You’re going to have to pick up your rabbit eventually, be that to clean their enclosure, let them out for some exercise, or even to give them a little hug. If this is your first time handling your rabbit, you may wonder, what’s the proper way to hold them?
The proper way to hold a rabbit begins by picking them up. You want to be very near to the ground. Then, with one hand, scoop beneath their body. The other hand should brace the rabbit’s back. It’s acceptable to put an arm gently over their eyes or even use a towel while you hold them. This promotes relaxation in rabbits.
You probably have more questions about rabbit handling. When do you begin holding them? What if your rabbit doesn’t like being held? Then what? Don’t worry, as we’ll address all these points and more in this article.
What Is the Best Way to Hold a Rabbit?
Knowing how to hold a rabbit begins with understanding the right way to pick them up. You should never, ever handle a rabbit by reaching for its ears. The ears are very sensitive and doing so will be incredibly painful for your pet. You could also turn your rabbit off from ever being held.
Getting down to the rabbit’s level is the first step of picking them up the right way. This will alleviate the rabbit’s anxiety about being handled, at least most of the time. If your bunny tries to squirm and get away, you also won’t drop them very far. This lessens the chances of your pet being seriously injured by a handling mishap.
Now, taking your time, you can reach out to grasp the rabbit. You want to go for their front side, particularly underneath their armpits. In a scooping motion, grab for your rabbit. Rreach around their hindquarters, bracing your hand there as you hold them. Put another hand on the rabbit’s back. Keep your hands in relatively the same position as you hold your bunny. Neither of their feet should be dangling in the air. Instead, they should be on your chest.
You want to keep your motions gentle, slow, but confident. If you waver around your rabbit, they could run off or get scared. If you say anything at this point, keep your voice down. Slow and steady does it.
Some rabbit owners opt to keep the eyes of their pet covered while holding them. This can be done with a dry, clean towel. You can also angle your bunny so their face is in your arm. Make sure they can breathe, though!
Although this may seem odd to us humans, obscuring their vision like this allows the rabbit to relax. This may prolong the amount of time you can hold your rabbit.
How Soon Should I Start Holding My Rabbit?
Most rabbits aren’t big fans of being held. If you’re interested in holding your rabbit for bonding, cleaning, or other purposes, then the sooner you do it, the better. Once you get your rabbit home and they adjust to their new surroundings, you can begin holding them.
The first few times may not be great for the rabbit. If they squirm, kick, or try to bite you, then put them down and don’t push the matter any further. With time, a baby bunny will adjust to being held and may even grow to like it.
If you adopted or bought an older rabbit, trying to get them to acclimate to being held will be much more difficult. In some instances, it won’t be possible because the rabbit was not socialized for that level of closeness.
Should I Hold My Rabbit If They’re Scared or Angry?
While we humans might like to be comforted if we’re scared, the same is not true of a rabbit. They may already get anxious and jumpy by you trying to hold them. If you notice these behaviors in your rabbit, the best thing you can do is back off and leave them alone. Forcing them into a situation where they’re held will terrify them even more. You could also make them hate human contact if the situation goes badly enough.
If your rabbit is angry, the above is true, but doubly so. Do not make any physical moves towards them. They could attack you and bite or scratch, all of which would be painful. If your rabbit has become angry, there’s a decent chance it’s because they feel cornered or otherwise threatened. Continuing to linger around their enclosure will only antagonize them further. Give them some time away from you to calm down and approach them another day.
Should I Hold a Young Rabbit Differently Than an Old Rabbit?
If your rabbit is older but you’ve handled them all their lives, you shouldn’t stress them out too much by trying to pick them up. However, rabbits, just like people, have aches and pains as they begin to age. It may be uncomfortable or downright painful to hold your older bunny, so try not to do so unless absolutely necessary.
When you do approach your older rabbit, you want to go even slower and be gentler than you’d usually be. If the rabbit shows any indication of being in pain, then put them down. If your bunny seems okay, then keep holding them. The holding rules as outlined earlier apply, but be extra careful with an older bunny.
That doesn’t mean you should treat a younger rabbit with little care. To prevent injury and make the holding experience a pleasant one, take your time, check for signs your rabbit is uncomfortable, and don’t hold the rabbit for longer than they want.
Can You Retrain a Rabbit That Doesn’t Like to Be Held?
What if you haven’t had your rabbit all its life? You go to pick it up only to discover it very much does not want to be held. Is there anything you can do to change its nature or do you just have to accept that this is the way things are?
You can indeed retrain the rabbit to adjust to being held, but you’ll have your work cut out for you. One way you can get your rabbit to enjoy being picked up is to associate it with something good. If, for instance, you grab your rabbit when you want to clean their enclosure and no other time, they know they’re going to be displaced when you pick them up. That’s no fun for them, so of course the next time you reach for them, they’re going to run.
However, if you always take your rabbit out so they can go play or exercise, then they’ll grow to look forward to being handled. They know that when you reach for them, it means something good for them, so they’ll be more willing to let you hold them. Incentivizing and rewarding holding with treats is another option you can try.
Should Your Rabbit Run If You Get Close?
A rabbit’s enclosure is its safe space. If the animal feels its safety is being threatened, then it will react in one of several ways. Your rabbit may run away to hide in a corner. If they’re feeling very threatened, they could attack, kick, or bite you.
If your rabbit runs from you each time you try to pick them up, there are several reasons why this might be so. We just described the first reason above. If your rabbit has poor associations tied to being handled, they’ll resist it as much as they can. Try creating positive associations in the rabbit’s mind instead.
Another reason your rabbit may run is because you’re approaching them all wrong. Remember, you’re supposed to get down to their level and move and speak softly. Rabbits can be skittish by nature, and if you scare them and then try to handle them, it can go very badly.
Finally, yet a third reason your rabbit might bolt when you come near is because they’re not used to being handled yet. If they’re very young or if you’ve only picked them up a few times, they need to adjust to what you’re doing. This can take time, so be patient and keep working with your rabbit until they get more used to being picked up and held.
Additional Tips for Holding a Rabbit
- While you can sometimes grasp a rabbit by its scruff if you need to get a hold on the animal, you should neverpick them up by the scuff. Only use it for grasping. Then follow the technique we outlined above for picking up your rabbit.
- Bunnies aren’t babies. Not all of them will enjoy being in your arms, and that’s okay. If you can’t retrain them, then try to refrain from holding them for long.
- Your rabbit will dictate when they’re ready to be put down. If they start squirming, wiggling, or looking for a way out, then they’ve had enough.
- Eventually, the time is going to come to put the bunny down. They’re probably going to be looking forward to this time because again, most rabbits do not enjoy being held. That’s no personal slight at you, it just is how it is. To prevent your rabbit from jumping or otherwise divebombing to freedom, you again want to get as low to the ground as you can. Put them down so the rabbit is looking your way. This will prevent them from getting overexcited about getting put back in their cage and possibly injuring themselves with a crash landing.
While most rabbits don’t love being picked up and handled, the sooner you do it, the more used to it they’ll get. Scooping the rabbit up and then supporting them at their hindquarters and back is the best approach.
Most rabbits won’t put up with being held for more than a few minutes. If they begin to wiggle or seem uncomfortable, put your rabbit back down. Although you’ll probably be overwhelmingly nervous about hurting or mishandling your rabbit the first few times you pick them up, this feeling won’t last forever. With more handling, you’ll become more confident holding your bunny. Good luck!