Enrichment for rabbits is a very important part of their everyday life and can make them happy, healthy, and well-adjusted. Enrichment is important because pet rabbits that are not properly cared for can have a shorter lifespan and they are more likely to develop behavioural issues such as biting or digging. As the owner of a pet rabbit, it’s your job to provide enrichment activities to keep your bunny entertained.
In general rabbit enrichment includes: providing a large enclosure with objects to climb on, hide, sleep in and an area to dig or burrow. Toys to encourage natural behaviours and for chewing, plus social companionship are crucial to their wellbeing. Regular exercise and routine.
If you are new to bringing a bunny into your life and wish to learn more about how you can properly care for and enrich the life of your rabbit, continue reading this helpful guide. It will help you learn about the different types of enrichment that are available for your pet rabbit, as well as ideas on how to provide it.
The Importance of Enriching Your Rabbits Life
Rabbits are generally considered to be low-maintenance pets, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. Contrary to common belief, owning a rabbit is a pretty big responsibility. It’s not just an animal that you can feed and let out into the backyard to do its business.
A rabbit is not just an animal you can put in a hutch and play with occasionally when the mood strikes. You can’t just give a rabbit food and water and then walk away.
Your rabbit needs to be able to express their natural behaviours which include:
According to PETA, approximately one-third of the animals turned into animal shelters are rabbits. The reason for this is that most people do not realise how much care and enrichment is required when keeping a rabbit as a pet. For a pet rabbit to thrive, they will need an enriching and caring environment.
What Rabbits Need to be Happy and Healthy
Rabbits need enrichment activities because they are intelligent animals that like to solve problems, so it’s important you give them puzzles and tasks for their mind. Mental stimulation is very helpful with physical health issues as well.
Routine is important for everyone, but it’s even more vital to rabbits who live in a hutch all their lives. Rabbits need a routine to feel safe, and it’s also important for their digestive systems. In the wild, rabbits are crepuscular animals which means they only come out at night. This fact is especially important for those who have an inside bunny that stays up all day because they will most likely get anxious and over-excited if they don’t have a routine that enables them to sleep at night.
Along with their routine, in order to keep your bunny healthy and happy, it’s important to provide your rabbit with plenty of hay, toys, fresh air and exercise.
Rabbits require a great deal of:
- Environmental stimulation
- Mental stimulation
- Physical stimulation
They can be litter trained like cats, but they need more time and patience to do so. Rabbits have an incredible memory span which makes them great for learning tricks or solving puzzles!
How a Rabbit May Feel Without Enrichment
If a rabbit is not receiving the proper care or enrichment in its life, it will become:
In most cases, when these feelings are not acknowledged, they will lead to destructive behaviours.
Bored rabbits can be prone towards obesity or even a rare medical condition known as pica which causes the animal to eat non-food items like paper, cardboard and fabric.
To avoid the negative effects of under-stimulation in rabbits, you must offer a variety of stimuli and rotate them frequently to keep them entertained.
Frequently alternating toys and other forms of enrichment will help keep your rabbit engaged and happy.
How long does a rabbit live?
An average rabbit lifespan is about 7 years, but with good care and nutrition, their lifespan can go up to 10-12 years. If you plan on owning a rabbit, be sure you are able to commit the time that is required. As stated above, so many people get into rabbit ownership thinking that it’s a simple venture, but it’s not.
Auditory Enrichment Ideas for Rabbits
A rabbit’s ears are one of their most vital body parts, used to pick up sounds from any direction. So, rabbits have extremely sensitive hearing. It is not recommended to make a lot of unexpected loud noises around them.
- Toy/play sounds. Rabbits like to toss their toys around and hear the light sounds that they make. For example, an empty toilet paper roll will create the type of sound to keep your rabbit happy. Scratching and digging also create comfortable sounds.
- Soft music. Some researchers and studies have found that rabbits act calm and relaxed when low-volume classical music is played
- White noise. Such as the calming sounds of nature
To reduce stress, follow the above tips for creating a relaxing space where your rabbit can be comfortable and stress-free.
Much of these enrichment categories are interconnected. For instance, some of the environmental enrichment ideas below encourage activities that will also create sounds that your bunny comes to know and find comforting.
Indoor and Outdoor Environmental Enrichment Ideas for Your Rabbit’s Enclosure
To maintain a rabbit’s health and happiness, it is important to provide ample space and materials for them to regularly engage and express natural behaviours like hopping and jumping.
Rabbits need lots of exercise, which is a great way of burning off energy that can be pent up if they are stuck in a hutch too long. In the wild a rabbit continual roams for food, often up to several miles a day, so living in a 4 x 3 hutch isn’t going to cut it. This is especially true if you keep a giant rabbit breed like a Flemish Giant, English or French Lop, Continental Giant or New Zealand White.
- 12 Fun Toys And Enrichment Ideas for Giant Rabbit Breeds
- How to Make The Perfect Rabbit Digging Box for Indoor and Outdoor Enrichment
Rabbits will also enjoy areas where they can hide or burrow, such as a den box. Rabbits are still prey animals so they need to feel safe when inside their home and be able use hiding places for cover from predators; rabbits can get very stressed if the area where it lives is too small, doesn’t have enough hiding spots like under furniture close by that provides safety while they sleep. They need to be able move around freely and have a place where there are no other pets that might threaten them.
Bored rabbits may develop obesity if their only form of exercise is eating and drinking water; for this reason it’s important to provide plenty opportunities throughout the day when your rabbit has access not just outside but inside too in order that they don’t get too sedentary.
Substrate For Burrowing and Digging Boxes
Rabbits are natural burrowers, so it is important to keep tunnels and other items in their habitat where they can dig and hide. Habitats with multiple levels are ideal for a rabbit as they like to hop around, climb and explore.
Adding multiple types of substrate to your enclosure will ensure that your rabbit stays entertained and happy. Or create a special “dig box” where your rabbit can enjoy a good dig!
Rabbits like different textures and a variety of them. Examples of suitable materials to use for digging are as follows:
- Fleece Fabric Scraps
- Shredded Paper
- Pine Cones
- Toilet Tubes
We don’t recommend using sand because your rabbit can accidentally ingest the sand and their bowels can become blocked as well as sand getting into their nose and eyes.
Objects to Offer Climbing and Hiding Places for Rabbits
Rabbits might be calm, mellow and lovable animals but they do have their fun moments. Some more outgoing rabbits love to climb; on the sofa, up the stairs; on boxes and even up trees! This goes against the common belief that rabbits are happiest on the ground. they enjoy both the thrill of climbing and being able to see from high up in their environment.
Some rabbit owners have found that using a small cat tree ( kitten sized) with a scratching post work well in rabbit enclosures. It gives your rabbit something to climb on and explore while also allowing them to file their claws and teeth.
Rabbits are still prey animals so they need to feel safe when inside their home and be able use high places for cover from predators; rabbits can get very stressed if the area where it lives is too small, doesn’t have enough hiding spots like that provides safety while they sleep or feel threatened.
Cardboard tunnels, paper bags, boxes with holes cut in them, and platforms to hide under in their home allow rabbits a place to run to and duck into when they want to feel secure.
Rabbit Toys for Chewing, Playing and Exploring
Rabbits need to chew on things like twigs and hay in order for their teeth not be overgrown, which can lead them having problems chewing food or even worse they may develop dental disease that will eventually require a vet visit if left untreated; this is why it’s important as part of enrichment giving them things like wood blocks, cardboard tubes and branches that they can chew on.
Another important way of enriching your rabbit’s environment is to keep a wide variety of toys on hand. They love to push and toss toys around. You can buy rabbit toys online and in your local pet store.
Rabbits love toys like these:
- Hard plastic balls
- Children’s hard plastic toys
- Things that jingle and rattle
- Cat toys
- Treat balls and forage toys made for rabbits (usually made from willow or wood)
Rabbits are big chewers so make sure any toys you put in are made of hard plastic and do have not small or loose parts that can be swallowed. Remove them immediately if they start breaking up.
Safe Materials to Use to Provide Environmental Enrichment for Your Rabbit
You don’t have to buy a lot of expensive toys for your rabbit. You may find a lot of things right around the house and yard that can make a wonderfully enriching environment:
Examples of enrichment items you can include in your rabbit enclosure are:
- Apple branches
- Cardboard boxes
- Old rugs or towels
- Pieces of cardboard and paper for shredding
- Rocks and pieces of wood to create a tunnel or places to hide and explore
- Store-bought tunnels
- Untreated blocks of wood
- Wicker baskets
- Willow boughs
- Wooden boxes
Every rabbit is different. They all have their own distinct personality, just like anything else, so when you first get your rabbit, it is important to observe them closely and see what types of materials and things they gravitate toward. This will help to give you a better idea of which substrates and enrichment elements to use in their environment.
Your Rabbit Will Mark Their Territory and Their Toys
Rabbits have scent glands under their chins which secrete a waxy oil that is used when marking their territory and belongings (which includes you). That’s why your rabbit will rub their chin on you and everything they possess of value, like their toys.
The most common way that a rabbit will mark its territory is through spraying pee. The urine contains hormones and pheromones which can be picked up by other rabbits who are looking to mate or just get into an argument over where they live! Boys tend to be worse than girls and will spray up your walls too if given the chance. It is recommended that all pet rabbits are spayed /neutered to help prevent this unpleasant behaviour.
Food-based Enrichment for Rabbits
Rabbits love foraging; it is how they find their food in the wild. Therefore, it is important to keep things interesting for them. When giving treats, it is important to hide them in a variety of ways that will keep them busy while participating in activities that mimic what they would normally do in the wild.
Rabbits spend approximately 80% of their time foraging for food.
- Providing plenty of grass and hay for your bunny to nibble on is very important for maintaining their natural behaviours. Variety is key with rabbits to keep them from getting bored.
- Giving pineapple as an occasional treat will help to keep a rabbit’s digestive system working properly, so it is tasty and beneficial.
- Puzzle feeders and treat balls are also a great way to keep your rabbit engaged while also promoting cognitive functions.
- Hiding fresh vegetables under the hay and in the enclosure for your rabbit to forage.
Before you engage in food-based enrichment, you have to know which foods are safe for a rabbit – and then, you have to discover which ones your rabbit loves!
Check out this brilliant puzzle for our Rabbit on Etsy!
Which Foods Are Safe To Feed Your Rabbit For Enrichment?
If you are looking to incentivise some of your enrichment activities with food. Here are some rabbit-friendly treats you can include:
- Alfalfa hay
- Bell peppers
- Dried pineapple
- Leafy greens
- Oat hay
- Orchard hay
- Timothy hay
Not all fruits, vegetables, and grains are safe for your rabbit. Be sure to familiarize yourself with what foods are advised by your vet. And even then, watch your rabbit’s reactions to different foods to know which ones are their favorite and will be the most exciting to provide for enrichment.
Foods to Avoid When Providing Enrichment for a Rabbit
Food items that are not safe for rabbits to ingest include:
- Avocados – Potentially poisonous
- Chocolate – Potentially poisonous
- Yoghurt in any form
Many of these are on PETA’s list of foods never to feed a rabbit. Learn them all.
Human interaction Enrichment to Bond With Your Rabbit
The more time you spend with your rabbit, the better it will be for both of you. Spending time and petting your rabbit will desensitise them and make them more docile with people. And your rabbit will be happier! The more you pet and play with your rabbit, the happier it will be and the easier it will be to train it.
Giving Affection to Your Rabbit
We’ve mentioned that rabbits are intelligent and social – they also enjoy affection. They may not want to be grabbed and embraced tightly, but the more time you spend with them, talking to them gently, playing with them, and slowly showing physical attention, the more your rabbit will learn to trust you. Rabbits absolutely love to be groomed.
With time, you may find them climbing over to you and giving you a nudge or licking you – a way of showing you that they trust and love you.
House Training and Teaching Your Rabbit Tricks
Training is important for rabbits. Rabbits have to know their boundaries and what your expectations are. Just as they can be house trained, they can also learn some basic commands. Some loving and patient rabbit families have even trained their fluffy friends to do tricks!
To teach other boundaries, you first have to build trust and let your bunny feel confident around you. With patience and effort, you can communicate simple commands and reinforce positive behaviour.
While training can go a long way, being with your rabbit and keeping them enriched is the very best way to reinforce positive behaviour and discourage negative behaviour. Training also helps to keep your rabbit safe.
Food Can Be a Great Motivator for a Rabbit’s Safety
There are many dangers in a home that a rabbit can encounter, such as electrical cords or poisons; therefore, it is important to train your rabbit to behave and follow directions. When training a rabbit, the best way to get good results is to use a rabbit’s primary motivation…food.
Positive reinforcement in the form of food can be a motivation for your rabbit to get over a fear of a particular item or area as well. Holding the item that the rabbit is fearful of while encouraging it with a treat can help to reduce the stress that your bunny may be experiencing.
Tip about training with food: Be careful not to go overboard with food-oriented training or use high-calorie treats. You don’t want your rabbit to become overweight.
Olfactory Enrichment for Rabbits
Rabbits have 100 million olfactory receptors – meaning they have an excellent sense of smell. Rabbits rely heavily upon their sense of smell in the wild to search for food and detect when there is danger approaching. They will also get to know your scent and the scents in your home.
If you watch, you will notice that rabbits are always sniffing the air. Considering that their sense of smell is so sensitive, it is important to be conscious of what you are using in the environment that they will be staying and playing in.
The use of strong chemicals and fragrance sprays can irritate their noses and also cause respiratory issues. In addition to the smell of predators, there are some other scents you may want to keep away from your rabbit:
- Spicy foods
- Heavy perfume
It is not recommended to use any essential oils around your rabbits or to burn candles with a heavy scent. These can be overwhelming to your rabbit’s advanced sense of smell.
If you would like to introduce some scents your rabbit likes, stick to the natural smells of plants. For instance, fresh herbs, grasses, lettuce, flowers that are safe for them, such as daisies and dandelions. But beware: your rabbit might like to nibble on them, too!
For some ideas on what not to plant near your bunnies, check out this list.
Physical and Cognitive Enrichment for Rabbits
To keep your rabbit happy and in good physical condition, it is important to allow a minimum of three hours of “run-time” every day.
For ideal physical and mental enrichment, it is best to provide an indoor and outdoor space for your rabbit to call home.
When creating an outdoor exercise space for your rabbit, it is important to remember that rabbits are prey animals and are used to being hunted.
Again, you’ll notice overlap in the ways things you provide your bunny can be enriching. In this case, providing physical and mental enrichment overlaps with many of the ideas for environmental enrichment by providing a living space and play space that are engaging and stimulating.
Creating a Space that Allows for Physical Enrichment
Be sure that the enclosure is fully covered so no predators can sneak their way in for a tasty snack. Design your area with the following things in mind:
- Levels – Add multiple levels to keep things interesting
- Hiding Spots – Be sure to include hiding places to give them the feeling of security
- Space – They need to be able to stand on their back legs with plenty of headspace between them and the top of the enclosure. Give your rabbit plenty of horizontal and vertical space to:
- A varied landscape – Include tunnels and other assorted climbing apparatuses to keep your rabbit mentally and physically stimulated.
If you are tight on space or live in the city, try teaching your rabbit to run (or hop) on a treadmill to get its daily exercise. Studies have shown that some rabbits can run at a high rate of speed for around 20 minutes before they become tired. Just be right there beside them to ensure their safety.
Cognitive Enrichment for Rabbits
Some of the best mental enrichment you can provide comes from spending quality time with your bun-bun and providing all of the other enrichments we have discussed so far and will continue to cover. For instance, social enrichment plays right into the mental stimulation of your rabbit. Having a partner in the hutch is another great way to mentally boost your bunny.
Social Enrichment for Rabbits
Rabbits are naturally used to being a part of a large group; therefore, whenever possible, it is best to have at least one other rabbit as a companion. This is a great way to keep your rabbit from becoming bored and destructive.
A rabbit that has a companion will typically be more relaxed because, in the wild, rabbits stay together in groups and watch out for each other.
A rabbit that is solo has to constantly be on guard, and this can cause anxiety and stress.
Pros and Cons of Owning More Than One Rabbit
If you are not in a position to keep more than one rabbit, it is imperative that you give your rabbit the extra attention and socialisation that it needs to be happy. The following table gives you some ideas about the pros and cons of owning more than one rabbit.
|Two rabbits will ensure that there will never be loneliness which can cause anxiety and destructive behaviours.||Having two rabbits means that you will have twice the expenses for food, bedding, vet care and insurance.|
|Rabbits have a natural desire to groom one another, so keeping two together will allow them to appease these natural urges while also reducing the amount of grooming you will have to do yourself.||Keeping two rabbits for pets means you will have to have provide a larger area for them to reside and romp in with plenty of toys and obstacles.|
|Keeping two rabbits means that they will be constantly entertained and get plenty of exercise by playing with their mate, thus filling another requirement for owning a satisfied bunny.||More rabbits will mean more cleaning and maintenance will be required.|
|Having two rabbits means twice the amount of fun and cuteness in your life.||Sometimes as rabbits get older, they can break the bond that they once had with their mate, and at that point, you will need to create separate housing situations for them so that they don’t hurt each other.|
Now that you have some pros and cons to consider, you can make an educated decision on what will work best for your home and family.
Visual Enrichment for Rabbits
Rabbits are not colour blind as some people may think; they can see colour, but they do not see it in the same way that humans see it. Studies indicate that rabbits see best in low light, but their vision is generally grainy compared to what we humans are used to.
They can see in a 360-degree view because of the placement of their eye on their head. This is to help keep them safe from approaching predators. But they do have a “blind spot,” seemingly right beneath their nose!
Knowing a little about a rabbit’s vision can help you determine two important things about visual enrichment for your pet:
- Where to place the toy – Knowing where your rabbit’s blind spot is can help you understand how they see – and realize it may not be best to dangle a toy right in front of your rabbit’s nose.
- Give them a good view – They have a full-circle range of vision! Make the most of that and give them some great perches to use this ability.
Outside of that, the best thing is to try different things and see how your rabbit reacts to each stimulus. One rabbit may like to watch television, while the other might rather look out the window or stare at itself in the mirror.
Enrich Your Rabbit’s Life With These 7 Fun Enrichment Ideas
The following items are examples of things that you can use to enrich the life of your rabbit. The great thing is that you don’t have to spend a fortune to keep them content and happily entertained.
With a little creativity and imagination, many of the concepts from these items can be recreated from things you have around your own home, which will also cut down on the expense of owning a rabbit.
Plastic Toy Keys
These are great for bunnies to chew on and play with. Your rabbit will have so much fun chewing on them and tossing them around. The sound the keys make when they are playing with them will keep your bunny entertained as well.
- Hard, durable plastic that can withstand hours of chewing
- Lightweight, which makes them easy for tossing and carrying around
- The keys make a sound that rabbits will find enjoyable
Another great way for your bunny to stay excited and engaged. They can toss and push the different-sized cups around and hear the fun sounds they make while they are doing it.
- Hard, durable plastic that can withstand hours of chewing
- Multiple colors are great for training your bunny to retrieve certain colored items
- Multiple stackable sizes that are great for tossing and pushing around
Rabbit Foraging Activity Mat
You can purchase a foraging mat like this one or use this as inspiration for creating your own. When your rabbit is done “foraging” for its food, you can reload it for another day. It is not recommended to leave it in their enclosure because they will most likely destroy it.
- Good for chewing and keeping teeth under control
- Gives your rabbit plenty of variety when “foraging” through the different toys and textures to get their treats
- Saves space by hanging on the side or your cage
Rabbits love to burrow and tunnel; this small pet tunnel is a great example of a way that you can fulfill that need. If you don’t want to buy one, you can use materials from around your home to construct your own tunnels; just be sure you are using non-toxic materials.
- Easy to store when not in use
- Gives your rabbit a place to play, explore and hide
- The small size makes rabbits feel at home and safe
- Long lasting natural wicker for chewing
This is a great way to be sure that your rabbit is keeping its teeth filed down properly. Place a couple of these in their indoor and outdoor enclosure, so they have easy access to them.
- Allows your rabbit to file its teeth as it would in the wild
- An easy way to maintain your rabbit’s oral health
- Makes an enjoyable sound to the rabbit.
Rabbit Treat Ball
Keeping a treat ball handy is great for entertaining a bored bunny. They can roll them, push them and occupy a lot of time while trying to get the prize.
- Fun for your rabbit to push around
- Made from hard, durable materials that can withstand chewing
- The sound the treats make while your rabbit is rolling the ball around will keep them highly stimulated and motivated to try and retrieve them
Rabbit Treat Puzzle
Encourage foraging skills with treat puzzles. Rabbits use their sense of smell to locate the treats and entertain themselves while trying to get them out of the puzzle. There are a number of specially designed puzzles like this one, just for rabbits.
- Enriches cognitive skills
- Keeps your rabbit engaged
- Provides hours of entertainment
- Teaches problem-solving skills
Any of these items can provide fun and enrichment for your rabbit to enjoy for hours at a time.
What to Do With Your Rabbit If You Are Going on Vacation
Now that you know how much your rabbit will benefit from enrichment of all kinds, you might wonder what to do when you go on vacation and aren’t able to bring them along. Unlike dogs or cats, rabbits don’t really need to be boarded. If it’s your last option, it can be a possibility, but the best bets are:
- Leave your rabbit at home – The comfort and familiarity of home is the best option for your rabbit, as long as you have a trusted visitor or sitter to stay at your home or visit daily. Just make sure enrichment activities are part of the “how-to” list you leave behind. This is great when you have two rabbits, as they’ll keep each other company while you’re away.
- Leave your rabbit with someone else – While your rabbit probably loves home the most, if someone they already know and trust is willing to take them in, this is a great option, too. Even if it’s someone unfamiliar to your rabbit but someone who knows how to care for a rabbit, your pet is likely to benefit from the company and attention. Make sure to pack their favourite toys, music, and snacks!
Either of these options is better than trying to travel with a rabbit. The unfamiliarity and the moving around from place to place can be pretty disruptive to a rabbit’s comfort and sense of well-being. But if it’s absolutely necessary, talk to your vet about ways to make the experience better.
Understanding Rabbit Behaviour for Ideal Enrichment
Understanding the natural behaviour of a rabbit and what they require to live happy and healthy lives will allow you to give the best care possible.
Give your rabbit as much attention and love as possible and be sure that they are in an environment that allows them to function as though they are in the wild – while also enjoying the pleasures of being a well-enriched domesticated rabbit!
Although a rabbit is a lot of responsibility, if taken care of properly, you and your family can enjoy years of bunny love and entertainment.Rabbit Enrichment: Practical Guide on How To Keep Your Rabbit Happy. Read this article, it's packed with ideas, information and advice for you and your bunny. #rabbit #houserabbit #bunny Click To Tweet