Rabbits are soft, fuzzy, warm and utterly cuddlable. The world would be a wonderful place if they were all openly affectionate, but– unfortunately– most pet rabbits don’t live up to their cuddly reputation. Many dissappointed rabbit guardians have surrendered their animals to shelters, insisting, “My rabbit hates me!”
While you may feel upset about your bunny’s behavior, it’s unlikely that your pet rabbit hates you. Let’s take a look at why your rabbit behaves badly and what you can do to foster a sense of trust.
Understand where the “Hate” Comes From
Rabbits and human beings are very different, but we often ascribe a rabbit’s bad behavior to human motives. To a human, physical aggression is a sign of anger or hatred. Rabbits don’t bite and kick people because they are angry– they bite and kick because they feel terrified.
In nature, rabbits are prey animals for thousands of predator species. To survive, they must live their lives in fear. It takes extensive breeding and socialization to create a prey animal that is trusting of larger animals like humans. If your bunny displays aggressive behavior, it isn’t because he hates you– it’s because he interprets you as a predator.
Soothing the Fear
If your rabbit spends all his time in a hutch with no human interaction, he will not overcome his fear of humans and you’ll never build a strong bond with him. Your rabbit will continue to “hate” you as long as his needs are neglected. Rabbits should be allowed to roam freely in a large expanse of space. Let him romp around your house, explore your laundry pile and sniff your furniture. He will grow more confident as he begins to establish a territory within your home.
Get down to ground level and approach your rabbit cautiously. After a few minutes, he should come to you– some will even climb into your lap! Do not approach a frightened rabbit too quickly, or it will bring your relationship back to square one. Skittish bunnies also don’t like having their noses, butts or bellies touched. Follow his comfort cues.
Establishing a Bond
Feeding is an excellent time to establish a bond with your rabbit. Instead of tossing a bunch of hay to your bunny and leaving him alone in a hutch, feed him directly from your hand while you speak to him in a soft voice. Know his favorite treats and offer them by hand. He will eventually associate you with food and understand that you will not harm him.
Most shy rabbits don’t want to be picked up and carried around freely, but almost all of them love to be stroked. Pet the spot between your rabbit’s ears and nose. If he likes it, he’ll grunt at you and close his eyes. As he learns to trust you, he will eventually allow you to pet and cuddle him more freely.
Visit the ASPCA website for more information about rabbit care.