Despite their reputation as quiet, independent creatures, rabbits are actually very social creatures who often love affection and attention from their owners. Once you’ve built up trust with your rabbit, you’ll likely notice they come to love being petted and receiving affection.
However, one thing that is sometimes misunderstood is how (and when) to hold a rabbit in order to keep them comfortable. Rabbit handling is essential—not just as it relates to cuddling with your furry friend, but also for essential tasks like putting your rabbit in a crate or doing regular grooming.
It’s possible that your rabbit could see you as a threat if you don’t practice proper handling, so getting this right is vital. In this guide, we’ll go over everything you need to know about the right way to hold your rabbit so everything is safe and comfortable for everyone involved.
Step 1: Make Sure Your Rabbit is Comfortable Before Handling
- First and foremost, never pick up your rabbit if they seem scared, stressed, or otherwise distressed. You’ll learn your rabbit’s unique way of communicating this over time, but there are a few common signs to look out for.
- If your rabbit thumps a hind leg when you move in to pick them up, it’s a sign that they’re feeling territorial and aren’t interested in being handled. Of course sometimes you’ll need to handle them anyway, but bear in mind that they may be more squirmy if you see this sign.
- If you can help it, only pick up your rabbit when they’re in a calm, social mood.
Step 2: Pick Up Your Rabbit From a Controlled Space
- To ensure your rabbit doesn’t try to run away and potentially hurt themselves, always pick up your rabbit from a controlled position.
- Gently hold them in place by their scruff near the back of the neck.
- Never pick up your rabbit by the scruff, as this can injure them, but don’t be afraid to hold onto it to make sure they can’t run forward as you pick them up.
Step 3: Lift Your Rabbit by the Chest and Hind Legs
- Once your rabbit is controlled, gently place one palm under their chest, lifting their front legs while tucking their hind legs underneath them with the other hand.
- Lift them with both hands, keeping one on the chest and the other on their hindquarters.
- Make sure the hind legs stay pointed up towards the rabbit’s head to stop them from kicking out behind them.
Step 4: Hold Your Rabbit Securely Against Your Body
- Once you’ve lifted your rabbit, hold them against your body by gently moving them to the side and placing them under your arm. This is called the ‘football carry’, and gives your rabbit a little nook to hide their face in. This will help them feel more comfortable.
- Use your dominant hand to support the rabbit’s body weight by their rear and hind legs.
- You can use your free hand to gently keep hold of the rabbit’s neck in case they try to wriggle away.
Step 5: Place Your Rabbit Down Gently
- When it’s time to put your rabbit back down, be sure to do it as smoothly and gently as possible to keep them calm and safe.
- Get as low to the ground as you can before placing them back down—this ensures they don’t get scared by a big drop.
- It’s recommended to place them down on a towel, carpet, or other grippy surface so they don’t slip as they regain their footing.
Step 6: Reward Your Rabbit for a Job Well Done
- When you’ve done what you need to do, be sure to reward your rabbit with a little treat and lots of attention.
- Over time, this will help build a positive association with being handled.
Tips for Proper Rabbit Handling
With the right handling, your rabbit will build trust with you, beginning to see you as a friend and companion rather than any kind of threat. This can take time, since rabbits are naturally cautious creatures due to ancient wild instincts. Use these tips to help your bunny feel comfortable while you’re handling them.
Start Handling and Socializing Early
Like with any other animal, it’s easiest to teach rabbits to feel comfortable being handled if you start at a young age. If your rabbit wasn’t held, touched, or socialized much when they were younger, they may always find touch upsetting or stressful later on. If you’re looking after a young rabbit, it’s best to start getting them used to being held now to ensure they’ll still tolerate it later on.
Be Calm, Cautious, and Gentle
Rabbits are prey animals in the wild, and as much as they may like you as their person, instincts can still take over if they feel any stress or discomfort while being held. That’s why being calm and gentle is so important during rabbit handling. Move slowly, talk quietly, and avoid sudden motions that might startle your rabbit. Pick rabbits up from close to the ground to make sure they’re not startled, and avoid moving around too much or holding them too high up. If you need to hold your rabbit but they seem stressed, you can try to cover their eyes in the crook of your arm or with a towel—just make sure not to cover their nose.
Keep Your Rabbit Safe During Handling
Rabbits have fragile spines and actually have the ability to break their own backs with their powerful hind leg kicks if held improperly. Safety is of the utmost importance when handling your rabbit to ensure their bodies are completely supported.
Hold your rabbit gently, but firmly. All four of their feet should be firmly placed against your body, and you should have one hand supporting their rear legs and backside at all times. This will help your rabbit feel safe and secure the whole time you’re holding them, and won’t give them the chance to kick and potentially injure themselves. It’s also best to stay lower to the ground when holding your rabbit. This prevents them from a big drop should they try to break free from your grasp.
Be Careful Where You Pick Up Your Rabbit
When actually scooping your rabbit up, be sure to do it in the right position. Never pick up a rabbit by the ears, tail, scruff, or limbs. Instead, gently grab the rabbit by its chest and hind legs, tucking the hind legs under their body and lifting them towards your chest in a slow but fluid motion. Always use both hands when picking up your rabbit.
Be Selective About Who Picks Up Your Rabbit
If one person picks up your rabbit in a way that makes them feel uncomfortable or distressed, it can mean a major setback for handling them at all. Never let children pick up your rabbit without supervision, and ensure anyone who handles them understands the right method to do it.
Creative Commons Attribution: Permission is granted to repost this article in its entirety with credit to Hastings Veterinary Hospital and a clickable link back to this page.