How to Pick Up Your Rabbit
Many rabbit owners have difficulty when it comes to picking up their rabbit. Contrary to popular belief rabbits are often not very keen on being handled and may wriggle, kick out and even bite when you try to pick them up. In this article you will find instruction on how to pick up your rabbit as well as how to deal with some of the common handling problems.
Your Rabbit's Point of ViewBeing picked up is not a natural experience for you rabbit. They do not have wings and are not designed to fly through the air at great (to a bunny) heights. Rabbits are prey animals and your hands reaching down to pick up your rabbit can seem very similar to being caught by a hawk or other preditor. A pet rabbits natural reactions are to fear being picked up and it takes time and patience for them to realise that being picked up by you is not going to cause them harm.
How not to Pick Up your Rabbit
Rabbits should never be picked up by the ears, legs or scruff. Doing so could result in serious harm to your rabbit.
If you can not carry your rabbit without it jumping from your arms then use a carry case as described below.
Lifting Your Rabbit
When lifting your rabbit you should use two hands, one supporting the chest and one supporting the bottom. If your rabbit is small enough you can position the hand supporting the chest with you thumb over their shoulder for a firmer grip. Hold the rabbit with its head slightly higher than its bottom and with the bottom slightly tucked in. This will help prevent the rabbit kicking out backwards or trying to do a forward summersault.
You should only move your rabbit short distances in this position, such as from the hutch to carry case, for longer distances the next step is to bring it closer to your body for a firmer hold.
Carrying Your Rabbit
To carry your rabbit you should either hold it close to your body or use a carry case (see below). There are several ways to hold your rabbit, you should use the one that your bunny feels most comfortable in and you feel most secure holding it.
The first position pictured is most suitable for smaller bunnies. Hold the rabbit facing you with all four feet against your chest. Place one hand supporting the bottom, holding it against your body to stop it kicking out and the other hand across the rabbits shoulders. If you put your thumb infront of the rabbits front leg it helps prevent attempted escapes over your your shoulder. Note: The bunny modeling in the photo is a perhaps a little on the large side for this technique.
The other position is like a hug using your arms to hold the bunny firmly against your chest. Hold your bunny sideways with its feet resting at your hip facing your right shoulder. Wrap you left arm across its body and support the chest with your hand, thumb over the shoulders, fingers underneath. Use your other hand to support the bottom, firmly to press her feet against you so he/she can't lift them to kick out. You might want to practice with a calmer bun/pillow first so you can get the position right.
Many rabbits are nervous about being picked up, they may have had bad experiences in the past and now associate being picked up as a nasty experience or just aren't used to be handled. With time and patients you can encourage them to feel more happy about the experience. If you need to carry your rabbit whilst you are working on building up its confidence then use the carry case technique mentioned later in this article.
You need to build up your bunnies confidence slowly. Sit near him/her and stroke, talk and offer yummy treats. Once your rabbit is happy with that gently pick them up (hand under chest) so just the front feet leave the floor and inch or so then put them back down and offer more praise and treats. A distraction such as a big pile of greens may help your bunny get used to this. Once your rabbit is comfortable with this you can introduce hand number two (bottom support) when you lift the front feet. To start with just put it under the bottom but still only lift the chest up. You can gradully build this up so you lift the bottom too and her back feet almost leave the ground. Again repeat this until your rabbit is not bothered by it. Progress to lifting an inch or two of the ground and then putting him/her down again. To get to this stage may take you several weeks of a few lifts a day.
The next stage is to introduce more movement. First review the section on lifting your rabbit above so you get the correct hold. You could sit next sit next to your rabbit and lift them on to your lap or move them across the floor. From there you can progress to slighly longer lifts and just keep building as your rabbit gets used to the new experience.
The Carry Case
If your rabbit is nervous, aggressive, very wriggly or you not confident carrying it then you can use a carry case to move it. A plastic cat carry box is the best option, these come with either top or side opening doors. When choosing bare in mind a side door means your rabbit can walk in and out where as you may have to lift you rabbit in and out of a top doored one. You will also need a towel or piece of vet bed to put in the bottom to stop the bunny sliding around.
Introduce the carry case to your rabbit before you use it. Put it somewhere they can explore it and get used to it. You can give it positive associations by putting food, treats and toys inside. If your carrier has a side door you should easily be able to encourage you rabbit in and then close the door. You rabbit may need lifting in to a carrier with a top door but often they will learn to jump in on their own too.
A few rabbits may show agression when you try to pick them up. There are two possible reasons for this. Firstly your rabbit may be territorial of its home and see your hands as invaders and secondly your rabbit may be very scared of being handled.
Territorial behaviour is very common, particularly in unneutered females. Its characterised by growling, biting and lunging at your hands when you put them in to your rabbits space. The hutch and food bowl may be guarded viciously. Generally once in a neuteral environment away from their territory, such as being taken to play inside, the aggression disappears or much improves. The solution to this problem is neutering which helps in most cases although there may be a delay of several weeks after neutering, whilst the hormones reduce, for improvements to show. In the mean time you can by pass the problem by not putting your hands in the hutch, use a carry case instead.
If the agression is fear related then before you progress to picking up your rabbit you first have to gain its confidence. First it has to learn that you being around doesn't consitute a threat. Give it an old t-shirt you have worn to get it used to your smell. Then spend time sitting in your rabbits space, ignore it and make no sudden movements eventually it will learn that you aren't going to attack it when it comes close. Hand feed favourite foods and once it start coming to you start gently stroking it. Only once it is happy to be stroked and used to your presense can you move on to advanced things like picking it up.
Putting Your Rabbit Down Again
When putting your rabbit back into its house or on to the floor you need to be careful not to let it jump out of your arms. Many rabbits will attempt to leap down once they see their hutch. Hold the rabbit firmly until its feet are on the ground. Becareful as you let go as some rabbits kick out backwards when released.