Rabbits are prey animals
The first thing bunny parents need to remember about their rabbits is that these furry little creatures are historically prey animals. When your rabbit runs away from you, is timid, and doesn’t want to be picked up, don’t get frustrated. Look at it from their point of view. Here they are in a setting with these tall animals that talk to them in funny voices and could potentially eat them at any minute! Once you start to put yourself in your bunny’s position, it’s a little easier to understand why they can be difficult to interact with. This is why we need to get on their level and have plenty of patience with them. It’s amazingly rewarding to earn the trust of any animal – but especially a prey animal.
Start on their level
Contrary to what we see in movies and TV, most rabbits do not enjoy being picked up and carried around. Some tolerate it better than others, and the rare one does actually seem to enjoy it, but most do not. To start bonding with your bunny, sit on the floor with them in a quiet room while they explore. Let your bunny come to you – it’s hard to resist the temptation to go up to your bunny and pet them, but it’s best to let them do things on their terms. Hold a treat in your hands to entice them over to you. Be patient – some bunnies are very social and will come up to you right away, while others are very timid and can take a while to approach. Once they do come up to you, offer them the treat from your hand. They will start to associate you with yummy things. As your bunny becomes more bold, gently stroke the top of their head with the back of your hand. Do not put your hand in front of their face to let them “sniff” it – unlike dogs, bunnies cannot see anything right in front of their face and may become frightened and/or lash out. Work on interacting with your bunnies every day.
My rabbit is aggressive – help!
Yes, there are some rabbits who act like the “Killer Rabbit” in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. The first question to ask – is your rabbit spayed/neutered? Unaltered rabbits have hormones raging through their little bodies and cannot help being territorial and aggressive. Once your rabbit is old enough (usually around 3 months for males and 6 months for females), you will want to have an appointment for spay/neuter surgery.
You will also want to consider your rabbit’s habitat. Does your rabbit live in a small hutch or cage? When they don’t have much space to call their own, many rabbits will lunge and bite at hands invading their space. Nobody wants someone unwanted to invade our private space! Please consider expanding your rabbit’s habitat (a puppy exercise pen is a great option to open up your rabbit’s habitat). In addition, rabbits should have several hours of time to roam outside their habitat each day (see our Bunny Proofing article for tips on keeping your rabbit safe around the house). A bunny with a large habitat to call their own and space to explore each day will be happier and mentally healthier. Once they realize that they don’t just have a tiny piece of real estate to protect, they will calm down.
However, there are just some rabbits who are a bit “spicy”. These aggressive rabbits can still make great pets, but are usually best left to experienced rabbit owners! They are typically very intelligent and are quite entertaining, but require time, patience, and sometimes thick gloves to handle.
Keeping them entertained
Bunnies are intelligent creatures who can easily become bored. The best thing you can do to keep your bunny entertained is adopt a friend for him or her! Rabbits are extremely social creatures and do best with a buddy of their own species. Human companions are also wonderful for them, but we can’t provide everything their own species can provide. There are a few anti-social bunnies out there who prefer the single life, but this is the exception to the rule. Bunny partners should ALWAYS be spayed/neutered for several weeks before introductions otherwise their hormones can cause them to fight – they can severely injure one another. Bonding is a process, and we are happy to provide advice. If you want any tips on this, you can read our Bonding Quick Reference guide. Or if you have questions the guide doesn't cover, get in touch with us.
Your bunnies also need a variety of toys to keep them engaged. Experiment with different types of toys to see what your bunny likes best – there are chewing toys, digging toys, puzzle toys, tossing toys…the possibilities are endless! Toys can be as simple and cheap as a toilet paper tube stuffed with hay to expensive specialty wooden toys. The RMHRR shop has many types of toys available, and companies such as Binky Bunny, Small Pet Select, Oxbow, and others offer some great toy options.
Every bunny should have a hidey-box. This helps them feel safe and secure and also provides chewing and digging material. You can cut doors (should have two openings) into a cardboard moving box and fill it with bunny-safe digging material (like plain packing paper). It’s entertaining for the humans to watch as the box shakes from the “bunstruction” going on inside!
Providing a variety of toys for your rabbit will also help distract them from chewing and digging items that we don’t want them to ruin. Rotate toys out so they don’t get bored with the same toys. Giving them a goal, like hiding a treat in a cardboard tube, puzzle toy, or snuffle mat, is a good way to keep their minds occupied. Some bunnies can even be trained to do tricks, like spinning around for a treat or coming when called. Rabbit agility courses are also a good way to keep them busy AND spend time interacting with your bunny!
Spending time with your rabbits is a very rewarding experience. You will learn the individual personality of each of your rabbits and laugh at their antics. Be prepared for moments of frustration, as this is just part of pet ownership. Keeping your bunnies happy and healthy is satisfying for pets and people.