A wild rabbit gets a lot of exercise. Pet rabbits also need a high level of activity and can suffer if they don’t have the space to play and run off their energy. How much exercise does a rabbit need, and what’s the best way to make sure they get it? We’re glad you asked.
In terms of exercise, rabbits need more than you might think. Exercise has more than just physical benefits. In addition to keeping your pet rabbit healthy, exercise can provide fun and mental stimulation, too.
What Does Exercise Mean For a Rabbit?
No rabbit should be stuck in a small cage or hutch all the time. Even if you let your rabbit out for regular exercise and to spend time with you, they should still have a generous living space that allows them to stand on their hind legs and stretch out.
It’s not just about leg-stretching. In the course of their day, rabbits engage in a variety of behaviours that provide physical and mental exercise. Pet rabbits aren’t that far removed from their wild cousins; they need a similar level of activity.
In addition to heart-pumping exercise that burns off energy, there are several natural behaviours in which pet rabbits need to engage on a daily basis.
In the wild, rabbits live in burrows, that is, tunnels below ground. They’re constantly adding to these tunnels, and that means digging. Pet rabbits don’t need to make their own burrows, but the digging instinct is still there. And every gardener knows that digging is great exercise.
Make your rabbit a rabbit proof digging box so they’ll have somewhere safe and fun to dig. You can bury toys and treats in the box for an extra challenge.
This video shows how to build a fast and easy dig box that your rabbits will love.
Pet rabbits have their food brought to them. It’s convenient, but it deprives them of the opportunity to engage in another natural behaviour, namely foraging.
Foraging means exploring in search of food. This activity is both enjoyable and a good way to stay fit.
Instead of simply filling your rabbits’ food dish, try setting out a treasure hunt every now and then. Hide treats and food. Your rabbits will love it, and it will be good mental and physical exercise.
Most rabbits love to explore. Fortunately, you don’t have to turn your rabbit loose in the garden for them to satisfy this instinct — though you can do that, if your garden is both dig-proof and predator proof.
Check out one person’s homemade rabbit wonderland below.
Also consider adding levels to your setup. In the wild, rabbits love to go up high to check out their surroundings. You can add levels to your setup with ramps, a cardboard box, and other objects.
For extra fun, set up a different course each time.
How Active are Wild Rabbits?
In the wild, a rabbit may cover as much as three miles a day. Males often run up and down the borders of their territory on daily patrols. And at the end of their day, rabbits return to a burrow that may be as deep as three metres, and may cover vast space underground.
You can see, then, how rabbits, whether outdoor rabbits or house rabbits, might suffer from sitting still all day.
To get the exercise they need, rabbits need three hours of daily access to a safe, spacious exercise area like a rabbit run. This is a minimum. Ideally rabbits should have all-day access to their run, so they can exercise and rest on their own schedule.
Do Pet Rabbits Get Lazy / Stop Wanting to Exercise?
Although young rabbits may need more exercise, rabbits’ activity levels don’t change drastically.
In fact, if your rabbit suddenly becomes less active, it could be a sign of serious illness or injury.
Lethargy, that is, a lack of usual activity, can be the sign of viral hemorrhagic disease, GI stasis, or a host of other very serious health problems. It can also be a sign that your rabbit is in pain.
If your bunny isn’t kicking up its heels like it usually does, contact your vet sooner rather than later.
Does Lack of Exercise Cause Problems?
And if you think about it, you can probably guess at some of these problems. In fact, they’re similar to the problems humans can suffer from lack of exercise.
First, a sedentary lifestyle can result in poor physical fitness. A rabbit that doesn’t exercise will have weaker muscles and a weaker cardiovascular system than an active rabbit.
Inactivity is also bad for a rabbit’s emotional and mental health. Rabbits can suffer terribly from boredom. As a result, they may develop aggressive behavior or destructive habits like chewing on their hutch.
Playing with your rabbit can be a fun way to work activity into your rabbit’s day. It can help to keep your rabbit physically fit, and can help you and your rabbit to form a strong bond.
How Much Exercise Should Your Rabbit Get?
Ideally, as much as they want.
House rabbits need the same amount of exercise as outdoor rabbits, though.
Of course even within breeds, individual rabbits may have different activity levels.
Providing a spacious enclosure with all-day access to a safe, weatherproof, dig-proof, predator-proof exercise area is the best way to make sure your rabbit gets all of the exercise it wants and needs.
How to Encourage Your Rabbit to Exercise
Three words: on their terms.
Rabbits know what they need, and they know what they enjoy. Our job, as rabbit owners, is to provide them the opportunities to get enough exercise and to engage in the behaviours that will keep them happy and healthy.
Toward this end…
Give Them Lots of Space to Roam
You can’t put your rabbit on a treadmill, and they won’t appreciate being chased. Unlike humans, rabbits aren’t built for sustained aerobic activity.
What they will enjoy, however, is a large space in which they can run, hop, binky, nibble on grass, dig, and explore at their leisure.
The larger their exercise space, and the more access they have to it, the better. Make sure, however, that their outdoor exercise space is free of poisonous plants, and rabbit proofed to prevent escape attempts.
Set Up an Obstacle Course
Rabbit Agility, like dog agility, is a competition where rabbits run through a course of obstacles, competing against other rabbits for time and form.
It’s fun, but your rabbit doesn’t have to compete to enjoy an obstacle course.
And you don’t have to spend a lot of money setting one up. In fact, you can make a course in your own run or back garden using rabbit-safe materials that you might already have at home, such as:
- Cardboard boxes
- Large cardboard or PVC tubes
- Children’s furniture
- Toddler play equipment
- Wendy houses
- Garden bricks and paving stones
And so forth.
Check this out.
Make a Treasure Hunt
A treasure hunt is a great way to do three things at the same time: exercise your rabbit, boost your bunny’s brain, and feed your bunny, too.
So, how do you do it?
First, set up your treasure hunt at mealtime. This will ensure that your bunnies are expecting food and will be motivated to find it.
Also, it’s important not to overfeed your bunnies with pellets or treats, so making their regularly scheduled meal into a treasure hunt adds fun rather than calories.
Invite your rabbit to absent itself while you set up the hunt. If the hunt is in their run, put them in the hutch. And vice versa.
Now, hide little bits of food, treats, and rabbit-safe fruits and vegetables.
Finally, let your rabbit loose! For extra fun, sit quietly in their enclosure while they hunt, holding a bit of food in your hand. See how long it takes them to come to you for the food, and reward them when they find it!
Do you know how to play with your bunny? It seems like a silly question, but the truth is, bunnies’ play is different from the way cats and dogs play. It makes sense, seeing as they’re very different animals.
Being prey animals, bunnies don’t like predator games like chasing or following string. To play with your rabbit, you have to think like a rabbit.
The first step is to pick a time when your bunny will be receptive to play. Rabbits are crepuscular, which means that their most active times are at dawn and dusk.
Avoid bothering them when they’re trying to sleep, eat, or use the litter box.
Two games that rabbits love are “bunny thief” and fetch.
For Bunny Thief, sit quietly in your rabbit’s enclosure. Have a treat or a toy in your hand, on your lap, or sitting nearby. Many rabbits will sneak up and cheekily steal it away! Don’t chase your rabbit and try to get the object back. Lay out another object and let them come and get it.
This is a good way to build trust. Bunnies are also very cute when they think they’re being sneaky!
Bunny fetch is a bit different from playing fetch with a dog. That’s because bunnies like doing the throwing. In fact, they love it. Lay out plastic cups, wooden balls, or food containers — anything your bunny can easily pick up with its teeth.
When your rabbit throws the object, you go get it and bring it back!
Check it out below.
Teach Your Bunny Tricks
Clever bunnies love to learn tricks, too. And the great thing is, rabbit training is easy. Have you ever taught a puppy tricks? Domestic rabbits can learn in much the same way. Just like with dogs, the three keys to training a bunny are motivation, association, and repetition.
Motivation means giving your bunny a reason to want to do what you’re asking them to do. That means, of course, a treat. Bunnies are sensitive, and punishing them for not performing will ensure that they will never want to learn another trick.
Instead, animal trainers agree that positive reinforcement — that means rewards — is the key to training.
Keep lots of treats on hand to reward your bun. Bunnies can also be trained to respond to a clicker. A clicker tells your bunny that they’ve done the job and a treat is on the way.
Finally, like all of us, the more you take your rabbit through its paces, the better it will learn and retain the trick.
Read more about the different tricks you can teach your bunny in our rabbit training article.
Give Your Rabbit a Friend
We say it often because it’s true. Everybunny needs a friend. Rabbits are happiest with rabbit company. Not only will a rabbit friend keep your bun from getting lonely, but they will also play together, and that’s good exercise.
The Benefits of Exercise for Your Pet Rabbit
Exercise has several benefits for rabbits — and for the rest of us.
Physical activity keeps a bunny strong and healthy. It promotes strong muscles, flexibility, and cardiovascular health. Exercise also helps with digestion, which can be of particular concern to rabbits.
Many rabbits are naturally high strung and nervous. Exercise can take the edge off. Getting enought exercise also helps to stave off boredom.
Whether your bunny is playing with you, or with other rabbits, exercise can be a fun and social activity, as well as a healthy one.
An Active Bunny is a Happy Bunny
Like all of us, rabbits need exercise to stay fit. Fortunately, it’s not hard to provide it.
Given enough space and a few hours a day, most rabbits can get enough exercise to stay healthy and happy.
Rabbits are social creatures. They’re also intelligent creatures. So exercise time can prevent boredom and forge a closer bond between you and your rabbits.
How do you make sure your rabbits are getting enough exercise? Tell us about it!