Of course a natural instinct for any owner is to want to hold their pet rabbit? But do rabbits like to be held?
Rabbits do like to be held, but it does depend heavily on how you go about approaching them, and also the way in which you handle them. Rabbits need to be approached from the front or from above, and then picked up very cautiously.
There are many signs to look for that a rabbit is either enjoying or not appreciating the experience of being held, and I’ll look at these in this article.
In general rabbits enjoy being held, but it’s important to first know everything about how to do it well before you start. Also there are quite a few pitfalls that you want to avoid.
In this article I’m going to talk you through how to best hold your pet rabbit, what to avoid, and how to identify the signs that your rabbit is quite content.
The Truth Behind Holding Your Rabbit
Let’s begin by getting a few things straightened out.
Your rabbit may enjoy being held, but not for long periods, and certainly not all of a sudden. Walking up, grabbing your rabbit and picking them up for a cuddle is not the wisest of options. Actually, you will scare the life out of them. No owner will want to do that, so only ever approach them in the correct way.
You cannot expect your rabbit to enjoy being picked up and cuddled when you have spooked them with your approach. How would you like it if someone did that to you? The answer is probably that you would not be best pleased, and your rabbit will act in the same way.
Your rabbit is going to be a real individual. They are full of character, and that does play a major role as to whether or not they will enjoy being held. Some will never enjoy it, no matter what you do, so understanding your rabbit and how they feel about various things will prove to be invaluable.
Also, it’s going to be easier to pick up and hold your rabbit if you got them when they were young. An older rabbit will often prove to be more timid and will be less likely to appreciate what’s going on. It will also be easier to pick them up when you are familiar to the rabbit. The odds of them being happy at a stranger picking them up are very low.
So, if they do enjoy being held but only in certain circumstances, then what do we recommend? Well, you have a couple of options.
While Being Held is an Option, Being Stroked is Better
The first thing we need to clarify is that your rabbit will prefer being stroked or even cuddled more than being held. We will explain later on why we have a tendency to try to hold them in a way that is upsetting, but that’s not to say they will never ever enjoy it.
Instead, what we recommend is to spend time stroking your rabbit and effectively building their confidence and trust in you before you try to hold them. A rabbit is, by nature, a very anxious animal. You want to spend time getting them to relax, and sitting stroking their forehead is going to prove to be the best way of doing this.
Focus on areas such as their forehead and cheeks. You can then move to their back and behind their ears. Please avoid their underbelly, bottom and legs, as that’s not going to work. They hate those areas being touched, so don’t put them in a bad mood or you have no chance of them settling into you picking them up.
This all takes time, but there’s something else that we recommend you doing, and we will explore this other option next.
Alternatively, Your Lap Can Give Them Comfort
Another option that can help your rabbit relax is to use your lap. Try to allow your rabbit to sit on your lap and stroke them. It does help if your rabbit is the one that initiates this, and if they want to jump on up there, then allow it to happen.
You see, this is all about building that confidence in you, and if sitting on your lap to allow you to stroke their forehead better is the way that it has to happen, then that’s great.
In order to get them used to the idea of sitting on your lap, consider getting down onto the floor with them and make sure your lap is pretty much accessible. Let them come to you in their own time, and if they make moves for your lap, don’t do anything to spook them and put them off.
Once they get used to being there, consider lifting your lap up a bit to help with the sensation of them being off the ground. That is when your rabbit could start to stress and feel scared, so you need to work at counteracting those fears as best you can.
Think of it from this perspective.
Your rabbit will still have their feet against something, even though it’s not exactly the ground. By then elevating your lap, they will become accustomed to a different sensation under their paws. Next, try holding them gently, with their paws still touching your lap. This is a perfect next step, but listen out for any signs that your rabbit is not too happy.
Cuddling Can Be An Issue
Let’s talk a bit more about cuddling your rabbit. Some of them will love it. They will enjoy the sensation and the bonding session will be out of this world.
However, not every rabbit is like that.
Some will hate being cuddled. The idea of you wrapping your arms around them and cuddling them will create a sensation of them being trapped, and they will just want to get out of there. Then, the level of anxiety they will experience the next time you come toward them will be on a whole other level.
There is a very real need to create a sensation of your rabbit being safe and secure, to then get to the point where they will let you cuddle them. However, don’t cuddle them too hard, as that will scare them. This is a problem with children in that they want to give their rabbit the biggest cuddle ever, but that’s not always a good thing. Gentle is the way to go.
Also, they will be more than capable of letting you know when they are not happy or want the cuddling session to end. Most will look at nudging away your hand or trying to squirm and get out of the hold you have on them. Pay attention to this, and let them go straight away, or you will make them feel stressed and upset.
How to Correctly Pick Up Your Rabbit
Before we go into the details as to why some rabbits enjoy being held and other don’t, let’s look at how you should pick up your rabbit. After all, you don’t want to hurt them in any way, so this is kind of important.
First, we have to look at the way in which you approach your rabbit. Remember earlier on when we mentioned the blind spot your rabbit has around their nose? [Source] Well, it does mean you should approach them from either above or to the side. Please never approach them from the back. They cannot see you coming, and they will naturally think they are being attacked by a predator. The outcome? They will want to get away, and their heart will be beating fast. It’s hardly going to be a relaxing event for them after that.
By doing this, they will remain relaxed, as you won’t suddenly scare them. If you scare them, then the chances of being able to even stroke them will diminish.
But we can jump forward and say you have approached them, and they are quite content. So, do you simply pick them up? Absolutely not.
Instead, you need to build up to it. If you grab them, then you will scare them. Take your time, and be prepared to even spend weeks at a time on their confidence and trusting in you.
What you need to do is to stroke their back gently and slowly. This is also going to further enhance the feeling of being relaxed, while it also gives you the opportunity to ascertain as to whether or not they are up for some bonding time. If they would prefer to be left alone, it gives them the chance to move away.
Once again, let’s move forward.
So, your rabbit seems quite relaxed about things, and you then want to pick them up. How do you do that? Well, there is a way that’s going to work out best for both you and your rabbit.
You need to slide your hand under their belly, and have that hand kind of heading towards the back of their front paws. Next, you need to hold their bottom with your other hand. This does at least help your rabbit to feel a bit more secure compared to holding onto just their sides. [Source]
The key here, and this does take some time for you to perfect the move, is to make sure that most of the weight of your rabbit is angled down towards their bottom. This does make them feel a bit more secure and relaxed about things.
As you pick them up, don’t point their body or head upwards, because they might want to then try and climb. That is something we want to avoid.
Instead, hold it securely against your body, but be on the lookout for those signs that all is not well.
Staying with those whole idea of picking up your rabbit for just a minute, there are several potential problems that could occur.
First, your rabbit could start kicking out or scrambling to get away. If that happens, then please put them down on the ground as quickly as you can, and as gently as possible. This squirming and kicking out can result in them hurting themselves, and we don’t want that to happen.
There’s also the problem of putting them down again. As soon as your rabbit is able to sense that they are going to be placed on the ground, they will try to jump down. The problem is that this can occur at any height.
You must maintain a firm hold of your rabbit until they are just above the ground. This will prevent them from hurting themselves.
Finally, if your rabbit is nervous when you are picking them up, then consider wrapping them up in a blanket. This will give them some added security, and they will be more likely to then relax in your arms.
What Your Rabbit Likes About Being Held
Your rabbit will enjoy being stroked and held, but they are very specific as to what they enjoy, so it’s best to learn all about the likes and dislikes of your very own bunny.
They enjoy it, when done correctly, as they get a great deal of comfort and are able to relax. But your rabbit can be strange. What works well one day may be annoying or upsetting for them another. That’s why you must have a good understanding of your rabbit to know when they are even in the mood for being held.
The main difficulty here is that you need to allow your rabbit to take the lead. They must be the ones that decide if they want to be close to you at that moment. Anything else could spell trouble if you seek to force them into anything.
The cool thing is that your rabbit can, and will, adapt to this. They will get to the stage where they find something comforting about being held.
What to Avoid When Holding Your Rabbit
You must also be very careful when holding your rabbit, as there are certain things they will absolutely hate.
First, don’t lift them up too high. That is going to scare them senseless, and you don’t want to be doing that. They need to feel their feet on the ground, but you can work at getting them more accustomed to their feet being off the floor.
Also, keep in mind that your rabbit has a blind spot in front of their nose. If you come to them at the wrong angle, then they will not see you until the last moment, and that alone will give them a fright.
Anything that will scare your rabbit before you even put hands on them is hardly going to put them in the right mood for dealing with you doing something that they may not even be that pleased about.
Please do keep in mind what we said earlier regarding how to pick them up. You must provide them with a sense of being supported, or they will hate it. If they are scared, then put them down on the ground immediately. You must help them to get used to it all before you can hold them for any prolonged period of time.
On another important point, your rabbit will also be less likely to enjoy being picked up if they are shedding at the time. While shedding, their skin is far more sensitive than at other times. That does mean they can be crankier than normal, and they will also prefer to be left alone until the shedding process is over.
If you want to be near them while shedding, then brush them as they will love this, and love you for it as well.
Our Final Thoughts
The initial difficulty you need to help your rabbit with is the fact that they are naturally a prey animal. They will associate being picked up and held as a negative thing, and you need to teach them that this is not the case.
You must build trust and help deal with those nerves. Never push your rabbit into being held and don’t simply walk up and grab them. You certainly don’t want to scare the life out of your rabbit at any point.
Pick them up by supporting their body to give them that added confidence. Your rabbit may then develop a preferred way of sitting in your arms, and that’s a great sign as it shows those trust levels are on the rise.
Finally, we need to remind you to pay attention to those signs that all is not well. Your rabbit is very good at letting you know when they are not best pleased with things, so listen to them.
As long as you do this, then you may very well get to the point where picking up and holding your rabbit is an option. However, remember that it’s going to take some work on your part, so patience is an absolute must. But getting a great cuddle from your rabbit is a fitting reward for it all.