It can be a delightful surprise to learn how affectionate a rabbit can be as a pet. Rabbits love human company, and will often let you know that they want to be petted. Some bunnies are also cuddly, and like to be scooped up. So, it can be disheartening if your rabbit doesn’t want to be handled.
Teaching a rabbit to tolerate handling won’t happen overnight. You’ll need to take the training slowly, respecting your rabbit’s wishes throughout the training process. You must also learn to understand your rabbit’s body language and vocalizations, so you know when to back off.
Do Rabbits Enjoy Being Handled?
Some bunnies love to handled, petted, and even cuddled. Others will resist with all their might. It depends on the rabbit’s unique personality and experience.
The most important thing to remember is that rabbits are prey animals. This means that, no matter how good your intentions are, they’ll initially be frightened of you.
Considering the size discrepancy between humans and rabbits, this is not surprising. Even a child towers over a rabbit. Survival instinct dictates that a bunny will always fear a human until they’re taught otherwise.
Until a bond of trust and mutual affection is forged, your rabbit will resist handling. They may even bite and kick you when you try. As far as your rabbit is concerned, you’re restraining them so you can eat them.
Once you gain your bunny’s trust, they’ll likely approach you for handling. Rabbits are affectionate under the right circumstances. Don’t be surprised if your pet starts demanding cuddles after a while.
Also, know that affection does not need to involve handling. You can pet your bunny while they keep all four feet on the ground. This may be the preference of many affectionate rabbits.
Do Some Rabbits Breeds Enjoy Handling More Than Others?
Several factors determine whether a rabbit enjoys handling. Their bond with their owners is a significant factor.
If you adopt a rabbit from a shelter, discover the circumstances that brought them there. If the bunny were previously mistreated, they’d understandably be dubious about humans.
The breed of the rabbit will also play a part. Some rabbit breeds enjoy handling more than others. The following breeds actively enjoy handling, once a bond has been forged:
- Lionhead Rabbit
- Mini Lop Rabbit
- Harlequin Rabbit
- Polish Rabbit
- Californian Rabbit
- Chinchilla Rabbit
Naturally, you’ll need to interact with the rabbit first to ensure compatibility. You’ll also need to earn their trust. Even the friendliest rabbit breed will initially be afraid of you.
My Rabbit Hates Being Touched
Some rabbits resist any form of handling from humans. This is more likely if they were not handled when young. The first six weeks of a bunny’s life are critical for socialization.
This can be problematic. Trimming nails, grooming and moving your rabbit to their run require picking up your rabbit.
The first step in acclimating your rabbit to being touched on particular parts of their anatomy. Picking up a rabbit involves touching their belly and hindquarters. If a rabbit isn’t used to being touched here, they’ll reject handling.
If your rabbit walks away, don’t follow. This will frighten them. You need to show your bunny that you can be trusted, and will respect their wishes. Slow and steady wins the race.
Above all, you need to ensure that your rabbit considers you a source of pleasure. Feeding them is not enough to achieve this. Petting will help you build a bond, though.
Many rabbits can be taught to accept handling. You need to offer as many positive experiences as you can. This will take time, but you’ll get there.
Be patient, and never punish your rabbit for rejecting handling. They’re already scared of you. This will amp up their distrust, and make them even less likely to accept handling.
Where Do Rabbits Enjoy Being Petted?
As The Rabbit House explains, petting involves different parts of the body to handling. Handling involves the tummy and legs, while petting is focused on the upper torso.
Areas the most bunnies love being petting include:
- The top of the head and the cheeks. Many rabbits will close their eyes and purr contentedly when tickled and stroked here. You’ll likely find that your bunny rests their head on the ground in contentment.
- The shoulders. Your bunny will love a good back scratch around their shoulders. Their paws struggle to reach these parts, so an itch it will drive them crazy.
- The back. Gentle strokes all down the back will delight many bunnies. This makes grooming much more straightforward. Just stop before you reach the tail. This can spark a strong reaction from a rabbit.
Rabbits are not shy about making their feelings known. If they’re not enjoying a petting session, they’ll remove themselves post-haste.
Remember not to follow them. If your rabbit has had enough, they must be left alone to cool off. Forcing physicality upon them will damage your bond.
How to Get a Rabbit Used to Being Handled
When you bring a rabbit into your family, you need to get them used to being handled. No bunny will welcome the contact initially. Understand your rabbit’s sense and how they use them:
- Vision. Rabbits are far-sighted, so they can see predators approaching from a distance. This means they have poor depth perception. Never sneak up on a rabbit; you’ll spook them.
- Hearing. Rabbits have excellent hearing. They’ll know that you’re coming long before you arrive. Avoid loud, clattering noises, but let your bunny know you’re approaching through noise.
- Smell. Rabbits also have a phenomenal sense of smell. Their nose has an excess of fifty million scent receptors. A bunny’s twitching nose will always be assessing for danger.
These senses mean that you’ll need to get your rabbit used to your before attempting handling. Wait a few days, until they get used to the sound of your voice. Talk to your rabbit before handling them, using a soothing tone.
How you smell is also critical. Wash your hands before any attempted handling, using unscented soap. This is particularly critical if you have other pets. If your hands smell of cats, your rabbit will stay as far away as possible.
Place your hand into your rabbit’s cage and let them get used to the smell. Don’t attempt any petting or handling until you’ve done this. Scent is the easiest way of earning a rabbit’s trust.
You must also get your rabbit used to petting before picking them up. You wouldn’t hug a stranger before offering a handshake first. The same applies to animals.
If you attempt to pick up your rabbit before they trust you, they’ll be afraid of you. This can be almost impossible to reverse. Many bunnies that reject handling were subjected to it before they were ready.
How to Pick Up a Rabbit
When you’re confident that your rabbit is ready to be handled, you can try. Wait until they show signs of happiness with this, though. Earning a rabbit’s trust enough to welcome handling is a marathon, not a sprint. The golden rules of rabbit handling are as follows:
- Never pick up a bunny by their ears, tail, legs or scruff.
- Always be gentle as a rabbit’s skeleton is not particularly robust.
- If a rabbit shows signs of discomfort – squirming, biting, etc. – put them down and walk away.
If you feel that you’re ready to attempt handling, follow these steps:
- Get down on your hands and knees, so you’re at the rabbit’s level
- Let your rabbit smell your hands before placing them on your pet
- Pet your bunny, and speak to them in a soothing, low tone of voice
- Slide one hand under the rabbit’s torso. Once it’s safe to do so, lift them into your body
- Support your rabbit’s body weight, with particular emphasis on their hindquarters. Reassure them with plenty of petting
- Check your bunny’s reaction. They may nuzzle in for a cuddle, or squirm and try to escape
If your rabbit is not comfortable, you must not force the issue. Walk away, and try again later.
Some rabbits do not enjoy being held. Settle for petting and playing with your bunny, unless handling is strictly necessary. Rabbits have a wide variety of love language.
Should I Roll My Rabbit Onto Their Back Before Picking Them Up?
Rabbits are easier to handle once they have been rolled onto their back. They go limp, and can be picked up without biting. This is known as trancing, or hypnotizing, a rabbit. It’s also referred to as tonic immobility.
As the Rabbit Welfare Association explains, this should never be done. Rabbits do not welcome or enjoy trancing. They are terrified, and thus playing dead as a survival mechanism.
Your rabbit will be in distress while tranced. They are also quite capable of feeling pain while in this position. Never attempt to tickle their tummy. Bunnies hate this at the best of times.
If you find your bunny lying on their back, something is scaring the life out of them. Assess the area, and make sure no predators are nearby. If your pet is safe, walk away and let them change the position of their own accord.
When is a Good Time to Handle a Rabbit?
You should only attempt to handle a rabbit when they are completely relaxed. Even a bunny that trusts you may tolerate handling more than actively enjoy it.
The optimum time to handle a rabbit is after exercise or playtime. Most bunnies wake up at dawn, and are full of beans until mid-morning. After running themselves into the ground they’ll be exhausted, and unlikely to resist handling.
Never wake a rabbit up to handle them, though. You’ll startle your bunny, and they’ll react by biting or kicking.
After food is also an excellent time to handle a bunny. Have you noticed that your pet is more social in the evening? The average rabbit wakes from their afternoon nap, grooms themselves, uses the litter tray, and eats.
One full, rabbits are content to relax with their human family at night. They may even start nudging you with their nose, asking for attention.
This is a great opportunity to practice petting and handling. Even the most resistant bunny will be more compliant at this stage of their schedule.
Just ensure they have had sufficient exercise first. If your rabbit is still energetic, they won’t appreciate having their mobility restricted. Let them explore before attempting handling training.
My Rabbit Won’t Let Me Pick it Up Anymore
If your rabbit formerly loved handling but now rejects it outright, something is wrong. Rabbits are creatures of habit; any shift in behavior has an explanation.
The most likely reasons for a rabbit no longer enjoying handling are fear or pain. If a bunny were dropped while previously being held, they’d remember. Equally, if they’re sick or injured, handling will hurt them.
It’s essential to learn why your rabbit has changed its approach to handling. With the right reassurance, you can turn the situation around.
Scared Rabbit Behavior
If there was previously a mishap while handling a rabbit, such as dropping them, you’ll need patience. They need to learn to trust you again. If you hurt them while grooming, they’ll also fear handling.
A common reaction of frightened rabbits is running away when you approach. They suspect you’re going to pick them up, and want no part of it. Don’t chase your rabbit, in this instance. That will give them more reason to fear you.
A scared rabbit may also thump their foot on the floor. This behavior is commonly associated with a temper tantrum. Wild bunnies thump to warn their friends in an underground warren that danger is nearby, though.
Listen out for squeals, whimpers or heavy breathing. These suggest that your rabbit is growing fearful. If they roll onto their back, walk away.
Sick and Injured Rabbit Behavior
It’s not always easy to tell if a rabbit is unwell or in pain. As a prey animal, they hide such weakness well. There are subtle signs to look out for, though.
Your rabbit becoming antisocial in general is always a red flag. Rejecting handling is one thing. Refusing to be petted, and hiding in their hutch, is more worrying. Healthy rabbits love company, and will always want to interact.
Assess your rabbit’s eating habits. Bunnies will typically sit and eat their fill of hay. If they are refusing food, it suggests that they are sick. If they are also struggling to use their litter tray, it’s an emergency.
Watch how your bunny sits and moves. Your pet should appear relaxed entirely. If they are hunched up, they are attempting to ease discomfort. If they are limping, they are injured.
Give your rabbit frequent physical examinations. Incorporate this into grooming. Redness and swelling on the skin, or discharge from the eyes or nose, must be investigated.
My Rabbit Doesn’t Like Me
Bunnies are emotional animals, not shy about making their feelings known. If your rabbit rejects handling, don’t take it personally. It doesn’t mean that your pet hates you. You can repair your relationship if you know how.
If your rabbit turns their back on you, you have upset them in some way. This may be because you’re ignored their pleas for attention or a treat. They may punish you by refusing a cuddle.
You should also pay attention to your bunny’s vocalizations. Your rabbit tells you a lot through sound. It’s up to you to learn what they’re communicating. Listen out for the following sounds:
- Snorting and Grunting. These are mild expressions of displeasure. You will hear them often in rabbits that tolerate handling, but do not enjoy it.
- Grinding Teeth. This usually signifies pain and discomfort. Check how you’re holding your rabbit. It’s advisable to let them go when they grind their teeth.
- Whimpering or Squealing. Your rabbit is afraid. They are trying to be brave and tolerate the handling, but it’s frightening them. Let them go and try again later.
- Screaming. The scream of a rabbit goes through you. It sounds like a human child. Bunnies only scream if they are in extreme pain, or fear for their life. Immediately release and comfort a screaming rabbit.
If you ignore these verbalizations, your rabbit will understandably grow to distrust with you. They’re telling you to back off, and you’re not listening. Rectify this if you want your bunny to allow you to pick them up.
How to Get Your Bunny to Love You
A rabbit’s love needs to be earned. Bunnies are more than capable of bonding with their owners. Once they do so, you’ll have a best friend that rarely leaves your side. Their affection is not unconditional, though.
On paper, earning a rabbit’s love is simple. You need to show them that you’re a source of pleasure, not fear. To get your rabbit to trust you, follow these steps.
- Understand their body language and vocalizations. We’ve discussed the body language of a fed-up rabbit. If you ignore these warnings, your rabbit will want nothing to do with you.
- Let them take the lead. Rabbits are hierarchal and dominant. They like to feel like they’re in charge. Wait for your rabbit to request attention, rather than forcing it upon them. They’ll be happier for it.
- Spend time with them. Rabbits are a social species. They enjoy spending time with humans, especially if they don’t have another bunny to play with. Let them play in the house, and relax with you outside their hutch.
- Make them comfortable. Rabbits have particular needs. Ensure their hutch is a comfortable temperature. Provide plenty of toys so they don’t grow bored. Offer them good quality food and hay.
- Work to their schedule. Rabbits are crepuscular. This means they are most active at dawn and dusk. Become an early riser, and give your bunny attention when they want it most.
If you can follow these steps, your rabbit will soon realize that you’re a great pet parent. The most critical rule is not forcing them into anything that makes them uncomfortable. Your rabbit must feel safe and comfortable around you.
Body Language of an Affectionate Rabbit
Rabbits show their love for humans in many ways. The classic signs of a bunny that loves their owner include:
- Nudging. When a rabbit nudges you with their nose, it usually means, “pet me, please.” Be careful, though. It sometimes means, “you’re in my way, human.” If this is the case, they’ll follow up with a gentle nip.
- Licking. Grooming is a significant part of rabbit affection. It’s how rabbits demonstrate love for each other. If your bunny licks you, it’s an unmistakable sign of adoration.
- Binkying. Sometimes referred to as a rabbit’s happy dance, a binky is an adorable demonstration of love. Binkying sees a rabbit jump in the air, and flick their head away from their body.
If your rabbit demonstrates these behaviors, pat yourself on the back. You have provided a safe, comfortable environment, and they love you for it. This will make your bunny much more likely to accept, and even welcome, handling.
If your rabbit doesn’t enjoy being held, it may or may not be part of their nature. Some bunnies cannot overcome their fear of being restrained by a human.
This could be because they never learned that handling is pleasurable while young. They may also have endured a bad experience that put them off for life.
Most bunnies can be taught to tolerate handling, though. With enough time and effort, fear can be overcome. You need to teach your rabbit that handling is fun. That will only be achieved by forging a bond of love and trust.