Basic Handling

Always support a rabbit’s hind end- they have very powerful back muscles and if they kick their legs too hard they could actually break their own back.  It’s best to handle rabbits while wrapped in a towel.

Reading Rabbits: Quick Tips

Behavior Possible Meaning
Sitting in a corner and panting Stress
Panting Overheated
Inactive Depressed, may be sign of health problem
Ears laid back suddenly May soon box or nip
Pressing belly to floor Gas pain
Pressing head into your hand Wants head to be “groomed”
Stomping feet Anger, fear, “danger” signal for other bunnies
Tooth grinding (gentle) Happiness
Tooth grinding (vigorous) Pain
Zig zags, jumps, “dancing”

Bunny flops

Eating At ease
 Sources: Mary Cotter of the House Rabbit Society, Misha Goodman of the Iowa City Animal Care and Adoption Center, Adam Goldfarb of The HSUS


Take your time when handling rabbits. Rabbits have very fragile spines.  The force of their legs moving has been known to cause back fractures.

To pick up and carry a rabbit safely and securely, place one hand behind the forelegs, and the other under the rump. Holding a rabbit close to your body will make him feel more comfortable and secure. It may be helpful to kind of bury their head in the crook of your arm, too. They may be less scared.

Rabbits are easily frightened and stressed when being moved.  Hold rabbits securely enough so they could not fall if they jump, but loosely enough so they do not break their back by having their rear legs restrained.

Because rabbits have very poor close vision, avoid approaching a rabbit directly from the front when possible; this will help prevent aggressive action. Instead, bring your hand toward her from the side, holding it slightly above her head but still in her view. Also let the bunny sniff your hand, just like a dog or cat.  Rabbits are very scared when you enter their cage.  They think you are going to hurt them.  If she lays her ears back, she may be ready to box with her paws or nip. Bring your hand down to gently apply pressure on her head; that will give you the chance to remove food and water bowls with your other hand. In this way, you’ll be much less threatening.

Special Considerations

Rabbits do not show many outward signs of illness, and when they do it can be very subtle. Therefore, it is extremely important to monitor rabbits closely. Seemingly minor changes in behavior, activity level, appetite and/or posture can be serious symptoms of illness.

A rabbit’s teeth grow continuously throughout its life. They are kept at an appropriate length by means of normal chewing. Providing rabbits with a variety of “chew toys”/enrichment (corrugated cardboard, cardboard boxes or rolls stuffed with hay, untreated willow and wicker baskets, books – not glossy magazines, untreated wood) will help prevent overgrown teeth. Sometimes rabbits have malocclusion (the front incisors do not align correctly), and they will require teeth trimming on a regular basis.

Rabbits use the blood vessels in their ears to regulate their body temperature. Hot or cold ears can be a sign of fever or a drop in body temperature.