if only for the sake of your wardrobe. They won’t suffer from not being able to chew on your tasty cotton shirts.
Often people are happy to let them nibble away — who doesn’t enjoy affection from their pet, after all? The occasional nibble is just fine, and will encourage a deeper bond between you and your bun.
However, it shouldn’t be encouraged. If they start to nibble off chunks of your clothes and swallow them, it can cause a problem in the form of an intestinal blockage.
And that’s a serious problem for you and your pet, as it often requires surgery and can be life-threatening if left untreated.
How to stop your rabbit from biting your clothes
Here are a few tips and tricks on getting your bunny to curb their nibbling habits.
1. Don’t punish them severely
The old-school way of dealing with what people consider misbehavior is to smack it out of pets. Luckily that line of thinking has passed into a new generation where people have realized physical punishments don’t actually fix the problem, but can make them worse.
If you smack your bunny, they’re not going to understand why. They don’t associate the hit with their behavior, so they may just come to fear you and distrust you altogether.
Imagine causing such insecurity and unhappiness in your little fluffball. You likely won’t be getting any bunny cuddles in this scenario. Rather use techniques like positive reinforcement to get them to redirect their behaviors.
If they start chewing on your favorite jeans, redirect them to a chew toy instead to show them what’s appropriate for them to gnaw on. If a chew isn’t at hand, you can also gently push their heads down and say “no bite” to indicate the behavior isn’t appropriate.
Stay consistent in your training methods and your bunny should respond to them over time.
2. Neuter them
Because sexual maturity and mating season can have an effect on encouraging bad behavior, the answer can be as simple as having them surgically fixed. Although male bunnies tend to be more aggressive in these instances, female rabbits can do their fair share of damage.
3. Give them plenty of chew toys
Chewing is a common behavior even with adult rabbits, so make sure they have plenty of toys to chew on, and they’ll be less likely to pick your pants as their chew of the moment.
4. Keep clothes out of reach
One of the easiest things you can do if you have an incessant clothes-chewer is to simply keep your clothes out of their reach. That means no dirty clothes or laundry baskets with easy-to-access holes on the floor for them to get to.
They’ll be in their cage for a portion of the day anyway, but make sure that when they’re hopping about the house everything is safely put away.
Wrap up on why rabbits bite your clothes
So as it turns out, there are a whole bunch of reasons for those bunny bites on your clothing. Some are more serious than others and may require some behavior modification. But a few are harmless and really sweet if your pet is trying to simply show their love for you.
It doesn’t hurt to help them find something a bit healthier to keep those chompers busy with, though. Food is a good place to start, so why not check out if romaine lettuce is good for rabbits?
Steph Dyson is a travel journalist by trade but a lover of all small pets. She’s been a pet mum to everything from gerbils to guinea pigs, rabbits to hamsters, and fish to dogs of all shapes and sizes. She wants to share her years of experience with small pets and make Small Pet Guides the go-to website for pet owners seeking information and care advice.