Rabbit Behavior & First Aid & Health
1. Can you tell me about the personality of each baby before I pick mine out? Or can you tell me which one is the friendliest?
This is something that is very realistic and expected when picking out a puppy, but this is not very practical and hard to determine at such a young age for a rabbit. A baby bunny at 8 weeks old really hasn’t shown consistent signs of what their personality may be. At this age they are very wiggly and all over the place and have very short attention spans. They are more interested in their surroundings and their siblings than they are humans. Even if we could get a good gauge on personality, it would be nearly impossible to keep track of because we have so many babies at a time!
The wonderful thing about bunnies is they are like little blank slates that are very impressionable, and they really are as sweet as you make them. Their personalities and temperament are closely correlated with how they are treated when they are young and how friendly and safe they view you as being. We are very careful and gentle with the babies so their first impression of humans is a positive one. Bunnies are smart and skeptical, so by the time they leave, they know we are friendly and safe, but YOU are a new person and it will be up to you to become friends with your new bunny.
This is not to say that every rabbit has nearly the same personality. That is far from the truth! Some are very lazy and mellow. Some are very inquisitive and active. Some are very independent and like to do things on their own terms. Some tend to be more shy and become attached to their favorite person (usually the one that spends the most time with them and makes them feel the safest.)
When we first started and had a lot less bunnies at one time, we did try to interact with each one to try to determine personalities. We found that the calmest one at 8 weeks old did not necessarily translate to a lazy bunny later! And sometimes the wiggliest one ended up being the biggest couch potato! The reason we only breed Mini Plush Lops and Holland Lops is because we have found these breeds to be the friendliest and most consistently good natured. To summarize, we cannot get an accurate assessment of a bunny's personality before you pick one out. The nice thing about this is you can really make your decision based off looks and/or preferred gender.
2. Do bunnies like to be cuddled and held?
Lots of people come to us inquiring about if our baby bunnies like to be cuddled and held. The answer is yes AND no.
In general, most animals, including dogs and cats like to be pet and given attention, but being held is not usually their favorite way of interacting with you. Most tolerate it and bunnies are no different.
We like to tell people to pick up with a purpose. Pick your bunny up to then sit down on the couch or bed with it. Pick your bunny up to put it in its play pen. Pick your bunny up to trim its nails or to move it to another area of the house. Some people may say that their bunny loves to be held, but more than likely they have a good bunny that is tolerating being held.
The best way to hold a bunny for a long period of time so that both you and the bunny enjoy the experience, is holding the bunny while sitting. Or letting the bunny sit in your lap. Bunnies do get a lot of joy out of human interaction and contact and sitting with a bunny is the safest way to do this. Rabbit’s feel the most secure when they have all four feet grounded or touching a surface and this is done most easily when being held while their human is sitting.
Baby bunnies are full of energy, have short attention spans and are wiggly! It usually takes them some time to grow and mature before they seem to like being “held.” So, for people that bring a bunny home and are frustrated because it doesn’t like being held, just compare it to a toddler that doesn’t like to sit still! It takes a level of maturity on the rabbit’s part, and it takes patience and gained trust on your part to achieve a relationship where you BOTH enjoy the experience of holding a bunny!
3. Bonding and Gaining a Bunny’s Trust
You have to put a little work in to get a bunny to trust and love you. Because of this, some parents shy away from getting a bunny for their child. But there are some great lessons and rewarding experiences that kids gain from getting a bunny.
It’s important to always keep in mind that bunnies are prey animals. Because they are prey animals, they are typically a little skeptical of anything and anyone new to them. The best way to gain your rabbits trust is to be calm, patient, quiet and think about what makes your rabbit comfortable and happy and not what seems comfortable to you. Being so quiet and “tip toeing” around your rabbit is only a temporary thing while becoming acquainted, don’t worry!
Some parents are already rolling their eyes and shaking their heads…sounds like a bunny isn’t right for our family! But you may be surprised what a child full of energy is willing to do to befriend a bunny. It’s the most rewarding and flattering experience when you see that your bunny is starting to trust you and enjoy your company!
Every bunny is different, some may take longer to recognize your friendship. Typically, this process takes approximately a couple weeks of time and effort to see a distinct difference in your bunny and how it interacts with you. The relationship between you and your bunny will grow and solidify as your bunny grows and matures. As they mature, they start to rid their wiggly stage and become more in tune with their humans.
Rabbits will mirror the energy around them. If you are really excited and loud, this will translate to chaos and uncertainty to a baby rabbit. If you are calm and quiet, the rabbit will be at ease and be curious about you because you are acting in a non-threatening way. Many people find that a bunny will gravitate towards one person or have a favorite and it's always the calmest most gentle person that it feels the safest around. This does not mean you have to get a bunny for each child. It simply gives your child extra motivation to be the kind and gentle to the bunny.
The first week of having a new bunny you really should leave them alone in their cage to minimize stress and let them acclimate to their new home, new cage, new smells and new noises. It’s best to put their cage in a low traffic area where they can get some peace and quiet. After the first week you can start getting them out of their cage for a few minutes a day and start getting acquainted with them. This is not a huge time commitment. In fact, small spurts of one-on-one time is better than tons of one-on-one time. You don’t want to overwhelm and rush the bonding process. It takes time and patience.
We have found the best way to gain your rabbits trust is to set up a play pen in a quiet, low traffic area of the house and sit in the play pen with the bunny. To start, do not touch the bunny. Simply exist with the bunny in the pen. For children, encourage them to quietly read a book out loud or softly talk to the bunny. The rabbit is learning that the human is not interested in chasing them. The worst thing you can do to a rabbit is put them in a play pen and then chase them around until you catch them so you can hold them. Rabbits are quick learners. If this happens, it will take a lot of time to reverse their opinion of you after this experience.
Once sitting quietly in the play pen, the rabbit will eventually mosey its way over to you. It may take several minutes. If it doesn’t happen at all, not worries. Try again a few hours later or even the following day. At some point, the bunny will not be able to resist its curiosity about you and will come over and sniff you, possibly lick you and may even crawl on you. Let this happen but refrain from showring them with lots of petting and attention once this happens. Let it explore you freely without a huge reaction out of you. Let this happen for a few days in a row and slowly start integrating more contact which includes petting and even picking up the bunny to place in your lap. The bunny will likely quickly jump back out of your lap, but it’s good for the bunny to know it can freely leave you if it wishes. After you’ve had your bunny for a month and can start integrating treats into its diet, you can start bringing treats into the play pen with you. This will be a big hit with your bunny! You can always have some interactive toys in the cage with you for the bunny to play with while you sit with it.
You can also start to move the play pen to other areas of the house, even outside! Move the pen closer to the kitchen where it may be louder and busier. The rabbit will realize that its surroundings are changing but it’s level of safety with you in the playpen has not changed. You do not have to be in the playpen with the bunny every time you put the bunny in its playpen. But spending time in the playpen with the bunny, especially the first couple weeks after it has acclimated to its new home will get you well on your way to having a social, interactive and happy rabbit that will bring you and your family a lot of entertainment and joy.
So you might ask, how am I supposed to catch the bunny in the play pen to put it back in its cage if I’m not supposed to chase it around? This is why a folding play pen, like the one shown on our rabbit care page is so handy. You simply start folding the cage around the bunny until it’s in a small enough area that it can’t be chased, and it can just be picked up without having a place to go.
4. Why Spaying and Neutering your rabbit on time is important for behavior
Unless you have plans to breed a rabbit or plan to show a rabbit, we would always highly recommend getting your rabbit fixed. Our Mini Plush Lops are on a spay/neuter contract, but even if they weren’t, getting them fixed will ensure a good temperament and minimize possible health problems.
A male bunny can be fixed as soon as his testicles are visible. This can be between 4 and 6 months, so it’s a very good idea to check weekly! A doe typically needs be wait until she is 6 months old or full grown to be spayed because the procedure is more invasive.
Some families forget or put off getting their bunnies fixed on time and this can result in some very unwanted and sometimes even irreversible issues.
Much like cats and dogs, male rabbits like to mark their territory with urine! This is messy and smelly. Getting your buck fixed on time will make sure this problem is avoided. If you wait too long and your bunny has already started this spraying behavior, they will NOT automatically refrain from this bad habit as soon as you bring him home from getting the procedure done. It could take weeks and even months for him to forget about this past behavior and stop doing it. The sooner you get him fixed, the better!
Both bucks and doe’s make wonderful pets! But it is crucial to have your doe fixed as soon as your vet is willing. Does are innately territorial because they are trying to create a safe spot to have babies. Every time they come into heat, they can likely become moody, irritable, thump their feet and even bite. This does not have to happen! They just need to be fixed on time and this behavior can be completely avoided. If you wait too long and your doe has already routinely acted this way for an extended amount of time, she will likely still be rude and irritable around her cage. The best way to prevent this behavior is not letting it happen or at least not letting it happen for very long. If you notice your doe acting in this way and she is not 6 months old yet, reach out to your vet because it is likely time for her to be spayed! Attitude overrides age in this instance.
5. My bunny is fixed and I’ve spent time and effort bonding with it. But is still doesn’t like me. What do I do?
We don’t hear this from people very often, but it’s possible! You’ve done everything right, but you still don’t have good chemistry with your rabbit OR your bunny is being aggressive towards you. These rabbit behaviors can be a result of a lot of different things, so let’s break it down.
What if you feel like your bunny does not like you or you don’t have the relationship you were hoping for? First of all, maybe your expectations were not realistic or you’re comparing rabbits to other animals. Most people have experience with dogs and cats, so naturally, people want to compare past relationships with other animals to their current rabbit relationship. But rabbit behavior, quirks and mannerisms are much different than a dog or cat.
You know a dog likes you because it wags its tail when it sees you and wants to play. You know a cat likes you because it rubs itself against your leg and purrs. But bunnies don’t wag their tails or purr! You know a bunny likes you if they feel safe around you. A bunny that feels safe around you will zoom around a room, follow you, lick you, eat treats out of your hand and let you pet it. These are all signs a rabbit really likes you. Rabbits are independent, much like a cat. Sometimes cats have their own agendas and don’t feel like being pet and held at the same time you want to pet and hold them. Rabbits are the same way! It’s just part of being a rabbit. If your bunny doesn’t seem to love you and shower you with affection the same way your dog does, then your right. Because a bunny is not a dog! Your rabbit might like you a lot more than you think.
It’s also very important to keep in mind that rabbits are all different. Rabbits are intelligent creatures and the more intelligent a species of animal is, the more variance in personality you will find within a species and even breed. Some mini plush lops end up being more affectionate while others seem to be more independent and interested in their own agendas. This could be a result of the individual rabbits own personality, or the way the rabbit was socialized…or both! You never really know a rabbit’s true personality until it’s a few months old and it has time to settle in and mature a bit. This is why we never go into detail on a baby rabbits personality, because it’s always subject to change and it usually does!
6. My bunny was fixed and it’s still territorial and sometimes aggressive. What’s the issue?
This also does not happen often at all, but it has happened! The first culprit is not getting your bunny fixed on time. How long did you wait to get your bunny fixed? If it’s a doe, did you see signs of her being territorial and then not immediately schedule an appointment to get her spayed? This is likely the reason.
If this is not the reason, your bunny may not be feeling well. Bunnies don’t whimper and whine like other animals that are in pain or uncomfortable. They tend to avoid contact and be irritable. Something else than can cause a rabbit to have poor behavior is passed experiences while being socialized. Did it have a chaotic, stressful and uncomfortable experience getting to know it’s new family? If so, this really can have long term effects on some more sensitive rabbits. That is why it’s so important to go out of your way to ensure a good transition from our rabbitry to your home and treat your rabbit with respect when it arrives at your house.
So, how do you fix this behavior? Start from square one with the play pen as stated above. This time, put the play pen in a neutral spot where your bunny does not spend a lot of time and never let it be in the play pen unless you are in it too. If it is left alone in the play pen, the rabbit will dub it as its own, and as soon as you jump in, the bunny will think you are trespassing and may act out! If the bunny tries to lunge at you, just don't give it a reaction so it knows it doesn't scare of phase you. Rabbits rarely bite, but if they do, say owe!! loudly so it startles the rabbit and it knows it bothers you. You should also immediately flick the bunny on the nose, it's your way of biting the bunny back.
Avoid triggers that may cause aggression like reaching for, chasing and putting your bunny in loud and chaotic situations. We have observed bad behavior in rabbits when they are in families with small children that scare the rabbit or do not respect the rabbits space.
A rabbit with temperament issues can be very territorial of their cage, and this is usually where the aggression occurs. The first step to helping this is to stop dragging the bunny out of its cage; it clearly feels in needs a place to call its own. Open the door and let your bunny come and go on its own time. Wait until your bunny is out of its cage to clean it, change water, or do other housekeeping chores.