You have probably seen delightful pictures of people holding their rabbits on the internet and are wondering why your own well-meaning attempts to carry your bunny tends to trigger an instant fight involving scratching, wriggling and in the end a struggle to simply put them down safely without both of you being hurt.
Well don’t worry this behaviour is quite natural and there is nothing wrong with your rabbit or what you are doing, put simply most rabbits don’t like being picked up and unfortunately you may never be able to simply carry them around. So what can you do when you need to pick them up for instance if you need to cut their nails or put them in a carrier to take them to the vets or take them safely to their enclosure?
Understand why they behave in this way is key to understanding why this reaction happens and how to overcome this. Rabbits are a prey species and will always be sensitive to being whisked off and carried away. To escape from this life and death situation in the wild rabbits have evolved a natural defence of wriggling and fighting to free themselves. So being able to pick your rabbit it is really about building trust.
So how do you achieve this? Well don’t worry there are lots of simple things you can do and more importantly some things you should stop doing to build this trust and in this article we show you how with a few techniques used by experienced bunny owners and bit of time and perseverance and you can at least get this situation to be manageable without too much stress and at best make it a normal everyday activity.
How to approach you rabbit to pick them up
Firstly it’s worth putting on a long sleeved shirt in case they do struggle so you can calmly lower them down without dropping them if they kick and scratch. Then approach them remaining calm and as much as possible behave naturally around them like no big thing is about to happen to them or you will get their guard up. Try not to talk or make any loud noises, rabbits have very sensitive hearing and this will add to their stress. Don’t tempt them with food as they will be focused on this and will want to get free to get the food, it’s also not good if they struggle with food in their mouth.
Next call them over to you if you can or go over to them and collect them into your arms, then carry them up gently using the techniques details below. Don’t loom over them and scoop them up, especially if you are casting a shadow over them from a central light in the room. If they are in an enclosed area like a pen open the door and let them come out, if they are in a carrier that can be broken in two un-clip the top half and let them hop out and settle down first. Do not corner them in a room and make a grab for them or reach inside a enclosure as you may be able to get your hands on them but they are likely to resist the moment they are out and ultimately this will just make them harder to pick up next time.
If you don’t succeed on your first few attempts break away, let them calm down and reassure them with some treats, then try again. There is no point getting upset with them as any telling off will simply make them more timid and even aggressive towards you.
Learn the techniques for the picking up
First steady your rabbit by placing your hand over its head. Place the other hand over its back just above its tail (scut). Next firmly place one hand under your rabbit’s chest with your thumb around the rabbit’s side and your forefinger between the rabbit’s front legs. Don’t grab to hard but just support them gently. Then with your other hand, scoop up the rabbit’s backside. Do this all a single motion and pull your rabbit against your chest. If you want to land them full on your chest turn them towards you and pull your hand away from its chest at the last moment. Hold your rabbit securely but not too tightly against your body, and make sure its bottom is will supported. If it struggles don’t try and hold them there, calmly put them down with some reassuring words and a reward.
Putting you rabbit in a carrier
If you do need to put them in a carrier its best to keep this out of sight in another room and then carrying them over to it as like most pet’s rabbits often know what the noise, smell or sight of a carrier is and know what’s coming next. Remember try not to bash it about to much as they have very sensitive hearing. Leave it on a table or other elevated surface near the level you carry them at as they will often make a break for it if they feel they are moving closer to the ground.
Using a towel or bunny burrito
Another way of handling a bunny is to wrap them in a towel commonly known as a bunny burrito as its best to literally place them the town and wrap it over swaddling them. Although this can be effective this is the last options and is more of a restraint that would typically be used if you are administering medicine or similar.
Rabbits instinctively struggle to escape
Rabbits are a prey species and have learned to instinctively struggle to escape the jaws of a predator or cloches of a birds of trying to whisk them off the ground and carry them away.
Need more help? Why not ask the Bunny Proofing group!
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