Rabbits are exceedingly cute! It’s not a surprise that you are eager to hold and cuddle your new pet. Unfortunately, not all rabbits are as receptive to being held as others, or as initially you may have hoped. But what can you do about it? How can you make bunny more confident and excited to leap into your arms? This is the approach to take.
So, how do you get your rabbit to like being held? The best way to make your rabbit enjoy being held involves spending quality time with your rabbit – with a combination of proper safe holding techniques and just being close to them in a positive environment. Using treats, being slow and gentle, and remaining patient with your rabbit as it builds trust in your company and your care are all essential.
While many rabbits can learn to trust their owners and enjoy being handled, not all rabbits will learn to love being held.
While this may be very disheartening to hear, unfortunately, this is just how some rabbits are.
Thankfully, most can be taught to tolerate handling for short periods of time – so all is not definitely lost, and you can still work to spend some affectionate time with your bunny.
Just consider that some rabbits may need a little more time, or a little more work, to become fully comfortable on or around you.
So, be sure to keep reading to find out exactly how to earn your rabbit’s trust and learn to enjoy being held!
Why Does My Bunny Not Like Being Held?
A rabbit’s dislike of being held is an instinctive trait designed to help wild rabbits survive. Most rabbits are relatively small animals, and all rabbits are prey on various food chains. In the wild, a rabbit’s predators tend to attack from above, either with jaws or talons. This means that for a rabbit, being held tightly over their top and lifted off the ground is a frightening signal that a predator has taken hold of them.
A rabbit that is frightened or begins to feel its feet lifted off the ground with no support will kick and thrash its large hind feet.
They may also scratch with their front feet and even use their teeth to bite.
Once free, the rabbit will run with surprising speed to the nearest hiding place.
Not only can experiences such as this scare your rabbit, but they can also leave an unsuspecting owner with injuries to their arms or bodies.
The rabbit isn’t trying to be “mean”; it is simply trying to survive what nature has taught it is a life and death situation.
When we begin to teach a rabbit to enjoy being held, it’s important to know that we are asking the rabbit to ignore its natural instincts of survival.
This helps us to remain patient during the process and understand why there are specific ways that are best to pick up and hold rabbits to make them feel safe.
Can You Train A Bunny To Like Being Held?
If you are patient, consistent, and kind, it is possible to teach most bunnies to like being held. Some bunnies may never show true enjoyment of being held but will still allow you to hold them for short amounts of time.
Being able to hold your bunny makes it easier to check on their health, groom them if necessary (long-haired rabbits can benefit from soft brushing), and visit a veterinarian.
Also, let’s be honest, a bunny that likes being held is just more fun to be around!
Some things that affect your ability to train your bunny to like being held are your bunny’s age, the time you can dedicate to spending with your bunny, your bunny’s history being held, and your bunny’s natural personality.
A younger bunny can often be trained to enjoy being held with more ease than an older one.
A younger bunny might be feisty and flighty, but it has also had fewer negative experiences with humans than an older rabbit may have had.
Just like socializing a dog is best done when it is a puppy, a well-socialized young rabbit will typically be easier to train.
The time you can spend training and holding your bunny affects the rate and effectiveness of training your bunny.
A bunny that is held and played with for regular mid-length intervals of time is more likely to learn to trust and enjoy you as a human companion.
If your rabbit is only held and interacted with every few days, or even less often, it simply doesn’t have the opportunity to build trust and comfortability with you.
When a rabbit has regular interaction with its owner, it also comes to realize the human is not a predator looking to harm it. Instead, your presence becomes a part of a rabbit’s expected daily routine.
If you get an older bunny, its history with being held can positively or negatively impact its ability to learn to enjoy being held.
A rabbit that has been treated harshly by other humans, had its ears pulled, or had other scary experiences when handled is going to be much harder to train than one that has previously built trust with a human.
Bunnies are very curious creatures.
They like to play, and even ones that don’t love to be held often love being close and exploring the world alongside their human caretakers.
However, each rabbit has its own unique personality, and just like people, some will be braver and more confident than others in situations such as being held.
How Do I Make My Bunny Cuddly?
There are several things you can do to make your rabbit cuddly. These include slowly building up the time you spend trying to hold your rabbit, being patient and slow-moving when with your rabbit, feeding your rabbit favorite treats, and holding your rabbit in a way that feels secure and comfortable for your pet.
Give Them Time
When you first bring your bunny home, don’t plan on spending hours holding it at one time.
Your bunny will need time to settle into its new home, observe the surroundings, and learn the routines of its new location.
Then after your rabbit has had time to settle, it may still only enjoy short but positive interactions.
By building up the amount of time, you handle your rabbit gradually over several weeks; you let your rabbit experience a wide range of positive interactions in a non-stressful way.
If your rabbit knows that when it is being held, it will be allowed to leave and go back to its hutch or another relaxing area when it wants, it will be a much more relaxed pet.
If your bunny feels forced to spend a lot of time in new and unfamiliar places, being picked up and set down many times, or chased around by its owner, it is less likely to learn to enjoy cuddle time.
Be Mindful Of Their Instincts
Remembering that your bunny is a prey animal, you should move in slow and steady movements when around your bunny.
In the wild, a predator will often hide and then jump out quickly or chase down an unsuspecting rabbit for food.
When we move and jump in quick and unpredictable ways, we make our bunnies nervous.
Be Slow And Gentle
Instead, try talking quietly and calmly to your bunny.
Then sit near your bunny, preferably in an enclosed space, and stay still, making only slow and careful movements.
Let your bunny explore until it chooses to approach you on its own.
This may take a while the first few times, but patience will pay off!
A rabbit that is allowed to come to you on its own is less likely to feel like you are chasing and threatening it.
Keep some treats in your pockets, such as pieces of carrot or other fruits and vegetables your rabbit enjoys.
When your rabbit comes to you, slowly place a treat on the ground next to your leg for the rabbit to eat.
The next time you can carefully offer a treat with your hand, keeping an eye out not to get your fingers nibbled.
Soon your rabbit will learn that when you sit down nearby, you bring the best treats!
Your rabbit will see you sit down and be hopping right up to you!
Stroke Before Holding
Once your rabbit is comfortable approaching you, you can gently stroke your rabbit.
I have had one rabbit that loved a gentle two-finger stroke across its nose towards its ears.
My current rabbit prefers a cupped palm stroking down its back.
Either way, I recommend petting your rabbit in the same direction its fur lies down.
Let Your Rabbit Come To You
Your rabbit can be encouraged to climb in your lap by holding or placing treats in your lap.
When it climbs onto your lap, gently pet your rabbit and let it enjoy both your company and a snack.
I recommend always wearing long pants when first training your rabbit.
Rabbits have thin but sharp claws, and even a kind rabbit can accidentally scratch up your legs if it becomes frightened.
As your rabbit becomes tamer, you may be able to trim its nails, and it will be less likely to panic and scratch you.
Long sleeves will also be helpful as you begin holding your rabbit for the same reason.
Proceed To Practice Handling
After your rabbit enjoys being close to you, it is time to practice handling.
The key to handling is in how you hold your rabbit.
Certain holding techniques make a rabbit feel more secure, which means they are much more likely to let you pick them up.
You should have worked to build trust between your bunny and you before trying to hold your bunny off the ground.
How To Hold Your Rabbit Safely
Rabbits need to be held in a way that supports their legs and underbody, and that doesn’t involve pulling on their tails and ears.
Holding a rabbit in a safe way will not just help keep your rabbit safe but also help it to relax and enjoy being held – so it is important you get this right.
Rabbits are best held by older children and adults; young children can hold a rabbit but will need constant supervision by an adult in case the rabbit becomes scared and tries to escape.
Wear The Right Clothing
When first learning to hold your rabbit, you will want to wear long sleeves to keep from being scratched.
You may also want gloves if you are worried about your hands getting scratched unintentionally by sharp rabbit claws.
When holding your rabbit, remember to be gentle and steady.
Quick movements or harsh, jerky movements in a desperate attempt to catch a scared rabbit will not lead to success.
Also, remember that we never want to grab a rabbit by the ears; pick it up by the skin at the back of their neck (the scruff) or the legs and tail.
These are all things a predator would do and will cause your rabbit to panic.
Approach From The Side
When you go to pick up your rabbit, approach it from the side so that it can see you coming.
This stops your rabbit from feeling like you were sneaking up on it to cause harm.
One hand will need to wrap around the rabbit’s middle torso area and help bring it close against your body.
Your other hand should support the rabbit’s rump or hindquarters as you lift it off the ground.
Support Your Rabbit
Supporting the rabbit’s hind end helps to keep your rabbit’s back healthy and pain-free, as well as supports your rabbit in feeling safe and secure.
Once lifted, you can bring your rabbit to rest with its feet against your stomach or chest and a supporting hand on its back.
Some rabbits like to rest against your arm and tuck their faces into the corner created by your elbow.
When first holding your rabbit, be prepared that they may panic and kick.
If your rabbit begins to panic, you can tuck it against your body gently but firmly until it stills or carefully lower it to the ground, let it relax, and then try again.
Don’t hold your rabbit too far off the ground until you are used to holding your rabbit with skill.
This way, if your rabbit does break free from your grip, it will not fall far and get hurt.
With patience, treats, and careful proper holding, most bunnies can learn to enjoy handling and cuddling with their owners.
Rabbits are social, and as they learn that you are a safe and predictable part of their world, they will love to spend time with you.
Even if they may stare from time to time!
I am a practiced pet owner with decades of experience owning a number of different pets. I am also the main writer and chief editor here at Pet Educate; a site I created to share everything I’ve learned about pet ownership over the years and my extensive research along the way.