The idea that touching a baby rabbit (kit) and their mother will reject them afterward is a complete myth. How and when you should handle a rabbit depends on the situation, and whether they’re wild or domesticated babies.
Read on to learn more about handling baby rabbits – including safety tips, when it’s appropriate to handle them, and exactly what happens when you pick up a baby rabbit!
What Happens When You Handle a Baby Rabbit
Here’s the myth:
Once a human touches a baby rabbit, it’s thought that their scent is passed on and lingers on the baby. People think that the mother will then reject her baby when she detects the human smell on their skin.
This isn’t the case at all!
There is a kernel of truth – your scent would be on the baby rabbit. But a rabbit’s smelling ability is so powerful that she’ll be able to detect her baby’s natural smell underneath. Aside from that, she’ll also recognize their appearance and the sounds they make (e.g., crying).
Abandoning a baby rabbit is rare, and usually only happens if the mother is under immense stress and has no other option.
When You Should Handle a Baby Rabbit
Generally, you should only handle baby rabbits when you have to – handling them for your own entertainment or without reason is likely to cause more harm than good.
There’s also a difference in when you should handle baby rabbits depending on if they’re wild or domesticated:
Baby rabbits in the wild will usually be in nests with a mother rabbit who feeds them once per day. In between their feeds, baby rabbits might cry, but you shouldn’t interfere unless the mother doesn’t come back and you’re concerned that they’re going to die from starvation.
If a baby rabbit has an injury, disease, or otherwise needs medical attention, you might need to carefully take them to a rabbit charity or vet to get the help that they need.
Though they wouldn’t be rejected, they might lose some of their survival instincts if they rely on human contact and help. In the long run, this could limit their lifespan if they don’t manage to fend for themselves.
Pet rabbits are usually held a lot and for a variety of reasons – for cuddles, to transport them, to brush them (the list is endless).
When you have baby rabbit offspring from one of your pets, you (or someone else) will raise them as pets so getting them used to being handled will be beneficial.
You might need to handle baby rabbits:
- To check or weigh them (if you’re monitoring their weight or on request from a vet).
- To hand feed them (this is only if the mother isn’t feeding them and they’re at risk of starving. Speak to a vet for advice in this situation).
- If their nails need clipping (too long nails aren’t ideal for any rabbit).
- To move them out of harm’s way (to move them back to their nest, out of the elements, or out of the elements are just a few examples).
- If you’re taking them to the vet (sometimes vet visits are inevitable, and you might need to transfer them into a pet carrier to get them to the vet).
- To return them to their cage (after you’ve moved them out or if they’ve wriggled too far away, you might need to help them back to their nest).
- To socialize them (getting them used to being handled from a young age will make for a pet that’s tame and doesn’t mind being handled when they’re older).
Always keep in mind that rabbits don’t enjoy being picked up when they’re young, it’s something they can get used to over time and learn to love (but even then some rabbits still won’t like being held).
How to Pick Up a Baby Rabbit
Newborn rabbits are born deaf and blind, making them extremely vulnerable at the start of their life. They’re also delicate – their bones and skin are fragile so handling them roughly, dropping them from any height, or an injury can be catastrophic.
If you do need to pick up a baby rabbit, check out these tips:
- Stay close to the ground: Rabbits at any age hate being high up, but the distance seems even greater to baby rabbits. Being high up can cause panic and they could potentially hurt themselves as they try to escape.
- Move slowly: Swooping in from above can look like a predator and frighten your rabbit. The better way is to sit near to them and speak softly as you move towards them. If they’re a little older you can wait for them to come to you.
- For a baby under two weeks old: Scoop them up with both hands, supporting all parts of their body (see the image above).
- For a baby over two weeks old: Place one hand on their chest behind their front leg and the other under their rump. Hold their legs against their body and carefully lift them in this position.
- Walk slowly while holding them: Moving fast will panic them more. The trick here is to be slow and steady, but don’t hold them for longer than you need to.
- Hold them close to your body: By holding them close, you’re making them feel more secure and reducing the chance of them wriggling out of your grip and falling.
- Put them back down carefully: Once you’ve done what you needed to do, you should slowly lower them to the ground, keeping a firm grip to prevent an early escape.
When holding a baby rabbit, keep an eye out for these signs that could indicate signs of discomfort in the baby rabbit:
- Nose twitching fast.
- Wide pupils
- Ears flattened against their body.
If your rabbit is in distress, stop what you’re doing to help them if you can.
What Age Can You Start Handling Baby Rabbits?
When a rabbit reaches around three weeks old, they’ll usually be old enough for you to pet and handle a bit more. Up until three weeks, you should only handle the baby rabbit if you absolutely have to.
Will My Pet Rabbit Let Me Handle Her Babies?
If you have a strong bond with your pet rabbit, she’ll usually be comfortable with you going near and touching her babies. This is if she recognizes your scent and sees that you aren’t a threat.
Can Young Children Hold Baby Rabbits?
It’s not a good idea to let young children near baby rabbits. This is because the baby rabbits are extremely fragile when they’re newly born, and children might hold them too tightly, drop them, or have another accident with them that could be fatal to the baby rabbit.