Is your rabbit awiggle and afraid every time you try to pick it up? Do those cute little legs start kicking in protest the moment you reach out your hands? While rabbits often dislike being held at first, there are right and wrong ways to handle them that can make all the difference. This comprehensive guide will teach you step-by-step techniques to properly lift and restrain your bunny to help it feel safe and secure. You’ll learn how to build trust through positive reinforcement, create a calming burrito wrap, and desensitize them to handling over time. Follow these illustrated tips and you’ll both come to enjoy cuddle time. Let’s hop to it!
Do rabbits like to be held?
Rabbits are prey animals by nature and can often feel vulnerable being picked up and held by humans. However, with time and training, rabbits can learn to tolerate or even enjoy being held. Here are some key points on rabbits and handling:
- Rabbit personalities vary – some bunnies seem to love being held and cuddled while others strongly dislike it.
- Getting a rabbit as a baby and handling it frequently is the best way to get it comfortable with human touch.
- Go slowly and give your rabbit time to get used to being handled. Rushing things can scare them.
- Use positive reinforcement with treats to reward tolerance of handling.
- Respect your rabbit's boundaries – never force handling if they are clearly distressed.
- Once a bond of trust is built, many rabbits seem to find being held comforting and secure.
- Even rabbits that enjoy being held should only be picked up when necessary, not excessively.
While a rabbit may never enjoy being picked up, with time and patience, proper handling techniques, and respect for their boundaries, you can help a rabbit become more comfortable with human touch and being held.
When you might need to hold your rabbit
There are some situations where briefly picking up your rabbit may be necessary:
- Vet visits – To transport your bunny in a carrier and handle them during an exam or treatment.
- Nail trimming – Keeping your rabbit secure and still while clipping their nails.
- Grooming – Restraining a wiggly bunny safely to brush or trim fur.
- Cleaning – Lifting them out of an enclosure to fully clean their space.
- Exercise – Carrying them to/from a play area or outdoor run.
- Medicating – Containing your rabbit to give medications or supplements.
- Bonding – Holding a pair of rabbits closely to help facilitate bonding.
- Safety – Moving them away from hazards like exposed cords or toxic plants.
It's best to get a rabbit comfortable with handling for these necessary activities. Always hold for the minimum time needed and try to make it a positive experience.
How to pick up a rabbit (step by step)
Picking up a rabbit properly is key to making sure they feel secure versus stressed. Here is a step-by-step guide:
- Start by getting down on your rabbit's level on the floor.
- Pet your rabbit gently to help them relax and feel comfortable with your touch.
- Place one hand against their chest behind their front legs, and use your other hand to support their rear (bunny burrito style).
- In one smooth, swift motion, lift your rabbit up against your body bringing them to chest level.
- Immediately tuck their body securely against you – this helps them feel supported.
- Use one hand/arm to cradle their rear and back legs.
- Keep your other hand/arm tucked firmly against their chest.
- Avoid holding them dangling by their midsection – proper support of chest and hindquarters is vital.
- Hold them close to your body at all times.
- Keep handling to the minimum time needed.
The key is using a firm but gentle grip so they don't feel like they will slip or fall. Some bunnies feel most secure being held football style with their back against your chest. Get to know your rabbit's preference.
How NOT to pick up a rabbit
It's just as important to know how not to handle a rabbit to prevent injury and fear:
- Never pick up a rabbit by their ears or limbs – this can injure them and cause great distress.
- Don't lift by the scruff of their neck like you would a cat or dog.
- Avoid approaching from above or behind which can startle them.
- Refrain from squeezing or compressing their body cavity while holding.
- Don't let body parts like legs or head dangle unsupported.
- Do not attempt to hold or restrain an agitated or scared rabbit against their will.
- Strictly avoid picking up babies under 8 weeks old as this can cause serious harm.
The goal is to help your rabbit feel safe and secure when being handled. Learn their signals – if they struggle, grunt, or seem distressed, put them down immediately and regroup.
How to hold a rabbit securely
Holding your rabbit in a secure manner is key to their safety and comfort:
- Always place one hand/forearm under the chest and use the other to support the hindquarters.
- Keep their body aligned straight, not twisted, and close against your chest.
- Cradle larger rabbits over your forearm or sit them upright in the crook of your arm like a baby.
- Medium rabbits can be tucked football style against your torso or sit sideways across your midsection.
- Small rabbits can lay lengthwise against your chest, under your chin, with their legs dangling on either side.
- Gently control the rear legs with the hand supporting the hind end.
- If they squirm or kick, do not squeeze them tighter – remain calm and put them down.
Getting to know your individual rabbit's size, shape, energy level and personality will help determine the best secure holding methods. The goal is distributing their weight to create a feeling of safety and support.
How to put a rabbit back down
Returning your rabbit gently down to the ground is the final step:
- When finishing handling your rabbit, get down on their level again.
- Be sure to place them down safely on non-slip flooring.
- Crouch or kneel as low as you can to minimize the drop distance.
- Carefully tip them hindquarters first from your lap onto the floor.
- Never just release them or toss them down from standing height.
- Gently let go and make sure they have all four feet securely on the ground.
- Give them a little nose rub and praise before stepping back.
- Watch to ensure they don't immediately bolt in fear – this can lead to injury.
- Resume normal interaction once they've settled to help end the experience positively.
Set your rabbit down slowly and gently. This concludes the handling process on a calm note they are more likely to tolerate next time.
How to burrito a rabbit
"Bunny burrito" is a handling technique where a rabbit is wrapped snugly in a towel or blanket to restrain them:
- Have a small towel or baby blanket ready before retrieving your rabbit.
- When you pick up your bunny, immediately cradle them into the open blanket.
- Making sure their face is uncovered, wrap one side of the blanket under their body.
- Gently fold the other side over their back and cross the ends under their belly.
- Aim for a snug yet comfortable fit – tight enough that they feel secure but not compressed.
- Tuck loose ends of the blanket under their body to maintain the burrito shape.
- Hold the swaddled bunny against your body like a baby during transport or procedures.
- Always keep a hand on the burrito to prevent them from squirming free.
- Unwrap promptly when finished rather than leaving them restrained.
Burrito wrapping can help rabbits stay calmer during vet visits, nail trims, and exams. It also prevents injuries from kicking or scratching. Be sure not to overly restrict their movement.
Desensitizing your rabbit to being held
If your rabbit is fearful about being picked up, use these tips to help them become more comfortable with handling:
- Start with short, positive handling sessions of just 1-2 minutes per day.
- Offer a treat reward immediately after each time you pick up your rabbit to create a good association.
- Talk, sing, or stroke your bunny in a soothing way while holding them.
- Gradually increase handling time as your rabbit relaxes and shows less resistance.
- Advance to walking short distances or gently rocking while holding them.
- End each session on a positive note before your rabbit gets upset or struggles.
- Persist with daily handling exercises in small increments to build trust over time.
- If your rabbit seems very distressed, stop immediately and consult a rabbit-savvy vet or trainer.
The goal is to make being picked up and held a routine, pleasant experience through steady desensitization. Have patience – it can take weeks or months for some rabbits.
Rabbit safety tips
When lifting and holding rabbits, keep these precautions in mind:
- Lift smoothly and fully support all body parts – don't leave legs dangling.
- Restrict handling with babies under 8 weeks old.
- Avoid picking up elderly, arthritic, or disabled rabbits unless necessary.
- Never attempt to hold or restrain a scared, struggling rabbit.
- Trim nails short and remove jewelry to prevent scratches if they flail.
- Do not lift heavy rabbits by scruffing them – use proper body support.
- Be cautious of sharp claws, teeth, and powerful hind legs when they kick.
- Keep sessions very brief with longhaired rabbits to prevent overheating.
- Set them down gently on stable, non-slip flooring.
- Supervise closely after handling to ensure they don't bolt and injure themselves.
Remember, just because you can easily overpower a rabbit doesn't mean you should force them to be handled. Stay alert for signs of fear urination, aggression, or extreme distress.
The controversy of trancing a rabbit
"Trancing" refers to putting a rabbit on their back which induces a frozen, immobilized state:
- Trancing may happen naturally during grooming or mating but should not be forced.
- Intentionally trancing a rabbit is highly controversial in the rabbit community.
- Proponents believe it can calm rabbits for grooming/nail trims.
- Opponents consider it unethical and inducing unnatural fear as prey animals.
- Trancing may cause struggling, vocalization, elevated heart rate, and redirected aggression.
- Safer alternatives include burrito wrapping, grooming assistants, and positive handling techniques.
- If trancing happens accidentally, immediately flip them upright.
- Never trance babies or rabbits with health conditions affecting mobility or the spine.
While some argue trancing does not physically harm rabbits, the stress experienced makes this method inadvisable. Building trust through positive training is safer and more effective long-term.
Other ways to interact with your rabbit
If your rabbit dislikes being picked up, focus more on these types of interaction:
- Floor time – Let them freely explore and play while you sit quietly nearby.
- Treat feeding – Hand feed favorite greens and healthy snacks.
- Grooming – Gain trust through gentle stroking, brushing, and massage.
- Training – Use clicker training to teach fun tricks and commands.
- Games – Engage their curiosity with safe toys and hide treats to find.
- Exercise – Encourage binkies, running, and jumping in a rabbit-proof space.
- Language – Talk sweetly, sing, or make rabbit-friendly sounds.
- Environment – Provide interesting housing, tunnels, dig boxes, and ledges to explore.
Focus on building a trusting bond through communication, respect, and positive experiences. With time, even rabbits very opposed to handling can transform into delightful companions.