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Don’t pick up a rabbit.
I’m not joking.
They hate it, and they kick and scratch and bite and somehow manage to shoot 50% of their fur up your nose.
Some rabbits don’t mind being picked up. Some actually LIKE being picked up.
But 9 out of 10 rabbits (this is a figure I made up, but I’m pretty confident it’s accurate) hate being picked up.
Only pick up your rabbit if necessary
The only times I pick up my rabbits are:
- To take Daisy out of her pen to clean it
She’s disabled and won’t come out on her own. Fair enough. She has head tilt so being picked up not only will make her feel even more vulnerable, but probably makes her feel a bit car sick too.
- If I notice something weird on them
Ideally, you’d just wait until they moved into a position that you could see better, but sometimes you might think you see something (like blood) where you need to act quickly.
That’s…kind of it.
Even when I’m taking them to the vet I prefer to put the pet carrier in the pen and wait for their inevitable nosiness to get the better of them.
I actually pick Holly up to do her nails, because once we’ve caught her (not easy) she’s extremely docile. I would NOT trust her with state secrets, because if she were ever captured by the enemy she’d have spilled before they even asked for her name.
If your bunny is a fighter though, it might be easier to roll them up in a towel on the floor and do their nails like that (pull each paw out of the towel as needed).
When we had a big, vicious rabbit, the vets did all their checks sat on the floor with her, because she felt safer down there (and didn’t bite them, which she 100% would have if she’d been trapped on a table).
Why rabbits don’t like being picked up
Rabbits have a very good reason for not liking being picked up.
To be honest I don’t much like being picked up.But human babies are picked up a lot, and are used to the feelings.
Rabbits just naturally stay low to the ground. Even a mother rabbit moving her kits barely lifts them quarter of an inch off the ground.
The only way a rabbit is ever going to experience the sensation of being picked up is if, for example, an eagle makes off with them.
Which makes it rather understandable that they’re going to panic a bit if you suddenly lift them off the ground. They don’t know they’re not dinner.
There’s a bit of a pervasive false narrative that you need to get your rabbit used to being picked up.
Ideally, you should get them used to being petted, because being able to touch them without freaking them out is super helpful when it comes to healthcare and diagnosing issues. Petting them is a nice way to bond with them, and if you can do it at their level, they’ll enjoy it (and trust you) more.
I don’t have any other small animals, but I imagine there aren’t that many that like to be picked up, because it puts them in such a vulnerable position.
It’s usually a good idea to just…leave them on the ground unless they request differently.
If you have a kid that wants a pet to cuddle, I would go to a rescue and tell them that. It may take a while (and you may have to be flexible when it comes to species) but it’s better than trying to convince a non-cuddly animal to cuddle.
Learn how to properly pick up a rabbit
You want one hand under their bum, supporting their back legs, and one hand under their chest with the edge of your hand/side of your index finger under the armpits (leg pits?)
Be warned, there is no way to pick up a rabbit that will guarantee it won’t try to struggle, but this method is the best way to keep them as comfortable as is possible and be able to keep hold ofthem if they do struggle.
Prepare for them to kick off from your hand with their back legs. Ideally, you want to pull the rabbit into your chest so not only are they secure in your hands, but they’re safe against your chest too.
It’s also a position that, if done properly, only really leaves you vulnerable to a kick from the back legs, since their front legs can be held by your other hand, and their teeth aren’t near you (though keep an eye on them when you pull them in).
You will get covered in fur.
There is little you can do to stop this.
If you have a head tilt rabbit, you may have a slightly, er, different experience.
I don’t know if they all do this, but Daisy certainly does.
I only pick Daisy up for a couple of seconds – I just lift her out of her pen and put her on a blanket on the floor while I clean her out.
I can’t do the hand-under-the-bum thing. She’s building up muscles in her neck due to the head tilt that have given her hellish twisting power. I need both hands under her armpits. Leaving her back legs free to wriggle.
If I’m crafty, I can sneak up on her, get my hands in the correct position and whip her out before she really notices. I don’t like doing this, because I hate sneaking up on my rabbits, but a) it’s safer for her and b) she’s not particularly skittish.
Unfortunately, the longer she’s in the pen, the more she recognises the signs that she’s going to be cleaned out – I see her getting an intense look on her face when I bring in the vacuum cleaner, dust plant, wee pads, and fresh blanket, and she gets in Roll Mode.
When I pick her up she just twists and twists. More than once I’ve nearly dropped her, and had to chuck her (it’s only a foot or so) onto the sofa.
What I’m saying is that whilst the under butt way is best and safest, sometimes you may need to improvise.
Pulling them close to your chest is always helpful because it’s a sturdy surface that your rabbit can feel safe (ish) against. Buuuut they may scratch you.
Why you shouldn’t pick a rabbit up by their ears
I don’t even know where this came from.
I couldn’t pick Holly up by her ears. She’s too heavy. I’d damage her ears and scare her so badly she’d never trust me again (not that she trusts me now, but picking her up by her ears would definitely sever any camaraderie we’ve got going atm.
Why it’s dangerous to lie a rabbit on their back
When you lie rabbits on their back and stroke them between the eyes, they go into a tranced state.
Trancing rabbits use to be common practice, especially when doing things like clipping their nails.
I don’t actually know why because a traced rabbit will almost definitely become untranced if you clip their nails (rabbit claws are thick, and clipping them is loud) and they’re usually in the perfect position to bite you.
Don’t trance your rabbit.
It’s extremely dangerous, and you can inadvertently give them a heart attack.
The position itself put the rabbit under a lot of stress. In the wild, trancing is a last resort, and is a bit like playing dead. A rabbit playing dead is doing so as a last resort, and is probably about to be something’s tea.
Rabbits can’t induce a tranced state themselves. A rabbit’s defence mechanism is always to run away. Trancing is involuntary, and only happens when they’re pretty much in the clutches of their captor. As you can imagine it’s a position they enjoy being in.
Not only is trancing stressful, but they can injure themselves getting out of the position. They often panic and twist in a way that can result in spinal injuries.
Don’t do it.
There are apparently reports of rabbits trancing themselves by rolling over, and whilst I don’t think it’s the same thing, I kind of get why people see the behaviour and think it is.
Holly quite often goes a bit far when throwing herself down in a flop (I swear, she’s Mrs. Bennet personified) and sometimes she lands on her back, and lies there, stock still, for a couple of seconds, before purring her teeth and settling down on the floor with her belly showing.
She does look dazed at the time, but she’s not panicking. I think maybe a similar part of the brain is being activated, but it’s more of a play thing.
Alternatives to picking up your rabbit
Honestly, you don’t need to pick your rabbits up nearly as much as you might think.
Sit on the floor with them, and pet them.
Sometimes they might jump up on the sofa and sit by you.
You can also try lying on the floor and seeing their nosiness get the better of them.
A great way to con rabbits into sitting with you is to read a newspaper on the floor. Some rabbits are unmoved, but others simply cannot resist the shredding opportunities.
Don’t use a newspaper that you don’t mind being ripped up.