Rabbits are quiet creatures, but have you ever wondered how they communicate? Do rabbits make noise using vocal cords like humans and some other mammals, or do they remain totally silent? This question has likely crossed the mind of any rabbit owner or lover.

In this comprehensive article, we’ll explore the intriguing ways rabbits communicate through sight, scent, body language, and sound.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer: Rabbits do not have vocal cords like humans. However, they can make soft grunting noises to communicate different emotions and warnings.

An Overview of Rabbit Communication

Visual Signals

Rabbits have excellent vision and rely heavily on visual signals to communicate (rabbit.org). For example, they may stand up on their hind legs to get a better view of their surroundings. This helps them watch for predators and see what other rabbits in their warren are up to.

Rabbits also communicate visually through body language, which we will explore more below.

Olfactory Signals

Rabbits have a strong sense of smell and use scents to recognize other rabbits and mark their territory (wabbitwiki). Their chin contains scent glands which they use to rub against objects, leaving their personal scent behind. Unneutered males may spray urine to mark areas and attract mates.

Rabbits also produce special fecal droppings called cecotropes which they reingest to further digest plant fibers. But these smelly cecotropes also allow them to communicate information to other rabbits through their shared living spaces.

Body Language

Some key examples of rabbit body language include:

  • Ears back against the head signals aggression
  • Ears upright and pointing forwards communicates alertness
  • Lying down with legs tucked under the body shows a relaxed rabbit
  • Rapid nose twitching indicates curiosity, anxiety, or stimulation
  • Circling another rabbit displays mating intention
  • Lunging, growling or biting shows outright aggression

Learning to interpret rabbit body language allows owners to understand their pets better and recognize signs of illness or distress.


While rabbits lack vocal cords, they have other ways of vocalizing (wabbitwiki):

  • Grunting shows disapproval or resentment
  • Honking communicates potential danger or may serve to alert others
  • Screaming indicates extreme pain or distress
  • Growling signals aggression, usually from mother rabbits
  • Tooth purring expresses contentment during petting strokes

In one study, baby rabbits (kittens) emitted high-pitched squeals when isolated from their mother and home cage. The acoustic features of these distress calls reliably communicated the kittens’ need for warmth and protection (ncbi.nlm.nih.gov).

So while rabbits don’t have flexible vocal cords, they are still quite skilled at getting their message across with grunts, honks, squeals, growls and purrs.

Do Rabbits Have Vocal Cords?

Unlike dogs, cats, or even guinea pigs, rabbits do not have true vocal cords. This means they cannot vocalize in the same ways many other animals can. However, that doesn’t mean rabbits are completely silent!

What Are Vocal Cords?

Vocal cords are bands of tissue in the larynx or voice box of many animals. When air passes through the larynx, the vocal cords vibrate, producing sounds. The modulation of these sounds allows some animals, like dogs and cats, to “talk” by changing pitch, tone, and volume.

Humans also have vocal cords, which allow us to speak. Rabbits, however, do not have true vocal cords. They lack the anatomy needed to produce complex vocalizations.

Evidence That Rabbits Lack True Vocal Cords

There are a few pieces of evidence to support the fact that rabbits do not have the same vocal abilities as some other pets:

  • No modulation of sounds – Unlike a meowing cat or barking dog, rabbits cannot change the tone, pitch, or volume of the sounds they make.
  • Minimal larynx anatomy – Dissections have shown rabbits to have a very simple larynx, lacking well-formed vocal cords.
  • Sounds are fairly consistent between rabbits – If rabbits had more vocal control, there would likely be more variation in sounds between individuals.
  • So while rabbits might honk, grunt, or scream on occasion, these noises don’t carry the complexity of those from animals with robust vocal cords.

    Sounds Rabbits Can Make

    Just because rabbits lack vocal cords doesn’t mean they are completely silent. Here are some of the sounds your bunny might make:

    Honking or oinking Common sound when happy or demanding food
    Tooth purring Signifies contentment
    Growling or grunting May indicate displeasure or pain
    Shrieking Response to extreme fear or pain

    While rabbits don’t have diverse vocal abilities, they can still make a variety of sounds to signal different emotional states. Paying attention to these cues is an important part of bonding with your bun!

    How Rabbits Produce Sounds Without Vocal Cords

    Teeth Chattering

    Rabbits don’t have vocal cords like humans, yet they can still make a variety of sounds to communicate. One of the most common sounds rabbits make is teeth chattering, which sounds like a rapid clicking noise. This can mean a few different things:

    • Contentment – When happy and relaxed, rabbits often chatter their teeth. This is like a cat’s purr, showing the rabbit is in a positive mood.
    • Stress or fear – Fast tooth chattering can also mean the rabbit is frightened, in pain, or angry. This is a warning sign to retreat.
    • Trying to get attention – Rabbits may chatter their teeth to get the attention of another rabbit or a human. This is often a request for food.

    A rabbit’s large teeth allow it to make these chattering noises loudly. The incisors vibrate together to express the rabbit’s mood. Slower chattering tends to mean a rabbit is relaxed, while faster chattering indicates displeasure or stress.


    Another common vocalization is grunting or honking. These low oinking sounds are most often made by females, especially when close to giving birth. But any rabbit may grunt for the following reasons:

    • Disapproval or distress – A grunt can signal fear, pain, or displeasure. This may warn another rabbit to back off.
    • Anticipation – Some rabbits make quiet snorting sounds when excited and anticipating something positive, like getting fed.
    • Communication between mates – Honking or oinking sounds help a male find and bond with a female rabbit.

    These grunting noises come from the throat, without requiring vocal cords. Rabbits are able to force air quickly up from their lungs and forcefully out their nostrils to produce a honking sound.


    When rabbits are severely distressed, they may let out a loud high-pitched scream. This piercing cry signals extreme fear, pain, or protest. Some key reasons for screaming include:

    • Severe pain – If injured or very ill, a rabbit may scream at a high decibel.
    • Terror – Rabbits scream when feeling terrorized or attacked.
    • Separation anxiety – Loud vocalizations when separated from a bonded mate or human.
    • Death – Final screams can signify if a rabbit is dying.

    This sound is hardwired as an alarm cry to evoke urgent response from humans or other rabbits. Though not technically a vocalization, it forces air out through the voice box and mouth instead of the nasal passages. Rabbits may also scream during fights with other rabbits.


    Purring indicates contentment in rabbits just like in cats. This soft vibrating sound means the rabbit is relaxed and happy. Reasons rabbits may purr include:

    • Enjoying human interaction – Being petted softly, cuddled, or held.
    • Pleasant eating – Purring while enjoying favorite foods.
    • Grooming – Light purrs during self-grooming or being groomed by another rabbit.
    • Nursing – Baby rabbits purr while nursing on their mothers.

    Rabbits purr when completely at ease. The sound comes from the voice box and throat as air moves in a smooth, continuous motion. It ranges from very soft to louder vibrating sounds depending on the rabbit’s size. Each rabbit has a unique purring sound.

    The Meanings Behind Rabbit Vocalizations


    Rabbits make a wide variety of sounds to communicate different emotions and needs. One of the most delightful rabbit noises is a soft purring sound, which indicates contentment and happiness. This soothing, rhythmic purr is made when rabbits are being petted or are snuggled up next to loved ones.

    It’s a sign they feel safe, secure, and calm. Rabbits may also lightly grind their teeth in relaxed pleasure. These noises let attentive owners know when their rabbits are satisfied.

    Warning or Distress

    Rabbits use other vocalizations to signal fear, pain, or unease. For example, a loud scream or squeal demonstrates panic, while growls or grunts can indicate aggression or discomfort. Thump signals created by their powerful hind legs slamming down are the most famous rabbit distress call.

    Rabbits thump to warn others of potential predators or display objection. These warning sounds allow rabbits in warrens to quickly notify community members of possible threats in the area before beating a hasty retreat to their burrows.


    Enthusiastic croaking or oinking noises are signs a rabbit is eagerly looking forward to an enjoyable event, such as getting fed or let out for playtime. This oinking chant can sound similar to a growling stomach noise, but with more melody.

    Jumping and spinning circles while oinking clearly signals elevated emotion. Rabbits may also honk or snort softly in anticipation of affection from owners they have bonded with. These noises and gestures demonstrate rabbits have diverse ways to express eager happiness about upcoming activities.


    Signs that rabbits are hurt or unwell include high-pitched squealing or screeching. They may produce these pained noises due to injury, illness, or distress. Owners should immediately check the condition of squealing rabbits to make sure they aren’t suffering or need veterinary care.

    Quivering whiskers, lack of appetite, lethargy, and avoidance behaviors are also indicators a rabbit is feeling under the weather. It’s important for caregivers to continually observe rabbits’ body language and vocalizations for any red flags requiring prompt attention.

    Improving Communication With Your Rabbit

    Learn Their Body Language

    Rabbits have a complex body language that allows them to communicate their emotions and needs. Learning to understand your rabbit’s body language will strengthen your bond and help you better care for them.

    Here are some common rabbit body language signals to look out for:

    • Ears back – Indicates fear, anxiety, or aggression. A scared or angry rabbit may also thump their back feet.
    • Ears up and alert – Shows engagement and interest. Your rabbit is relaxed and ready to interact.
    • Nose nudging – Rabbits nudge with their noses to get attention or request food or pets. It’s a sign of bonding.
    • Teeth grinding – Usually means your rabbit is happy and content!
    • Circling your feet – Can indicate excitement and bonding, especially before getting picked up.

    Observing your rabbit and learning their unique signals allows you to communicate back through touch, treats, toys, and adjusting their environment.

    Respond to Vocalizations

    While rabbits don’t “meow” or “bark”, they have their own vocalizations that convey their mood and needs. Paying attention to these noises can help deepen the connection with your rabbit.

    Some common rabbit vocalizations include:

    • Purring – Indicates contentment. You’ll notice this when gently petting or feeding treats.
    • Grunting – Signifies displeasure or pain. Check your rabbit’s environment.
    • Shrieking – Expresses fear and panic. Comfort and remove stressors.
    • Teeth chattering – A sign of happiness, often during grooming.
    • Honking/oinking – An excited vocalization when playing or begging for treats.

    By responding with verbal reassurance, pets, or treats, you can positively reinforce vocalizations and strengthen the communication between you and your rabbit.

    Create a Calm Environment

    To improve communication, minimize environmental stressors that can interfere with your rabbit’s ability to understand you.

    Tips for a calm rabbit environment include:

    • Provide places for them to hide when scared like cardboard boxes, tunnels, or cat beds.
    • Keep their enclosure clean, dry, and free of loud noises which can be stressful.
    • Make sure they have enough space to run and stand on their hind legs.
    • Give access to hay, fresh veggies, clean water, litter boxes, and chew toys.
    • Gently pet them while speaking so they associate your voice with safety.

    According to studies, soothing music at moderate volumes may also reduce stress. By minimizing frightening sounds and promoting relaxation in their habitat, your rabbit will be more receptive when you communicate through touch, voice, or body language cues.


    While rabbits lack true vocal cords, they have still evolved ways to vocally communicate different emotions and warnings. Paying attention to your rabbit’s diverse vocalizations, in addition to visual and body language cues, will help you better understand your pet.

    With time and patience, you can learn to communicate seamlessly with your rabbit through their unique style of self-expression.

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