You had imagined it so beautifully: Let you eat from the hand, stroke, cuddle and play.
But then comes the disillusionment: Your rabbit is afraid of you. He won’t let you touch him, freezes, trembles or tries to flee in panic.
There can be many reasons for this!
We’ll tell you here what these causes are and what measures and tricks you can use to create trust.
Cause 1: Bad experiences
Especially if you have your rabbits from a pet shop or shelter, the first experiences of the animals can not always be assessed correctly.
Maybe they were handled very rough, they never got used to humans properly or were even hurt by them.
With such an imprint, fear of you and other people is almost pre-programmed.
The only thing left for you to do is to convince your pelt-noses gently and over a longer period of time of the opposite.
Do not grab them, do not bend over them and do not pick them up.
Luring them with special treats, such as fennel, dandelion or a piece of apple is allowed. However, you should only place these near you at first, after you have sat down calmly and relaxed next to the run or cage.
Feeding them directly from your hand is too much to ask for the beginning, at least with very shy animals.
Cause 2: No escape possibility
Commercial cages are usually much too small.
Even a dwarf rabbit (not species-appropriate) kept alone has hardly any space in it.
To integrate retreat possibilities here is not possible. Escape routes are missing anyway.
Exactly these need the prey animals, however, in order to feel safe and comfortable and to be able to decide for themselves when they want to approach.
Therefore, a large cage with an attached indoor enclosure and shelter possibilities is ideal. This division with a possible separation of the areas will also help you with cleaning and changing the bedding.
Cause 3: Lack of habituation
One of the most common problems with pets in general and rabbits in particular is lack of habituation.
It’s best to keep in mind what the animals have just been through: They’ve been uprooted (again) from their familiar environment, separated from known conspecifics, and have to find their way around.
So, as a fully informed rabbit owner, you plan for acclimation!
You sit down, talk calmly and handle the animals gently. After one week there is still no change – what now?
Quite simply: habituation does not work so fast. Even rabbits that are used to humans need longer to really get used to the new environment.
You can shorten the time by creating ideal conditions. However, even this is no guarantee that the rabbits will greet you joyfully in the shortest possible time.
And while we’re on the subject of duration, we’ll deal with a related topic on the next point, so be sure to let on.
Cause 4: Impatience
Not only during the acclimation, but also in the following time impatience can do you more harm than good.
Let the rabbits come to you instead of approaching them.
Take it one step at a time by first luring them, letting them sniff, and letting them lie or climb on you.
Be happy about any progress – even if it’s small.
You can’t speed up the process by forcing closeness. You will achieve exactly the opposite.
Also, be realistic about the “work” you put in. Many new keepers overdo it a bit and are even more frustrated because of it. After all, they have spent more than enough time next to the animals and have already tried everything.
But hand on heart: After work or school, sleep, food, household, appointments and free time – how much time do you really have left for the animals?
It is the same with the supposed “already tried everything”.
It may seem that way at first, but trying a lot of things in a few weeks also means not giving any of the methods enough time. At best, you will not make any progress.
At worst, you completely overwhelm and confuse the rabbits.
Cause 5: You are loud and hectic
Often we don’t notice ourselves when we act too loudly or frantically. However, the rabbits may feel threatened by it. Especially if they are in a transit area, animals may be exposed to a lot of stimuli.
Other pets (such as cats) and family members are walking by, playing, making noises, arguing if necessary. If you add to this, the rabbits are in constant stress and much more prone to anxious behavior. Therefore, check carefully what stimuli the animals are exposed to day after day.
Then try to create a calmer environment and, if necessary, behave in a more relaxed and cautious manner.
Cause 6: Wrong lifting
Rabbits have a very sensitive musculoskeletal system and are therefore prone to injury and pain.
Unfortunately, they are still often lifted up by their ears or neck fur. This not only creates pain, but also fear of touch and people.
Being lifted up is a stressor for rabbits anyway. Because they are prey animals, losing contact with the ground is frightening.
Therefore, animals should not be lifted until they are tame and can be touched without difficulty. To do this, slide one hand under the chest and one hand under the buttocks. This provides a secure support.
Now, of course, the question arises how to move the long or short ears, for example, from the free run into the cage or how to put them into a transport box when they have to go to the vet.
This is exactly what the next point is about.
Cause 7: Chasing
A very common cause of anxiety in rabbits and incomprehension in owners is when the animals need to be transported, examined or treated.
It is clear to you as the keeper that lifting and contact cannot be avoided in these cases. The result is that the rabbits are chased. Many then wonder why the capture takes longer and longer, becomes more cumbersome and the animals are frightened.
But this is only the logical consequence.
After all, the rabbits do not know that the capture is intended for their own good. It just causes them a lot of stress and instinctively makes them fear for their lives.
You should therefore find a gentler way!
The ideal way is to offer them an alternative: Position a transport box in run or cage and make it enticing. Offer special treats exclusively in this box for a while.
When the rabbits have learned that something pleasant awaits them here, they will soon go into the container voluntarily and quickly. You can then simply close the door and neither you nor the rabbits will have to hunt.
Cause 8: Threatening body language
Often people don’t realize when they are acting threatening from an animal’s perspective.
Hunching over rabbits, squeezing them, or cornering them usually happens unnoticed and isn’t meant in a bad way.
However, this does not make it better for your stubby tails!
Therefore, study the body language of rabbits in detail. If you can recognize at an early stage whether the animals are feeling well, stressed or anxious, you can act accordingly.
In doing so, you will also learn which of your behaviors trigger which reactions.
Cause 9: Smells
Rabbits have a very sensitive sense of smell.
It is therefore not surprising that they react fearfully when “something gets up their nose”. Therefore, they will be anxious if you smell like a veterinarian or disinfectant.
This can also apply to other smells.
If you can’t identify any other causes for the fearfulness, avoid scents for a while or change them.
Tip: It may also help to rub hay on your hands.
Cause 10: Diseases and pain
If you have tried everything or your rabbits suddenly change their behavior, health problems come into question: pain and diseases can be possible causes.
In this case, your only option is to go to the vet.
Ideally, you observe the rabbit very closely to be able to give the doctor clues already. Potential symptoms are:
- Teeth grinding
- a hard, bloated abdomen
- accelerated breathing up to panting
- pale mucous membranes
It is important that you act quickly. Because the animals are extremely sensitive and the condition can deteriorate in a very short time.
My name is Mark and the senior editor
I take great pride in being the best possible author and giving you the knowledge that i have on all different types of animals!
I have spent a lifetime learning about pets and animals, and have worked in the pet and vet industry for over 20 years now!
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