The first thing most people want to do when they see a bunny is pick it up and give it a cuddle.
Not so fast!
Rabbits are prey animals, which means that no matter how tame an individual might be, instinct tells it that anything larger than itself probably wants to eat it.
It’s important to know how to pick up and hold a rabbit safely and comfortably — both for you and for your rabbit.
Why Should You Be Careful Picking Up Your Rabbit?
Many times, when someone goes to pick up their rabbit, that rabbit’s instinct is to get away. This is especially true if the person moves too quickly and surprises the rabbit. The rabbit’s natural instinct to escape can result in injury to the rabbit, to the person, or to both.
Injury to the Rabbit
Rabbits have very muscular and powerful hind legs. At the same time, their bones can be fragile. It’s easy for a rabbit to break a leg, or even its back, trying to escape.
On top of that, a rabbit can be easily, sometimes fatally injured if dropped.
Injury to the Person
Those powerful back legs can deliver a bruising kick. A rabbit may also scratch you while it’s trying to escape. And some bunnies have even been known to bite when frightened.
How Not to Pick Up Your Rabbit
Never pick your rabbit up by its ears. This will traumatize your bunny, and can cause severe injury.
Never pick your rabbit up by the scruff, that is, by the loose skin at the back of its neck.
Never pick up your rabbit up by one leg. This can easily result in a broken leg or worse.
Don’t grab, lunge, or chase.
And never ever pick up a bunny by the neck.
So, How Do You Pick Up a Bunny?
- Place one hand under your rabbit’s chest, and another beneath its rear end.
- Face your rabbit’s hind legs away from you.
- Lift, making sure to support your rabbit from the chest and beneath.
- Turn your rabbit to one side, facing toward your elbow.
- Support your rabbit’s body and backside, but let the back legs stay free.
- Your rabbit may want to hide its face in your elbow.
There are several steps to picking up and holding a rabbit safely. It may take a bit of practice, but don’t worry. You’ll soon know how to hold a rabbit like a pro.
Step 1: Set the Mood
A safe rabbit is a calm rabbit.
If you’re lifting your bunny for the first time, try starting with your bunny on the ground, and you sitting next to it. A puppy pen, inside or out, is a safe, enclosed place in which to do this.
Sitting on the ground with your rabbit will make you look less frightening.
Don’t pursue your rabbit. Let them come to you. When they do, offer a treat. This will show them that you mean them no harm.
Never try to drag a rabbit out of a hiding place, especially not by grabbing its legs. This will traumatize the rabbit and possibly injure it quite badly.
If your rabbit thumps its hind foot when you approach, that means it feels not just nervous, but threatened. If it’s not absolutely necessary to pick up your rabbit at that moment, you may want to try again later.
Step 2: The Practice Lift
Practicing the motions of lifting can help your bunny to become comfortable with the sensations associated with being lifted and held.
First, approach slowly and quietly. Don’t surprise a rabbit by trying to pick it up.
Facing your rabbit, place a hand on its scruff — that’s the back of the neck. Place your hand flat. Don’t grab. Give your rabbit a few gentle strokes.
When your rabbit seems content to be stroked, slide a hand beneath its chest. Practice gently lifting your rabbit’s front feet off the floor.
If your rabbit struggles or tries to escape, remove your hands. Try again after a bit.
Some rabbits really, really hate being picked up. You may need a few practice sessions before your rabbit will tolerate being picked up for real.
Step 3: The Bunny Ball
The “bunny ball” keeps your rabbit in a position that’s safe for you and for them, while you’re lifting. Here’s how you do it.
First, place your hand flat against your rabbit’s scruff.
Next, place your other hand on your bunny’s rump.
Now turn your rabbit so that its back legs are facing away from you. This will protect both you and your bunny.
Using the hand that’s on the bunny’s rump, gently roll the bunny’s back legs forward toward its belly (and away from you).
Step 4: Lift
Move the scruff-hand around to the bunny’s chest. You will now have one hand on the rabbit’s chest, and the other on its rump. The rabbit’s feet will be facing out and away from you.
Lift the rabbit, slowly and gently.
Step 5: A Safe Hold
With one arm, hold your rabbit against your abdomen, with your arm supporting it. Its head should be facing your elbow. Your rabbit may want to hide its face in your elbow. This is called a “football hold.”
Support your rabbit’s body with that arm, but keep its hind feet free, so it can’t jump, push away, or scratch. Keep your rabbit’s head slightly higher than its back legs, otherwise it may try to jump down.
With your free hand, stroke and support your bunny.
Step 6: How to Set Your Rabbit Down Safely
If your bunny struggles, be careful not to drop it out of surprise. Likewise, be careful when setting your rabbit back down in its enclosure. Even if your rabbit has been calm in your arms, it may struggle to escape when it sees the ground.
Set your rabbit down carefully, hind feet first, using both hands.
How to Pass a Rabbit to Another Person
For maximum safety to both rabbits and humans, never pass a rabbit to someone else midair. Instead, set your bunny down on the floor or a tabletop. Keep a flat hand on your bunny’s scruff, and allow the other person to pick up the rabbit using the steps outlined above.
How Do You Pick Up a Rabbit That Hates It?
It’s not unusual for rabbits to hate being picked up. Don’t take it personally. Your bunny doesn’t hate you. It’s frightened of being overpowered and harmed.
Take some extra time simply sitting with your rabbit in a safe, secure, quiet area. Let them get used to your presence. Let them approach you, and offer treats when they do. When your rabbit is comfortable approaching you, try stroking them.
Try sitting with your legs crossed or apart. Allow your rabbit to sit calmly in your lap without picking them up. Do not restrain your rabbit. Let them know that if they want to leave, they can.
It may take quite a few sessions for your rabbit to become comfortable being physically close to you. It may take a lot longer than you think it will.
Also, keep in mind that some rabbits will never enjoy being picked up. But that’s all right. There are plenty of ways to interact with your bunnies that don’t involve holding them.
Do Rabbits Like to Be Picked Up?
Honestly? Most do not. Most rabbits can be taught to tolerate it. But very few individuals naturally enjoy being picked up.
In the wild, rabbits live in burrows underground. Pet rabbits’ instinct tells them that if something is picking them up, it wants to eat them. Therefore, they fear being picked up.
Your job, if you want to eventually cuddle your rabbit, is to convince them that you are not to be feared.
How Do You Pick Up a Rabbit From a Cage?
There are two types of cages: those that open from the top and those that open from one side. Naturally, your technique will be different, depending on the type of cage.
If your cage, hutch, or enclosure opens from the top, the process is fairly straightforward. Simply follow the steps above. If you need to stand on something to reach into your enclosure from above, make sure that it’s sturdy and secure.
If your cage opens from one side, this is a different matter.
Try to maneuver your rabbit so that its hind legs are facing you, and your rabbit’s head is facing into the cage. If your rabbit gets frightened and tries to run away, it will run into the cage, rather than toward you, risking a fall.
With your rabbit facing away from you, place a flat hand on its scruff. Place your other hand onto your rabbit’s rump, making a bunny ball.
As you lift your bunny, turn it toward you, and place it in the “football hold” described above.
Can You Pick Up a Rabbit by its Scruff?
There is some debate about this. However, we don’t recommend it. If your rabbit struggles while you’re holding it by the scruff, you may drop it. Also, your rabbit will feel more secure if you’re supporting its entire body.
Do Rabbits Get Attached to Their Owners?
Rabbits bond with one another. They can also bond with their owners. In fact, if your rabbit is a single bun, its bond with you is of even greater importance.
It goes without saying that if you’ve bonded with your rabbit, it will trust you more. And if your rabbit trusts you, it will be easier to pick it up.
So, how do you bond with a rabbit?
You have to let your rabbit take the lead, and you have to know how to read rabbit body language. Rabbit body language is a lot different from our body language. It’s also a lot different from the body language of dogs and cats.
Just as when you bond rabbits with one another, making your own bond will take time and deliberate effort. It may take longer with some rabbits than with others. And it will definitely take several sessions.
So, what’s the process?
First, set aside a period of time each day to be with your rabbit. Start with 10 to 15 minutes. Bring your rabbit to a secure area, such as a run or exercise pen. Sit down on the floor or ground. Allow your rabbit to move about freely.
Your rabbit may or may not come to you, but that’s not important at this point. The important thing is for your rabbit to feel safe in your presence. Don’t try to force interaction. Let your rabbit explore you while you read a book, for example.
Consider having some treats on hand to reward your bunny if it does come to you. Rabbits are social animals, and, just like with us, eating is a social activity. Sharing food with your rabbit will help the bonding process along.
Speak gently and softly to your rabbit. Many rabbits enjoy hearing our voices, even if they don’t understand the words.
Visit with your bunny every day, or as often as possible. The process may take a week or two, or it could take several months.
Signs your rabbit is bonding with you include:
- Relaxed postures, such as a side-flop
- Licking and gently nibbling you
- “Chinning” you — this is your rabbit marking you as its own
- Binkies — this “jump for joy” is unmistakable
- Nudging you with its nose
- Running circles around you
Rabbits don’t naturally enjoy being picked up. It goes against their instincts. However, if your rabbit trusts you and is comfortable in your presence, then it will be easier to pick them up and hold them when you need to.