How do your rabbits feel about being handled?

Do your rabbits like being picked up? Being handled from a young age is essential for buns – otherwise they may find it a very stressful experience. Learning how to handle your rabbits in the right way is super important so that your bunny buddies feel comfortable and safe. Do your bunny chums enjoy being handled? Or do they start
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8th March 2024

Do your rabbits like being picked up? Being handled from a young age is essential for buns – otherwise they may find it a very stressful experience. Learning how to handle your rabbits in the right way is super important so that your bunny buddies feel comfortable and safe.

Do your bunny chums enjoy being handled? Or do they start wriggling, kicking out and even try giving you a nip when you try to pick them up? If so, it’s not really that surprising when you take a moment to understand what makes rabbits tick.

Animal charity Blue Cross says: “Rabbits are sensitive animals that do not enjoy being picked up.” Veterinary charity PDSA agrees, stating: “Rabbits don't usually like being picked up and held unless they've become used to it from a young age and even then, handling must be done carefully and gently. They tend to prefer being petted on the floor, so they feel safer, rather than picked up and cuddled.”

Always on the alert

Buns’ dislike of being picked up and held is most likely because they are prey animals. Naturally cautious and always on the alert for danger, rabbits like to have the option of making a quick getaway.

Blue Cross says: “These pets may come in domesticated colours and breeds, but their perspective on the world remains very close to that of their wild relatives. Because they're a prey species (they're hunted by other animals in the wild), life is all about survival and they are in a constant state of alert. This explains why many rabbits don’t like being picked up and may run away, hide, nip or bite if you try – your hands are not too dissimilar to the claws of a bird of predators swooping down to catch them.”

PDSA adds: “They feel much safer on ground level where they can run and hide if they need to. This instinct still runs strong in our domestic rabbits, who might be nervous and scared when you pick them up.”

Of course, there are times when you need to handle your rabbits – to help them in and out of their enclosure, and for grooming. That’s why it’s important that handling becomes something they feel comfortable with.

To help your buns feel more chilled about being picked up, it’s time to get back to bunny handling basics.

Build your buns’ confidence

Rabbit Welfare advises: “If you’re starting off with a nervous rabbit that hasn’t been handled much in the past, you need to build its confidence in you and start off by letting them come to you. Hand feeding is a good reward, and they may allow you to stroke them quite quickly. Take it at a pace they’re comfortable with until you can touch them all over without them panicking before you ever try to lift him up.”

When your buns are comfortable with hanging around you, stay at their level, and gently pet them, keeping your hands low. Do this daily so they gain confidence and build their trust in you.

Get a handle on safe handling

Once your buns are comfortable hanging out with you, you can slowly and gently try handling them. PDSA’s top tips can help.

  • Rabbits should always be approached in a quiet, calm and confident manner and sudden or rapid movements should be avoided.
  • Pick up your rabbits (one at a time!) by placing one hand under your rabbit's chest and the other hand under their hind legs.
  • Lift your rabbit and hold them against your body to keep them nice and secure, but don't squeeze too tight.
  • If you can avoid it, try not to hold your rabbits for too long. They prefer to be able to run free and play on the ground and can find being held quite stressful.
  • To put your rabbit back down, keep them as close to your body as possible and lower them to the ground as you squat down. Keep them held in a secure grip and put them down gently.

The RSPCA advises: “It's crucial to get rabbit handling right, as, without correct handling, it's possible your rabbits will see you as a threat.”  Watch vet Molly demonstrate how to hold a rabbit so that your rabbits learn to see you as a friend and companion >>


Rabbits are social creatures and are happiest in the company of their own species. The best combination is a neutered male and neutered female. They can become extremely sad and depressed if kept on their own.

Source: Blue Cross

Can’t coax them for a cuddle?

If your buns are happy to approach you and hop on to your lap it’s a fantastic feeling – but you should always let your rabbits take the lead when it comes to physical contact. Building a close, loving, trusting relationship takes time!

There are lots of ways you can show your buns just how much you care. PDSA advises: “You can make toys for them at home and watch them play. You can also spend time with your rabbits by sitting in a secure enclosure with them and allowing them to choose to come to you for attention. They might even see you as a new toy to play on! If they start to look worried or hide, back off a little until they’re ready to come out again.”


Rabbits clench their facial muscles and change their body position when they are feeling worried; signs you wouldn’t notice if you weren’t looking out for them. This is one of the main reasons they’re so often misunderstood and don't get the correct care.

Source: Blue Cross

Be aware of bunny no-nos

NEVER pick your rabbits up be their ears or the scruff of their neck. PDSA adds: “Some people might also hold their rabbits on their back in a ‘hypnotised’ or ‘tranced’ state, where they go really still. This experience is actually really terrifying for rabbits, as it is their response to being caught by a predator and they are playing dead to protect themselves. You should never do this to your rabbits as it is very distressing for them.”


Rabbits and guinea pigs used to be sold as a perfect match. But experts now agree that the species should be kept apart. Both animals use different methods of communication, so they can’t understand each other, and they also need different diets. Plus, rabbits can and do injure guinea pigs and can give them serious diseases.

Source: Blue Cross

What’s the best advice for children and rabbits?

PDSA recommends the following approach: “We wouldn’t advise allowing young children to pick up your rabbits, especially larger rabbit breeds which can be even more difficult for young children to handle. Instead, they can spend time with them in other ways. Remember to always supervise your children with your pets.”

  • Create a secure area where your rabbits can run free.
  • Ask your child to sit on the floor or a low seat (your bunnies will feel better and less threatened if they’re on the same level).
  • Give your child some of your rabbits’ favourite treats or bunny-safe veggies and let your rabbits come to them in their own time.
  • Be aware that rabbits don’t like loud noises or sudden movements, so help to teach your children to use quieter voices and gentle movements when around small pets.
  • Once your rabbits and children are used to each other, your rabbits will be happier to spend more time close to them and your children can start gently stroking your rabbits while feeding them.

KNOW YOUR BUNS! Find out all you need to know about caring for your beloved bunnies with this COMPREHENSIVE RABBIT CARE GUIDE >>

Looking for the perfect bunny companion?

February is officially ‘Adopt a Rescued Rabbit ’month, so why not find out more about The Rabbit Welfare and Fund (RAWF)’s Adopt Don't Shop campaign? This urges anyone who is serious about wanting pet rabbits to adopt from a rabbit rescue charity to resolve overcrowding in rescue centres and give abandoned a second chance at a happy life.


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Check out our tasty nugget varieties specially created for junior and dwarf rabbitsindoor bunniesgolden oldiesadult rabbits – there’s even a light recipe for buns who are watching their weight!

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CARE MORE Find lots of useful advice on caring for your rabbits from Burgess, the pet experts. Training, nutrition, grooming and general care, it's all here >>  

Are your bunnies Burgess bunnies? Join the Burgess Pet Club for exclusive offers and rewards.

LET’S GET SOCIAL Sign up to the Excel Bunny Base – a safe Facebook community for rabbit guardians that are looking for advice and friendly discussions from likeminded owners – and there are lots of cute bunny photos and videos! Also join us on Instagram.

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