Rabbits have been domesticated for so long that even youngsters of a few weeks display no fear. It is rare that petting or coaxing is necessary to overcome the animal’s natural caution. This makes the rabbit an ideal pet even for quite young children, who could not be trusted with a smaller animal for fear that it would be lost. It is amazing to see how some rabbits can tolerate being lugged about; showing some of the flexibility of body to be seen in cats.
However, there are right and wrong ways of picking up and holding a rabbit. First the correct methods. Young to half-grown rabbits should be picked up by sliding one hand under the belly and lifting bodily. The trick is to have the animal’s body balanced in the palm of the hand. A rabbit which is used to being picked up in this manner will lay quietly and unafraid.
A mature rabbit of the larger breeds is a bit of a handful to be picked up by the stomach alone. The other hand is brought into play by holding the ears firmly but not tightly. No lifting should ever be done by the ears. These should only be held to balance the animal.
The best method is to approach the rabbit from the front. Take hold of his ears gently with the left hand (if you are right handed) and slide the right hand down his back and under the rump. Now, without actually taking too much of the animal’s weight by the ears, lift him up and slightly backwards with the left hand; at the same time scooping him up with the right, so that the rump is sitting in the palm of your hand. A little practice is required in order that the operation is done smoothly, without fumbling. Most rabbits respond to being picked up in this way by stiffening their bodies and this helps the operation. It is easier to hold the animal and to use the ears solely as a means of maintaining the balance. If you feel you cannot do this without being shown, ask an experienced rabbit breeder to show you. All of them will know how to do it and will be glad to demonstrate.
On no account pick up a rabbit by the ears alone. A rabbit’s ears may look big and tempt a beginner to catch hold of them but it is cruel. The muscles of the ear cannot take the weight of the body and any lifting immediately causes him to struggle and increases the pain. If a rabbit struggles while being handled it almost certainly indicates that you are not doing the job properly. Release him and start again after a few moments of quietness.
Another method not to be recommended is that of grasping a handful of loose skin at the shoulders. True, this is the method by which the mother picks up a baby which has strayed from the nest. Young rabbits can be picked up in this manner with little harm but old animals are usually too heavy. Even if the weight is taken by a hand under the belly, and the shoulder grip merely steadies the animal, the method is not so good as one hand on the ears and the other under the rump. Even a straightforward hugging of a rabbit to the chest (such as children do) is to be preferred.