Is your rabbit bored? Boredom in rabbits can cause both behavioural and health problems. You might know some of the signs, for example excessive chewing. But there are other ways your rabbit may be trying to tell you that they’re bored. Learn how to tell if your pet is bored, and how to help.
Nobody likes to be bored, and that includes your rabbit. Unfortunately, a lot of rabbits aren’t getting the mental stimulation that they need.
Is boredom in rabbits really such a big problem?
Rabbits are smart, and their minds need exercise, just like their bodies. Moreover, boredom can cause a variety of emotional, physical, and behavioural problems for your rabbit.
And nobody wants that.
How Smart Is a Rabbit, Anyway?
Smarter than a lot of people think! Whoever came up with the expression “dumb bunny” clearly never knew a rabbit.
Rabbits can learn tricks. They can definitely understand human words and gestures. They also use logic to solve problems. And their curiosity, like that of cats, is legendary. Without proper stimulation, they will get bored.
The problem is, rabbits have different ways of expressing themselves–different from humans and different from cats and dogs, too. This means that if you’re not familiar with rabbit body language or the noises rabbits make, you might be missing what your pets are trying to tell you.
Why Do Rabbits Get Bored?
Some people might think that all a rabbit needs is food, water, and shelter. But it’s not true! Rabbits have social, emotional, and intellectual needs, too. Here are some common reasons rabbits get bored.
Rabbits are social creatures. In the wild, they live in groups underground. Company and communication important for the mental health of all social animals, and this goes for pet rabbits, too.
Very few rabbits prefer to live alone. Many rabbits need to be around other rabbits to be happy and to get adequate social interaction. Not only will rabbits keep one another company, they will also entertain each other. Bored rabbits may need a friend.
Your rabbit’s enclosure needs to be spacious, clean, in good repair, weatherproof, and predator-proof.
But that’s not enough.
A small cage or small hutch doesn’t provide enough space to live, no less to enjoy life. Bunnies need more space than you might think, and they need to spend time outside of their hutches.
Your rabbit also needs exercise and opportunities to participate in natural behaviours, such as digging, foraging, hopping, chewing, and binkying.
A spacious run can give your rabbits the space they need to run, jump, and stretch their legs. Many of our hutches work together with our runs to provide a generous combined living and play space that your rabbits can access all day long.
In addition, have a good selection of boredom busters available to entertain your rabbit when you’re not around.
Would you be happy eating the same thing every day, for every meal? You would get bored, and so would your rabbit.
In addition to feeding hay — hay should comprise at least 70 to 80 percent of your rabbit’s diet — mix things up with pellets and rabbit safe fruits, vegetables, grasses, dried herbs, and edible flowers. The occasional food toys can make a difference, too.
What Sorts of Problems Can Boredom Cause?
If your rabbit is bored and frustrated, believe me, they’ll let you know.
Chewing is a natural behaviour. In fact, rabbits need to chew in order to keep their ever-growing teeth ground down. But bored rabbits might start to chew destructively. They might gnaw on the hutch or on other things they shouldn’t.
A rabbit should always have something safe to chew on. Chew toys can provide entertainment, as well.
If your rabbit has nothing better to do, it may start to groom itself excessively. It may also start to pull out its own fur.
Stress Related Health Issues
One might think that boredom is the opposite of stress. But it’s not true. In fact, boredom can cause frustration and anxiety, and that’s as bad for a rabbit’s health as it is for yours and mine.
Just as a human doctor might recommend activity to help with stress, a vet might recommend the same for a rabbit.
Rabbits are naturally active, both mentally and physically. Giving them an outlet for mental and physical activity can keep your rabbits happy and healthy.
Bored rabbits may also become destructive. They may chew on their hutch, or pull at loose fittings. They may destroy bedding, toys, and other items. Many rabbits also attempt to dig out.
If your rabbit is bored to the point of thinking, Get me out of here! Then they may turn their considerable brain power toward making an escape. And that can end in tragedy.
How to Prevent Boredom
Fortunately, keeping your bunny entertained isn’t hard. And it can be fun for you, too. If you’ve got a bored rabbit, try some of these tricks.
Play With Your Rabbit
You can’t just put your rabbit into its hutch and forget about it. You need to pay attention to your rabbit in the same way that you would any other pet.
Do you know how to play with your rabbit? If you’re used to playing with cats and dogs, rabbit play may take a bit of getting used to.
First, rabbits are physically fragile. They can break bones by falling or jumping off of high places. If you grab or hold them and they become frightened, they can break their own back trying to get away.
Being prey animals, rabbits are also easily frightened. They don’t enjoy being chased, though they may enjoy chasing you once they trust you. Most rabbits are also not fond of being held or cuddled. Your rabbit won’t understand a predator game like chasing a piece of string.
So, how do bunnies play?
Play is how young animals practice natural behaviours and social interaction. So rabbit games often involve things a bunny might do in the wild.
People say cats are curious, but a curious cat has nothing on a rabbit! Rabbits love to explore. So devise opportunities for them to do so. Use cardboard boxes, rabbit tunnels, and other objects to construct an obstacle course, for example.
You don’t have to buy any special equipment. In fact, building a “hide house” like this one can be a great way to reuse cardboard boxes.
Use treats to turn your obstacle course into an agility course by rewarding your rabbit for going through the obstacles in a certain order. Rabbits also love a good game of hide and seek.
In the wild, rabbits dig burrows, where they live with other rabbits. The digging instinct is strong. Providing your rabbit with a cardboard box filled with dirt, hay, shredded paper, torn up toilet paper rolls, or other bunny-safe material can both entertain your bunny and allow them to dig somewhere other than out of their enclosure.
For extra fun, bury bunny treats in the digging box.
Foraging for food is another natural behavior that rabbits miss out on when we simply provide them with food in a dish.
Hide food to make a mealtime treasure hunt in your hutch, run, garden, or even inside a rabbit-proofed area of your house. It’s as much fun for the owner as it is for the rabbit!
Rabbit fetch is a bit different from playing fetch with a dog. How? Well, rabbits like to be the ones doing the throwing!
Bunnies love picking up objects in their teeth and tossing them. Your role in the game is to fetch the object back to them so that they can do it again and again.
Teach Your Bored Rabbit Tricks
If you’ve got a brainy bunny, send them to school! Rabbits can learn to do tricks and tasks, and it’s great exercise for their clever bunny brains.Teaching a rabbit tricks is similar to teaching a dog tricks: with association, repetition, and positive reinforcement with food or treats. Many dog trainers use a clicker, and you can teach a rabbit to respond to a clicker, as well.
Some tricks you can teach your rabbit include:
- Coming when called
- Returning to their hutch
- High five
- Jump through a hoop
To name just a few. Here are a few more.
Some people even train their rabbits to do agility and “show jumping.”
The most important part is positive reinforcement. Never, ever punish your bunny for not performing a trick. Rabbits are sensitive creatures, and if they associate punishment with tricks, they may never want to learn another one!
Get a Second Rabbit
Most rabbit welfare organizations recommend keeping rabbits in pairs or groups. Rabbits can suffer terribly from loneliness. Having a friend not only gives your bunny someone to keep it company, but they also entertain one another. Rabbits can, of course, be friends with other animals. But more than anything else, they love being around other rabbits.
But never simply put a new rabbit in with your existing bun. It’s important that rabbits undergo proper bonding before living together.
Add to Your Rabbit Enclosure
Do your rabbits have enough room? Do they have enough interesting things to do in their enclosure? At the very least, your rabbits need a hutch that is:
- Deep enough for your rabbit to lie down and stretch out
- Tall enough for your rabbit to stand on its hind legs without touching the ceiling
- Long enough for your rabbit to hop end to end three times in a row
But that’s only a beginning. A hutch isn’t enough. A spacious rabbit run can give your bunny room to exercise and interact with the outdoors. But you can do even better than that.
There are all sorts of ways to make your enclosure into a rabbit palace. You can design your enclosure from the ground up — it’s actually easier than you might think. You can also add interesting elements to your enclosure, such as:
- Tunnels that connect the hutch and run
- Multiple levels (this is really easy if your enclosure includes a shed)
- Boxes and hides
- A dig box
- Artificial burrows
- Hanging toys
And more. The only limit is your imagination…and maybe your handiness with a hammer and nails.
Change Out Toys
There’s nothing like a new toy. Rabbits love toys, too, and there are so many kinds:
And so forth.
Don’t give all of the toys to your bunny at once. And don’t leave any one toy in the hutch permanently, unless it’s a particular favorite.
Rotating toys in and out keeps things fresh, literally and figuratively. It provides a pleasant series of surprises for your bunnies and gives you a chance to clean and disinfect their toys regularly.
Want some ideas for the best toys for your bunny? Check out our list of the Best Boredom Busters for Rabbits.
Does Your Rabbit Have Enough to Do?
Nobunny likes to be bored — not you, and not your rabbit. Boredom can cause all sorts of problems for your rabbit, from destructive behaviour to stress-related illnesses and injuries.
Make sure your rabbit has plenty of room, both for living and for exercising. Give them plenty of enrichment in their hutch and run. And, most importantly, visit your rabbit every day, whether to play or just to hang out.
What are your favourite bunny boredom busters? We’d love to hear about them!