Why Your Lotion Might Be Scaring Away Your Rabbit

your rabbit hates your lotion (probably)

This is just a quick article I wanted to write because of a trend that I’ve noticed when working with rabbits. A lot of rabbits really don’t like it when I have any kind of strongly scented lotion on my hands. 

I first noticed this pattern at home with my rabbit, Teddy Bear. He was suddenly very afraid and even mildly aggressive with me if I tried to pet him when my hands smelled like lotion. He would growl and run away from me, and he’d even refuse to take any treats from me. It’s gotten to the point that if I have to use anything with a scent that doesn’t wash off (usually just lotion or sunscreen), I will not try to pet Teddy until the scent has time to fade.

I’ve started to notice this at the shelter too. Some rabbits that were previously friendly with me will suddenly shy away from me if I try to pet them while wearing lotion. This isn’t true of all rabbits, but it is an overall pattern of behavior that I’m seeing.

This isn’t something I’ve seen mentioned very often, so if you find that your rabbit is suddenly and inexplicably afraid of you or won’t take a treat from your hand, the reason might be because of some kind of strong scent that you’re wearing. 

This isn’t all rabbits. For example, Teddy Bear is afraid of lotion smells, but my other rabbit, Ellie, does not react any differently toward me. I’ve just seen this phenomenon frequently enough that I figured it was worth mentioning. It may explain your rabbit’s random fearful or aggressive behavior.

Why are rabbits afraid of lotion?

Rabbits have a strong sense of smell and it plays a big role in how they interpret their surroundings. This is especially true for anything in close range since rabbits also are far-sighted and have relatively poor close-range vision.

When rabbits interact with each other, this keen sense of smell means that they largely recognize each other based on their individual, distinct scents. Rabbits seem to recognize people in a similar way. They get accustomed to our normal, natural scents. If you apply a scented lotion, your rabbit might not be able to recognize you. This reaction is a safety mechanism—anything unknown could potentially be a threat.

In addition, lotions carry complex fragrances that can be overwhelming or simply unfamiliar to a rabbit, which might not know how to respond to these artificial scents. This uncertainty can provoke a sense of fear or anxiety, causing a rabbit to become spooked.

If you notice this trend with your rabbit at home, I recommend trying to avoid putting lotion or perfumed products on directly before interacting with your rabbit. In my experience, all you have to do is give the lotion an hour or so for the scent to dissipate. Usually, that’s enough for your rabbit to be able to recognize you again.

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Amy Pratt

Amy Pratt is a lifelong rabbit owner who has been specializing with rabbits at the Humane Rescue Alliance. She helps to socialize the rabbits and educate volunteers on the care and behavior of these small mammals.

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