Rabbits are prey animals, perceiving us and other animals as predators, said the Animal Welfare Association, whose mission is to eliminate animal suffering and promote the human-animal bond. Handling stresses the rabbits and their skeletal system is also fragile, which could get damaged if they are not properly handled— even if you handle them a few times. Rabbits may never get comfortable despite the animals being desensitized or being handled frequently, so it is important to create positive associations by providing your rabbit with treats.
Rabbit Handling Methods Within the UK and the Republic of Ireland (2019)
Common handling methods were under arm (method A), against chest with hand on back (B), in front of/against chest with hands/fingers separating front legs and supporting chest (C), placed on back (D), and scruffing with support (E), said James Andrew Oxley and colleagues of Taylor & Francis group, an international company from England and publisher of books and academic journals,
Across the sample, Method B (86.2%) was the commonly used method along with Methods A (63.6%), C (53.7%), and D (59.9%). However, Method E (15.3%) was used less frequently. Laboratory workers commonly used Method A (86.8%) while Method B was commonly used in pet ownership and all other work contexts. Across all ownership and work groups, the respondents cited moving the rabbit as the most commonly reported reason for handling.
Other reasons were health checks/administering medicine and grooming. “Other” reasons were also reported by the respondents such as cuddling/petting (Method A 5.4%, Method B 10.9%), veterinary health procedures (Method D 5.5%), and using a particular method for picking up a “difficult” rabbit or picking up a rabbit in an emergency (Method E 16.1%). Moving was also the most frequently reported reason for using all methods (A = 59.5%, B = 80.2%, C = 68.3%, E = 70.5%), with the exception of Method D (3%). With Method D, it was primarily used for checking the health of the rabbit (82.2%), grooming (42.1%), and administering medicine (26.1%).
When asked why the respondents did not use a method, they answered “not familiar with this method” (A=44%, B= 14.5%, C=25.9%, D= 10.7%, and E= 6.8%) and “I find this method difficult” (A= 13.8%), B= 16.2% C= 13.8%, D= 7.6%, and E= 4.1%). Some owners did not feel that the method is suitable (A= 37.4% , B= 61.7%, C= 62.6%, D =70.8%, and E= 85.2%) or was told never to use this method (A= 3.0%, B= 4.4%, C= 3.2%, D= 25.7%, E= 14.2%).
The most frequently cited sources to learn about handling rabbits were books (40.2%), veterinary practices (40.0%), friends/family (37.4%), and specialist websites (rabbit forums). Meanwhile, the least frequently used sources were d breeders (8.7%), one’s own experience (5.2%), and information websites of large animal charities, such as the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) (0.1%), or other rescue centers (0.9%).
How Do I Handle My Rabbit?
If properly socialized and handled appropriately from a young age, your rabbit can be calmer and more confident when you handle it, noted the RSPCA Australia, an Australian peak organization established in 1981. Your pet will also be likely to be less stressed and may enjoy being handled if they are socialized. Adequate socialization is important as you will be able to safely handle and restrain your rabbit to make some procedures like clipping its nails and veterinary examinations easier. Move slowly. Your voice should be calm and quiet to avoid scaring your rabbit. In general, it is easier to handle a calm rabbit. The less stressed it is, the less it will panic and injure themselves (and you).
Go slow and get down to your rabbit’s level. Don’t lean or tower over your pet as this can make it more nervous. Consider petting them for one to two minutes before picking them up. If you think that your rabbit is relaxed enough to be picked up, scoop it gently and place one hand under its torso. Then, pull your rabbit close to your body.
Never squeeze it! Rabbits are fragile and can easily get injured. You can, however, let your rabbit hide its face in the crook of your arm if they want. Ensure that you do not block their nostrils. Support its hindquarters with your other hand, making them feel secure in your arms. Hold your rabbit firmly if it starts to struggle or tense up when being picked up. Be prepared to put it down. Your rabbit may jump from your arms, but this can cause injury. Squat down slowly while holding your rabbit close to put it down. Let it down gently.
How Can Kids Handle A Rabbit?
Kids below 12 years should be supervised for the first few months when handling a rabbit. Younger children may want to hold a rabbit with both hands or arms under or behind the rabbit’s front legs, dangling the rest of the rabbit’s body. Instruct your child to support the rabbit’s hind end and feet and their front end/feet. It is not recommended to allow your kids to handle larger rabbit breeds, as they can be more difficult to handle, said PSDA, the UK’s leading vet charity
What Should I Not Do When Handling Rabbits?
Don’t “hypnotize” them or put them in a “trance.” Rabbits freeze when you hold a rabbit on their back, which is their flight or fight response. Prey animals freeze when they are captured by a predator. If your rabbit exhibits this behavior, it is a sign of distress. Never place your rabbit on slippery surfaces, advised RSPCA UK, the largest animal welfare charity. Place a towel on the surface to make it feel more secure. Avoid picking up or handling the rabbit by the ears. Rabbits should only be scruffed during an emergency such as when the rabbit and owner are in danger.
Consult your veterinarian if you are concerned about your pet’s behavior. Your veterinarian will rule out any illness and problems. Your rabbit’s reaction to handling may depend on its past handling experiences. Hence, you will need to exercise patients to help build their confidence around people.
Rabbits have fragile skeletal systems, making them vulnerable to bodily injuries. Owners should learn how to handle rabbits gently to prevent injuries. Supervision is highly recommended for children as they tend to pick up a rabbit with both hands and letting its body dangle.