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When you pet your bunny, this mimics the way rabbits groom each other and therefore helps to calm them. Most rabbits learn to love being petted, but only once they get to know and trust you.
In a natural setting, rabbits are very social animals. They constantly groom each other as a sign of fondness and affection. Petting by their trusted owners gives a rabbit the same signs of fondness and affection
In this article, I will be talking about petting your pet rabbit. First, we’ll make sure you know what it means to pet a rabbit and then we’ll give you some tips to help your bunny become comfortable and learn to love being petted.
Petting A Rabbit
When we say we are petting a rabbit it means that we are gently stroking the rabbit’s head or body with our fingers, the palm of our hand, or even the back of our hand. In doing so, we are gentle running our hands through their fur or smoothing their fur.
Petting a rabbit is sometimes called stroking or rubbing, and the terms are interchangeable.
It should be noted that petting is different from ‘giving scratches’. Scratching means using the tips of our fingers to gently scratch through a rabbit’s fur to actually stimulate their skin.
While some rabbits really like being scratched, at least in certain areas, most prefer petting.
Where Do Rabbits Like To Be Petted?
Most rabbits like to be petted or stroked on their forehead, shoulders, back, and cheeks, though each bunny has its own personality and preferences. Very few bunnies like to be petted on their chins, stomach, or bottoms.
If you pet your bunny someplace they don’t like, they’ll probably just run away, though they could kick to get away. The kicks are really the most ‘dangerous’ thing a rabbit can do. However, rabbit scratches are not really dangerous to humans.
Hence, rabbits would need time to adjust to getting strokes or pets. Some rabbits will be more cautious and skittish than others and would not be very keen about a big, hulking figure trying to reach out to them.
How To Know If Your Rabbit Likes Being Petted
Once you have a basic understanding of rabbit body language knowing if your bunny is happy or not becomes really easy. If you’re new to having a pet rabbit, you should take a few minutes to read this article about common pet rabbit behavior.
If your rabbit likes being petted, its ears will relax and not be pulled back tightly over its back. They might even begin to make a quiet purring sound which they accomplish by gently rubbing their teeth together or even shutting their eyes in a totally relaxed state.
A rabbit who loves pets might even “melt” to the floor when they are getting their pets and strokes. I’ve seen rabbits just flop their sides to expose their whole body to more petting. However, this is very rare because rabbits are naturally prey animals and to flop like this requires that they 100% trust you and their environment.
If your rabbit does not like being petted, it will most like try to leave the situation. If they are particularly annoyed by the petting, they might even thump their hind legs as a warning to give them more space.
Finally, the sure-fire way to know that our bunny enjoys petting is when it actively seeks out more pets. Rabbits will nudge you softly with their head and keep their head down as an invitation for you to pet them.
A bunny begging for more pets is one of the most adorable things about bunnies, and I advise that you always indulge your bunny because this is a clear sign that your rabbit trusts and loves you.
7 Tips For Petting A Rabbit
While most rabbits will learn to love being petted, it could be a process. Really, your bunny isn’t learning to like pets, instead, it’s learning to trust you enough to enjoy the petting.
1. Start Slow
Before your rabbit can learn to like being petted, it has to learn to like being around you.
When you get a new bunny, we recommend that earn that new bunny’s trust you start by giving them lots of space and time. When they’re ready, they’ll come to you.
If you followed our guide for setting up an indoor rabbit hutch, you have a rabbit safe area around your hutch where your bunny can get some free-range time. We suggest that you find yourself a spot on the floor and settle in there with a good book or movie.
Then you’ll open the ramp for your bunny to exit its hutch and just wait for it to come out and explore its new area and you. Rabbits are curious creatures, and when it’s ready it will come over to sniff you. Let your bunny touch you first before you try to touch it.
2. Wait For A Calm And Content Rabbit
The first rule of helping your bunny warm up to the idea of pets is by initiating the action when they are in a good mood. Grumpy rabbits or rabbits that are hungry or scared will not be able to enjoy being petted.
Remember that rabbits learn and remember things mostly by association. If your bunny is scared/stressed/anxious and you try to pet them, they will associate petting with unpleasant feelings and will be more hesitant about being petted in the future.
3. Get Low
This is extremely important. You want to approach your bunny in a way that is not menacing or threatening to them.
Remember that you look like a huge giant from your rabbit’s perspective because they’re so close to the ground. Even little children can look scary from a rabbit’s point of view.
Towering over a new pet rabbit can make you look like a predator that is about to eat them, so their initial reaction would be to scamper away. As your rabbit learns to recognize and trust you, they won’t care if you’re standing over them, but at first, it can be stressful for your new bunny.
Get down to your rabbit’s level. Sitting down is a good idea but if you can get lower, on your tummy, for example, this will have you at eye level with them and you will look less threatening.
4. No Surprises
This is another golden rule for when trying to get your bunny to like being petted or stroked. Make sure that your rabbit sees the contact coming. This means that you want them to see your hand slowly coming before it touches them.
Remember that rabbits have a blind spot directly in front of their nose. This means that they can’t see your hand coming directly at their nose, which means that they will not like being petted on their nose.
It is also good to let your rabbit first “explore” your hand, and have them sniff your hand so they’re more familiar with its scent. Have your palm open while holding their toy or offering them their favorite treats.
We like garden greens as a street, but if your bunny is particularly skittish, you might have to up your treat game. Small amounts of bananas are high-value treats for bunnies and no bunny can resist their allure once they have tasted these sweet treats.
5. Pet In The Right Places
Once your rabbit is already familiar with your hand, you can begin to pet them. However, rabbits will only enjoy getting pets or strokes when you stroke them in the right places.
You might notice that all pets have preferred body parts that they liked to be stroked. Dogs for example love getting belly rubs, but this is not the same for rabbits!
Listed below are the different places where you can pet your bunny:
- Forehead – Rabbits love getting pets and strokes on their foreheads. This is mainly because other rabbits tend to lick/groom their heads as a demonstration of affection.
- Behind The Ears – The spot behind their ears is also considered a sweet spot for petting rabbits. Try stroking them there to see if your rabbit will melt to the floor in pure joy. If they do, then you’re doing the right thing.
- Cheeks – I do not recommend petting rabbits immediately on the cheeks. They may be surprised at first. It is better to start petting them on their forehead and then slowly expand the strokes to their cheeks. Once they are used to cheek petting, most rabbits love it.
- Ears – Bunny ears are the cutest, so we all want to pet their ears. Ears are a neutral spot for bunnies to be petted. Some rabbits love having their ears gently stroked and others never learn to feel safe having their ears touched.
- Back – Another neutral spot that you can try to pet/stroke your rabbit is on their back. Once again, some love it, while others can barely tolerate it. I think it’s because they can’t really see what you’re doing there. As your bunny learns to trust you more, back scratches might become a favorite thing.
Meanwhile here are some of the spots that most rabbits hate having scratched or stroked, and, of course, you should avoid these areas.
- Belly And Chest – Nope, unlike dogs, rabbits do not enjoy belly rubs. Animals tend to protect their underside as these are sensitive areas that house their crucial internal organs. Rabbits are especially protective of these parts of their bodies because of their prey nature. Therefore, do not attempt to flip your bunny and rub their bellies. They won’t enjoy it and instead will try to get away from you.
- Legs – Rabbits do not like getting their feet touched. Rabbits rely on their feet to get away from predators, so constraining their feed in any way will make them feel uncomfortable and threatened.
- Bottoms – Another sensitive part of bunnies is their tails and their bums. Rabbits also use their tails to signal other rabbits that a predator is near and rely on these to confuse predators chasing them. Hence, they will be very protective of this part of their buddies.
- Chin – Your dog might like getting chin scratches but your rabbit will not. This is probably because they can’t see your hand when you scratch their chins, so this will be very confusing and uncomfortable for them.
6. Reward your bunny
To help your bunny associate petting with pleasant experiences you can reward them while you are petting them.
Offering your bunny treats while petting them will help them see the experience as pleasant rather than threatening. Just don’t get carried away with the treats!
A healthy rabbit diet is made up primarily of dried hay, but treats can be offered occasionally and in moderation.
7. Be Patient
Finally, you must be patient when teaching your bunny to like being petted. Your new bunny will likely shy away from your touch at first but if you take your time your bunny will become less touch-timid each day.
A pet bunny has a long life and a few weeks of building a bond strong enough to empower your bunny to love being petted is a small price to pay for a lifetime of bunny cuddles. Enjoy the process, and look forward to the years of rewards to follow.