Rabbit environment enrichment
In the wild rabbits will run, jump, hide and dig. Our pet rabbits need the freedom to carry out natural behaviours just like their wild cousins. We can help, by providing environmental enrichment. Because they are so active, domestic rabbits will suffer if bored.
Enclosures need to be high enough for rabbits to be rabbits. They need to be able to stand on hind legs, run jump and hop. They need space and, as a prey species, they need to be able to hide if they feel scared or threatened, so access to hiding places is important. Cardboard boxes are ideal hiding places. They can also be stuffed with hay and, if sturdy, they can be used as platforms. Rabbits do not like feeling cornered, so cardboard boxes should always have 2 holes, for a way in and out. Rabbits will climb on to sturdy cardboard boxes, they will stretch out or even use the top as a look out to check out their surroundings. Straw bales make perfect platforms too if you have the space.
Food can be scattered around the enclosure, so the rabbits have to actively forage and explore. It can be wrapped in a paper bag of hay, put in a rabbit friendly treat ball, or hidden in tubes stuffed with hay to encourage movement. Remember to take those pellets out of your pets’ daily allowance so that you are not overfeeding. Plastic flowerpots can be used to hide food and greens can be hung to encourage stretching.
Tree branches are great for chewing but please be careful what trees you use. Apple trees are ideal. If you don’t have an apple tree in the garden, ask friends and neighbours. Ensure that the tree has not been chemically treated and if you are not sure don’t use it. Don’t just scatter the twigs or branches on the ground, hang them up so your rabbit must stretch to nibble on them, or make a stick toy by sticking the twigs into holes made in a cardboard tube, like the ones inside toilet or kitchen rolls.
Tunnels can be bought commercially or again a cardboard box with holes cut out will do.
Wicker toys, balls and plastic flowerpots will give rabbits hours of fun, just remember to check regularly, and remove damaged items. Digging trays are great fun. Fill a litter tray or a planter with earth and watch your rabbit dig. Fill a tray with hay and hide some dandelion leaves or pellets in there. There are lots of commercially available toys, including wicker tunnels and balls but environmentally friendly cheap toys can be made at home. Always monitor your rabbits when they are given new toys and remove them if your rabbit becomes stressed. Make sure they can get away from new items if they want to. Check that any materials you use are nontoxic with smooth edges and no staples and are removed when damaged.
Environmental enrichment is very important for an animal that spends time being confined. Domestic rabbits are social active animals and need stimulation to encourage positive natural behaviours. If you would like further advice on this or would like to discuss your rabbit’s health, then call us on the 24/7 veterinary advice line.
Written by Diane Westwood RVN