How to earn your rabbit’s trust
24 January 2020
The first thing most new bunny owners are tempted to do is pick up and cuddle their adorable pet. However, handling a rabbit must be undertaken with great care and caution as rabbits are delicate animals who can become frightened when handled by humans.
They need time to adjust to their new environment and a bond of trust must be established before they are comfortable with being picked up and cuddled.
Below are a few tips to help you earn the trust of your long-eared companion:
Proper handling technique
The correct way to handle your rabbit is to pick it up with both hands, with one hand placed around the chest and the other supporting the hindquarters. DO NOT pick your rabbit up by the ears or by the scruff of its neck. Even if your intention is to be playful, your bunny may associate any rough handling with an attack from a predator. Treat your bunny like you would a new born baby- gently and with sensitivity so as not to alarm it.
Do it in stages
Don’t expect your rabbit to immediately warm to you. Remember: they exist as prey animals in the wild so are often mistrustful and fearful of humans. Give your rabbit a few days to get used to its new home and your presence before you attempt to handle it. Start slowly by talking to your rabbit so it gets used to your voice. Offer your rabbit food from your hand and once it is comfortable doing that, gently pet it and brush its fur. If your bunny appears relaxed at this stage you can attempt to pick it up. If it resists or shows signs of distress let it go and try again at a later time. The trick is to be patient and gently encourage interaction. Slowly and over time your rabbit will become familiar with your touch and learn to trust you.
Understanding their body language
You can quickly get to know your rabbit by paying attention to its body language. Tooth-clicking is a sign of contentment so if your bunny clicks it teeth while you are petting it that’s a good indication that it trusts you. Having its hind legs stretched out behind its body and its ears flat against the back of its head are also signs that your rabbit is relaxed and comfortable. Grunting, whimpering or squealing usually means your bunny is fearful or anxious. While your instinct may be to comfort and soothe your distressed pet by picking it up and petting it, this is not a wise idea as their vocalisations suggest they do not yet feel safe around you. A rigid or tense body is yet another cue that your bunny is on edge so to avoid it perceiving you as a threat tread carefully and gently coax your bunny into interaction rather than forcing it.
Bunnies make beautiful pets that can grow to love and adore you but be aware that this bond may not develop overnight. Patience is key! You can win your furry friend over by gentle and gradual interaction. Be attentive to its body language and recognise the cues that your bunny wants you to back off or is letting its guard down and views you as friend rather than foe.
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