For those of you interested in getting a pet rabbit, good for you! Rabbits are fun, smart and beautiful creatures who can add a lot of enjoyment to your life.
The trick is getting started when you’ve never had a rabbit before. An important note: Rabbits tend to be fearful by nature, and for good reason — they are prey for other animals, such as foxes and even cats.
Getting your rabbit to overcome that fear and bond with you can be a bit tricky, so we’ve collected some tips to help you out.
1. Cuddle Frequently
In his book Hobby Farms: Rabbits: Small-Scale Rabbit Keeping, rabbit lover Chris McLaughlin stresses how important it is to hold your rabbit often: “Handle your bunny for short periods every day. It isn’t the length of time that you hold and pet…that’s important; it’s the frequency.”
You want your bunny to associate you with warmth and to know that you are trustworthy. Giving her short cuddles every day will help tremendously as she learns that when you pick her up it means something nice. As your rabbit gets more comfortable with you, you can extend the cuddle sessions.
2. Be Calm and Quiet
Loud noises will scare your rabbit, so use a calm, low voice. Don’t yell or shout — and discourage others from doing so around your rabbit.
According to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, rabbits will “recognize their owners by shape, smell and voice.” You want your rabbit to associate the sound of your voice with security, not fear.
3. Keep Other Pets Out
Both dogs and cats naturally prey on rabbits in the wild. This means these pets may see your new rabbit as a food source rather than a companion.
So keep dogs and cats away from your rabbit, if possible. Your bunny should always feel — and, more important, be — secure in his cage when you aren’t around, because you never know when Howie the dog or Buttons the cat might go into stalking mode.
“Besides terrifying your rabbit,” says McLaughlin, “this could also cause serious injuries.”
4. Offer Tasty (and Healthy) Treats
A tried-and-true method of bonding with many pets is to hand out goodies. The Humane Society of the United States offers a list of rabbit-safe treats you can give to help with the bonding process — and to associate yourself with good things:
- Apples (no stems or seeds)
- Cherries (no pits)
- Melons (no seeds)
- Peaches (no pits)
- Pears (no stems or seeds)
The Humane Society warns against overfeeding, though: “Bunnies love sweet stuff, and some can even become ‘addicted,’ refusing to eat their own food. One or two small treats a day can provide nutrients and enrichment.”
Watch this baby bunny “binky” — in front of a cat, no less!
5. Handle Your Rabbit Securely
Rabbits prefer to keep their feet on the ground so they can run at a moment’s notice. Handle yours properly so he feels as secure in your arms as possible. Otherwise, he may kick or squirm, causing unintentional injury to himself or to you.
“The best way to practice lifting and carrying your rabbit is by using a large, flat table that’s about waist high,” McLaughlin explains. “To pick up a rabbit, put one hand under him, just behind his front legs. The lower part of its chest will rest in your hand. Put your other hand underneath the rabbit’s rump. The idea is to actually lift him with the hand that is under his front legs and chest while the hand on its rump supports his weight.”
Once you have carefully lifted your rabbit, bring him in close to your chest for a cuddle. Don’t be alarmed if he is afraid at first — that’s what this bonding process is for.
Rabbits make great pets. Their personalities are often hilarious, and they offer hours of enjoyment and companionship. And who can resist the cuteness when they “binky”? Not this girl.
If you’re thinking of bringing home a rabbit, visit your local shelter to see what’s available.