Rabbit 'Whisperer' Warning

rabbit sleeping normally

"Trancing rabbits" is an old fashioned rabbit fancier’s trick which is not only terrifying for rabbits but can be fatal. Rabbits can be put into a trance quite easily and it looks like magic. They appear to be motionless and relaxed.

However, far from being relaxed, they are paralysed with terror.
Researchers (McBride et al, 2007) investigated and measured the rabbits bodily responses while they were “tranced”.  As they were going into the “trance” the rabbits showed all the behaviour signs of terror – flattened ears, widened eyes, tensed muscles and struggles to escape.
Far from being relaxed once they were under, the rabbits showed a higher rate of breathing, heart beats, and plasma corticosterone (the stress hormone). These were “indicative of a fear motivated stress state”. All in all, these were animals in a state of acute fear. 
What appears to be rabbit magic or trance could be nothing of the kind. What is witnessed in its place is a terror freeze and the response is part of an extreme reaction whereby an terrified animal goes into the four F. states – fight, flight, fiddle about or freeze.
In the past it has been reported that a rabbit had been harmed by this process. A young girl had put her pet rabbit into two or three trances, and it did not come out of the last trance. A cautionary tale.
Celia Haddon
APBC Student Member

Celia Haddon is studying for a degree in applied animal behaviour, has written several books about cats, and spent 12 years answering readers’ queries about cat behaviour for The Daily Telegraph. For more information visit her website at www.celiahaddon.com

*McBride et al., (2007),’Hypnosis: A State of Fear or Pleasure?’, Proceedings of the CABTSG Study Day 2007, pp38-40
Picture - The rabbit pictured is sleeping (not tranced, which is a state of fear)