Handling your rabbit shouldn’t be an everyday occurrence, but it’s something to get into the habit of early. It can be a good way for you and your bunny to bond, too — provided they like the contact. How do you pick up a rabbit the right way? Is it by the scruff or no?
You can use a rabbit’s scruff to grip them, but you should never grab them here to pick them up. The weight of your rabbit is too much for the scruff alone to handle. Instead, you should grab them by scooping beneath their body and then bracing their hindlegs and back.
Now that you know to leave the scruff more or less alone, you may want some other tips for correct rabbit handling. If so, this is the article for you. In it, we’ll go into detail about the right and wrong ways to hold a rabbit so you never hurt or scare your precious pet.
How Do You Pick up a Rabbit? Step-by-Step Instructions
Let’s begin by discussing the right ways to pick up and hold your rabbit. Knowing this is for the safety and longevity of your pet. Rabbits can be extremely fragile in some areas. For instance, they have a brittle spine. Their back can easily be broken by a handling mishap.
This shouldn’t scare you or deter you from picking up and handling your rabbit (when need be). You just need to know the right way to approach your bunny. Here are the steps to follow.
#1: Your rabbit should already be in their enclosure. Get down on their level, leaning as close to the ground as possible.
#2: Don’t reach for the rabbit at this point. You want them to hop in your direction. You may have to talk to them or coax them with treats to get them to do this.
#3: If your rabbit is still too far away, feel free to gently grasp them on the scruff. However, never pull the rabbit up this way.
#4: Once your rabbit is close enough that you feel comfortable picking them up, put a single hand out towards the front of them. You want to cup your hand beneath the rabbit’s chest.
#5: Moving quickly now, use your second hand to hold the back legs of the rabbit.
#6: The first hand you used for scooping should now be supporting the gentle back bones of your bunny.
#7: Rabbits have a propensity to kick when they feel threatened. This may happen the first few times you try to pick them up. While a rabbit’s spine is weaker, their back legs are incredibly powerful. A kick can hurt. To prevent any kicking, put the rabbit right against your body. Their legs should not dangle, but be up against your torso.
#8: You might want to nestle the rabbit so they sit in the crook of your arm. Rabbits are actually calmer when being held if they can’t see. Otherwise, you can put a clean towel over their eyes for the duration you hold them.
Should You Use One or Both Hands?
While you should only reach for a rabbit to pick them up using one hand, it’s incredibly important to support them with both your hands. As we mentioned in the last section, one hand should be used to scoop up the rabbit beneath their chest. The second hand then immediately holds onto the back legs, being gentle as you do so. This can prevent kicks and lets you brace the rabbit better.
From there, you absolutely must hold a rabbit with both hands. The hand you used for scooping now moves to support your rabbit’s back. The hand on the hindquarters remains there until you put your bunny back down.
Is It Okay to Pick up a Small Rabbit?
Not only is it okay to pick up a small rabbit, but it’s recommended that you do so. As we’ve mentioned a time or two in this article, most rabbits don’t like being held. There can be several reasons for this.
The first is that you sweeping them off the ground quickly reminds them of what would happen when they’re being hunted and caught. A predator would grab them right up and eat them. Your rabbit may be completely domesticated, but behavior like this is going to freak them out.
Another reason rabbits might not like being picked up is because you only do it to clean their enclosure or take them to the vet. They learn to associate you picking them up with bad things, so of course they’re going to try to resist. If you remember from an earlier post on this blog, rabbits are incredibly smart creatures, so give them some credit.
Rabbits aren’t exactly socialized by nature. You have to teach them, and one of the best ways you can do that is picking them up and handling them when they’re young. If you give them rewards like treats or cuddles afterwards, they learn to associate positive things with behind held. While they may never love it, with time, they may get more used to the human contact.
Can a Rabbit Bite You While You’re Picking It up?
Even a well-trained rabbit can bite or otherwise attack if it feels threatened. While rabbits are regarded as prey, they can defend themselves. If you reach for your rabbit’s chest to scoop them up, there’s a possibility they can dip their head down and bite your hand. Once you hold them by the back, they can’t really reach your hand.
What’s more likely to happen is the rabbit will try to kick you. Their hindquarters are closer to your hands, making it easy for them to hit you with their feet. That’s part of why you need to keep your rabbit close to your body when holding them. Remember earlier we mentioned your bunny could break its back if it thrashes or tries to kick too wildly while in the air.
If your rabbit seems aggressive, either when you go to pick it up or when you’re already holding it, you might want to back off. You can always try picking them up again later or on another day. It’s not worth possibly severely hurting the rabbit.
Do Rabbits Provide Warning Signs Not to Pick Them up?
How do you know your rabbit just isn’t in the mood to be handled today? Are there any warning signs to be on the lookout for? Indeed there are. Keep your eyes peeled for the following.
This one is pretty clear. If your rabbit runs every time you try to get close to them, they’re not playing a game of cat and mouse with you. They’re trying to tell you in a not-so-subtle way that they’d prefer it if you’d go away.
Resistance to Touch
As you recall, you should never just reach right out and pick up your rabbit. This can be very jarring on your bunny as it mimics predator behavior. Instead, what you want to do is slowly start petting and stroking your rabbit while they’re still in their enclosure. You might give them a treat or two to ease them into what’s about to happen.
If, after a few minutes, your rabbit isn’t really feeling being petted, let it go. It’s not a good time to try and pick them up.
Nipping or Biting
Biting in rabbits can mean a lot of things. Sometimes they give you a few playful nips to let you know they want more love. You have to be intuitive and use your head. If you’re sitting around your rabbit, petting them, and you suddenly stop, they’re going to nip to get your attention. If you’re trying to pick your bunny up and they try to bite you, this is not a cutesy or loving thing. The rabbit is trying to tell you in the clearest terms they can that you should back off.
Kicking or Thrashing
Finally, arguably the biggest sign you should leave your rabbit alone is when they try to kick you. This will happen probably as soon as the rabbit realizes what you’re trying to do. If your rabbit won’t calm down before you lift them out of the air, don’t risk it. You could severely injure them if you try to proceed. Put the rabbit back down (we’ll tell you exactly how later in this article) and walk away.
How NOT to Pick up a Rabbit?
While we gave you clear, detailed steps earlier on how to pick up a rabbit, you may have a few more question about the dos and don’ts. If so, here are some things you shouldn’t do when handling your rabbit:
- While the scruff is good for grasping, it’s not a place to grip as you pick your rabbit up. You’re just going to hurt them. Once you get a decent handle on them, lift them by going for the chest and hindquarters.
- Don’t scoop from the rear instead of from the front. Your rabbit can’t see what you’re doing this way and you’re likely to spook them. You could also get kicked for your troubles.
- The ears are not meant for grabbing your rabbit either. Don’t use them to grip and don’t use them to hold your rabbit. Just leave your rabbit’s ears alone.
- On that same note, leave the bunny’s tail alone, too. This is another sensitive spot that could get you kicked if you go near it. Don’t touch it.
Should You Pick up a Rabbit After It Just Ate?
While there’s nothing stopping you from picking up your rabbit after they eat, this may not be the greatest idea. Even if your rabbit just nibbled, you have no way of knowing how full their stomach is.
Since rabbits aren’t in love with the idea of you picking them up and taking them somewhere (even if that somewhere is just your lap), don’t make the experience worse. Picking up a rabbit when their stomach is full could traumatize them to the point where they don’t want to be handled anymore.
Your rabbit will not vomit if you pick them up after eating, even if they happen to be very full. This is because they cannot vomit. It has to do with their digestive system and their physiology, but your rabbit will never puke. Other rodents can’t either, including badgers, chinchillas, or shrews. Your bunny is in interesting company for certain.
Since your rabbit can’t vomit, there’s no way to know the amount of intestinal distress you could be causing them by carrying them around after eating. It’s better to avoid doing so if at all possible.
Do Rabbits Get Motion Sickness Being Carried Around?
It doesn’t appear that rabbits can get motion sickness, whether being carried or not. The biggest signs your bunny is sick is they won’t drink much water or eat very much. They’ll also be slow, barely moving around their enclosure. If these symptoms are accompanied by loose stools and/or diarrhea, then you should bring your rabbit to a vet.
The above symptoms are not those of motion sickness. In people, motion sickness induces changes in mood, dizziness, vomiting, nausea, headaches, exhaustion, pale skin, and cold sweats.
Just because your rabbit can’t get motion sickness or vomit doesn’t mean you should mishandle them. When you pick them up, don’t spin them around, move too quickly, or put them down too fast, either.
Can You Pick up a Rabbit by Its Ears?
No matter how you handle your rabbit, you should absolutely never pick them up by the ears. We talked about this in the section on how not to handle your rabbit, but it certainly bears repeating. Rabbits have high sensitivity in their ears due to the many blood vessels there.
If you handle a rabbit’s ears in any way, it’ll be horrible for them. The ears are not appropriate for grabbing or for pulling a rabbit up. Doing so will cause them immeasurable pain. Please do not touch your rabbit’s ears.
How to Properly Lower a Rabbit to the Ground?
You took your rabbit out of their enclosure. Maybe it was to clean the enclosure, get some exercise, or even to sit in your lap. Regardless, now it’s time to put them back in their cage. How do you go about doing this? Here are some steps to follow:
#1: Start by putting the rabbit in the right position. You want their body near yours. Instead of holding them super close, lower their rear somewhat. You must make sure you have a very secure grip on your rabbit. Once they sense impending freedom, they’re going to try to jump, squirm, or otherwise get free.
#2: You might want to cover your rabbit’s eyes as you begin to set them back on the ground. This prevents them from getting overexcited about getting back in their cage. That can reduce their chances of accidentally hurting themselves.
#3: Slowly begin to move the rabbit towards the floor of their enclosure. You should never put them down anywhere but on flat, solid ground.
#4: You may panic or get nervous if your rabbit begins to thrash about while you’re trying to lower them into their enclosure. The best thing to do is maintain your hold on the rabbit and wait. This is a teaching moment in the life of your rabbit. If they know they can wriggle about and immediately get put back into their enclosure, they’ll do it every time. If you make the rabbit wait until they stop moving so much, they’ll be less likely to repeat the behavior.
#5: Your rabbit is now safely back in their enclosure. Congratulations!
A rabbit’s scruff can be a handy area for grabbing, but never for picking them up. This will cause them intense pain, as will trying to pick them up or handle them by the ears. Instead, it’s always best to scoop around under the front, hold the back, and then support their spine as you cradle your rabbit.
While rabbits cannot get motion sickness or vomit, you should still handle them gently when you do take them out of their enclosure. Bad experiences will reinforce in the rabbit’s mind that being handled is bad. They may try to resist it more. If you can create positive associations with handling, your rabbit may be more willing to let you do it. Good luck!