Rabbits may not be as expressive as cats and dogs, but there are still lots of ways to recognise when they’re content. APBC-accredited animal behaviour counsellor Rosie Bescoby shares her expert advice on rabbit bonding.
Why do my rabbits seem to ignore me?
Rabbits are a prey species so they instinctively avoid drawing attention to themselves. The mistake many first-time rabbit owners make is to impose themselves on their pets – to a rabbit, even a hand reaching overhead can feel like a predator approaching.
Is it possible to bond with my bunnies?
Yes, but it takes time, and many pet owners find it difficult to tell if or when they have successfully bonded with their rabbits. But once you’ve learned how to read ‘bunny body language’ and rabbit behaviour, you’ll discover that they have lots of different expressions. Some rabbits even use their tails to communicate emotion.
The important thing for successful rabbit bonding is to spend plenty of time with your rabbits – even if they live out of doors – so that you learn to recognise the signs of a healthy, happy bunny.
How should I handle my rabbits?
The best approach is to take things slowly. Never push a bunny to do anything they obviously don’t enjoy, and avoid imposing cuddles and interaction until you have built up your rabbits’ trust. Bunnies like to sniff around and investigate, just like cats and dogs, but they need more time. It’s also important to interact with your rabbits at their level: try sitting quietly on the ground and let your bunnies approach you in their own time.
How do I know if my rabbits are content?
‘Binkies’ are a surefire sign that your rabbits are feeling safe and confident: seeing a rabbit leap into the air is the most joyful sight because it signals a really happy bunny. Contented rabbits will also flop over and stretch out. Even eating is a very positive sign – a healthy appetite means a relaxed and happy bunny because prey animals won’t eat if they feel anxious or vulnerable.
How can I make my rabbits more comfortable around me?
You could associate yourself with something your bunnies love – such as toys or treats. When you approach your rabbits, they learn that something nice appears – like a dandelion leaf or a handful of watercress. You can feed a little bit, then walk away, then come back with another piece, and so on. It’s all about your bunnies associating your approach with positive things happening.
How do I know if I’ve successfully bonded with my bunnies?
With time and patience, your rabbits will approach you quite happily. They’ll even start to initiate contact – either by rubbing themselves against you, or moving their noses back and forth. Licking is another positive response sign, and so is rubbing their chin against you – that enables the transfer of facial pheromones and means an animal feels safe.
Remember, too, that every rabbit is different. Rabbits need other bunnies around them, and you may find that one rabbit is ready to bond more quickly than the others – each rabbit is an individual.