Most animals, or at least most mammals, have significant physical differences between the sexes. It’s easy to spot the udder on a female cow, and the sexual organs on males.
Most males are also significantly bigger and heavier than their female counterparts. Sometimes males have radically different colors, as is the case with many birds…
What about rabbits? How the heck do you tell a male rabbit from a female? I’ll tell you one thing right now: it isn’t easy, but nonetheless, there are several things you can do to tell one from the other. I’ll tell you all about it in this article…
What is a Male Rabbit Called?
A male rabbit is referred to as a buck, like a male deer. The term though, is used to identify adult (sexually mature) male rabbits, distinguishing them from young ones, or kittens.
And yes, young rabbits are called kittens or kits, properly, not bunnies.
What Do You Call a Female Rabbit?
A female rabbit is called a doe, again just like a deer. In the context of breeding, the mother rabbit is sometimes referred to as a dam.
Young, immature female rabbits are also called kittens, or kits for short.
1. Males are Often Taller than Females of the Same Breed
Among many rabbit breeds, it is commonly observed that male rabbits are taller than their female counterparts by several inches.
However, the overall size variation largely depends on the specific breed and individual rabbit.
Some breeds may have more pronounced size differences between males and females, while others might not show a significant difference at all.
Considering that the height differences are usually subtle, and the typical hunched posture of a rabbit, this is not a sure-thing to tell males from females, not to the untrained eye, but it is still a good rule of thumb.
Once your rabbits start to grow and mature a little bit, keep a close eye on them as they enter adolescence.
If you’re able to gently handle them you might be able to determine early on that males are taller overall, both to the shoulder and to the top of the head.
But as mentioned, accounting for this difference with the typical posture of a rabbit is challenging, so don’t stress over it, and definitely don’t stress your rabbits over it because we’ve got better methods below.
2. But Males and Females Can Weigh About as Much
So while males are usually taller, male and female rabbits tend to weigh about the same.
Across most rabbit breeds, the difference in weight between bucks and does is often not significant enough to let you tell one from the other at a glance although spending enough time with a given breed might give you a baseline you can use to inform your assessment.
By way of an example, your average female rabbit will weigh anywhere from 20% to 25% less than her male counterpart.
But further complicating things, diet, fitness and overall health can influence any rabbit’s weight.
In short, if you have a bunch of rabbits that are the same age and done or nearly done growing, your males are going to weigh more than females of a comparable visual size.
Just make sure you account for illness, injury, pregnancy, and any other factors that might skew the averages…
3. Male Rabbits Have Heavier, Denser Skulls
One interesting anatomical difference between male and female rabbits, though not necessarily one you can use effectively, is the structure and proportion of their skulls.
Bucks tend to have heavier and denser skulls with more pronounced features compared to does.
This gender difference is observed in many mammals, of course, but it is a really subtle one; you likely cannot easily notice it without serious training and experience in handling rabbits.
The boys and girls alike both have those cute, furry faces to our eyes, but even so, with enough time, you can probably spot the differences.
If you simply cannot tell them apart by the looks at proportions of their heads, don’t worry about it too much because we have more reliable and surer methods for sexing rabbits I’ll tell you about in just a second.
Tell Males from Females by Checking their Vent
Probably the most reliable way to determine the sex of a rabbit is by checking their vent, which is located near the tail between their legs.
As with birds, rabbits have a vent that contains the anal and urethral openings as well as the sexual organs.
Though it takes a practiced hand to safely control and handle a rabbit for this procedure, this method more than any other will allow you to positively identify a rabbit with no or very little room for ambiguity.
To the untrained eye, though, the mass of pink and red tissues inside the vent might well look identical.
It’s imperative that you learn how to properly inspect the vent for sexing, both to make an accurate determination and also to avoid harming or stressing the animal.
4. Intact Males will Have Prominent Testicles
The absolute easiest identification can be done with mature, intact bucks as they will have prominent and externally visible testicles.
The testicles are found near the vent area to either side, and they can be quite noticeable due to their size and shape when the rabbit is calm.
They look like oval, dark-colored protrusions that are inboard from either leg, and are unmistakable once you know what they look like.
However, during cold weather or times of fear or stress, a male rabbit may fully retract his testicles into his torso, making them much less visible.
The best way to find the testicles beneath the fur of a rabbit is to moisten the area with warm water, both to make it easier to part the fur, and also to encourage the testicles to protrude from the body.
If you know your rabbit is intact, and you can keep him calm, this is the best way to ID a male.
5. Males Have a Penis
Male rabbits, of course, also have a penis, but it does not hang down like that of a dog or a cow. Instead, the penis is located almost entirely within the vent.
However, it is possible to encourage it to protrude if you gently spread apart the opening of the male rabbit and then press down very gently on either side with your fingers.
Sometimes the penis, which looks like a small bud of flesh, will pop out.
Also note that it typically protrudes from within the confines of a circular, sphincter-looking opening immediately inside the external vent opening.
If you notice this, you know you have a male on your hands – or rather on the table!
6. Females Always Have a Thin, Slit Opening in the Vent
Inspecting the vent of does will reveal a thin, slit-like opening in the vent area, commonly said to resemble an uppercase letter ‘I’ (or I suppose a lowercase ‘L’).
Unlike the bucks, the girls do not exhibit any reproductive organs that can be easily seen. The slit-like opening serves as the exit for both the urinary and reproductive systems.
This physical trait is most often looked for to determine the sex of a rabbit, especially in young kits.
7. Telling Neutered or Young Rabbits Apart is Tough!
It’s hard enough to figure out the sex of a mature rabbit using the sexual characteristic described above, but it can be even harder if they have been spayed or neutered, or are too young to exhibit such physical features.
Young rabbits do not reach full sexual maturity until they are 4 to 7 months old, meaning their reproductive organs are not fully developed and thus harder to identify.
In these cases, if you need to know for sure, I recommend that you call your veterinarian or a rabbit expert to accurately (and safely!) determine the sex of your rabbit or rabbits.
Do Make and Female Rabbits Behave Differently?
Yes, typically. Many species of animal show pretty consistent behavioral differences between males and females, even if these are just differing tendencies toward specific behaviors or attitudes.
In rabbits, these differences are actually fairly obvious and can be a helpful method for determining the sex of a rabbit, though exceptions, of course, can spoil your determination!
8. Males are Usually Less Destructive
Surprisingly enough, it is male rabbits, particularly those that have been neutered, that are generally less destructive than their female counterparts.
Though males will chew and tear things up, when they are acting out, they’re more likely to be standoffish and to thump their hind legs or make noise in the form of grunts and squeaks that signal their readiness to mate.
However, as always, individual behaviors can vary and environmental stressors or lifestyle factors, such as boredom, can also lead to destructive bucks!
9. Sexually Intact Males Can Get Possessive Over Females
Intact bucks often exhibit possessive behavior over females, especially during the breeding season.
This behavior is driven by their natural instinct to protect their mates from potential rivals. Bucks may become aggressive, mounting females, and showing behaviors like growling, lunging, or even biting.
And not just at other rabbits, but even at you or anyone else who comes too close to her or to him!
Males of most species tend to want the females all to themselves, and male rabbits are no exception.
Neutering a male rabbit will typically curb these behaviors, but often not completely eliminate them even if he’s incapable of mating successfully.
10. Intact Males Regularly Mark Territory
One common and gross behavior among sexually-intact male rabbits is the regular marking of territory. This is done through spraying urine around the area.
Usually a sign of dominance over a mating area or nearby female, this is more prevalent in males due to their instinctual need to claim mates.
Neutering once again can significantly curb this nasty habit, and is a boon for keeping your home or hutch clean.
But, if you do notice a rabbit that makes a consistent habit of willfully marking you can bet it is a male.
11. Females are Often More Destructive than Males
It has long been observed across most rabbit breeds that it is the does, not bucks, that are the most destructive overall.
Does routinely exhibit unwanted digging, chewing, burrowing and more, all of which cause significant property damage and extra work for you if not properly managed.
These behaviors can become more pronounced during the breeding season when hormones are at their peak, too, assuming the doe is not spayed.
So, a rabbit that is just “hell on wheels” around your home or in your pen is very likely a female, though I should point out that not all female rabbits will display these harmful signs.
12. Females Typically Engage in Plucking and Nesting Behavior
Female rabbits, like so many other female animals, have a strong instinct to create safe and comfortable nests for their babies.
This instinctive nesting behavior often involves gathering materials to line a nest that they dig, or attempt to dig, in a given surface, and then plucking her own fur to make it extra soft and insulating as the finishing touch.
Though most common when a doe is actually pregnant and nearing birth, it’s also prevalent in non-pregnant (even spayed!) females due to a condition known as false pregnancy.
It is exactly what it sounds like: a female rabbit that is not pregnant, and even one that cannot become pregnant, will still engage in these instinctive nesting behaviors.
Watch for a female to start plucking fur after she has fastidiously created a nest; that’s always a dead giveaway.
13. Females are Highly Territorial
It is also female rabbits that become generally territorial. Males will fight to keep you and other rabbits away from their lady, but females will fight and get aggressive to keep other rabbits and people away, period!
During these times, females can become particularly protective of their “nests”, showing defensive behaviors if they feel their nest is threatened.
Expect biting, kicking, clawing and plenty of growling with maybe a little hissing for good measure.
Once more, although it’s far more common in intact females, we still see spayed females engage in this behavior sometimes.
Although being grumpy and standoffish from time to time is common to all rabbits, if you notice one acting unusually mean after engaging in nest-building behavior, it’s just another sign you’re dealing with a doe.
Tom has lived and worked on farms and homesteads from the Carolinas to Kentucky and beyond. He is passionate about helping people prepare for tough times by embracing lifestyles of self-sufficiency.