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Rabbits/Holding Rabbits


I was wondering if you could give me your opinion on holding rabbits on their backs.  I recently got a bunny and he is the most mellow, sweetest rabbit I have ever met.  He is very docile and calm and doesn't run away or squirm when I pick him up.  He seems to enjoy being held in every position including cradling.  I have heard of hypnosis and how this could apparently put stress on them because it's a prey position and if they wake up from the "trance", they may freak out and potentially jump off and harm themselves.  So far, this doesn't seem to be the case for my bunny.  He willfully lays like this and never acts like he's coming out of a trance.  I am very careful when I hold him and would not hold him a certain way if he showed me he didn't like it. What is your opinion? Thanks.

Hi Cristie

Sorry for the delay in reply.

Trancing, which is what holding them on their back is often called, is definitely not recommended. It's also known as "tonic immobility" and is a fear response in animals. Sharks do it too you know! In rabbits it causes their heart rate to change so when they flip back over and the heart rate jumps it can cause serious blood flow problems, even heart attacks or damage to the heart and brain. Damage may not be immediately obvious. You can read the scientific paper by Dr Anne McBride on this here:

Tonic immobility involves lying a rabbit flat on its back. Cradling it with its spine not completely straight isn't necessarily trancing, the head really needs to be right back. Also rabbits flipping themselves over isn't trancing either.

When handling rabbits though, it's better to cradle them so they have all 4 paws to your chest and their chin on your shoulder, this way they feel more secure and if they kick out, they're only going to scratch you! Kicking out into the air can cause serious spinal damage as they have incredibly powerful legs and very fragile bones.

I hope that helps?



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I can answer questions around the welfare of pet rabbits, basic health queries including gut stasis, diet worries, bonding questions and the proper welfare standards around housing rabbits (i.e. no wire floors, no small cages and they should be kept in properly bonded de-sexed pairs in very large enclosures). I cannot answer showing questions nor complex breeding issues as I do not agree with either, seeing the other end of the story in the world of rabbit rescue.


I have two 7 year old rescue rabbits and volunteer for a well established rabbit rescue here in the UK, both physically doing cleaning out etc and I am also their events and awareness co-oordinator, helping educate the general public on proper rabbit keeping, this means I have to ensure all information I give is correct and matches current welfare standards.

I belong to the RWAF (Rabbit Welfare Association & Fund) and volunteer for a major rabbit rescue.

I have no formal education on this subject, however read everything I can to keep up to date with current welfare standards and health problems. Both my rabbits have sensitive guts and constantly keep me on my toes.

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