Most rabbits do not like to be held as it is threatening for them to be up in the air. Many of them don’t like being cuddled much either. Frightened rabbits struggle when they are picked up, or about to be put down. They are surprisingly strong. Fearful rabbits sit hunched up with their legs below them ready to run or kick out. Rabbits have fragile spines and powerful back legs for kicking. They can break their back legs or their spines if they are dropped (Brown 1997).
For a really frightened rabbit try moving him/her by using a cat carrier. If possible accustom the rabbit to the carrier by putting tempting food in it and leaving it open in the run or house first. After moving it, just open the cat carrier in a safe area and let it come out. If you have to remove it by hand, it is safer to remove it backwards. Never lift a rabbit by its ears or leave its weight unsupported.
You need to start accustoming a rabbit to handling as soon as possible, but be patient and slow. To pick up a rabbit first stroke it on the head to relax it. Then put your left hand behind its front legs and your right hand on its bottom above the tail. Scoop it up, and transfer the left hand to its head, with the thumb in front of the ears and the fingers resting over his shoulder.
Hold it with its head in the air, and its body against your chest. Your right hand should be under its bottom above its tail. Its feet are, as it were, resting on your tummy. Your left hand thumb should be in front of its ears and the fingers resting over its shoulder. If you are holding it correctly, it should be unable to kick out as all his feet are pressed against your body. Hold gently but firmly, because a rabbit may seem to be compliant then try to break free. If it is a very frightened bunny, it may be helpful to tuck the rabbits face into the crook of your arm to cover its eyes (Brown 1997)
Always give the rabbit a treat as soon as you put it down, so that it associates picking up with a reward. Some rabbits will never ever enjoy cuddling, just as some cats don’t. Accept your rabbit as he is.
Brown, S., (1997), ‘Clinical Techniques in Rabbits,’ Seminars in Avian and Exotic Pet Medicine, 6, 86-95
These notes are my copyright. I am also usually happy to have the exact words reproduced on websites, in return for a link, my name, and if permission is asked beforehand. I like to check the websites where it might be used. Email me via this website for permission which will usually be given. Organisations wishing to use them in print should contact me via this website. Copyright © 2007 Celia Haddon. All Rights Reserved.
All normal safety precautions should be taken when dealing with animals. The advice in this section should be taken only at the owner’s own risk. All sick animals should be seen by a vet.
General advice of the kind found in this website is no substitute for an individual consultation with a vet or qualified behaviourist working on a vet’s referral.