Do Rabbits Like to be Petted?


We all do it of course and I mean what’s the point of having a pet rabbit if you can’t interact with it by petting it? You can hardly tell your children that they mustn’t stroke it, can you? What are they going to do, just look at it? So, we all do it but does the rabbit enjoy being petted as much as we like petting them?

Do rabbits like to be petted? Yes, most rabbits do like to be petted. However, you need to make sure you don’t stroke them at the wrong time and in the wrong place. 

Although rabbits do typically like to be petted, we need to remember that not all rabbits have the same personality and some will be more receptive to close contact than others. Some rabbits will be all over you the first time you meet them as if you’ve known them for years but with others, you will need to be a bit more patient. Anyway, there’s a lot more to this than you think so read on and learn things from the perspective of the rabbit.

Why Do We Stroke Our Rabbits?

Rabbit looking through its back legs

Do we pet our rabbits for our benefit or for the benefit of the rabbit? Or both? My opinion is that it’s actually a little bit of both. We, for sure, get a lot out of it and it has already been proven that just being around a pet can reduce stress levels. For children, they are a great way for them to learn how to interact with animals and how gentle you need to be around them.

But what does the rabbit get out of it? Potentially, quite a bit. Firstly, you might call it petting but they would call it grooming. Well, they would if they could speak English! The act of grooming serves several purposes, one of them is to transfer the scent of the rabbit that’s licking to the lucky recipient. This won’t happen overnight and is seen between rabbits that are members of the same family and also rabbits that they have bonded with. The same can be said for when they lick us (for more on why they do this, check out the article here). It doesn’t (usually) happen straight away and is more likely to occur once they’ve accepted you and see you as part of their little colony. 

So, we stroke our rabbits to bond with them and because it just feels nice.

How Can We Tell Whether They Like Being Petted?

Oh, you’ll know.

Okay, I was tempted to leave this section just as that but I guess I should provide a little more context. If someone came up to you whilst you were asleep and started to prod you, you probably wouldn’t be over the moon about it. So, get your timing right (more on this later). Also, like other animals (especially cats) where you stroke them is quite important as they don’t like it just anywhere. 

If your rabbit likes being petted they’ll let you continue, if they don’t they’ll typically do a couple of things. 

  1. They’ll try and get away from the area or if they’re being held they’ll struggle and seem uncomfortable. 
  2. They’ll try and bite you. It probably won’t be very hard, more of a ‘warning nip’ than anything more substantial but if you keep doing it then they might try a little harder 🙂

As your relationship with your rabbit matures you will be able to pick up on their little mannerisms quicker. You’ll know where (and how) to stroke them and also when to stop! Children can sometimes take a bit longer to see these signs than us adults so, at least initially, keep an eye on them and make sure they know when to stop.

Does Petting Help Your Rabbit with Anxiety?

Usually, yes, but with many caveats. Being petted from someone they trust and like and if performed at the right time, I would say they definitely get something out of it. You know when a rabbit isn’t happy and if it wasn’t liking it then it would let you know. Whether the act of petting a rabbit decreases anxiety levels in a rabbit we really don’t know. We do know it reduces stress levels in humans as there have been numerous scientific studies relating to the same but that’s really as far as we can go.

However, from purely an unscientific perspective all we can say is that they can appear to like being stroked.

How Do I Pet my Rabbit?

Believe it or not, there’s a bit of an art involved when petting a rabbit. It may seem overly complex but once you know the simple steps it will seem like second nature. When you first acquire a rabbit, they will be nervous and it will take a little bit of time to gain their trust. Follow these simple steps to make the process easier (on both of you):

Rabbit face staring at camera
  1. Don’t surprise the rabbit. Make sure they can see you coming from afar and approach them slowly without too much fuss and too much noise. 
  2. If possible, try and get down more to their level. I know this isn’t that easy considering their size but having a giant human walking right up to them could make them quite nervous.
  3. At first, just sit close to your rabbit, without any interaction. You want her to get used to your presence. They will become accustomed to you, your smell and your mannerisms over time. Let the rabbit make the first move – rather than you charging in and stroking them, allow them to come to you. This is particularly difficult/impossible if you have excited children wanting to pet the rabbit but do your best!
  4. Slowly extend your hand and allow the rabbit to sniff it. You want them to know that there is no danger and they are not under threat. Remember that your rabbit doesn’t see things too great if directly in front of them, so move your hand in slowly from the side.
  5. Once the rabbit is comfortable with you being near it and is okay with sniffing your hand, you can try petting it. You need to make sure you don’t touch bits she doesn’t want you to touch though! Check out the diagram below to know what are the ‘safe’ zones to pet!
  6. Don’t try and pick your rabbit up at this point, especially if it is particularly nervous. Give it a week or two so she can become accustomed to you and get used to your smell and know that you’re not a threat.
Rabbit bad areas to pet
Where to pet your rabbit (and where not to)

When is a Good Time to Pet a Rabbit?

This is a good question as not all rabbits are comfortable at being petted at just any time. For instance, if it’s almost the time that she gets fed then her anxiety levels may be higher than usual and this isn’t probably the best time. Wait until she’s had something to eat when she will be more relaxed. You will find her more accommodating to stroking after this.

If you’re thinking of picking them up then this is a bit more tricky as many rabbits will not like this. They will immediately struggle to get down, may nip you and will become stressed. Certainly, take your time when doing this – don’t rush it.

 What Are The Warning Signs?

It’s important to understand the actions and sounds a rabbit makes and what these mean.

  • Growling or grunting can mean that they are stressed and unhappy (or even in pain). If you have picked them up them gently put them back down again until another time. If they continue this behavior after you’ve done this for a prolonged amount of time then consider seeking the advice of a vet.
  • The above shouldn’t be mistaken from a noise not dissimilar to a cat purring, which indicates that they are content. There are other tell-tales that indicate this such as nudging you with their nose, rolling over and licking their teeth gently.
  • If you notice your rabbit ‘stand-up’ (get on their hind feet) then this is believed to be a defensive position and they are scared they may be hurt. If your rabbit does this to you then you need to leave them alone for a bit. This is more typically seen with families with children. If you notice this behavior with the rabbit, monitor how your kids are interacting with the rabbit to ensure it is not too rough.

It’s important that when you notice these warning signs (or others) you don’t ignore them. You’ve probably by this point, built up a level of trust between you and your rabbit, a definite bond. These bonds can take a long time to create but no time to destroy and then you’ll need to go back to square 1. 

Summary of Facts

  • Most rabbits like to be petted.
  • Typically, a period of time will need to occur before the rabbit will trust you enough to feel comfortable with being petted.
  • Make sure you only stroke them in the areas that they like being stoked!
  • Many rabbits don’t like being picked up at all and may nip when you attempt to do this, even after bonding for some time.
  • Look for the warning signs and stop if they show signs of anxiety.
  • Keep an eye on the kids when they’re interacting with them (at least at first)

Jane

I'm Jane Pettitt, co-owner of Pets Knowledge Base with my husband, Matt. I have a grand total of 50 years’ experience as a pet owner. It all started with a guinea pig called Percy when I was 5 years old and since then I’ve lived with two more guinea pigs, a hamster, mice, a rabbit, a tortoise, a dog and 11 cats. I’ve learned so much about pet care during this time and many of my articles are based on my personal experiences and those of my family and friends .

Recent Content