How to Make a Rabbit More Affectionate
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Bonding with your bunny is not always easy. There are so many different factors which lead to how secure your rabbit feels and how much affection they are willing to show you. Not least of these is your bunny's personality. Getting to know the personality of your rabbit is one of the most rewarding experiences a pet caregiver can have. However, developing your bond takes a level of consideration where we need to go beyond the obvious. Once you have ensured all your rabbit's needs are well cared for and interact with your bunny in the appropriate ways, you will see they will start to show you love.
At AnimalWised, we show you how to make a rabbit more affectionate. Our first tip is that you cannot force your rabbit to love you. The best way to bond with your bunny is to show them some love in the first place.
Know your rabbit
Although becoming more popular as pets, rabbits are shy and distrustful by nature. They can be particularly timid in new situations with people they do not know. They are also easily frightened by loud noises, sudden movement or being handled against their will. If you try to force affection on your bunny, then it will be counterproductive. They will be less likely to trust you and any bond you have will be weakened. For this reason, gaining the trust of your rabbit can be a little more difficult than with a cat or dog.
As humans have been a direct predator on rabbits for centuries, we need to make friends with our bunny and reassure them they won't become dinner. While you can work on an already strained relationship, bonding with your bunny is easier if you start off on the right foot. In general, rabbits hate to be picked up off the ground. Doing so might only cause fear and agitation. They are often more calm when they are eating, so this might be the most appropriate time to approach them. We suggest:
- Take a suitable piece of fruit or vegetable and hold it in front of your rabbit.
- Wait for them to approach and nibble on the food. If they try to take it away from you, let them.
- If the rabbit is eating in front of you, then you can raise your hand slowly in front of their face so they can see you approach.
- Pet them on the top of their head or back gently, then remove your hand.
- Give them another piece of food if necessary and try again a few more times, petting gently and then removing your hand.
Don't force interaction or escalate too quickly. Keep coming back and increase the amount of interaction incrementally. As you do this, the rabbit will associate you positively (with food) and start to trust you with interaction.
Your rabbit's personality is their own and not everyone will relate the same way. Some may have trust issues and can try to flee or become aggressive. Others might come right up to you and even jump in your lap quite happily. Either way, it is always best to advise caution.
Give your rabbit space
Giving your rabbit space begins with the literal sense. Their hutch, cage or enclosure needs to be big enough for your rabbit. They will need to be able to run around freely, to have somewhere to hide when they feel threatened and to have enough room for accessories. Such accessories include food bowls and toys. Ensuring their diet is correct is also imperative in having a happy bunny.
It is possible, and sometimes encouraged, to keep rabbits together. However, you will need to ensure you have more space. Don't put a rabbit in a hutch with another rabbit if it compromises either's need for space. You should not keep two unneutered male rabbits or unneutered male and female rabbits together.
A hutch is not enough for your rabbit. You will also need to have a run for your rabbit to exercise. This should be a safe enclosure which allow them to move in a larger space and ideally is on a patch of grass. You can let them run around indoors, but ensure they are monitored constantly and remove any stressors in their environment. This includes other pets, loud noises and even strong smells.
The hutch needs to be spacious, but it also needs to be clean and undisturbed. It shouldn't be too cold or hot and it needs to be away from draught. A happy bunny will be a more affectionate bunny, so ensuring their basic needs are met well is imperative you want them to show you some love. A stressed rabbit is less likely to be affectionate.
How to ensure your rabbit is not afraid of you
The most important way to ensure your rabbit is not afraid of you is to not be scary. This means remaining calm, not doing anything to intimidate them and to exert your own sense of reassurance. While you are providing for their essential care needs, you should be have in a relaxed manner. If you are anxious or nervy, you will impart this sense to the rabbit. Rabbits are animals and their animal instinct is more acute than we sometimes give them credit for.
Rabbits are near impossible to train, although you can teach them some basic tricks with a lot of patience. However, they are sensitive animals and will respond to positive reinforcement. If you take your time and let your rabbit come to you on their own terms, you will reduce their fear significantly.
Things you should never do with rabbits
As we are trying to assert, strengthening your bond with a rabbit relies on earning trust. They will show you affection when they feel completely comfortable and secure in your company. While we have tried to give you advice on what you need to do to make your rabbit more affectionate, here are some things you need to avoid. If you don't, you will set back any progress you have made and make it very difficult to get your relationship to the point you desire.
- Never approach them from behind or take them by surprise, it will only scare them.
- Do not play in a way where you chase the rabbit or appear aggressive. As rabbits are prey animals, they will think you are a predator and lose trust in you.
- Never yell at them.
- Do not force affection. Let them come to you when they feel comfortable.
- If they are nervous, do not try to touch their face, nose or chin. They will bite you and think you are trying to assert a state of dominance over you.
- If you need to remove them form their hutch or cage, but they are too nervous, wait until they have calmed down. Provide a treat if it is helpful.
- Do not lift them without having a solid hold. If you try to lift them and they are uncomfortable, they may try to scramble away and become very agitated.
- Never lay the rabbit on their back to calm them. To know more about why, take a look at this article on why you should never trance a rabbit.
Different types of rabbits may have some specific needs, but these guidelines should generally apply to all rabbit breeds.
How to know if your rabbit is happy
As we get to know our rabbits, it is important to read their reactions and learn their body language. Understanding what they mean by particular gestures will help guide you in the right direction. Doing so will help you know if they love and care for you back.
We think of growling as a behavior only exhibited by wolves or dogs, but this is not the case. Rabbits can emit grunts and growls when they are unhappy. They will often also shake and show visible signs of fear, so be careful not to intimidate your rabbit in these situations. Once you have bonded with your bunny, you will see that instead of growling, they will purr contentedly. In fact, there are videos online of rabbits thumping and growling because their human friends have stopped petting them.
Also, when your rabbit is happy and content, they will approach you. They may even rub their nose against you and nudge you lovingly. An unhappy rabbit may bite if they feel cornered or scared. However, a rabbit who loves you will come up to you and gently nibble your finger. You will know the difference between the two once you have bonded well. Check out our video below for more signs your rabbit loves you.
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