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Good Bunny, Bad Bunny: How To Handle A Bunny 101

Updated on October 25, 2008

Rabbits are prey animals. This means that once they reach maturity, if they have not been well socialized, they will not much enjoy being held and picked up. Even rabbits who were content to be cuddled as babies may sometimes start to struggle as they mature.

To a rabbit, being picked up and held represents a threat to its very survival, which is why they will often struggle and grunt and fight for all they are worth. If your rabbit reacts like a hysterical 1950s movie heroine when you try to handle it, you need to go back to basics, which means putting your bunny down, and building a relationship literally from the ground up.

Being able to handle your rabbit is vital not just for your enjoyment of your pet, but for the health of your bunny. Rabbits require regular grooming, which of course requires handling, and they will also need to be able to be caught in order to be taken to the vet if they become sick, or for check ups. A rabbit which is not handled regularly can become overly stressed when it is handled, which is not good for its health. It is also a quirk of a bunny's anatomy that it can actually break its back by kicking out too viciously in certain positions, so knowing how to handle your rabbit properly isn't just about your comfort, its also about the rabbit's safety.

Friendship By Degrees

To start off with, leave the rabbit alone, and simply lay on the ground. Curiosity is as strong in rabbits as it is in cats, and sooner or later, the rabbit will hop over and sniff you. Once you are at the point where the rabbit is comfortable being in your presence, you can start to use your secret bunny bonding weapon, the sweet spot.

The Sweet Spot

Most bunnies are absolute suckers for gentle head rubs which are delivered above the nose, stroking up towards the ears. Even Wicket, who spends her days plotting against me and still occasionally bites for the sheer effrontery of having gently removed a tangle from her fur, will quite often amble over and demand a head rub from her faithful though dull subject, yours truly.

This sweet spot can be your secret weapon in taming an angry, aggressive, or unsocialized bunny, or at least building a relationship with it to the point where it only attacks you every other day.

Sit quietly with your rabbit, and when it approaches you, gently extend your hand and rub the sweet spot. More often than not, the rabbit will settle down into a crouching position, eyes slightly closed as it enjoys your ministrations.

The Devil Spot

On the other hand, if you want to provoke a rabbit attack, touch its hindquarters. Actions are like language to a rabbit, and touching a bunny's bum amounts to fighting words! It will sometimes be necessary for you to examine this area however, so you will need to acclimate the bunny to being touched there. Gentle but firm handling on a regular basis will gradually desensitize your rabbit to being touched in this area, but many rabbits never fully accept it.

Holding and Picking Up

Petting and stroking are the beginning stages to accustoming your rabbit to being handled. Once your rabbit is happy to be petted on the floor, you can try sitting on the floor and lifting the bunny gently into your lap. Odds are the rabbit will immediately leap off your lap as if it were made of lava, but that is to be expected. You can keep repeating the exercise, gently holding your rabbit there for a few seconds, then a minute, then a few minutes whilst petting it the way it likes to be petted, or if bunny is a greedy guts, you can lure him or her onto your lap with a little piece of carrot, or apple.

Once the bunny is happy being held on your lap, you can start to repeat the gradual process when picking it up, making sure it is well supported against your chest, that its legs do not dangle free, and that you have a firm grip on it for when it inevitably begins to struggle. Wait until it calms down before you release it, teaching a rabbit that struggling earns freedom is a surefire way to increase its struggling next time, and that is tiresome for you, and potentially dangerous for the bunny.

The Bunny On Its Back

Sometimes you will need to have your bunny on its back in order to examine its tummy and rear end. Experienced rabbit owners with well socialized rabbits can actually hypnotize their rabbits to relax and go into a trance in this position, but for the bulk of rabbit owners, the challenge will not be to put the bunny in a trance, but to stop it from killing itself. Whenever you have your rabbit on its back, prevent the back legs from kicking by using your arm as a brace. It is vitally important that the rabbit is not allowed to kick freely in this position, as kicking and twisting can actually cause the rabbit to break its own spine.

Next: Basic Bunny Grooming

Back to Contents: Good Bunny, Bad Bunny


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      anne 19 months ago

      I'm a meat & show breeder and usually have one pet / house rabbit. Sometimes i let a couple of weaned bucks go as pets and as a rabbit owner booklet i give them a copy of your pages. So far i havent heard of one of my rabbits being at the local shelter or running loose. I like to think these booklets have helped with that.

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      Geo 4 years ago

      We just recently got a bunny and its great to know the basics. thanks :)

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      Orangerabbit 5 years ago

      I seem to be able to get my bunny onto its back into a trance mode fairly easily (It's head rolls back and sort of... falls asleep) so I can cut its nails... but on normal days it really hates me petting and holding it down to brush its fur or clean it up. It also runs to me for food but then bolts away to hide when I move to stroke it... Is that normal behaviour? I've tried holding firm when it struggles to get it used to being handled, but it tends to start pooing or peeing all over the place right after I let it go. Could someone explain what my rabbit is doing? He's a 4 month old male and unspayed. I got him about a month ago.

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      7 years ago

      i have two baby bunnies and this will really help me in the years to come


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      Buddybunny 7 years ago

      Picked up some interesting tips and also the things i am doing wrong!! Thankyou - great hub!

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      Bunnybaby 8 years ago

      Hi! I am a bunny-owner wannabe, your new reader. Such a fantastic hub you have here! Keep up the good work, as I will surely need all the knowledge and wisdom on bunnies when I'm ready to adopt one (or more) as my pet ;-)

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      bugs 8 years ago

      It would have been nice to have had more pictures to demonstrate some of the things mentioned