MAKING FRIENDS WITH YOUR RABBIT
The best way to gain your rabbit’s trust is to treat him well – i.e. provide him with a large safe space, love, stimulation and the right diet – and to handle him well. The following are a few ways you can befriend your rabbit and get to know him better.
Picking up your rabbit
The vast majority of rabbits are afraid to be picked up – the only time they are lifted off the ground in the wild is when a predator is going to eat them. However there are times when you have to pick up your rabbit, for example to give him a health check or remove him from danger. So it’s a good idea for an adult to practise lifting the bunny from time to time. Many caregivers are disappointed when they discover rabbits don’t like to be held, but you wouldn’t expect an adult or child to pick up a large dog in order to cuddle him, and it’s the same with a rabbit.
Please never chase your bunny or he will get very frightened. The best thing to do when you want to pick him up is to walk up to him and bend down so you are at his level. Do not pull or pick up your rabbit by the ears or the scruff of the neck – put one hand under his forelegs and the other under his bottom and lift the rabbit facing towards you (see picture below). Do this confidently and hold your rabbit close to your chest.
Your rabbit may try to wriggle away, pushing against your body with his powerful back legs; his speed and strength may well surprise you so I recommend you keep a hand on your rabbit’s neck just in case. Hold your rabbit securely but always gently and talk to him quietly so he knows he’s not going to get hurt. If your rabbit is very frightened or independent he may scratch and bite you or even try to leap over your shoulder.
You can also pick up your rabbit facing away from you – put one hand under his forelegs and the other under his bottom and lift him up with his back towards you. In this position it is more difficult for your rabbit to get away because he doesn’t have anything to push against. If your rabbit becomes restless you can always hold his back legs in your hand to stop him from kicking out and scratching.
Many rabbits don’t like to be off the ground and hurt themselves very badly trying to get away. They may feel particularly nervous as you bend over in order to put them down, so be especially careful at this stage since a fall could result in serious injuries and even be fatal.
Please do not let anyone handle your rabbit unless they know how to do so safely and correctly. Children in particular might find it difficult to cope with a struggling bunny, especially a large one; explain to them that the rabbit should never be picked up against his will or held by the legs or tummy when he tries to get away. Make sure you’re always on hand to give advice and assist your children, at least until they’re old enough to understand. Large adult rabbits are the best choice if you have a young child.
My tip: When picking up a rabbit for the first time do so while sitting on the floor rather than standing up. This way if your rabbit begins to struggle you’ll be able to let go of him quickly and safely. You may wish to put a blanket on your lap to avoid scratches and protect your clothes.
Spending time at bunny level
Spending time at floor level will make your rabbit feel comfortable and will also give him a chance to get to know you on his own terms. Rabbits are bright and inquisitive and your bunny will soon come up to you to investigate. Once your rabbit knows he can trust you he will not feel nervous or afraid, even when you try to pick him up.
Rabbits are social creatures and they enjoy physical contact Petting your rabbit every day will make her feel happy and relaxed, in fact your bunny will soon find a way of letting you know that she wants to be cuddled.
Pet your rabbit while you’re sitting beside her on the floor or on the sofa. Rabbits like to be stroked behind the ears, on the forehead, cheeks, back and tummy. Least favourite spots include the legs, tail and under the chin.
My rabbit can be very insistent when she wants to be petted and usually does one of the following:
- nudge my foot/leg
- push her head under my hand
- circle my feet
- stretch up my leg
- paw at my clothes for attention, and
- nibble at my socks and feet.
All rabbits love to have their back brushed – mine even rubs her teeth softly in appreciation. Brushing your rabbit every day is particularly important during moulting to remove the dead fur, which could otherwise be swallowed. Normally you should only brush your rabbit in the direction of the fur, but from time to time it is a good idea to brush the coat in the “wrong” direction to check that it is healthy and free from parasites.
If you let your rabbit see and smell the brush before you use it she will soon adopt it as one of her possessions by rubbing her chin against it – however do not leave the brush lying around because your rabbit may try to chew it.
Much as your rabbit likes to be petted and brushed you should never disturb her while she is eating, grooming or trying to rest.
Handfeeding your rabbit a treat or favourite piece or food is also a good way of getting him to know and trust you. Hold the food in the palm of your hand rather than between your thumb and forefinger: rabbits cannot see very well close-by and your bunny could end up giving you a nip by mistake, particularly if she’s very hungry.
Rabbits enjoy playing and interacting with their human family. Some like to play tag, ball or hide & seek. Try hiding apple and willow twigs under a heap of hay for your rabbit to find, offering a sandbox or building a trail of pop-up tunnels and cardboard boxes (with at least two holes for hopping in and out). Your bunny will greatly appreciate the attention and reward you with her trust, love and binkies! For more toy ideas click here.