How to Pick Up a Rabbit?

This article was co-authored by Pippa Elliott, MRCVS. Dr. Elliott, BVMS, MRCVS is a veterinarian with over 30 years of experience in veterinary surgery and companion animal practice. She graduated from the University of Glasgow in 1987 with a degree in veterinary medicine and surgery. She has worked at the same animal clinic in her hometown for over 20 years.

Do rabbits like to be picked up?

In general, rabbits do not like to be picked up. … If you are going to pick up your rabbit, make sure you do it correctly. The best way is to place one hand under her rib cage and the other under her bottom, scooping her back legs so she can’t kick.

Do rabbits bite if you pick them up?

Biting in self-defense. While rabbits are more prone to running away from danger, they may react by biting, lunging, and snorting if they are unable to make an escape, such as while caged. They may exhibit this behavior when they are being approached/picked up by a human being.

Rabbits don’t usually like being picked up and held unless they’ve become used to it from a young age and even then handling must be done carefully and gently. Sometimes you may need to pick up your rabbits and it’s important you do this safely.

This instinct still runs strong in our domestic rabbits, who might be nervous and scared when you pick them up. Rabbits should always be approached in a quiet, calm and confident manner and sudden or rapid movements should be avoided.

They prefer to be able to run free and play on the ground and can find being held quite stressful. To put your rabbit back down, keep them as close to your body as possible and lower them to the ground as you squat down. This experience is actually really terrifying for rabbits, as it is their response to being caught by a predator and they are playing dead to protect themselves.

Rabbit Behaviour Problem: My Rabbit Hates Being Picked Up Does this sound familiar? If you have a rabbit like Harry that hates being picked up, then read on to find out why your rabbit reacts that way and how to change it.

The person caring for the young litter should get them used to being touched and picked up so they grow up thinking that it is normal and nothing to be worried about. Unfortunately many baby rabbits miss out on this socialisation before they go to their new home, or they may have bad experiences later on that make them fear being picked up.

Although the process I’m about to walk you through will take time and patience on your part, it will help your rabbit learn that being picked up isn’t scary. If your rabbit hates being picked up and thinks that is what you have planned, then it’s not surprising he’s heading in the opposite direction. Your rabbit panics at the first hint that’s what you are going to do, and you can’t teach him it’s not frightening if he’s still experiencing fear.

For example, when stroking along the back of your rabbit, continue all the way down the spine until you are cupping their bottom as you would to pick up – but don’t lift. Continue this stage until your rabbit is comfortable when you put your hands in position ready to lift him. The goal of this stage is to be able to lift your rabbit so you are supporting his weight, but at least two paws are still safely on the floor so he feels secure.

This stage builds on the previous one, now as you let your hand drift under your rabbits chest when stroking, add a little a little upwards pressure, as if you were about to lift. If you have trouble, you could try resting your hand on his chest, then raising the treat upwards so your rabbit naturally lifts his front feet to reach and keeping your hand in position as he moves so you are just supporting his movement not making it. When your rabbit is comfortable with you supporting the weight of his chest and bottom separately, it’s time to put the two together.

To begin put one hand under his chest, then stroke the other down his back and position it at his bottom. Once your rabbit is comfortable with this, then lift the chest so his front feet leave the ground slightly and then put him back down. You can then progress to lifting your rabbit on and off things, for example a thick textbook, low box or on to your lap when you are sitting on the floor.

The first and most important rule of handling your rabbit correctly is to never pick him/her up by the ears, the scruff, legs or tail. It is painful and can cause serious damage. You wouldnt want to be lifted by your ears, would you?

When putting your rabbit down, slowly squat down while holding your bunny close, and let him/her down gently.

About This Article

To pick up a rabbit, place one hand under its chest, and the other under its rump while pushing its hind legs forward. If the rabbit is in a side-opening cage, use one hand to hold the rabbit’s face away from you while gently holding onto the skin behind its neck. Place your other hand under the rabbits rump and push its hind legs forward. This will make a “bunny ball” where one hand forms a seat while your grip on its skin keeps it from falling off while you take it out. For advice from our Veterinary reviewer on safely handling the rabbit, read more!

What to avoid – bunny etiquette

If you need to pick your rabbits up for any reason, you need to be able to do this confidently and correctly. If they panic, they could hurt themselves or you. We wouldn’t advise allowing young children to pick up rabbits because of this.Rabbits should always be approached in a quiet, calm and confident manner and sudden or rapid movements should be avoided.You should pick up your rabbits (one at a time!) by:If you can avoid it, try not to hold your rabbits for too long. They prefer to be able to run free and play on the ground and can find being held quite stressful.To put your rabbit back down, keep them as close to your body as possible and lower them to the ground as you squat down. Keep them held in a secure grip and put them down gently.

How do you retrain your rabbit?

To change your rabbit‘s feelings about being picked up you need to break the cycle and the association between being picked and being frightened. Although the process I’m about to walk you through will take time and patience on your part, it will help your rabbit learn that being picked up isn’t scary.Most people get ahead of themselves when it comes to teaching their rabbit to be comfortable with being picked up. If you want your rabbit to be relaxed about the process you need to take several steps back…

How do you do that?

The first thing is to stop picking your rabbit up. Your rabbit panics at the first hint that’s what you are going to do, and you can’t teach him it’s not frightening if he’s still experiencing fear.If you need to move your rabbit, use a pet carrier or box that your rabbit can hop into himself – use treats to encourage your rabbit in and out. If your rabbit associates it with the vet then leave the carrier in his space and add tasty food now and then – after a few days without being put in and taken to the vet your rabbit will treat it as part of the furniture. Bottom checks can be done by feel or by encouraging your bunny to sit on top of something see through like the mesh on top of a cage. A set of steps or a tunnel could link a cage to a pen – be creative!As well as not picking your rabbit up, you need to spend time with him whilst not picking him up. Sit in the pen and allow your rabbit to explore you in his own time. Walk around, past, and through your rabbit‘s area – not directly at him – and completely ignore your rabbit. Gradually your rabbit will stop reacting to your movement by heading in the opposite direction. You can then start approaching your rabbit and offering food – use your rabbit‘s favourite part of normal meals to avoid weight gain. It’s quite aggressive body language to walk directly at a rabbit head on, so when you approach aim slightly to one side – like you plan to walk past. You might need to start by stopping some distance away and letting your rabbit hop to you.

Can you touch your rabbit?

When you pick a rabbit up you touch their chest, shoulders and bottom – can you touch these areas of your rabbit without him running? If you can’t touch your rabbit, you are not going to be able to pick him up.Rabbits learn from experience and know what actions precede others. Many rabbits are happy to be handled up until you touch a specific area or move your arms in a specific manner. Your rabbit knows that those are the actions that signal you are about to try picking them up and that triggers their fear.Before you can teach your rabbit not to be scared of being picked up, you need to teach your rabbit not to be scared of having those areas touched.

How do you do that?

Think about the areas you stroke your rabbit and the areas you touch to pick your rabbit up – often they aren’t the same.You need to start touching those areas you’ll need to use when picking up as part of social interaction, so that they lose their association with picking up. For example, when stroking along the back of your rabbit, continue all the way down the spine until you are cupping their bottom as you would to pick up – but don’t lift. You can also allow your fingers to drift down your rabbit‘s side gradually until they tuck under the chest.Initially your rabbit will probably move away. That’s okay. Do not grab your rabbit! If your rabbit moves away, allow him to and don’t follow. If your rabbit knows that he can leave if he wants to he’ll be much more relaxed. You need to make your rabbit want to stay – food is great for that! Sit down with your rabbit, offer treats in one hand, and stroke your rabbit with the other. Grooming is a bonding activity between rabbits; it will help strengthen your bond with your rabbit, and that, along with the food, will help make positive associations with touch for your rabbit.Continue this stage until your rabbit is comfortable when you put your hands in position ready to lift him.

Can you support your rabbit’s weight?

Before you pick your rabbit up and carry him across a room, you need your rabbit to be comfortable with small movements. If your rabbit runs as soon as you take any of his weight, you will not be able to pick him up.The goal of this stage is to be able to lift your rabbit so you are supporting his weight, but at least two paws are still safely on the floor so he feels secure. These are the positions your hands need to be in to safely lift your rabbit:

How do you do that?

This stage builds on the previous one, now as you let your hand drift under your rabbits chest when stroking, add a little a little upwards pressure, as if you were about to lift. Do not actually lift your rabbit at first. Again, have a treat in the other hand and allow your rabbit to move away if he wants. Do not rush this! Once your rabbit stops moving away, gradually add a little more lift, and then a little more, working up gradually until your rabbit‘s comfortable with his front feet leaving the ground. If you have trouble, you could try resting your hand on his chest, then raising the treat upwards so your rabbit naturally lifts his front feet to reach and keeping your hand in position as he moves so you are just supporting his movement not making it.To pick up a rabbit you’ll need to lift the back end too. As before, have a treat in one hand and stroke along your rabbits back, until your hand is in the right position to lift and gently take a little of your rabbits weight. Build up gradually until you are gently lifting your rabbit. Don’t lift more than a fraction off the floor; you don’t want your bunny to feel like you’re trying to make him do a forward roll.When your rabbit is comfortable with you supporting the weight of his chest and bottom separately, it’s time to put the two together. You’ll have to put the food on the floor this time! To begin put one hand under his chest, then stroke the other down his back and position it at his bottom. Once your rabbit is comfortable with this, then lift the chest so his front feet leave the ground slightly and then put him back down.