Many people think that bunnies don’t like being petted. Rabbits may seem to get upset or aggressive with someone who tries to pet them, or they may even shy away from strange hands. In my experience, even these rabbits actually love to be petted. You just need to learn the techniques to make your rabbit feel relaxed and safe while you pet them.
However, Most rabbits love being pets. Many will calmly sit with you for long periods of time while you give them a nice massage. Petting is a great process to calm an anxious rabbit down and to bond with your pet rabbit. However, it’s important to learn the basic techniques to pet your rabbit in a way that they will love.
Even those shy rabbits or who have had traumatizing experiences with human hands in the past can learn to love petting. If you are patient with your rabbit, you can teach them to make good associations with human hands. They will eventually be content to sit with while you give them a nice massage.
How to pet a rabbit
Petting a dog or a cat is a little bit different than petting a rabbit. With other pets, you will approach them with your hand directly in front of them to give them nice scritches around their necks and below their chins. However, Rabbits need to be approached in a completely different manner if you want them to see your hand in a friendly way.
1. Make sure your rabbit can see your hand
Before you touch your rabbit, you want to ensure your hands are approaching them in a way that is not offensive or scary. For this, we need to have an understanding of how they see the world around them and rabbit vision. And also we need a basic comprehension of some dominance-based rabbit behaviors.
First, it’s important to learn a little bit about rabbit behaviors and vision. Rabbits have an almost 360º field of vision, but they have a blind spot right in front of them. This means, if your hand approaches your rabbit from directly in front of their nose, they can’t see what you’re doing and they might get scared. Therefore you always want to touch your rabbit with your hand at least a little bit to one side of their head.
You also want to pet your rabbit with your hand above their head. In groups of rabbits, a controlling or dominant rabbit will display his position by getting in the face of other rabbits. If your rabbit believes they are the dominant bun, they might get offended by your hand coming directly at them. To prevent your rabbit from getting aggressive, you’ll want to approach your rabbit with your hand above them.
If you want to pet your rabbit, make sure your hand is approaching from above their head and to one side. This will prevent them from taking offense at the gesture and helps your rabbit see your hand.
2. Petting the head
The forehead is the safest place to pet your rabbit. Rabbits love the sensation of being pet here. It’s also the easiest place to reach with your hand coming from above their head. While petting your rabbit, you can give them small strokes on their forehead, or you can give them little scritches with your fingers.
3. Petting behind the ears
If your rabbit is comfortable being pet above their head, the next place to move is behind their ears. This tends to be a favorite spot for rabbits. Give them a massage behind their neck here. They will often shift their position to relax more into the floor. If you’re feeling really dexterous, while rubbing your rabbit forehead with your thumb, give them a massage behind their neck with the four fingers of your hand.
Should you avoid petting your rabbit’s ears? Contrary to popular says, most rabbits don’t have very sensitive ears. While most rabbits aren’t necessarily going to like an ear massage, they don’t mind when their ears are touched either. It’s a neutral area for rabbits.
However, you must not under any conditions or circumstances try to pick your rabbit up by their ears. This is very dangerous for rabbits.
4. Full body massage
When your rabbit is comfortable with getting scritches behind their ears and on their forehead, it’s time to give them a massage with strokes down their back. If your rabbit doesn’t like being stroked like this, they might be surprised at first. This doesn’t mean your rabbit didn’t like it, it just means that they didn’t expect it.
To help your rabbit get the habit of being pet down their back, start by giving them shorter strokes halfway. Keep giving your rabbit scratches behind the ears and on their forehead while adding in the occasional stroke down their back. Slowly increase the length of the back-strokes until your rabbit acclimates to it.
Once your rabbit is used to being touched all the way down their back, you can start to give them a full body massage. Give your rabbit scritches up and down their back and massages them until they ‘melt’ into the floor.
5. Petting the cheeks
Many rabbits love being pet on their cheeks. Similar to being pet on their backs, they may be surprised at first when you go to pet their cheeks. As you are petting their forehead, occasionally give them a little rub on their cheek. Over time, make these cheek rubs longer so you are giving your rabbit some lovely cheek massages.
Pet rabbit on the cheeks can be especially useful because it gives you a chance to do a basic tooth check. You can feel around your rabbit’s cheek teeth to see if there are any bumps or abscesses that are out of place. This can help you recognize any signs of overgrown teeth as soon as possible.
Where rabbits don’t like to be pet
Your rabbit will be very happy to be petted for long periods of time, but there are areas that they prefer not to be touched. A rabbit who is pet in these areas is likely to jump away instead of relaxing:
Belly and chest: A rabbit will watch over their underside very closely. They may run away, bite you, or change to a position where their belly and chest are pushed against the floor so that you can’t get to them.
Butt: A rabbit’s bottom, right around their tail, tends to be a sensitive spot where they don’t like to be petted or touched.
Feet: Rabbits like having control of their feet at all times so they can run away when necessary. They will quickly run away if you try to touch their paws or their hind legs.
Chin: Unlike dogs and cats, rabbits tend to shy away from any hand trying to touch their chin.