Rabbits are a prey species and in the wild the only time they would be picked up would be if they were about to become a predator’s dinner. Pet rabbits can find this just as alarming because fear of being lifted is hardwired into their genes. Therefore we need to handle rabbits in a way that won’t frighten them and won’t cause any injury.
Rabbits like to have their feet firmly on the ground and are not real lovers of being picked up, but they do enjoy cuddles and company. Do not make the mistake of thinking that if your rabbit scrabbles and wriggles it does not like cuddles and put it down when it does this. Rabbits are very intelligent and will learn quickly that if they wriggle they get put down and it will become difficult to handle them once they know they can get away with this.
Rabbits that are panicked by being held may struggle and could hurt their backs or legs, or may leap to the ground and hurt themselves when they land. They can be unpredictable so even if they seem calm and are sitting quietly in your arms without struggling or panicking, they may suddenly leap out of your arms if you aren’t holding them properly, so don’t let your guard down!
If you’re rabbit is nervous you will need to build its confidence. It is best to start off by letting them come to you and hand feeding is a good reward. Stroke them and take it at a pace they’re comfortable with until you can touch them all over without them panicking before you try to lift him up. You must then be confident and keep practicing the lifting, if you don’t persist they will never get used to it.
Lifting them up
When you lift your rabbit, it needs to feel secure so handling them properly and with confidence is very important so they feel safe in your care and trust you.
Put one hand under their chest, with a couple of your fingers between their front legs and with your other hand scoop up their bottom. Get them close to your body as quickly as you can so that they’re secure and cannot wriggle or leap out of your grip. You need to be firm without squeezing. Rabbits are very fragile, with fine bones and internal organs that can easily be damaged.
I always hold my rabbits with their noses below my chin with their front legs resting on my chest and one hand under their bottom, stroking them with the other hand. This is a safe way to cuddle them whilst standing as you always have a good hold on them and it is difficult for them to jump off. If you are sitting down, which I always advise children to do, it might be more comfortable to have a blanket or carpet square on your lap for them to sit on.
Putting them down
When putting your rabbit back on the ground, you need to be careful that they don’t make a jump for freedom. Hold them as close to your body as you can, bend your knees and keeping them in a secure grip, squat down and lower your rabbit to the ground.
Once you and your rabbit have formed a relationship and bonded your rabbit will come to greet you and sometimes follow you around like a cat or dog. They can be great company.