Tellington TTouch® is a safe, gentle bodywork comprised of circular touches and subtle body lifts. The soothing circles are done all over the rabbit’s body, with the intention of enhancing health, improving behavior, and deepening the bond of trust between the bunny and his or her human guardian. Rabbit caregivers have found that TTouch can deliver both physical and psychological results, proving an effective tool when bonding rabbits, trimming nails, addressing gastrointestinal (GI) problems and stress issues (including biting), as well as arthritis and other problems of old-age. It has also proved helpful in reducing the effects of head tilt.
One of the greatest advantages of TTouch is that anyone can do it. You don’t need to know anatomy or physiology; all you need is the desire to interact with your rabbit. To start, imagine the face of a clock, with 6:00 toward the ground. Put your fingers on your bunny or – if you wish to practice on yourself first – on your arm. Following a clockwise motion on the imaginary face of a clock, gently push the skin in one smooth movement in a one-and-a-quarter circle from 6:00, around to 6:00 again, and on to 9:00. It’s important not to slide over the skin, but to gently move the skin while doing the circular movement. Some people find it helpful to imagine that their finger pads are sticky so that their fingers stay in place. It may be difficult to believe that such an easy movement can effect positive change, but it does!
Linda Tellington-Jones, creator of the TTouch method, shares part of her methodology:
When doing a TTouch circle, use only enough pressure so your fingers don’t slide over the fur. To get an idea of the amount of pressure, touch the skin on your eyelid and push it in a circle, with just enough contact so that your fingers don’t slide over the skin. Some rabbits may prefer the work done with slightly more or slightly less pressure.
In order for TTouch to be light enough so your bunny will enjoy it, support the weight of your hand without resting it on the rabbit’s body, and relax the joints of your fingers so they move smoothly around the circle.
When a person first begins doing TTouch, the rabbit may hop away. If that happens, it’s very likely that the person was concentrating so hard that he or she unconsciously held the breath or stiffened the fingers, delivering a touch that’s too hard for a bunny. TTouches are very light and should be done with just enough contact to move the skin.
With only a few minutes of this gentle work each day, rabbits come to trust and enjoy the sessions.
According to Ms. Tellington-Jones, clockwise TTouch circles are generally most effective. Over many years of use, TTouch has been found to release fear, reduce pain and stress, and balance the mental, emotional, and physical aspects of the body. Each circle is complete in itself, helpful since some animals can initially be touched with only a few circles – until you figure out just how gentle to be and they get used to your TTouches. Ms. Tellington-Jones continues:
TTouch works in cooperation with the animal and, therefore, animals are contained rather than restrained. Gentle containment (e.g., one hand across the bunny’s chest, with the thumb up around one shoulder) reduces tension and encourages the rabbit to remain with the practitioner so that the work can be accomplished. You can expect the bunny to move a little bit – keeping your joints “soft” and flexible will allow you to move with him while doing TTouches.
It’s important to watch the rabbit’s breathing. If his respiration increases or if he struggles to get away, let him go. Because it’s so critical to build trust, I recommend working from a distance with a frightened or aggressive rabbit. By using two round paint brushes (one for distracting the bunny) or a stick with something soft (such as a feather) attached to the end, you can make circles on the rabbit’s body from a short distance away. This will make you appear less threatening.
There are special considerations when working with a traumatized animal. Stay as low as possible so that you don’t intimidate your rabbit by towering over him. Use the back of the hand when making the circles; the bunny will feel that difference immediately. If a rabbit is too fearful to be touched or if there is soreness (e.g., following surgery), it’s also possible to work in the air above the body until the rabbit relaxes.
Ms. Tellington-Jones has often demonstrated and written about the Lying Leopard TTouch, which is effective for rabbits who are sensitive or are recovering from an injury. Place your hand lightly on the body with the fingers just slightly curved, which allows for a larger area of warm contact. The circles are made with the first two-thirds of your fingers (from the tips down to the second joint). If the rabbit has a sore spot, keep the slightly cupped part of your hand over the site and move the area surrounding the spot in a small circle. Keep your hand and arm relaxed, and remember to breathe slowly and quietly to help calm your bunny.
Using TTouch in the Case of Shock
Lauren McCall, who lives with bunnies and is currently considered a rabbit TTouch expert, first saw a rabbit treated at the Oregon Humane Society. The bunny was not especially friendly toward people, and TTouch was being used to acclimate him to handling. The results were remarkable – the rabbit “just melted.” Ms. McCall adopted the bunny and soon after bringing him home, she found out how effective TTouch could be:
It saved Ben’s life. He and his best bunny friend had been outside in the protected enclosure under the tree. It wasn’t very warm but when I checked on them, Ben was glassy-eyed, unmoving, and in shock – he exhibited the classic signs of heatstroke.
I was panicked that he was going to die. All I could think to do were the ear TTouches. It was amazing that when Ben came ’round (in five to seven minutes), he bumped against my hand, ran up the ramp and took a drink of water, then ran back down and started to eat hay.
Ms. Tellington-Jones explains that doing ear TTouches and sliding movements from the base of the ears out to the tips connect the acupressure points that affect the entire body. Circles around the base of the ears activate the digestive and respiratory systems. Ear TTouches are also useful if the rabbit is in shock or in danger of going into shock, helping reduce pain while stabilizing the heart and respiration rate. This can help save your rabbit’s life and is especially useful until you can get to your veterinarian.
Ear work is also a key component in helping rabbits to recover from GI (gastrointestinal) issues, as Ms. McCall describes:
Working with the ears stimulates acupressure points linked to the stomach, intestines, respiration, and other areas vital to recovery, so it is an effective way to help support a rabbit with GI problems. To do the ear work, start on one side of the ear and lightly sandwich it between your thumb and index fingers. If your bunny has upright ears, slide your fingers from the base of the ear up and off the ear’s edge. For a lop rabbit, use downward or lateral slides. Work the entire ear this way.
It may be necessary to gently support a rabbit’s ear with one hand while doing the ear work with your other hand. For example, the long ears of the English lop will require support as well as some extra attention. If you are sitting on the floor, the overlong ears may be comfortably draped on your leg. In contrast, the short ears of dwarf rabbits enable the caregiver to use one hand for the work.
TTouch on Sensitive Areas
It’s effective to perform TTouch on all parts of the body, including the feet, as it enhances the physical and emotional well-being of the bunny. Ms. Tellington-Jones provides some specifics:
Gentle TTouches on the abdomen can often calm a rabbit and develop trust in a matter of minutes. Sit with your rabbit between your legs, keeping the bunny’s back legs solidly in contact with the chair or the floor. With your fingers between the front legs, gently lift the rabbit with her back against your chest, leaning forward so she feels safe and slightly enfolded by your body. Then do soft circles on the belly with an open hand rather than the fingertips. This can sometimes release fear more quickly than working elsewhere on the body.
Making tiny TTouches around the mouth and lips calms nervous rabbits. Of course, it’s important to be cautious to avoid being bitten. Sometimes I use a dampened cotton swab to make circles on the outside of the lips, which rabbits tend to accept readily. Or, I’ll fold my fingers over and use the area between my first and second joints to do the TTouches.
Ms. McCall advises that in addition to calming nervous rabbits, TTouch around the mouth is good for rabbits who have reactive tendencies. Rabbits can have many issues with their mouth and teeth, and doing the TTouches on the mouth can relieve some of the tension in the jaws of nervous or stressed rabbits. TTouch is also very good for reducing swelling and inflammation. Thus, it can help reduce pain associated with the trimming of incisors (in conjunction with the required veterinary care).
Ms. McCall provides some specific guidelines regarding treatment of the mouth area:
To do mouth work, position yourself behind your bunny, with his or her face away from you. Because you will be working in such a small area, it’s necessary to anchor your hand – this will also help keep you from stiffening your fingers so that they don’t become “pokey.” I find it easiest to lightly rest my thumb on the rabbit’s head.
These TTouches are done by gently moving the skin, not gliding over it, so it may again be useful to imagine those “sticky” finger pads. A rabbit’s mouth is small, so use just one or two fingers, starting at the back of your rabbit’s jaw and moving forward toward the lips. When you are working around the whiskers, flatten them onto the cheeks so that they aren’t bent in different directions, and do the circular movements right on the whiskers. Many bunnies have sensitive mouths; thus, you may only be able to do three or four TTouches on each side. That’s fine. A little bit of mouth work goes a long way, and with TTouch, “little” and “often” are a better recipe for success!
TTouch and Digestive Issues
One place that rabbits tend to hold fear and pain is in their hindquarters. Ms. McCall explains that rabbits (and other animals) have the flight response and often keep their hind muscles contracted, ready to react. If they feel threatened, they hold this position, creating tension patterns. Over time, the patterns become habitual, causing physical and emotional problems.
One physical effect of stress is digestive upset, which can lead to gastrointestinal (GI) hypomotility (slowdown) and stasis (shutdown). The latter can quickly become life-threatening, so it’s always recommended that your rabbit be treated by a qualified veterinarian, and that you follow your veterinarian’s prescribed home-care regimen. As a possible adjunct to care, Ms. McCall advises that she has had wonderful success incorporating a TTouch belly-lift technique (described below) as part of her home-care program for rabbits with GI motility problems.
Ms. Tellington-Jones describes how to do the TTouch belly lift, adding that the same technique can soothe a scared rabbit and help release fear. She emphasizes just how small the “lifts” are to be:
I use an elasticized support such as an Ace bandage, folded twice, and position it under the sternum, just behind the rib cage. I perform a belly lift, very slightly lifting the bandage so that the bunny’s weight is reduced and the muscles can disengage and relax.
It’s important to realize that the rabbit is not being lifted off his feet – the belly lift is minimal, nearly imperceptible, but some of the weight of the stomach is now being supported by the bandage instead of by the rabbit’s muscles.
This very gentle lift is followed by – extremely important – a slow release. The belly lifts are continued down to the hindquarters, moving the bandage one width at time. The process supports muscles and encourages motility.
TTouch is an easy and effective method of improving your bunny’s health, temperament, and well-being. Ms. Tellington-Jones provides a succinct summary of her work:
Human TTouch studies have shown that the circles activate both hemispheres of the brain and have a calming effect on brain wave activity. There is every reason to believe that the effect on other animals is similar.
In a few minutes a day, TTouch can enhance your rabbit’s physical and emotional heath and at the same time develop a deep bond of trust that will bring pleasure to you both.
TTouch can be used in myriad situations, for many conditions. When done properly, the gentle, healing work is usually accepted by the most timid of animals. Further research into TTouch will be aided by using the resources noted at the end of this article.
Consider researching and using alternative therapies as a wellness measure to prevent illness or, if your rabbit is already ill, to facilitate healing. Keep in mind a rabbit’s low tolerance for pain and the potentially life-threatening problems that can quickly arise if pain and underlying issues are not treated in a timely manner. Consult with your veterinarian as necessary, discuss the diagnosis, and seek appropriate treatment. When your rabbit needs a veterinarian’s help, alternative modalities can act as a complement to standard veterinary care.
Carefully select the professional who will provide alternative care for your rabbit, reviewing training and qualifications. Consider also the condition of your rabbit as well as the physiology, nature, and needs of these small creatures. Be clear and realistic about your expectations and goals for treatment, which should prioritize your rabbit’s comfort and quality of life.
by Marie Mead with Lauren McCall and Linda Tellington-Jones, PhD (Hon)
© Copyright 2013 by Marie Mead. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
I wish to extend my sincere gratitude to Lauren McCall and Linda Tellington-Jones, PhD (Hon), for sharing their expertise in this article and to Dr. Susan Brown for her review of it. Warm thanks also to Cheryl Abbott, Sandi Ackerman, Heidi Anderson, Dr. Stephanie Crispin, Gary McConville, and Karen Witzke for their suggestions. – Marie Mead
Marie Mead has been involved in various capacities with animal rescue, advocacy, and education for over twenty years. She has made a home with special-needs rabbits and other animals, all of them rescues. Author (with collaborator Nancy LaRoche) of Rabbits: Gentle Hearts, Valiant Spirits – Inspirational Stories of Rescue, Triumph, and Joy, Marie has also written rabbit-related stories and articles for other publications. Additional writings have covered topics such as aging and the environment.
Lauren McCall is a Tellington TTouch® instructor, former executive director of the Tellington TTouch organization, and creator of the TTouch Rabbit Associate Program in Japan. In addition, she is an animal communicator and has created an in-home study course on the subject. She is the author of a book on pet loss (The Eternal Gift) and one about interspecies communication (Making the Connection). An international teacher and speaker, Lauren also enjoys her private practice, in which she assists clients with their animals. She lives in Newberg, Oregon, with her partner, dog, cat, guinea pig, and a very sweet blind rabbit. (www.IntegratedAnimal.com)
Linda Tellington-Jones, PhD (Hon), is internationally recognized for the development of the Tellington Method and Tellington TTouch, which include training, healing, rehabilitating, and communicating with companion and wild animals, including zoo animals. She also developed TTouch for humans and is a visiting faculty member at the University of Minnesota. An author, speaker, teacher, and expert on animal behavior, she has given presentations and demonstrations at events around the world, including veterinary conferences, equestrian expositions, and Olympic training centers. Her nonprofit organization, Animal Ambassadors International®, brings together children and animals. www.ttouch.com
My sincere thanks to the professionals named in this article for sharing their expertise during personal interviews and for their additional feedback. For those interested in further research, there are numerous sources, including books, videos, workshops, and trainings. The two websites below provide additional information.
- The Integrated Animal: www.integratedanimal.com
- Tellington TTouch® (Tellington TTouch Training™): www.ttouch.com