How To Pick Up a Rabbit

Maria Zayas, DVM
By Maria Zayas, DVM on Jan. 4, 2024
Cute rabbit being held

In This Article

How to Hold a Rabbit

Rabbits are hopping into homes and hearts more than ever in recent years, and it’s important that pet parents know how to safely handle and pick them up. Bunnies, like all small pets, can be easily injured without proper support. Once you understand the basics, you and your bun will have everything you need to be as inseparable as any other pet parent and their furry friend.

Here's how to pick up a rabbit without scaring or injuring them.

How to Hold a Rabbit

1. Gather Your Rabbit

To get started, find a safe area to handle your rabbit. Starting on the floor is the safest choice, in an area with no obstacles (nothing to knock over or break) and preferably a blanket, rug, or carpeting to soften any impacts should your rabbit break loose.

With your area set, lure your rabbit with treats so they can get used to your setup and settle in.

2. Pet the Rabbit

To hold a rabbit, you must touch under their belly and under their rump. As prey animals, rabbits can be skittish by nature and may hop, thump, or run if you try to touch their belly or back end.

To help your rabbit prepare for being picked up, begin by petting areas they’re used to (such as along the back and scruff) and slowly introduce your petting to new areas, like behind their back legs, under their chest, and on their belly.

At this stage, don’t lift them up yet—just see how your bunny reacts to being touched. If they startle badly, repeat this step for as long as it takes for them to get used to you touching the necessary areas.

3. Pick Up Your Rabbit

When you and your rabbit are ready, it is best to settle next to your rabbit, either behind or to their side. Scoop one hand under their chest, and another under their back legs or rump, drawing them into your lap or chest as you do so.

You want to do this swiftly, though not rushed, and with confidence. If your rabbit startles or tries to jump, hold them firmly to your body for their comfort and safety.

A rabbit will only feel safe being held if they:

  • Feel supported at both the front and back end

  • Are in a stable hold

  • Are held to your body rather than in the air

It is critical to use both hands—one at the front and one at the back of the rabbit.

Bunnies, like all small pets, can be easily injured without proper support.

Depending on how you are sitting or standing when holding a rabbit, it may be more secure to hold your rabbit’s chest and shoulders from the side or above. You may also hug them into your body, under their back legs, or the classic hold of under both the chest and rump. The hand at the front of the rabbit should span underneath and to the side or top of the shoulders to provide better control.

How To Help a Child Pick Up a Rabbit

When a child wants to hold a rabbit, take precautions to make sure everyone will be safe.

Children under the age of 7 should not hold a rabbit. Instead, teach them how to safely pet and interact with a rabbit. Children of any age must know to never grab a rabbit, to pet them gently, and to allow the rabbit to leave the area.

For children old enough and ready to learn how to pick up a rabbit, you need a bunny already acclimated to being held. Sit on the ground with the child on your lap, invite the rabbit over, and then use your hands to guide the child’s as they pick the rabbit up into their lap.

How To Pick Up a Rabbit Without Scaring Them

The first step in avoiding scaring a rabbit is to know how to identify a scared rabbit. Learn how to read your rabbit’s body language, including the following:

  • Ear position: Rabbits with ears tilted back paired with alert eyes are letting you know they are tense or nervous.

  • Vocalizing: If a rabbit grunts or growls, do not approach them and stop what you’re doing. Pushing them may result in biting. If a rabbit screams, they’re panicking or are in pain. Stop touching them immediately. If your rabbit is acting abnormally, take them to a vet.

  • Thumps: Thumping is a way to communicate; it can mean a rabbit wants something, be an alert for other animals, or be a sign that a rabbit is nervous. Thumping should be interpreted in context with what else the rabbit is doing.

  • Body position: If a rabbit’s body is tense, they may lunge at you to push your hand or nip at you if you approach. They’re telling you they’re scared and do not want to be touched.

  • Tooth grinding: Rabbits can grind their teeth smoothly and softly when happy. But if the sound is loud and grating, they are scared and need space and a secure, quiet place to calm down.

Go slowly and confidently when handling a scared rabbit and focus on getting your bunny used to being pet and touched for however long it takes for them to be comfortable before moving forward.

Rabbits may also respond negatively to being picked up if they aren’t feeling well. Arthritis in the legs and hips or back pain can make being held deeply uncomfortable if not very painful. A rabbit with a UTI may feel pain when their belly is touched.

Rabbits can also suffer from upper respiratory infections where their breathing is inhibited. The pressure of being touched on their chest or belly may make them uncomfortable.

As always, if your rabbit is acting abnormally or you suspect they may be ill, contact your veterinarian right away.

Rabbit Handling FAQs

What is the easiest way to pick up a rabbit?

The easiest way to pick up a rabbit is to use one hand to support their front from under the chest, and the other hand to support the back end from behind and below the rump. Bring them firmly to your chest to help support them and to have something to hold them against.

How do you pick up a rabbit that hates it?

Start working with your rabbit through any discomfort with being touched and handled. Only after they are comfortable with that should you practice picking them up. Start with sitting on the ground and just lifting them up into your lap, or against your chest in your lap—not picking them up in the air.

Is it OK to pick up a rabbit?

As long as you understand how to safely pick up a rabbit and are comfortable reading their body language, it is OK for an adult to pick up a rabbit.

Is it OK to pick up a rabbit by the scruff of the neck?

Do not pick up a rabbit by the scruff, even if you support their bottom. This can be stressful and painful for your rabbit and should always be avoided.

Will a rabbit bite you if you pick them up?

Rabbits can bite when scared or upset. If you take your time desensitizing them to having all parts of their body handled, this is less likely to happen. Understanding rabbit body language and recognizing earlier signs of stress can also help avoid this, but any rabbit that suddenly panics when being picked up could potentially bite while scared. ‌

Featured Image: Vanessa Nunes/iStock via Getty Images Plus

Maria Zayas, DVM


Maria Zayas, DVM


Dr. Zayas has practiced small animal and exotic medicine all over the United States and currently lives in Colorado with her 3 dogs, 1 cat,...

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