Rabbits, being prey animals, are extremely skittish by nature. They are known to be super jumpy, wary of any and all humans and animals that try to interact with them. This means that they may frequently run away from you due to no fault of your own.
Still, there are things that you can do, and things that you should avoid, in order to minimize your rabbit’s strong natural instinct to run away from you.
Why Your Rabbit Is Running Away
The first step to gaining your rabbit’s trust is to understand why they are afraid of you in the first place. Luckily, it is not hard to understand a rabbit’s place in the food chain. Rabbits, being herbivores that eat a variety of plants only, are the poster children for prey animals.
There are two types of animals in the world: predator and prey. Predators are carnivores, and some omnivores, who live primarily off of meat and therefore need to hunt for their food in order to eat and survive. Prey are the animals, typically herbivores that only eat unmoving plants, that become the food for those predators.
Rabbits are naturally prey animals. This means that they have sensitive fight-or-flight instincts that work to keep them alive in the wild. They are used to being hunted so they are used to having to run away from other creatures in order to survive.
They are naturally very fast and great at hiding. They also have a hare (get it?) trigger reaction to any stressors since they do not want to be eaten.
Given how big you are in comparison to them, they may not be able to discern you from their natural hunters in the wild when they first get to know you. They cannot be trusting in the wild if they want to survive so they need proper time to become accustomed to their new home.
Understanding Your Rabbit
Before you can begin bonding with your rabbit, you must be able to communicate with them. A rabbit that is angry or scared will not be receptive to quality time with you. Luckily, rabbits are very communicative creatures.
If you watch out for their actions and listen to the noises you make, you should be able to decipher your bunny’s attitude entirely.
Signs that your rabbit is happy, content, and ready to play include:
- Tooth Clicking: This is essentially your rabbit’s form of purring and is a normal response to pets and cuddling.
- Honking: Honking means that a rabbit is excited and hyper! It often happens alongside running and jumping and may mean that they want your attention.
- Whining: This means that your rabbit wants attention. Whining may also come with nudges and soft bites to your clothing.
- Running Around in Circles: This is another sign that your rabbit is hyper and wants to play. It is very often accompanied by honking!
- Tugging on Clothing: This means that your rabbit needs attention and is trying to get yours.
- Wheezing: A wheeze means a content, sleepy rabbit. However, if the wheezing is consistent, your bunny may be having difficulties breathing and could use a trip to the vet.
- Binkying and Zooming: A rabbit that is running and hopping around, also known as binkying and zooming, is a way for your happy and excited rabbit to get their energy out. They likely do not want to be picked up but will instead likely be very receptive to toys!
- Chinning: If a rabbit rubs their chin on you, it means they really like and trust you! Rabbits have glands on their chins that secrete a special smell that marks you as your bunny’s friend.
- Nudging: This means your rabbit wants you to play with or pet them.
- Licking: If your rabbit licks you, that means that they really trust, appreciate, and love you. It is truly an honor coming from such a skittish creature!
- Flopping Down: If your rabbit just flops their whole body down, this means that they are content. When a rabbit’s legs are behind them, they cannot quickly get away so if they are laying down comfortably, they do not perceive any threats.
- Jumping on Your Lap: This is yet another one of your happy bunny’s ways to get your attention and beg for affection. They are ready to play!
Signs that your rabbit is unhappy, in pain, or scared include:
- Growling: This is a sign that your rabbit feels threatened or is very angry.
- Hissing: Hissing is another sign that your bunny fears something or someone.
- Muttering: Rabbits may just talk to themselves but it could also be a sign of annoyance.
- Teeth Grinding: If a rabbit grinds their teeth, it means that they are in pain or distress and need to go to the vet.
- Screaming: A scream from your rabbit is a terrible sign. Your rabbit is either very scared or in a lot of pain.
- Sniffing: Sniffing means that a rabbit is annoyed, or sometimes just trying to talk to you.
- Charging: Charging is the sign of an angry rabbit that probably needs some space.
- Throwing Objects: Throwing objects is an aggressive way for rabbits to show annoyance, possibly after being scolded.
- Stomping: A bunny that stomps is either threatened or nervous.
- Baring Their Teeth and Biting: These aggressive signs mean that your bunny is upset. They likely need alone time.
- Showing Their Inner Eyelid: A rabbit’s inner eyelid being exposed means that they are very scared. This is especially a bad sign if they respond this way to being handled.
Being able to interpret the actions and sounds of your rabbit will let you know when your rabbit feels comfortable and ready to be picked up and when your bunny needs alone time. Their sounds and behavior will also clue you in to when your rabbit needs to be checked out by a vet.
It is important for your bunny’s health and happiness that you listen to them. They can tell you when they need food, affection, a change of surroundings, water, play time, or, in the worst case scenario, medical attention.
Listening to your rabbit could save their life, or better it!
How to Increase Your Rabbit’s Comfort
A rabbit that is uncomfortable with their surroundings will have a hard time becoming comfortable with any people in those surroundings. A bunny must feel safe before they will allow you to pick them up and hold them.
They are very protective creatures. Luckily, there are several ways to ensure that a space is not causing your rabbit to feel unsafe.
While your rabbit would like to be able to observe your household and needs daily interaction, they should not be in an area where daily bustle will be able to stress them out. They should be removed enough from the action to feel safe but not removed enough to feel left out.
A cage that is kept away from direct sunlight will keep your bunny comfortable as well. Rabbits feel most at home when the temperature is between 60 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Any temperatures that are higher or colder than that window can be life-threatening for your bunny.
It is important to remember that your rabbit is very sensitive. This sensitivity extends to temperature, noise, and action. Cater to your rabbit’s sensitivities to keep them happy and trusting!
Your rabbit should also be given adequate play time. This is because exercise is integral to keeping a rabbit healthy. Their legs and bodies need to be moved and their minds need to be stimulated. Make sure that wherever your bunny is allowed to play is free of cords, wires, or anything else potentially dangerous.
Supply your bunny with toys to chew, bury, and hide as well. Toys can be as simple as crumpled-up paper that you and the bunny can throw around!
How to Bond with Your Rabbit
Bonding with your bunny is an important part of them becoming comfortable both with you and in their space. This comfort will make your rabbit feel less inclined to run away.
Spending quality time is the ultimate way to bond with your rabbit. This bonding can include plenty of treats and food to help your rabbit understand that you are there to take care of them, not to hunt them. Quality time can even be as easy as just calmly sitting in the same room as your bunny!
A super-easy way to get your rabbit to like you is to feed them their favorite foods. Rabbits need grass, hay, and pellet food with protein and fiber. They also need leafy greens and clean water.
As treats, your rabbit likely has their own favorites that you can find out through trial and error. Sweet fruits such as bites of fig, banana, and apples as well as sweet vegetables such as chunks of carrots and broccoli are great places to start. Dried pineapple is an enzyme-rich treat as well.
It is important to keep a rabbit’s schedule in mind when deciding when to bond with them. Rabbits value their alone time as much as they value routine, so be sure to give them both! Rabbits tend to be most active around sunrise and sunset, and spend most of their afternoons sleeping. Pay attention to how active your rabbit is before deciding whether or not to play with them.
If you visit your rabbit consistently, at the very least once or twice a day, then they will become accustomed to you. They will get used to your smell and your touch, and learn with time that you would never hurt them.
Rabbits are naturally curious creatures, so they will be willing to get to know you! If you lay down with a treat or a toy, your rabbit will be unable to keep from examining you and your gift.
How to Catch a Rabbit
Sometimes your bunny running away from you is nothing more than an annoyance. But sometimes you absolutely need your rabbit. Whether they need to go to the vet or have gotten into something they should not be in, there are ways to quickly get your rabbit.
Trying to catch a rabbit while you are standing up is the first major red flag to a rabbit. Rabbits will perceive your sweeping motions as similar to prey coming down to grab them. In general, all quick or sudden motions will cause your rabbit to flee.
This means that a good way to get a rabbit to stop running away is to sit or lay down. From there, try to get the rabbit to come to you. Treats and food can help with this!
Once they come to you, you can pick them up without it seeming like a threat to their safety. At the very least, squatting is better than standing when it comes to trying to hold a rabbit.
Another good rule is to never chase a rabbit. Chases are very triggering to rabbits and will cause them to run for their life. When worst comes to worst, the herding technique will help you get your rabbit where they need to be.
The herding technique is when you use your hands, or an object that poses no danger to your rabbit, such as a broom, to guide your rabbit to their carrier (or wherever else they need to be).
This method is not the first choice since it takes such a long time. Your rabbit may not understand what you are doing the first time that you try this method.
How to Properly Hold a Rabbit
Your rabbit may not be keen on letting you hold them if you are not able to do it correctly. Holding a rabbit incorrectly can also put them in danger. When holding a rabbit, make sure to be gentle while still providing enough support to ensure that the bunny will not fall out of your arms or get away from you.
As a general rule, do not use any more force than necessary. Make sure that when you hold a rabbit, you support the back and hindquarters.
I have a bachelor’s degree in Film/Video/Media Studies, as well as an associates degree in Communications. I began producing videos and musical recordings nearly 15 years ago. I am a guitarist and bassist in Southwest MI and have been in a few different bands since 2009, and in 2012 I began building custom guitars and basses in my home workshop as well. When I’m home, I love spending time with my three pets (a dog, cat, and snake) and gardening in my backyard. I also like photographing wild birds, especially birds of prey.