Rabbits are naturally skittish creatures. It’s normal for them to be afraid of people until they get to know you. Even after you’ve befriended a rabbit, something can be a little bit off and cause your rabbit to be afraid again. You’ll need to figure out what the cause of your rabbit’s fear is, so you can teach your rabbit to not be afraid of you anymore.
Rabbits will be afraid of you if you have an unusual scent, if you are loud, or if you consistently make your rabbit feel trapped. Avoid wearing perfumes and be sure to talk softly until your rabbit trusts you. It’s also best to avoid holding your rabbit too frequently and chasing them.
Sometimes your rabbit is skittish and scared of you from the start, but other times, they will suddenly start being fearful of you when they previously were very friendly with you. I’ll go over some possible causes of both of these situations so you can diagnose the behavior and try to help your rabbit overcome their fear and anxiety.
When your rabbit is suddenly scared of you
If your rabbit has always been comfortable and friendly with you, it can come as a shock when they suddenly start lashing out and running away when you go near them. You can feel confused and hurt, worrying that your rabbit will never be cuddly with you again.
The good news is that this is usually not a long-term problem. Typically, your rabbit will warm up to you again within a couple of days even without you doing anything. However, you may need to take note of any changes that you’ve made recently that could have caused your rabbit’s fear and address those before your rabbit will trust you again.
1. You smell like another animal
One of the most common reasons a previously friendly rabbit will be afraid of you is when you smell like another animal. For me, this used to happen all the time after coming home from volunteering at the animal shelter. One of my rabbits would be curious and sniff me all over, while the other just ran away from me. I got into the habit of changing and showering right away so that I wouldn’t scare my rabbit anymore.
This could be what’s causing your rabbit to be afraid if you recently went to a friend’s house and they had a dog or a cat (or other predator pet, such as a ferret). It could even happen if you went out for a walk and came into contact with one of your neighbor’s dogs, or went for a hike and got the scent of a wild animal on you.
The solution to this is obviously to take a shower and clean your clothes so you can remove the smell of the other animal. It’s probably best to wash the dirty laundry right away too (or at least remove it from the rabbit area).
2. You started using a new lotion or perfume
Rabbits are a lot more sensitive to smell than humans are. A big part of how they identify each other and people is through their scent. This means your rabbit is getting to know you based on your unique combination of smells. If you suddenly change the way you smell by using a new lotion or perfume, your rabbit might not recognize you. They’ll run away, thinking you are a stranger because you have a new smell.
This is especially common if the lotion or perfume is on (or around) your hands since this is the place where most rabbits sniff us the most. I figured this out when my bunny Teddy Bear growled, thumped, and ran away from me when I tried to pet him after I’d applied a hand lotion.
When it comes to these scented hygiene products, usually your rabbit will become less afraid of you as the scent wears off. So if you avoid petting your rabbit for an hour or two after applying your lotion or perfume, it’s less likely your rabbit will run away. You might want to consider only applying lotions right before bed or just before you will be heading out of your home so that you won’t be tempted to interact with your rabbit and scare them.
3. You are making new or unusual sounds
In addition to being sensitive to scents, rabbits are also easily scared of new or unusual sounds. The problem is, they are not always sounds that we humans think of as unusual. Your rabbit could be scared of you because your chair is squeaking, you’re shuffling through papers, the sound is leaking out of your headphones, or you started hiccuping (one of my rabbits is legitimately terrified of hiccups).
Another common sound that I’ve noticed scared rabbits is the noise that puff coats make when the fabric rubs against itself. If you have other clothing with that type of plastic fabric, it might be making a swooshing sound that scares a lot of rabbits.
Your rabbit might also be scared of you if you recently made a sudden loud sound. For example, if you just slammed the door when entering the room, or accidentally dropped something, it can temporarily scare your rabbit. Sudden movements, which are usually accompanied by a sudden sound, can also cause a rabbit to thump and run away from you for a bit.
As you might have guessed, the best way to get your rabbit to stop being afraid of you is to stop making the weird sounds. If you’re not exactly sure what sound is scaring your rabbit. Be quiet for a minute and really listen. Try to open your perception to hear the sounds that your brain typically sees as background and unimportant and see how your rabbit reacts to them so you can figure out the cause.
4. Your rabbit had a bad experience
Sometimes one bad experience can have a major impact on your rabbit. Maybe you had to clip your rabbit’s nails recently or bring them to the vet and your rabbit did not like it. Maybe you had a guest over who wanted to play with the bunny, but they didn’t know how to interact and ended up scaring your rabbit. Your rabbit just had a scary experience and is afraid of you because they don’t want it to happen again.
If you previously had a good relationship with your rabbit, they will usually bounce back from these situations pretty quickly. When I have to clip my rabbit’s nails, they will usually avoid me for a few hours, but by evening they have stopped running away and are friendly with me again. If you’re patient with your rabbit and show them that you’re not going to pick them up again or put them into a scary scenario, they will trust you again within a day or two.
Some rabbits might hold a grudge for a little longer, but if you apologize by bribing them with treats and leafy greens, and make sure to respect their space, they’ll come around pretty quickly.
5. Your rabbit is going through puberty
If you have a young rabbit who is just reaching the age of maturity, the change in behavior could be due to a change in their hormones. It’s more common for rabbits to become suddenly aggressive than suddenly fearful, but a change in behavior during this time period is not uncommon. The best way to help in this case is to make an appointment with a rabbit veterinarian and get your rabbit spayed or neutered.
Alternatively, some rabbits will be more fearful if they are not feeling well. Again, it’s more common for rabbits to be suddenly aggressive than suddenly afraid if this is the case, but if you absolutely can’t figure out why your rabbit is scared of you, you may want to consider taking them to the vet to see if there are any underlying illness that could be causing the change in your rabbit’s behavior.
When your rabbit is scared of you all the time (or almost all the time)
If your rabbit has been running away and hiding from the start or they’ve been showing consistent fear of you for a while now, the problem is more likely your behavior towards your rabbit or your rabbit has a highly skittish disposition that makes it harder for them to trust people.
In this case, it’s usually not small changes that you need to make. Instead, you’ll need to rethink the way you interact with your rabbit to try to gain (or regain) their trust. It will take a lot longer to see results, but with patience, you can teach your bunny to not be afraid of you anymore.
- Check out my article on the technique I use to befriend rescue rabbits.
6. You are always loud around your rabbit
In general, rabbits do not like loud noises. If you are constantly talking loudly, slamming doors, playing loud music, or anything similar, you are likely to make your rabbit scared of you. Some rabbits are naturally more confident and will eventually get used to the noise, but many will not and will instead become terrified whenever you enter the room.
To gain your rabbit’s trust, you’ll need to start being conscious of the amount of noise you are making. Think about speaking in a quieter voice, using headphones, and being careful about closing doors and drawers. The more quiet time you can spend with your rabbit, the more they’ll be willing to come up to you and be your friend.
7. You always try to pick up your rabbit
Even though people like to think of bunnies as cuddly pets, most rabbits hate being picked up. As prey animals, running away as fast as possible is a rabbit’s best form of defense. When they are being held, rabbits have no way to escape if danger comes, so they feel trapped and scared when you pick them up.
If you try to pick them up every time you interact with your rabbit, they’ll start to associate you with the fear they feel and become afraid of you. Your rabbit will run away from you every time you come near, thinking that you will try to pick them up again.
To gain your rabbit’s trust, you will have to stop picking them up and start interacting with them when they have all four feet on the ground. Pet your rabbit when they are laying on the ground and offer them treats while sitting on the floor.
It will take some time to gain your rabbit’s trust (probably a couple of months), but if you are patient and respect your rabbit’s boundaries, resisting the urge to cuddle with your rabbit, they will eventually learn that you are not so scary to be around.
8. You invade your rabbit’s space
Rabbits are territorial animals and can get defensive or scared when their space is invaded. If you try to clean your rabbit’s enclosure while they are still inside or even just replenish their food and water, many rabbits will get either fearful or aggressive. This is more common for rabbits that have a cage or habitat with a top on it. If you’re using an exercise pen as an enclosure (which I recommend), I’ve found that rabbits are less territorial of the space.
It’s best to let your rabbit out for some exercise while you take care of the cleaning and feeding so that your rabbit doesn’t feel like you are invading their habitat. This will also work to your advantage because your rabbit will learn to exercise a little and then hop right back into their enclosure since they know there will be food inside.
You also need to be careful about making your rabbit feel trapped when they are out and about. You don’t want to chase your rabbit or corner them to force them to interact with you. Instead, you should sit down a distance away from the rabbit and make sure they always have a way to hop around you so they are not forced into an interaction. Ironically, this will usually make the rabbit more willing to come up to you because you are respecting their boundaries and not making them feel scared or trapped.
9. You pet your rabbit the wrong way
It’s important to remember that rabbits are different from cats and dogs so you’re going to need to interact with them differently too. The first mistake people make is trying to pet the rabbit incorrectly.
When petting a rabbit, especially one who does not trust you, keep your hand above their head and let the rabbit sniff your hand. Give them scritches on the top of their forehead, and behind their ears. Once your rabbit trusts your hands a little more, you can give them longer strokes and scritches down their back. Avoid touching the rabbit’s chin, butt, paws, belly, and chest until your rabbit trusts you.
10. You’re always standing or sitting high up
One of the best things you can do to gain the trust of a rabbit is to sit or lay down on the floor. This will put you at your rabbit’s level so they can interact with you as an equal. If you’re always standing or sitting in a chair when you spend time around your rabbit, they’ll see you as a giant and will never really be able to get to know you.
If you sit on the ground while you read or just scroll through your phone, you give your rabbit more of a chance to get curious and come up to you. You can even reward their curiosity by keeping some small treats with you and giving them to your rabbit.
11. Your rabbit is still getting used to you
In some cases, you aren’t doing anything wrong. Your rabbit just needs more time to get used to you and their new home. If you just recently brought a rabbit home, they will need some time to warm up to you and learn to trust you. Some rabbits will be quite confident and only need a few days to begin to trust, but others are very shy and need a few months or quiet encouragement before they open up.
A sudden change to the rabbit’s environment or routine can also cause them to temporarily be more fearful of everything. This may mean they are more fearful of you as well, but most of the time rabbits will warm up to people as they get used to their new environment (as long as you’re not doing anything to scare your rabbit).
Continue to be patient with your rabbit and don’t try to force an interaction. You can try bribing them with treats to help teach them to trust you more easily, but overall if you respect your rabbit and their personality, they will eventually come out of their shell. If you want to try to speed up the process, try some of these tips for bonding with your rabbit.
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- Hay: Second Cutting Timothy Hay from Small Pet Select
- Pellets: Oxbow Garden Select Food for Rabbits
- Treats: Oxbow Simple Rewards
- Toys: Small Pet Select Natural Toys
- Enclosure/cage: A rabbit exercise pen
- Rabbit carrier: SleepyPod Mobile Pet Bed