What is it?Stress is defined as “a state of physiological, mental or emotional strain resulting from adverse or demanding circumstances''. In simple words it is anything that makes your rabbit feel unsafe or uncomfortable and the issues that form as a result of that.
Why is it important?Rabbits are prey animals, meaning that they have a high ‘flight’ instinct. As a result, pet rabbits find many situations that we put them into stressful. Stress releases chemicals into the body which can cause damage to organs alongside other issues.
What’s the risk?
All rabbits are prone to stress, it’s in their nature. However, like people they are all individuals and one may find something stressful that another may not. It is our responsibility as owners and carers to recognise these situations and try to keep them to a minimum for our pets.
Causes of stress:
What happens to the rabbit?
Stress can cause issues in rabbits with:
How do you know what’s going on?
You may notice less activity than usual (hiding away), changes in appetite or weight, rapid breathing when handled, freezing still or trying to run away.
What can be done?
There are many little management changes that can be made at home to help reduce stress levels.
Predators - Ensure that rabbits feel safe from predators (this includes dogs/cats in the home!).
Companionship - Rabbits kept in a bonded pair will have lower stress levels, this is because one is always able to ‘look-out’. Always remember this when your rabbit goes to the vet and keep them together. Rabbits will recover better with their friends.
Handling - Gentle and regular handling is advised. Don’t allow children to handle rabbits without adult supervision and make sure that you all learn how to handle rabbits safely. When picking them up put a hand under the chest and one to support the bottom, hold them close to your body so they feel secure and are less likely to struggle, injuring themselves or you. Try to avoid picking them up too often as this makes them feel vulnerable - allow them to come to you for a fuss and you will soon find this more rewarding as they come to trust you even more.
Housing - Provide places to hide both indoors and out. Hides should have a separate entry and exit - this stops a rabbit feeling ‘cornered’.
Vet visits - These will always be stressful due to unfamiliar noises, smells and other experiences. There are a few things that you can do to try and reduce this.
What can I do to protect my pet?
If you worry that your pet is suffering from stress - either at home or during their vet visits - please speak to your veterinary team about ways to help alleviate this for them.