Shy Bunny vs Scared Bunny
Updated: Feb 13
How to tell the difference and, most importantly, how to help!
"OMG. OMG. OMG. It's something. I don't know what it is but my bunny sense tells me I am scared."
Welcome to our blog post! Here we attempt to give you a fresh perspective on everything bunny and rabbit related based on our experiences in The Rabbitry. Enjoy!
Let us start with a story from our very own Rabbitry. On a beautiful summer day, we traveled far away to bring home two new Holland Lop babies. We knew that because they were so young (at seven weeks old) they would need extra tender loving care. Now the one bunny was up for adventure. She would binky so high, race around the house, and run circles around us. However, the second bunny, she was a totally different story. She would not leave her hutch. Even when we would scoop her up and place her in the middle of the floor to free roam our home, her eyes would widen and she would shake. Eventually she moved, but only to the closet object possible to hide under or behind. She HATED being without the safety of her hutch. Days of this behavior turned into weeks with no progress. So what were we to do?
Running away from you? Hiding under furniture? Petrified statue pose? Inching towards you? Watching you? What is your bunny trying to tell you?
So how can you tell if you have a shy bunny versus a scared bunny? Read on to tell the difference between the two and find out how you can help your bunny find their confidence.
Everything we do at The House of Ritter Rabbitry is customized for each bunny to suit their own personal needs. Over the years we have met many different personalities, and none are more perplexing than the shy bunny versus scared bunny display.
Shy Bunny vs Scared Bunny
In the wild, bunnies survive by avoiding anything they consider to be a predator and any scenario that could be seen as dangerous. Even though your bunny is domesticated, those same instincts are still there and can kick in at any moment. You may notice that your bunny will thump its foot, grunt, crouch down, hide, may breath hard, and could even squeal. Everyday scenarios can be very frightening to a bunny. For the sake of your bunny, please be understanding. It is your job as a responsible bunny parent to help your baby overcome their fears, because a confident bunny is not just good for them, it is good for the whole family.
So what is the difference between the two? A shy bunny may hide and not interact with you. After some time and coaxing though, they will slowly inch towards you once they know they can trust you. A scared bunny is more likely to show a more extreme level of fear, will hide from you and anything they find frightening, and it will take longer to gain their trust. Both shy bunnies and scared bunnies can bite and scratch if they are frightened. Be careful! *Please note: a bunny that makes noises, lunges at you, and scratches or bites you when you reach in their cage is NOT a shy or scared bunny. This is a different problem we will address in another blog post.
How to Help a Shy or Scared Bunny
Step One: Know Your Bunny's History
If possible, try to purchase a bunny from a reputable breeder. A good breeder will know the bunny's parents, and will attempt to only match up two parents that have good qualities to pass on to their offspring. They will also work hard to give that bunny lots of different experiences to teach the bunny that the world is a safe place to be. Of course, all bunnies come with their own personalities. Despite best efforts, a bunny can still become scared as they transition from their previous home into their new home. This can be compounded extra if your bunny has gone from one breeder to a pet store to you. This can also occur when a bunny has been rescued. Depending on the breeder and how many different environments that bunny has been transferred to, you may find that you have your work cut out for you. So take a moment to see the world from your bunny's eyes, then move onto step two.
Step Two: Study Your Rabbit's Behavior
Are they fearful all the time or just certain times of the day? Do they appear okay in their enclosure, but change their behavior when they are taken out? Take the time to play detective and study their reactions to everyday things. For example, do sudden movements scare them, such as when a child runs past them? Try moving their safe home into a quieter room with less traffic. When it is their run around time, remind children that their bunny likes them sitting or moving slow. No children? Look at other things that suddenly move, like space heaters and fans. What about a new object in the home? Maybe you have rearranged furniture, and your bunny's hiding space has been moved or lost. Even a newly delivered package can have this effect. What about sounds? Maybe your bunny has been used to instrumental music playing gently in the home. But now your cousin came by and decided Metallica is a good idea. Is the neighbor's dog barking upsetting your bunny? Maybe that outdoor run can be moved away from this neighbor's side of the yard and into a more secluded, and safe, area to enjoy. What about smells? You may think that new porporri reminds you of an ocean breeze, but your bunny may be too sensitive to it. This can also happen when you are cooking. A home filled with smoke can make your bunny believe there is a fire and that they are in danger.
Step Three: Get Your Bunny to a Safe Space ASAP
The best thing to do in all of the above situations is to get your bunny into a safe environment quickly. This may be their free roaming room or back to their safe space, such as their hutch. Give them time to calm down before bringing them back out. You may have to wait a day or two to try again. Take things slow! This technique is best when your bunny may be kicking, scratching, or otherwise trying to flee. You do not want them to hurt themselves or you. Remember to hold your bunny securely, in a football hold, and allow them to hide their face in the crook of your arm or cover their eyes. Do not leave your bunny alone during this time. Stay with your bunny and talk softly and reassuringly to your bunny. This lets your bunny know that you will get it to safety and stick around to keep it safe. This will also help you gain your bunny's trust and build your bond with them.
Step Four: Blankets and Bunnies
If your rabbit is petrified in fear, no matter if it is shy or scared, it is best to speak softly to them and pet them gently. Make sure your bunny can clearly see you. Get down to their level and approach them slowly. Soft strokes on their head and ears is usually soothing to all bunnies but, in time, you will know what your bunny likes the best. It is also a good idea to have a soft blanket that you can place over your bunny. Look for a blanket that is not too big or small. The idea is to gently place the blanket over the bunny to keep them warm and to give them a sense of security (do not fully cover their face). You can also use the blanket to lift up the bunny and get it back to its safe home while keeping it secure and protecting itself from kicking or scratching.
Step Five: Distraction
If your rabbit is too fearful to be picked up or even approached without retreating further into its hiding spot, try to entice them with their favourite treat or toy. Now is not the time to introduce a new item of any sort because your bunny may view it as yet another new threat. The goal is to find a way to distract your bunny from what is frightening them. Have patience. Even if they do not take the treat or interact with the toy right away, they may be thinking about it and not what had frightened them.
Step Six: Red Alert
Most bunnies and rabbits will recover from a frightening situation. Some may need more time than others. However, if your rabbit stops eating or becomes unresponsive, especially if this behavior carries on for over eight hours, it is time to seek immediate care from your vet. Do not forget to call your vet first. Some rabbits find car rides extremely upsetting, and this could aggravate their situation even more. If you must transport a bunny or rabbit by car, wrap them securely in their blanket (but still allow enough room for them to move around if they choose to) and keep them in a secure carrier where you can speak softly and reassuringly to them during the ride.
Don't forget that your bunny is relying on you to keep them safe and secure. With patience, understanding, and the knowledge you have gained from this blog post, you can help your bunny overcome their fears and enjoy all that life has to offer.