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Handling a touch-starved adopted bunny!

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kiraandansel

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Hi! My name is Kira and i adopted a lop from my local humane society in march. his name is ansel and he’s super outgoing, curious, and playful! He’s been absolutely wonderful and I love him to death! However, he was found abandoned in a neighborhood at around 9 months old and its very clear he didn’t get handled much when he was young. It took him a while to be comfortable being pet (he enjoys a good back scratch now) and he does NOT enjoy being picked up. I hate to stress him out so i’m hesitant to try and pick him up often but i know i’m going to need to be able to when i need to take him to the vet, move him, give him meds, etc. sometimes he’s fine with being picked up, but other times he’ll kick his way out of your arms. I’d like to know if anyone else has had experiences with rabbits that are not used to much human contact and if so, how did you guys gain their trust? what would the be the best way to go about getting him used to being handled, or at least to not be terrified of it? Thank you!!
 

Blue eyes

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I suspect it is more just his innate personality. There are plenty of rabbits just as you describe. Early handling really doesn't make any difference with rabbits. It all depends on their innate temperament.

My current rabbit (one of many past rabbits) happens to be one similar to what you describe -- hates being picked up and only occasionally accepts pettings. This is just normal for some rabbits.

That said, you can still work on getting him to somewhat tolerate the occasional times of being picked up. (Btw, he should never be picked up just to move him. Almost all rabbits hate being picked up to be carried somewhere. It is also a dangerous habit because there inevitably will be the time he gets dropped (from squirming or scratching).) -- heard this too many times to think it won't happen.

For vet trips, he should be coaxed into a pet carrier. For meds, those can be given while he's on the floor (ie. he doesn't have to be physically picked up). Same with nail clipping.

By not picking him up, you'll be able to gain his trust quicker. In time, you can move on to "picking him up" while you are sitting on the floor and just place him in your lap. This way he isn't being lifted off the floor more than a few inches. Taking small steps like this should help him at least get a bit more tolerant of such handling.
 

kiraandansel

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I suspect it is more just his innate personality. There are plenty of rabbits just as you describe. Early handling really doesn't make any difference with rabbits. It all depends on their innate temperament.

My current rabbit (one of many past rabbits) happens to be one similar to what you describe -- hates being picked up and only occasionally accepts pettings. This is just normal for some rabbits.

That said, you can still work on getting him to somewhat tolerate the occasional times of being picked up. (Btw, he should never be picked up just to move him. Almost all rabbits hate being picked up to be carried somewhere. It is also a dangerous habit because there inevitably will be the time he gets dropped (from squirming or scratching).) -- heard this too many times to think it won't happen.

For vet trips, he should be coaxed into a pet carrier. For meds, those can be given while he's on the floor (ie. he doesn't have to be physically picked up). Same with nail clipping.

By not picking him up, you'll be able to gain his trust quicker. In time, you can move on to "picking him up" while you are sitting on the floor and just place him in your lap. This way he isn't being lifted off the floor more than a few inches. Taking small steps like this should help him at least get a bit more tolerant of such handling.
Thank you! By moving I mostly mean when he gets into places he’s not supposed to be like my pantry lol. I’m glad I’m not alone in this! most of my friends expect him to be super cuddly and i have to explain that that’s just not in bunnies’ nature.
 

Blue eyes

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Yeah, your friends' reactions aren't surprising. Rabbits do indeed look so incredibly cuddly that people just assume that they are cuddly. It must be one of the biggest myths about rabbits and probably why so many end up in shelters --because they don't meet the owner's expectations. :(
 

kiraandansel

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Yeah, your friends' reactions aren't surprising. Rabbits do indeed look so incredibly cuddly that people just assume that they are cuddly. It must be one of the biggest myths about rabbits and probably why so many end up in shelters --because they don't meet the owner's expectations. :(
i’m wondering if that’s the reason ansel was abandoned outside :( i’m so thankful he was rescued! i still don’t understand why anyone would not want him, he’s a sweetheart!
 

Mac189

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My sweet Foxwell was also found as a stray and tends to be jumpy and easily frightened, as well as initially disliked petting or any handling. He's calmed down with time and now tolerates occasionally being picked up when it is strictly necessary. I sat on the floor and basically ignored him a lot, as well as getting him to associate clicking my tongue with treats when I wanna call him over get him to come into my room for bedtime. He's learned to love back scratches and ear strokes, especially at dinner time! Good luck!
 

Juste

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Yeah, your friends' reactions aren't surprising. Rabbits do indeed look so incredibly cuddly that people just assume that they are cuddly. It must be one of the biggest myths about rabbits and probably why so many end up in shelters --because they don't meet the owner's expectations. :(
There's plenty misleading videos on YouTube 🙂 my friends bunny was cuddly, so when i got mine she definitely was not what i expected. Still, now if i could i would get all farm full of bunnies and can't life without her😆
 

john.thorpe1952

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I have to disagree to some extent with a couple of comments about rabbits and handling.Of course an individual's inate character has a bearing,as it does with us,but in my personal experience with several rabbits which had not been handled,including one I have at present,you have to persevere because in the end it is for their own good.Trips to the vet can be stressful anyway,but for an animal which views any handling as a thing to be terrified of,this can result in fear,possible injury and even heart attacks through hyper tension and fear.In really extreme cases you can start by touching with a feather,which is light and non threatening,and work on building trust.The way you pick the animal up is crucial,and I have always found that unless the rabbit is an absolute 'ragdoll' and oblivious to stress( not too many of those but I have known them and have one at present)it is best to use the head in the crook of the arm ,forearm round the body and hand on the rum,with the other hand as a safety restraint in case of panic and jumping.trying Trying to pick up a nervous animal from above by getting hold around the shoulder or around the chest will usually,though not of course always, result in the rabbit jumping forward and panicking.hile it's true that being a prey species,rabbits don't instinctively like to be restrained,you have to remember that they are not in the wild now,and need to be worked on to make them comfortable in having claws trimmed,fur brushed,bottoms wiped and ears checked.anything else is an abdication of woner responsibility and in the end bad for the animal.Lots of quiet talking and calm are needed,as well as patience and determination.The results will often surprise you,and my male mini lop(not quite so mini now!) will now let me trim his claws,check his eyes,ears and clean his bottom when required(daily checks) as well as remove knots and debris in the fur. I've found that gentles stroking and massage around the eyes and ears works wonders too,and a bit of ear massage will usually ellicit a bout of 'bunny licks'! It's particularly imortant at present,when,certainly in the UK,many vets surgeries are not allowing owners to come into the consulting room and are taking the animals off you at the door.In my view a ridiculous over reactionnnnnn,but the reason given is that if any of the staff were to be infected,it could close the surgery down. If your rabbit is terrified of being touched and handled,imagine how they would feel being handled by a total stranger in these circumstances.
I recently took my buck for his annual vaccinations,and gave them instructions on how to pick him up.He apparently gave no trouble and wasn't particularly stressed.Enough said.
 

Miffythebun

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Hi! My name is Kira and i adopted a lop from my local humane society in march. his name is ansel and he’s super outgoing, curious, and playful! He’s been absolutely wonderful and I love him to death! However, he was found abandoned in a neighborhood at around 9 months old and its very clear he didn’t get handled much when he was young. It took him a while to be comfortable being pet (he enjoys a good back scratch now) and he does NOT enjoy being picked up. I hate to stress him out so i’m hesitant to try and pick him up often but i know i’m going to need to be able to when i need to take him to the vet, move him, give him meds, etc. sometimes he’s fine with being picked up, but other times he’ll kick his way out of your arms. I’d like to know if anyone else has had experiences with rabbits that are not used to much human contact and if so, how did you guys gain their trust? what would the be the best way to go about getting him used to being handled, or at least to not be terrified of it? Thank you!!
Not sure if this is helpful at all but I bought my rabbit as a kit and he’s been handled and played with from day 1 and although he sleeps in my bed with me and loves snugs he will not tolerate being picked up, I try very gently every day but he will work his way out and thump. Some rabbits just hate it no matter how used to you they are! Have to remember they are prey animals at the end of the day :)
 

Halndallas

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I had the same problem with both of my rabbits, they didn't feel comfortable with their feet unsupported so I used a small pillow or towel under their feet so they would be supported. A few months later they were much more comfortable being picked up, but many times I still use a towel for support.
 

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How I do it:
I try to get them used to it, when petting putting a hand under their front legs, when that works for a second, I put them on my lap, sitting on the floor, but don't hold them, they can hop away when they want. Next step is to pick them up and hold them for a short period, sit on the floor and let them hop away. I got the impression that if I don't just put them down somewhere it's easier for them to accept to lose control for some time, often they aren't in a hurry to get off me, but consider the situation first.

And treats. Every time I do something with a rabbit it doesn't exactly like, I give a treat. So, whatever I have to do to them, they hop away after it , turn around and demand their treat, positive reinforcement really works.

Patience is needed, lots of it, it can take hundred little steps of trying - or even more of refraining from trying at every opportunity and just give a good pet.
 

Black Otter's Mom

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I had always used a completely different method for a new bun who doesnt want to be touched. Its been really successful.

I will get down on my hands and knees in front of bunny and lower my forehead to the ground. Its a submissive gesture in bunny bonding. Its establishing I am not going to hurt you, its ok if I touch you.

Eventually bun will come over for a sniff and touch nose to me then back off. I will repeat and then stop. Next day same.

Next, when I have bun in my arms I flip him over to his back and trance him. This makes bunny so relaxed and free of anxiety. When he is coming out of that I hold him to my shoulder like you burp a baby. This puts my heartbeat under his. The whole time I am running my hand from his bangs all the way down to tail for about 15 minutes. Then before I put him down I put my cheek next to his and just be really quiet. Its a mimic of when a bunny bonds with another and are side by side. Do this for a week and your bunny will feel bonded to you and learn you are safe and that touch is reassuring. Good luck!
 

Blue eyes

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Next, when I have bun in my arms I flip him over to his back and trance him. This makes bunny so relaxed and free of anxiety.
Trancing like this is mostly discouraged (except for the possible rare use by a vet). Rather than making them feel relaxed and free of anxiety, it has the exact opposite effect. It puts them in a state called Tonic Immobility. This is instead highly stressful both physically and psychologically.

There are several sites that discuss Tonic Immobility (TI) to some degree. The one I used to link is now under construction so is unavailable :( ) However, Dr. Anne McBride (a well-known animal behaviorist who's well-versed in rabbit care) has published a paper on TI.

Here is a snippet from her conclusion:
The conclusion was drawn that both the physiological and behavioural responses of rabbits to TI are indicative of a fear motivated stress state (Day, 2004). This confirms the previous assertion that the promotion of TI as a means to increase a bond between owners and their pets, because the rabbits enjoy it, is misplaced (McBride, 1998). It may be appropriate for veterinary surgeons, and owners to continue to use this method for minor procedures, such as nail clipping as it holds less risk than anaesthesia. However, the data suggests that rabbits should only be put into TI when necessary and owners and others educated appropriately.
 

Black Otter's Mom

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In a forum setting we are all submitting what has worked successfully for each of us. I have raised bunnies for 25 years and none have had toxic immobility ever. If a bunny owner has questions they can certainly contact their vet. I think its important though to realize the purpose of a forum, that is sharing our questions, sorrows, successes and experiences. My vet and his wife are both rabbit surgeons and never have they said that. There is a huge difference between relaxing your pet and abusing your pet which is the implication. A bunny parent hopefully is comforted by sharing of information in this forum.
 

Blue eyes

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I understand you are explaining a method you have used. However, in a forum setting, I would be remiss if I failed to provide fair warning when a potentially harmful technique is being shared. I am giving a fair warning from a known expert. "Trancing" a rabbit is, by definition, a state called tonic immobility. This isn't opinion. Anyone who has "tranced" their rabbit has put them in a TI state.

Dr. McBride is renowned in her field. The quote is from a study she conducted and published. Here is her bio:

And here is the link to the paper from which the quote came:

Trancing creates "a fear motivated stress state" not relaxation.

[I have had rabbits since the late 80's and used to trance my first rabbit. I didn't know then what is known now. Even some of the diet recommendations from back then are now outdated. The research I show from Dr Anne McBride is from 2006.]
 

Preitler

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I too never saw anything like tonic immobility, or trancing. Well, with chicken, yes, rabbits just are pretty helpless on their backs, but that doesn't freak them out (none of mine anyway) or "trance" them, they are just pretty pragmatic about the situation, no point in struggling or freaking out when it doesn't do anything anyway. It sure is kind of a stress situation, but I wouldn't conclude that it's harmful. In what way?
I'm pretty sure none of mine even remotly likes being on its back though, it's imho not about a bond but them realising that humans do wiered stuff, but so what. Imho pretty much the same as picking them up.
For me, sometimes it's just a safer way to carry them, like downhill through the woods on slippery ground when I don't have the physical resources to deal with escape attempts, my rabbits are rather strong and can inflict some damage.


A lot of Dr.s produced a lot of paper with fancy words and acronyms, and quite some does not make much common sense, or is the product of their prejudice, the snippet you posted just says "only we are smart enough to do it, you know nothing". Which is not true, no matter in what style it is written. Don't get me started on psychologists :(.

Oh well, you see, I get a little sour when someone tells what others can or cannot do, what is the only "right"way, but there are different opinions and whatever works for someone is fine to me. Nothing wrong to point out different viewpoints, but my hair bristles when DR.s, Societies, or Funds are cited as argument.
 
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Black Otter's Mom

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What makes me so happy is the complete love and commitment all bunny parents have. We are passionate about our buns, advocates for bun and together are there to help anyone as best as we can. Bunnies are not a common pet, they fall way beneath the popularity of dogs and cats. Our babies are prey for any animal out there. I feel so strongly about the support we all provide to each other. Not only do our buns matter but we care about everyone else's bun as well. Bun owners are a very select and special community. Its very moving to see how much thought goes into all responses to posts, everyone taking a moment to try to help someone else through their situation. All of us love our little furries. My old man is in my arms now in a blanket. Blind, deaf and advanced lymphoma. 41 subcutaneous tumors. He is loving and sweet with a strong heart and great labs. He is just an old man. When his time comes I too will be comforted by our bunny forum and community.
 

Blue eyes

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I too never saw anything like tonic immobility, or trancing.

A lot of Dr.s produced a lot of paper with fancy words and acronyms, and quite some does not make much common sense, or is the product of their prejudice, the snippet you posted just says "only we are smart enough to do it, you know nothing". Which is not true, no matter in what style it is written. Don't get me started on psychologists :(.

Oh well, you see, I get a little sour when someone tells what others can or cannot do, what is the only "right"way, but there are different opinions and whatever works for someone is fine to me. Nothing wrong to point out different viewpoints, but my hair bristles when DR.s, Societies, or Funds are cited as argument.
I've heard that not all rabbits will trance. If you've ever seen it, you would know. They look like they are dead to the world and totally "out of it." Their heads fall back and do indeed look like they are in a trance.

I don't take any doctor's word at face value either. I'm more skeptical. But I have seen rabbits tranced. I've seen several other sources discuss this as well (as I said earlier, I had a different source but it is unavailable as the site is under re-construction). Anna McBride, though, you may have seen before on this forum on links like this:
 

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