If you’ve seen Bambi, you’ll remember the cuddly cast of characters that accompany the titular deer throughout the animated coming-of-age tale. Perhaps most memorable of all is a rabbit who excitedly beats his foot upon the ground, informing Bambi, “That’s why they call me Thumper!”
And so it is – but why do rabbits like Thumper actually thump their feet? Is it out of excitement, as in the film, or is there something more going on here? Most importantly, is it okay for your rabbit to thump the ground as Thumper does, or should you do something about it?
The Cause of Thumping
Rabbits are hardly as communicative as Thumper. Not only do they obviously not talk but rabbits are shy about making verbal sounds and so communicate via other means, including thumping their feet. Before we get into what specific causes may cause your rabbit to thump its feet, however, it’s worth noting how they do this. This is one place where Thumper in Bambi gets it right, as rabbits arch their backs, freeze with a look of alertness, and then strike the ground hard with one or both feet.
Sometimes a rabbit will thump the ground once and other times they’ll do so several times in succession, again, just like Thumper. So what causes rabbits to thump? This is a case where Thumper and real rabbits differ, with the former often tapping his foot in excitement while actual rabbits tend to do it as a response to fear.
Rabbits thumping their feet is likely a warning signal to other rabbits that there is danger in the area. In this way, a rabbit thumping their feet is less a mini burst of exuberance and excitement and more of the rabbit equivalent of a warning shout or a dog barking.
That, of course, begs the question: what things scare rabbits? If you’re familiar with them, you know the question might better be put, what doesn’t scare rabbits? It’s fair to say that rabbits can be pretty skittish, and understandably so. So many things eat rabbits that they are constantly surrounded by danger.
If you were constantly worried about something being ready to eat you at every turn, you’d probably be a bit skittish too. As a result, everything from strange sounds to strange smells. Remember that rabbits experience the world primarily through these senses, and that both their sense of hearing as well as their sense of smell are far more well developed than they are in humans.
They can therefore hear and smell things that humans could not, and do so far before we ever could. This lets them hear and smell danger well ahead of time, warn others with a thump of their foot, and then dash off to safety.
In captivity, rabbits can thump their feet at everything from guests you have over whom they don’t know to veterinarians when they go for a checkup. They can also thump their feet out of annoyance with something that you or other rabbit companions have done.
Finally, it’s worth noting that, just the same as humans, rabbits have different personalities, meaning that some are more anxious and likely to thump their feet than others. The same stimulus may cause one rabbit to thump their feet while another rabbit may ignore it.
Stop Your Rabbit From Thumping
At this point, you might well wonder what you can do to stop your rabbit from thumping. You don’t want your rabbit to feel tense enough to thump their feet, and you certainly don’t want to hear it. To get your rabbit to stop thumping, you need to find what’s causing the stress and resolve it.
Of course, that’s easy to say, but can be far more difficult to accomplish. As stated, there are so many things that can set off a rabbit that it can be hard to identify the root cause of your rabbit’s thumping.
However, it is vital that you do so, and not just for the sake of your sanity as you try and stop your rabbit’s thump-thump-thumping. That much stress isn’t good for anyone and can have a seriously detrimental effect on your rabbit’s long-term health.
Try isolating your rabbit from different sights, sounds, and other stimuli, taking care to eliminate potential causes one by one until you are able to zero in on the root cause. Once you have done that, you’ll need to tackle the question of what you can do about it.
Some things, such as outside noise, you simply can’t change and instead need to try and adapt your rabbit or their surroundings. For example, you can place them in a soundproof space, shut windows, or take other steps to shut out sounds that may be disturbing them.
One thing you can and should do is give your rabbit plenty of spaces to hide within the caged area in which you keep them. Rabbits feel far more comfortable when they have places to hide so you should always provide them with these anyway.
What’s more, hiding places are relatively easy to construct. While you can go with larger and more elaborate and expensive hiding place options, the bigger the better, a few simple cardboard boxes can do in a pinch. Having treats on hand is another good way of calming your rabbit after a scare. At the same time, unless you want your rabbit to become a fat ball of fluff, you’ll want to use them carefully.
Above all, you should never punish your rabbit, especially for something that comes as naturally to it as thumping its feet. It may be annoying for you; however, they aren’t doing this for fun like Thumper, but out of a sense of anxiety, and so have enough stress already without you adding to it.
There are many reasons why your rabbit may be thumping their feet and most of them are bound to be linked to something stressful. That’s why the best thing you can do is show them compassion and try to eliminate whatever’s causing them to thump their feet in the first place.