By Suaz Forsythe, Animal Friends Volunteer
Help! I just adopted a rabbit but it doesn’t seem very friendly. What can I do?
We hear this often. A rabbit, like any animal who is new to a household, should be introduced to its new surroundings slowly and with patience. Think of yourself in a new situation; you wouldn't go in quickly and boldly—you would probably read the room before letting your guard down and allowing your confidence to show through. This is the same behavior a rabbit shows in a new environment.
When you first bring your new rabbit home, give it its own area. An exercise pen with all the essentials including food, water, litterbox, a separate box to hide in and some enrichment toys will do just fine. When bringing a new rabbit into your home, it's best to keep the same food and litter they used in their previous setup—this helps to minimize the stress that the new situation can cause on their body.
Refresh their food and litter for a few days but let them claim that area as their own. Using a sheet to cover the top of the pen discourages bunnies who climb or may want to jump out. After a few days, you can remove the sheet, but remember to keep anything they can jump on in the middle of the pen. When you keep items near the sides of the pen, they can quickly become a launch pad for escape!
Next, offer some fresh greens from your hand, but only in small amounts to avoid an upset stomach. Find a treat that they absolutely love—a fresh banana, dried strawberry or an approved biscuit will help build your relationship!
After a few more days, enter their area to sit and see if they will come to you. Most rabbits are very curious and will come to check out the person who is in their space. If not, then turn your back to them and sit quietly. One thing that I've learned about most rabbits is that they will not be ignored! You might feel feet on your back or a nose pushing you; letting them make the first move gives them security.
From day one, give your rabbit the freedom to decide how and when they interact with you. Mistakes are made when giving them free run of the entire house right away. Because rabbits are considered prey animals, they need to explore their new environment to make sure they are safe. The bigger the area, the longer they need to explore and the less time they will spend interacting with you.
Once they are showing good rabbit behavior—using the litterbox, not chewing wires or digging at the carpets—you can reward them by increasing the size of their area. You can go from an enclosed exercise pen, to blocking off the entry to another room and then another floor.
The quickest way to socialize your rabbit is to spend time with them. Because rabbits feel safer when all four feet are on the floor, you'll find yourself on the floor a lot! Always reward their positive interactions with something they love—a scratch on their back, a rub on their nose or caressing their ears. Let them come to you for things that make them happy.
We know that giving your rabbit the freedom to choose you in the beginning is probably the hardest part, but once they've made that choice using the right techniques, it's for life!
February is Adopt a Shelter Rabbit Month at Animal Friends. If you’re ready to add a long-eared member to your family, you can meet our adoptable rabbit residents online at ThinkingOutsideTheCage.org/Rabbits or contact our adoption team at AdoptionInfo@ThinkingOutsideTheCage.org to set up a time to visit.