Introducing Children to Rabbits
Contrary to what many believe, rabbits are not necessarily good pets for children and they are certainly not to be considered ‘starter pets’ or animals that you can test your child’s commitment on.
There are a lot of things to think about before you take on a new rabbit and you need to be aware of your pet’s individual characteristics, what they like and dislike, and who they are, essentially.
Rabbits are social creatures that are happiest when they are homed in pairs or groups, usually with one male and one female, or more males than females if they are a warren. Each personality is unique and different rabbits will fit into your lifestyle in a different way. If you feel that a new rabbit is the right choice for your family and you’ve found the perfect individual, then it’s time to approach the task of introducing your new friend to your children.
At first, let your rabbit settle into its accommodation and have the child sit in the room while the rabbit does this. Stay as calm and quiet as possible, simply sitting and letting the rabbit sniff the surrounding environment, discovering every nook and cranny. Eventually, the rabbit will approach the child and it may mark him or her by rubbing its chin on them. This means that your child has been marked as safe by the rabbit, and you can begin to start stroking or offering fruit in your hand. This will enable the rabbit to gradually trust the child and a mutual respect can develop, creating a beautiful relationship between you, your child and the animal.
As the rabbit becomes more and more comfortable with being stroked and receiving treats, it’s soon time to start practicing some handling! Be particularly gentle and make sure the rabbit is okay with everything. If you go too fast or surprise your pet, it may nip or scratch in an attempt to escape. Just go at the pace your pet sets and make sure you’re all on the same page. This way, the rabbit can become confident that being handled isn’t going to hurt.
Rabbits that trust their owners will readily develop strong bonds with them, and this includes any children in the family. They’ll become very attached and love to be cuddled and petted regularly. However, problems will develop if a child attempts to pick up a rabbit without letting it sniff and explore them first, as rabbits will immediately feel threatened and unsafe being handled by someone they can’t yet trust. This can unfortunately leave the child hurt if the rabbit tries to escape or resorts to aggression.
Rabbits will become aggressive and evasive if they are handled roughly without a slow introduction, chased or cornered, and it’s important to discuss this with children before a rabbit is introduced so they can fully understand its needs.