How to gain the trust of shy or defensive rabbits
How to Earn Your Rabbit's Trust
It’s no easy task to earn your rabbit’s trust. Though they are inquisitive creatures, their instinct is to run from anything large and noisy, especially if that something is attempting to pick it up. In terms of personality, expect your rabbit to be shy until the two of you have been able to spend some quality time together. Ultimately, you will likely have to adjust your own behavior to ensure that your rabbit comes to recognize you as a trustworthy friend.
Getting to Know Your Rabbit
Spend time together alone.Rabbits can easily be startled or overwhelmed by the noise and movement of multiple people. Similarly, other pets are likely to terrify a pet rabbit until they’re used to their presence. In order to start earning your rabbit’s trust, join your rabbit in the room where it lives without any other humans or animals present.
Open the rabbit’s hutch at floor level.A door out of the hutch at floor level is especially important. You want to avoid reaching in and out of the rabbit’s hutch, as this is the space where they need to feel safe. Accordingly, give your rabbit the freedom to choose when they come out of their hutch by choosing a hutch with a door that will allow them to leave and re-enter comfortably.
Let your rabbit come to you.After opening the hutch, take a few steps away. Lie or crouch on the floor away from the hutch. Wait for your rabbit to approach. Stay calm, as your rabbit may sense your frustration or impatience and become frightened. Rest assured that your rabbit’s curiosity will cause them to come say hello.
Offer a treat.To motivate the rabbit to come out and spend time with you, offer a treat. Place the treat in the palm of your outstretched hand. Go with small pieces of carrots, apples, or bananas. A pinch of oats may also be enticing to your rabbit.
- Veggies and fruits should not amount to more than 10% of the rabbit’s total diet. Rabbits should eat mostly hay.
- Never feed your rabbit anything with chocolate, caffeine, or high amounts of sugar or fat.
Be patient.At first, this process will be rather slow. Don’t expect to open the hutch, lie down, and immediately have a rabbit eating out of your hand. The rabbit must feel safe enough to leave its hutch. Accordingly, they must determine that you are not a threat before they will approach. Send the message that you are a friend by staying calm, with a relaxed posture and slow, infrequent movement.
- This process may take an hour or so. Your rabbit’s natural curiosity will eventually compel them to come and investigate.
Hold off on touching.As your rabbit approaches, it may be tempting to reach out and greet them with a quick pet. Don’t! Simply let the rabbit smell you. They may even hop onto you to or burrow around your body to investigate. Allow them to familiarize themselves with you, as this will teach them you are not dangerous.
- If the rabbit begins to eat the treat you’ve offered, hold your hand still.
Repeat this process daily.After doing this several times, your rabbit will begin to emerge from their hutch more quickly. Start touching with gentle, slow scratches on your rabbit’s head. If the rabbit pulls away, let them go and don’t touch them again that day. Never chase them – this will cause them to fear you.
Making Sure Your Rabbit is Comfortable Around You
Increase cuddling at the rabbit’s pace.Once your rabbit is comfortable with you scratching their head, you can begin to pet their back as well. Limit your petting to head scratches and back rubs until the rabbit lies down beside you. They may even hop right alongside you and lie down with their back against your arm. Allow them to dictate the amount of physical contact they are comfortable with.
Offer something for your rabbit to chew.Aside from edible treats, you have other options to help get your rabbit to warm up to you. Offer a stick to chew on or mineral chews designed specifically for rabbits. Rabbits enjoy chewing on things, and they must do so frequently to maintain the health of their teeth.
- Opt for apple, willow, aspen, and pine branches. Untreated pine lumber can also be used to build a hay basket. Your rabbit can then safely chew on the basket that stores its food!
- Make sure apricot or peach wood has been dried at least one month before giving it to your rabbit to chew.
Try some nose nuzzling.Even once your rabbit is comfortable around you and will come out to greet you, they may be startled by your hand movements. If this seems to be the case, lie on your stomach with your hands at your sides or on your back. The rabbit may approach your face. Hum softly and lowly, to mimic friendly rabbit communication. Your rabbit may even rub their nose and cheeks against your own.
Keep excitable children away.Until a child is willing to sit calmly and quietly around a rabbit, it may be best to keep them away from one another. Definitely do not allow a child to hold a rabbit until the rabbit goes to the child on its own accord. Even then, make sure the child knows that rabbits are fragile, and prone to skittishness.
- Understand that most rabbits do not like to be held or handled for more than a few moments.
Keeping Your Rabbit Sociable
Get your rabbit fixed.The most important step you can take in increasing your rabbit’s lifespan is getting them fixed. This will also likely make it easier to get along with your rabbit. Neutering a male rabbit and spaying a female rabbit will greatly reduce the risk of disease, and will prevent rabbits of both sexes from becoming aggressive.
- Have these procedures performed once a rabbit is four months old.
- Be sure to take your rabbits to a vet that has experience caring for rabbits.
Hold a rabbit correctly.Though you want to minimize the amount of time you spend holding most rabbits, it is safe to do so for a short time. Make sure to fully support the weight of the rabbit’s body. Always use your arm or body to provide a surface for your rabbit's hind legs as well.
- Never lift a rabbit by its ears.
- Never hold a rabbit with its belly upward.
Watch for signs of injury or illness.Even if they’re shy, your rabbit should be active and alert. A healthy rabbit will frequently walk around its cage, eating, drinking, and making soft noises. If these behaviors are not occurring, look for other signs your rabbit may be sick. Make sure breathing is clear, and that the rabbit’s eyes and fur look healthy. If your rabbit begins to lose weight or hair, is lethargic, or has discharge coming from any part of their body, take them to a veterinarian.
QuestionMy bunny is scared, hiding under my dresser, and won't come out. What can I do?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerSit down so you don't look so big to them. Get some kind of treat to coax the rabbit out. Speak to it softly and encouragingly, it might feel silly, but it should work.Thanks!
QuestionI've had my lionhead rabbit for about 5 days. He hides under my bed and runs when he sees me. I put him on my bed and lay down and he explores me and lets me pet him. Why does he act this way?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerWhen you lay down, you seem less frightening and tall. Imagine seeing a creature 10 times bigger than you staring down at you. Scary! Especially if you are a prey animal, like your rabbit. Just gain his trust slowly. Give him treats.Thanks!
QuestionI just got a rabbit today, and she's very scared of me. What do I do?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerGive her a few days to adjust to the new environment, and then sit in the room with her and read a book or listen to music. Let her get used to your presence. After doing that for another few days, put her food bowl near you and slowly, gradually move it closer to you until she is comfortable sitting next to you, and put her food in her hand. Try petting her while she is eating, but don't push it. Eventually she will come up to you and let you pet her, and from that point you can try to pick her up. If she lets you, reward her with a treat. It takes a lot of energy and time to bond with a bunny, but it will be very rewarding.Thanks!
QuestionI got a bunny today. It bit me, and every time I go near, its ears pop up. What does that mean?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerRabbits are easily frighted animals, so at first they will be afraid of you. When your rabbits commits bad behavior, do not scold at it, that will increase its fear for you. Try to avoid making any sudden movements. Sometimes, a bunny will bite because it may think your finger is a carrot, or you may have an aggressive bunny. Any free time you have, let the rabbit out of its cage, or play with your rabbit, and little by little he/she will not be afraid of you.Thanks!
QuestionDo I have to get my bunny fixed? I want her to be happy and I treat her like a human. Not many humans get fixed.wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerBunnies are not humans. People neuter and spay their animals to keep down populations and keep their animals content. Animals who are not fixed can become stressed and behave erratically, and often try to escape in an attempt to find a mate. It is always a good idea to spay and neuter your pets.Thanks!
QuestionMy dog barks at my rabbit, so he won't come out of his cage even when the dog's not there. What do I do?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerDon't let your rabbit and dog interact - ever. Now that your rabbit has seen your dog, he will be pretty terrified for a while. Never let them see or hear each other. After a while, your rabbit may decide to come out, but only if he is positive he won't meet your dog.Thanks!
QuestionMy bunnies always chin my finger when I hold out a treat. Why?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerChinning is a rabbit's way of marking its territory. Your bunnies are marking you as theirs.Thanks!
QuestionDo I have to do a health and safety check on them? My mom said that in summer they lose fur (winter coat) because all I find in the cage is fur! Is this normal?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerTaking your rabbit to the vet is always a good idea. If they are simply shedding, that is normal, but if they are getting bald spots, that is not good.Thanks!
QuestionI want a mini lop rabbit, how bad do they smell?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerThey do not smell if you clean their litter box daily (just dump in compost and rinse out the residue with a hose or wipe it with a paper towel), their litter tray weekly (again with a hose/compost bin [if keeping the rabbit in a hutch]), and comb out any poop that gets in their fur.Thanks!
QuestionSo rabbit food is bad? I buy premium rabbit food for my rabbit. Is hay really better?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerHay is very good for your rabbit. Bunny pellets are not necessary and could be unhealthy, as some rabbits get UTI's from all the calcium. You can feed your rabbit a pure hay and veggie diet.Thanks!
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