Of course everyone wants to bond as best they can with their pet rabbit, but it’s not always obvious how best to do this. A huge question that often comes up is do rabbits like to be petted? First, the short answer…
Pet rabbits enjoy being petted, especially when they know the owner well, and if you pay particular attention to their head, their ears, and their cheeks. Try to avoid petting a rabbit around the belly and legs, and make sure they can see your hand during the petting process.
The answer is almost undoubtedly yes, but with a caveat attached.
Of course, that does mean we need to take you through the entire petting process. After all, you don’t want to do anything to upset your rabbit and make them rather annoyed or upset with you, do you?
That’s what this post is going to all be about. How your rabbit likes to be petted, and also when they don’t quite appreciate it the same. By the end of this guide, you will be an absolute expert, and your rabbit will love you even more.
How Your Rabbit Likes Being Petted
Let’s kick things off with describing how your rabbit likes to be petted. They can be quite particular with all of this, so getting it right is going to be pretty important.
We have several steps to go through with the petting process.
However, don’t think you can go about petting your rabbit in the same way as you would a cat or a dog. Instead, you need to be rather precise in what you do, or you run the very real risk of spooking them.
So, here are the key steps.
Step 1: Let Them See Your Hand
The first step, and it is one that is absolutely essential, is that your rabbit must be able to see your hand.
If you suddenly come up to them and put your hand on them, then they will be very scared and you will give them the fright of their life.
Rabbits have a great all-round vision, but they do have a blind spot pretty much in line with their nose. [Source]
So, make sure you do not approach them straight on, and keep your hand to one side. This means they are guaranteed to see your hand and it will not scare them.
It’s also better if your hand is slightly above their head rather than coming from down below. This is to do with rabbit dominance.
If your hand comes in level with them, then they could see it as an aggressive move and one that is trying to displace their dominance. At that point, they could bite or react badly, so avoid doing it.
So, keep your hand above their head and to the side as the first step.
Step 2: Correctly Petting Their Head
The second step is connected to the way in which you must correctly pet their head.
We have focused on this as petting them on their forehead is viewed as being the safest place. Also, it tends to be the easiest to get to when you approach them in the manner we mentioned above with your hand slightly above their head.
What you need to do here is to give them little scratches or small strokes on their forehead. Be light and gentle as this will be very soothing and calming for your rabbit.
Use the tips of your fingers and just remember to not apply too much pressure, or they will stop finding it to be as relaxing as you had hoped.
Step 3: Their Ears
Moving onto their ears for a second because they do also like having those petted whenever the chance arises.
However, we do recommend starting off with petting their head and allowing them to build some confidence in what you are doing before then moving to their ears.
With their ears, you are looking at giving them something of a massage from their neck and up behind them. Once again, be gentle with your touch.
Their ears are not particularly sensitive, but some rabbits do have something of a sweet massage spot behind them that will help them relax. You will know if you have hit the right spot by the way in which they move their body into more of a laying down position.
Step 4: Their Cheeks
The next area is their cheeks, but as with the ears only do this after they are used to you petting their head. Chances are that your rabbit is going to enjoy having its cheeks petted in this way.
The only problem is that your rabbit may be slightly spooked when you go to stroke their cheeks for the first time.
The best way to go about preventing them from being scared is to use a simple little tactic when stroking their forehead.
When you do this, and they are completely relaxed and at ease, simply use one of your fingers to gently stroke their cheeks. They will then associate that movement with something that is also relaxing and are less likely to react when you next go to their cheek.
If you do this, your next step is to then spend longer and longer on their cheeks, giving them a massage.
But would you like to know another cool thing about massaging their cheeks?
Well, it gives you the perfect opportunity to check their teeth. As you massage their cheeks, try to feel if there are any unusual bumps around their teeth and gums.
Where to Never Pet Your Rabbit
So, where should you never pet your rabbit? Well, it turns out that there are a few places where your rabbit is not going to appreciate it no matter how gentle or loving you are trying to be.
The main area is their belly and legs. They hate you going there.
Also, let them keep all four paws on the ground. Lifting them up off the ground freaks them out and scares them senseless. [Source]
Another area to avoid is their butt. You may think it’s all cute wanting to pet them around their tail, but your rabbit is likely to jump up and try to get away instead of relaxing.
An area that may surprise you is their chin.
We are used to stroking a dog or a cat under their chin and them loving it, but the same does not apply to your rabbit. Instead, it’s a very sensitive spot, and they will feel disturbed by you touching there.
Apart from those areas, any other part of your rabbit is available for petting, but you will get used to understanding the areas that get the best reaction from your own rabbit.
Which Rabbits Like Petting?
So, do all rabbits like petting? Most do, and even those rabbits that are generally quite traumatized and stressed out will love being petted.
The difficulty with a rabbit that is highly anxious is that it will take time to build the relationship and make them feel at ease with it all. That’s why you need to keep petting sessions very short at the start until they grow accustomed to the action.
Also, if your rabbit is indeed anxious, then don’t stress it out by trying to force it into being petted. It’s not going to appreciate all of that, and you will only be making life harder for yourself in the process.
But through time, your rabbit will start to associate human hands with a gentle, loving action.
They will then be easier to handle as they will be aware you aren’t out to hurt them in any way.
The Benefits of Petting Your Rabbit
Petting your rabbit does provide a number of benefits, and we are talking about it for your rabbit, and not only you.
First, it’s known to be a wonderful way of relaxing and calming down a rabbit that’s anxious, as we said earlier.
This petting action, as long as you are doing it the right way, is going to make them feel safe and secure.
They get a sense of affection coming from you, and the tension in their body will even change as a result.
Also, this is a wonderful way to bond better with your rabbit. It gives them a sense of being close to you, and one of the best ways to achieve this is via touch.
With petting, they experience comfort and a gentle feeling. They also sense your love and caring for them, and that can only ever be a good thing.
You should consider petting as being a way to make life easier for yourself in the future.
This type of handling of your rabbit will mean you can check them over for any injuries or problems without stressing them out. That’s why you should start the petting habit as early as possible.
How to Know They are Enjoying Being Petted
There are a number of clear signs that your rabbit is enjoying being petted. Looking out for them does let you know that you are on the right track.
The first sign is them grinding their teeth, and it’s also referred to as purring. However, this noise can be very soft to the ears, so it may be tough to hear them.
Also, keep an eye out for their whiskers moving as that can be linked to this purring sound.
Another sign is that your rabbit can effectively melt into the floor. This happens when they are so relaxed that they let their entire body relax to levels you never even thought possible.
Your rabbit will stretch out and just have this completely contented look.
The final main sign is that they will nudge you with their nose or head when you stop, and they want you to carry on. This is clearly a great thing for you to see, and it’s the easiest way for your rabbit to let you know that you have been hitting the right spot.
Of course, your rabbit could go ahead and display more than just one of those signs. It will become more obvious to you that your rabbit is enjoying the petting session the more you do it as perhaps they will display their own unique signs?
Making Your Rabbit More Comfortable
But what happens when it comes to making your rabbit more comfortable? Well, this is all about the idea of desensitizing your rabbit, so how do you manage to do that?
Well, there should be no difficulty when it comes to touching areas such as their forehead, ears, or cheeks. But life is harder with those areas that you should never really touch, at least in this sense.
However, there are times when you have to venture into those areas, and that’s where the desensitizing methods work.
This is all about taking your time and being patient. It’s also a case of slowly working toward those areas that are difficult for you to touch.
One method, when talking about their butt, is to move closer when stroking their back. Longer strokes when they are relaxed will let them feel more relaxed and less likely to be spooked.
The same applies to their underbelly.
When stroking their back, move down their sides as this does make it easier if you need to check their underbelly at any point. They already know that you will not hurt them, and they will be quite relaxed and content.
So, there you have it, the complete guide to petting your rabbit.
Now you know exactly how to do it, the way in which it helps your rabbit, and also how to avoid making any mistakes. All that’s left to do is to go ahead and get petting because your rabbit is sitting there waiting for you.