As a pet owner, it is important to be aware of the dangers that your animal may pose. Rabbits are adorable and cuddly, but they can also scratch! Unknown to some, rabbits have large and sturdy claws that they use for rapidly digging burrows in the wild.
They also use them for self-defense, particularly if they feel threatened. It is a bit unsettling to see such a cute animal equipped with such large claws, and this begs the question: are rabbit scratches really dangerous?
Generally, no. Rabbit scratches are rarely dangerous. Scratches inflicted by rabbits are usually shallow, and the greatest concern is the potential for infection. Rabbits can carry and transmit tularemia or “rabbit fever”, an infection with potentially serious consequences.
While most scratches from a rabbit aren’t dangerous, there is always the potential for infection or more serious injury if you are scratched by your pet.
If you are worried about being scratched by your rabbit, don’t worry: we are here to help and will explain the risks associated with rabbit scratches and how you can protect yourself from them in this article.
What Do Rabbits Use their Claws for?
Rabbits use their claws for a variety of purposes. In the wild, rabbits need to be able to dig burrows in order to attain shelter, raise their young, or escape predators.
They also use their claws for last-ditch self-defense, even though they are not great weapons: rabbits rely on speed and stealth to escape or avoid danger much of the time.
At home, your rabbit will use its claws for the same purposes, digging, scratching furniture or carpets, and defending itself from perceived danger.
While you may not like your rabbit’s behavior, it is important to remember that this is a natural behavior for them and they are unlikely to stop doing it without substantial training and socialization.
Even so, clawing is an instinctive behavior and reaction and is almost impossible to eliminate entirely. Accordingly, you will need to take some precautions to protect yourself from the possibility of scratches.
Are Rabbit Claws Sharp?
If left unkempt, yes, rabbit claws are sharp. And sharp similar to how a dog’s claws get sharp. Not razor sharp like a cat’s, but sharp enough to scratch and tear when applied forcefully.
This is because they are constantly growing and need to be worn down through use, like most animals.
Domesticated animals and pets usually depend on their human owners for this sort of care since they won’t be putting their “tools” to use like they would in the wild.
Since your rabbit won’t be digging through hard soil or other tough substrates, their claws will lengthen and taper without your care.
This means that a panicked kick or playful swipe could result in a long scratch that could take a while to heal. Not only that but there is always the possibility of infection if bacteria from your rabbit’s claws get into the wound.
Why Do Rabbits Scratch in the First Place?
There are a number of potential reasons why rabbits may scratch. One explanation is that they are engaging in territorial behavior, marking their territory (and you) by leaving small amounts of scent through scent glands in the skin.
Another potential reason could be that they are under high levels of stress, which often leads to impulsive and unwanted defensive behavior.
Scratching might also be seen as a pure reflex from fear and is commonly seen in rabbits that are afraid of humans or being picked up.
Some experts believe that rabbits may also scratch more often resulting from a lack of socialization and contact with other rabbits during early development.
Lastly, rabbits might scratch when playing, swatting and kicking at your hands. Cute, perhaps, but troublesome when their nails are long!
While the specific causes may vary, there is no doubt that many rabbits exhibit scratching behavior on a regular basis. The question is what happens if you get scratched?
Consequences of a Rabbit Scratch
A rabbit scratch injury can have serious consequences, including the potential risk of transmitting disease.
In particular, rabbits are known to be carriers of tularemia, a severe bacterial infection that can cause flu-like symptoms in humans and may even lead to death if not treated.
Symptoms include fever, chills, lesions, fatigue, eye damage and swelling, vomiting, pneumonia, and inflammation of the lymph glands. Not good!
Additionally, a rabbit scratch may also increase the risk of contracting ringworm, a common fungal infection. Symptoms of ringworm can include redness, blistering, scaling and cracking of the skin, as well as itching.
Though rarely a serious infection, ringworm is unsightly, persistent, and annoying, so you definitely don’t want to take the chance of contracting it!
Most distressingly, encephalitozoon cuniculi, a parasite present in rabbit urine, can infect you through a scratch.
Considering rabbits regularly walk through their own waste when in confinement, you can understand how easy transmission may occur.
Though the parasite will rarely manifest in healthy people, symptoms of encephalitozoon cuniculi infection include headaches, seizures, blurred vision, and mental confusion. In severe cases, the parasite can cause brain damage and death.
There is no specific treatment for encephalitozoon cuniculi infection, but symptoms may be controlled with medication.
If you suspect that you have contracted any illness as a result of a rabbit scratch injury, it is important to seek medical treatment right away to prevent the infection from becoming more serious.
In addition to medications prescribed by your doctor, it is also critical to keep the affected area clean with antibacterial soap and avoid unnecessary contact with other animals until the illness has been fully treated.
How Can You Prevent Rabbit Scratches?
Although pet and livestock rabbits are generally gentle creatures, stimuli that trigger scratching behavior may well be impossible to eliminate entirely. It is better to learn how to prevent being scratched.
To help avoid and reduce the severity of scratches, it is important to keep their nails clipped and filed. This will help to ensure that they can’t inflict serious damage when they do kick or claw at you.
In addition, rabbits that are properly socialized from a young age are less likely to scratch at all than those who are not. Taking the time to make sure bunnies are well adjusted is imperative for good behavior later on.
Finally, it is important to avoid picking up rabbits when they are injured or stressed. Although you may mean well, this can often exacerbate their stress and lead to a defensive reaction.
Remember, rabbits are prey animals, and have long been conditioned against any sort of “seizing” movements or sensations.
Your pet rabbit might be just fine cuddling up in your arms when calm, but her instincts will likely take over when she is hurt or scared.
By following these simple tips, you can likely avoid or minimize any incidental scratches from your rabbit.
Rabbit Scratches are Rarely Dangerous
In short, rabbit scratches are usually more of a nuisance than anything else. However, there are some potential risks that you should be aware of to help avoid any serious problems.
Be sure to keep their nails trimmed, socialize them early, and always handle them gently and with care to avoid an errant scratch.
If you do get scratched, don’t panic, just clean the wound and keep an eye out for any potential infections. If flu-like symptoms set in, seek medical attention at once!
Tom has built and remodeled homes, generated his own electricity, grown his own food and more, all in quest of remaining as independent of society as possible. Now he shares his experiences and hard-earned lessons with readers around the country.