Do Rabbits Think Their Owners Are Other Rabbits?

All rabbit owners like to think that their affections for their furry friend are reciprocated, and you share a loving bond; but what kind of bond exactly does your pet rabbit have with you? Does he see you as another rabbit and, therefore, a part of their colony? Can he distinguish humans as a different species, or are we just giant fleshly blobs supplying food and affection?

Rabbits do not perceive their owners as other rabbits. Rabbits rely heavily on their sense of sight, smell, and hearing to distinguish humans from other creatures. As a result, your rabbit will most likely discern you as a predator until conditioned to recognize you as a safe companion or bonded partner. 

The question of how a rabbit perceives its owner, and other humans, is rarely explored. So let’s discuss the rabbit-human relationship through a scientific and social lens to better establish what these furry companions think of us and what we can do with this information to create stronger and healthier bonds.

What Do Rabbits Think of Their Owners?

The brain is the most complex organ in any animal, including rabbits, and since this is the origin of thought, it is extremely difficult to determine what a rabbit truly thinks of anything, let alone its owners. 

However, we can make logical deductions based on a rabbit’s biology and behavior to help us more accurately discern what rabbits think of humans. 

Do Rabbits Think Humans Are Rabbits?

First thing’s first, your pet rabbit does not think you are another rabbit. Intellectually, a rabbit ranks about equally with the common domestic cat or dog, so they are much smarter than most humans think, and they know you don’t look anything like a rabbit.

That being said, even without their above-average intelligence, rabbits can distinguish other animal species using their senses, predominantly sight, smell, and sound. Frankly, when considering all of these senses together, there is very little that a human has in common with a rabbit, and your pet furball knows this. 

Another reason rabbits know humans aren’t rabbits is that we don’t communicate in the same way. Rabbits share a sort of physical language regardless of familiarity or environmental origin.

Though rabbits will resort to verbal communication when necessary, rabbits most often communicate through body language and a wide range of silent cues.

Because humans share few traits with rabbits, like highly expressive and oversized ears, we can’t communicate with rabbits the same way as other members of the rabbit species.

So, What Do Rabbits Think Humans Are?

Humans are the only species that gives animals specific labels in this way (ex. that is a rabbit, that is a dog, etc.). To a rabbit, we are just another animal and nothing more. 

But what do rabbits think of us on a more emotional level?

Rabbits will often see humans as predators or a threat if not properly socialized, particularly if they aren’t accustomed to humans. This instinct is biologically wired into rabbits to ensure their survival, so it is important to be aware of this when introducing your pet to other members of your household. 

Using their powerful olfactory system, a rabbit can discern different animal species, and individual rabbits, through scent and can distinguish their owners from other household members or visitors. Rabbits can recognize humans don’t smell anything like a rabbit. 

In fact, pungent body odor, such as sweat on human skin, is unique in the animal kingdom and indicates our species. This allows animals to differentiate humans from themselves or other animals and determine if we are a source of food or a threat. 

Luckily, this doesn’t have to be the case long term. With enough care, an appropriate amount of affection, and unyielding devotion, you can teach your pet rabbit that humans can be a source of safety and comfort rather than a threat. 

Once your rabbit has been conditioned to you as his owner, he will most often form a strong bond with you and rely heavily on you for love and affection. 

Do Rabbits Think of Their Owners as Alphas? 

In the wild, rabbits will often travel and live with a group known as a colony in a large burrow filled with lengthy tunnels, referred to as a warren. 

Rabbits do not likely see their owners as Alphas. Rabbits form strong emotional bonds with their owners in the same way they would with other members of the rabbit’s warren. However, rabbits are more likely to perceive their owner as a bonded partner rather than the leader of the colony. 

Within every rabbit Warren is a hierarchical structure that consists of a dominant individual in each group, often resulting in multiple alphas living in one warren, all co-existing in overlapping circles.

Because of this natural structure, owners will often question whether their pet rabbit sees them as the dominant member of the colony or the pack leader in dog terms. 

There are a few reasons for this besides the fact that humans aren’t rabbits. The first is that you and your rabbit inhabit separate territories, so your pet has no reason to perceive you as a competitor. Considering how territorial rabbits can be, this is a plus for owners. 

The second point is that with a colony hierarchy comes a specific way of doing things. Alphas will receive grooming and affection from betas, and this behavior continues throughout the group. However, humans will give their pet rabbits unconditional affection and, if they’re conditioned, rabbits will usually reciprocate in their way. 

The hierarchy isn’t present here, which indicates that your rabbit doesn’t see you as a pack leader. If anything, he likely perceives you as a beta, considering you shower him with affection and groom the way a lower-ranking member of the colony would. 

Considering the strong emotional attachment rabbits can have with their human owners, it is more likely rabbits perceive their owners as bonded partners and lower-ranking members of the group. 

Do Rabbits Think of Their Owners as Parents?

Again, because there is no definitive way to know what a rabbit is thinking, it is almost impossible to give this question a concrete answer. 

It is highly unlikely rabbits think of their owners as parents. While pet rabbits form incredibly strong emotional bonds with their owners, most studies on rabbits conclude that rabbits are more likely to see their owners as bonded partners than nurturing parental figures.

Because rabbits can recognize humans as a separate species, it is highly unlikely they will genuinely mistake their owners for their mothers (male rabbits don’t raise their young, so it’s even less likely it will deem you to be their father). 

However, the work and behaviors connected to owning a pet are similar to child-rearing in the sense that you feed, groom, and provide affection for your rabbit. As a result, most pet rabbits form incredibly strong emotional bonds with their owners, but it’s difficult to pinpoint what this bond equates to for them relationship-wise.  

Of course, this depends largely on the level of trust your rabbit has with you as an owner. If you two aren’t very close yet in terms of bonding, your rabbit is going to be wary or even fearful of you and will see you more as a threat than a parent or partner. 

Final Thoughts

It would be undoubtedly fascinating to have the opportunity to communicate with a pet rabbit and ask them exactly what they think of humans and their owners, but until science and technology have advanced enough to allow this, we have to stick with logical deductions. 

We can more or less assume that rabbits don’t think humans are rabbits since they can discern us from other species. However, more emotional questions, such as whether they perceive us as parents, are still shrouded in mystery. What we do know is that with enough care and devotion, your pet rabbit will form a life-long bond with you regardless of what it thinks you are. 

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