Updated: Aug 7, 2020
One of our most frequently asked questions from new bunny owners is how to interact and socialize during the first few days home.
Consider this, you have just been taken from your mother/siblings and the only environment you've ever known. Now you are in a brand new home with unknown scents, sounds, and new people whom you haven't yet determined are friends or foes.
It is highly recommended to allow your bunny a quiet adjustment period in his/her new cage or hutch. We want a safe space away from other pets or loud noises. You can provide your bunny a hidey hole and/or boxes to hide in for when your bunny feels scared. I encourage families to let your bunny be for a couple of hours. We want them to explore their new enclosure and mark their scent by chinning. Sometimes when families linger around, it can take longer for them to do so. After a couple of hours, check in on your new furry friend. Once you notice your bunny eating, drinking, and going to the bathroom, it’s now time to see if they are ready to socialize. Start by opening the cage door to see if your bunny comes to the cage door and desires interaction. If your bunny approaches you, it's a good indication that he/she is ready to explore.
Being a prey animal, bunnies feel most comfortable on the ground and in control. Don't be frustrated if your bunny doesn’t want to be carried around or sit on your lap right away. Doing so may lead to a scrambling, frightened bunny that scratches you. This is one reason why I never recommend a bunny for very small child. Bunnies are fragile and need gentle interaction, especially in the beginning stages of bonding. Your bunny will eventually enjoy sitting with you and trust you to pick them up and carry them, but know that this is a courtship that can take weeks or even months. It is essential that we start this courtship the proper way.
The best way to start your bonding process is to sit on the floor just outside your bunny's cage. Ideally, wait until your bunny hops out of the cage. If your bunny is reluctant, gently but firmly scoop up your bunny. It is best to cradle his/her hindquarters in one hand and use your other hand to bring it securely to your chest. If your bun feels insecure and like he can wiggle to escape, he will most likely try. This can result in injury to either you or the bunny. Once you have your bunny in your arms, bring the bunny to the floor just outside the cage. At first you will want to keep the area small. It is also a good idea to have a second litter box outside his/her cage for him/her to use when playing. If you are especially lucky, your bunny will be relaxed and let you hold it while sitting on the ground. If not, proceed to the next section.
This is a hard rule to follow but… IGNORE your bunny. I know it can be quite difficult when all you want to do is snuggle and love on your new fluffy friend. But it’s important to IGNORE your bunny. You can read a book, play a game, catch up on folding that laundry, watch some tv, etc. Once your bunny starts to come around and investigate you, is when we want to reward them. A reward can be gentle head rubs, calming words, and even a few raw oats or black oil sunflower seeds as a treat. This will work to create a positive association plus help your bunny see that befriending you is rewarding. Depending on your bun’s personality and how outgoing he/she is, bonding can be very quick or may take weeks of gentle coaxing. Don't get discouraged and give up if it seems like it is taking a while. If at any time it seems your bunny is terrified, there is probably something triggering this reaction. You will need to be a detective and find the culprit. Stressors to consider: dogs, scent of other pets, loud noises, temperature, lack of hiding places, strong scents, switching his/her diet too quickly, illness, etc.
Bunnies are unique creatures and need to be held to a different set of expectations than other domestic pets. Patience and dedication will go a long way in bonding with your new bunny.