While most of the public thinks of rabbits as cuddly creatures, the reality is the opposite. Most rabbits are scared to be held and cuddled by people. They will do everything they can to get away. However, if you take the time to bond with your rabbit and understand their fears, you can cuddle without scaring your rabbit.
Cuddle with rabbits by petting them on the floor. Once your rabbit trusts you, try lying down next to them, hugging them, or training your rabbit to hop into your lap. Above all, you should avoid cuddling your rabbit by holding them since this will cause anxiety.
Sometimes it can take a while to gain a rabbit’s trust. It’s important to be patient with your rabbit and let them come to trust you in their own time. You’ll find that, in the end, you have a much happier rabbit and closer bond by letting your rabbit make the first move.
Setting expectations: how to cuddle with your rabbit
Not everyone has the same idea of what it means to cuddle a rabbit. I’ll take the time to explain exactly what I mean when I use the term so that you don’t end up getting disappointed down the line when your rabbit doesn’t like being treated like a stuffed animal. Most rabbits will not enjoy being held and hugged in your arms, but they will enjoy gentler forms of cuddling.
For me, cuddling means simply being able to sit or lay next to your rabbit without them hopping away from you. Ideally, there would also be some level of mutual grooming, where you pet your rabbit, and they lick you too. Many rabbits will also be happy to cuddle with you when you hug them on the ground, or they will hop into your lap and staying there for a while.
However, rabbits can take a lot of time to trust people. They will not cuddle with you until you’ve taken the time to befriend them and prove you are a friend. Rabbits that are conditioned to believe you will try to pick them up any time you approach them will be less likely to trust and cuddle with you. If you’re struggling to convince your rabbit to stay still and cuddle with you, try different ways of bonding with your rabbit.
Petting your rabbit on the floor
The first way to cuddle with your rabbit is by sitting next to them on the floor and petting them. Give your rabbit a wonderful massage for a couple minutes and then lay your hand next to their head. From here, many rabbits will either nudge your hand for more petting, or they will lick you to show appreciation and groom you too.
Laying down next to your rabbit
If your rabbit is comfortable with you sitting next to and petting them, you can try laying down next to your rabbit too. Some rabbits will get a little frightened at first if they are not used to interacting with you lying on the ground, but many rabbits won’t even bat an eyelash.
You can lay down next to your rabbit and give them a massage, or you can put your arm around your rabbit. I will often pet my rabbit then put my head down next to her. At that point, she will usually groom my forehead and then put her head down for more petting.
Different rabbits will react in different ways, so play around with your rabbit to figure out how to cuddle next to them without causing them to get up and go away.
Sitting with your rabbit in your lap
Some rabbits are lap rabbits. They’ll love to sit in your lap and sleep while you pet them. Most of the time, rabbits will not stay put in your lap if you’re sitting on the floor. However, many will climb into your lap on their own if you are sitting on a couch or comfortable chair.
You can also train your rabbit how to climb into your lap. This is one of the tricks I teach to rabbits at the shelter where I volunteer. It’s actually not as difficult as you would expect. Most rabbits will be able to learn to hop into your lap within a few days. I wrote about my technique in this article if you’re interested in teaching your rabbit too.
Your rabbit sits next to you on the sofa
Some rabbits simply aren’t comfortable staying in your lap for long periods of time, but they’ll be happy to lay down next to you on the sofa. They might lean their head against you to use you as a pillow. In these cases, you can treat your rabbit the same way you do on the floor. Pet them to cuddle them and help your rabbit feel comfortable. Then see if your rabbit will lick you to groom you back.
Gain your rabbit’s trust before you cuddle
Before you can have long cuddle sessions with your rabbit, you’ll have to gain your rabbit’s trust. As prey animals, rabbits will often be pretty skittish, to begin with. It can take them a while to open up to people, especially if the rabbit has had bad experiences in the past. But with a lot of patience (and a little bribery), you can befriend your rabbit and cuddle together.
Step 1: offer your rabbit a treat whenever they come to you
Most rabbits are highly treat-motivated. To gain their trust, all you have to do is give them something yummy. Sit on the floor near your rabbit. Whenever your rabbit approaches you, offer them a treat as a peace offering. Small pieces of banana or carrot can work well for this.
The goal here is to teach your rabbit to associate you with a positive experience. The rabbit will start to understand that nothing scary will happen when they come up to you. You are teaching your rabbit to trust you.
Step 2: Pet your rabbit while giving them a treat
After a while, your rabbit will begin to approach you right away, without any hesitancy. Now you can start petting your rabbit. While you are giving your rabbit a treat in one hand, simultaneously use your other hand to give them a couple of scritches on their forehead.
Many rabbits will run away the first few times you try to reach toward them to pet them. This is because they have learned to be afraid of human hands, believing you will try to pick them up. Just be patient and try again the next time your rabbit comes up to you.
As your rabbit gets more comfortable with you petting them, you can pet them behind the ears and give them strokes down their back. You’ll see your rabbit is enjoying it if they start to settle down and melt into the floor. You might also see their whiskers vibrate a little. This happens because your rabbit is grinding their teeth together. It’s how rabbits express contentment, similar to a cat’s purr.
Step 3: Go up to your rabbit and give a treat
Up to this point, you’ve been waiting for your rabbit to approach you. Now, it’s time for you to take the initiative and approach your rabbit to see how they react. Since rabbits might be a little uncomfortable with someone coming up to them, you’ll want to bring a couple of treats with you at first.
If they run away at first, sit down and hold out a treat for them to come and get. This will help your rabbit understand that you weren’t going to pick them up; you just wanted to hang out together.
You will approach your rabbit and immediately give them the treats so that they know you are a friend. Then sit down and start petting them. Eventually, your rabbit will recognize that you don’t mean any harm when you approach them. They’ll even look forward to it.
Step 4: Go up to your rabbit and lay next to them to cuddle
Once your rabbit is comfortable with you approaching, it’s time to try cuddling with them. You shouldn’t need treats anymore at this point since petting is enough of a reward for rabbits. Once they trust you, rabbits love being petted.
First, just sit next to your rabbit and pet them. But after a while, you can try laying next to them and cuddling with your rabbit on the floor. Your rabbit may be uncomfortable at first, so you always want to pay attention to your rabbit’s body language and respect their boundaries. As time goes on and they trust you more, you’ll find your rabbit is more and more comfortable cuddling with you anywhere. Sometimes your rabbit will even approach you and want cuddle time.
How NOT to cuddle with a rabbit
You always want to cuddle with a rabbit in a way that makes them comfortable. This means avoiding making them feel trapped and scared and never squeezing them like a stuffed animal. This also applies to any children in the household. Ensure they know how to respect your rabbit’s boundaries and always supervise rabbit interactions with young children.
- Don’t hold your rabbit. As I’ve mentioned, rabbits usually don’t like being held. It’s best to cuddle with your rabbit on floor level or a couch where your rabbit has all four feet on the ground.
- Don’t make your rabbit feel trapped. When hugging your rabbit, try not to completely encircle them with your arms. This can make rabbits feel uncomfortable and afraid you won’t let them get away. Always give them an easy way out of the cuddle.
- Don’t make your rabbit stay longer than they want to. When your rabbit is done, they will get up and go away. Sometimes this will be after half an hour, and sometimes it will be only 5 minutes. However long the cuddle session, you always want to let your rabbit leave. If you try to force your rabbit to stay, they may be afraid to cuddle with you in the future.
- Don’t squeeze your rabbit. Rabbits have a delicate bone structure. If squeezed too hard, they can be easily injured.