Many people believe that rabbits are not affectionate pets and do not enjoy being petted. Contrary to that belief, rabbits can have quite affectionate personalities. They just happen to be slow to build trust because they are prey animals.
Naturally, they are used to the fight or flight mentality. So, one wrong move when approaching them can scare them away.
Aside from their cuteness, we have to agree that their cute fur begs to be touched. Bunnies are very expressive, and if you care enough to understand their language, you can tell when they are happy, cranky, or want attention. You can then develop ways to make them feel safer and calmer.
In this article, you will learn all you need to know about petting bunnies, their sweet spots, how to approach them, and the rules for petting them.
Do rabbits enjoy being petted?
Many enjoy being petted – just calmly relaxing with you for some time as you stroke their fur. However, petting your rabbit in a way they will enjoy is a technique. That is why some people say their rabbits do not like to be touched.
Even rabbits that are uncomfortable with touching or have had bad experiences with humans can learn to appreciate petting.
One thing about rabbits is that they are intelligent little creatures and have a good memory. You can train them to associate petting with positive habits. They can learn to appreciate a good massage if you are patient with them.
Petting can have the following social and physical benefits for you and the rabbit:
If your rabbit allows you to pet them, that shows that they feel safe around you and trust you. For them, that eliminates fear or stress. For you, petting your rabbit allows you to develop a deep bond, which is satisfying.
Additionally, rabbits are social animals. The relationship between you and the rabbit will determine the quality of the rabbit’s life.
If you pet them regularly, they will associate petting with human companionship. As a result, the rabbit will be friendly to other people.
Petting your rabbit can lower cortisol, the stress hormone, while the social interaction between you and the rabbit can increase serotonin, the happy hormone. There is something about having pets that makes us enjoy life a little better.
Many rabbits do not like to be groomed. Using a brush can be uncomfortable as it feels like it is pulling their fur. Sometimes, petting can be used as a substitute for grooming.
If the rabbit is not in the shedding season, petting can mimic the feeling of grooming. Also, it eases the actual grooming because it has gotten used to being touched.
Where do rabbits like to be petted?
Every bunny has a different sweet spot from the rest. However, when it comes to petting them, they have their favorite spots and where they dislike being petted across all breeds.
The safest spot for a pet is the forehead. They like the sensation of having their heads stroked.
Other safe spots are the cheeks, behind the ears, and shoulders.
If the rabbit seems comfortable with these spots, you can try to give a full back massage. The abdomen, under the chin, paws, and the bottom area right around the tail are no-go zones. These are sensitive areas for them.
How to pet a bunny
Although rabbits appreciate physical contact, it may happen that the way you do it is not the right technique. As prey animals, rabbits often feel scared to interact with people.
It is up to you to help them build trust and make them feel safe around you and other humans.
If you want to pet your rabbit, it is best if you learn the best way to do it because, as you have seen above, it is good for both of you.
Approach with caution
Rabbits are nervous creatures and are used to being hunted. So, if you approach them in the wrong way, like sneaking up on them, they will run. Instead, let them know that you are approaching.
Try to stay low as you approach
If your rabbit is nervous or is not used to being touched yet, you might want to approach slowly and stay low to avoid making them nervous.
Make sure your rabbit can see your hands
Why do I say this? If you own a pet rabbit, you might have noticed that they have a problem seeing things that are directly in front of them. This is because they have a blind spot in front of their nose. Their eyes are differently placed near the top of their skulls. That means if you approach with your hand directly in front of them, they might not see what you are up to and might get scared.
Approach them with your hands on one side of their heads to ensure they see your hand.
Let the rabbit come where you are
Grabbing your rabbit or forcing an interaction is a good way to scare them. As a result, the rabbit can run away or bite you because he feels threatened. Instead, sit down and allow the rabbit to come to you when he is comfortable. This is a good way to establish trust and confidence for a shy rabbit. Try this for a few days; eventually, they will get comfortable around you and start approaching you.
Honor your rabbit’s wishes
If the rabbit moves away or shows that they are uncomfortable, let him go. Growling, grunting, and stomping feet are all signs of fear. Just continue sitting down until he calms down, or leave him alone and try again another time.
Give your rabbit treats
If your bunny is still uncomfortable about being petted, give them a treat they love. A treat can help motivate them and teach them to associate you with good things.
Place the treat on the ground near you, and let them enjoy it without distraction. When the rabbit is done eating, approach with your hand where they can see it and start petting them.
Pet in the right places
Rabbits are particular about where they like to be touched, usually where they groom each other. To give them a good experience, pet them where they enjoy being touched.
A gentle touch can go a long way. Avoid squeezing, fast movements, patting, and scratching the rabbit.
Avoid picking your rabbit up
Being small, cute, and cuddly does not protect rabbits from being preyed on by predators. One of the instincts they use to survive is the ability to flee.
When you pick your rabbit up, especially for the first time, they feel trapped because they no longer have the ability to run away. They might even feel like a predator has picked them up, as it is an unnatural experience for them.
So, if you are not used to picking your rabbit up, avoid it completely. Unless you are doing it for health or safety reasons. However, if you want to introduce it, do it gradually. You may want to hold them securely against your body until they are calm.
How to know if your bunny is enjoying being petted
Your rabbit’s body language lets you know if he enjoys being petted. Here are the signs to look out for:
- As a general rule, he could run away when you are petting him. But if he does not run away, he is enjoying himself.
- Tooth-clicking: also called tooth purring, is when he is grinding his teeth gently. It is a very soft sound that you can only hear when you are paying attention. This sound means that he is happy and content.
- If he half closes his eyes and flattens into fur puddles, it means he is happy and enjoying being petted.
- When he asks for more. You can pause in the middle of petting him and see his reaction. If he does not walk away and just sit there expectantly, he is not done yet.
Rabbits are social animals if they trust you. Petting benefits both of you as long as you pet them in the right places that do not cause them stress. If you have a bunny that does not seem to enjoy being petted, you need to change your technique.
When you understand your rabbits’ body language, you can teach them to trust you. With patience and dedication, your rabbits will feel safe enough to allow you to touch them.
Another important thing when petting rabbits is to respect their boundaries. If they do not want to be petted right this second, do not force or run after them, as this will scare them.
If they walk away in the process of being petted, let them go. With time and patience, you will learn what works and what does not.