During these colder months of winter and early spring it is more important than ever to consider whether your pet rabbit is suffering from stress of inactivity and boredom. Don’t worry if you think your pet may have had a dull few months of winter; in this article we have discussed some simple ways of adding enrichment activities to your pets day to day life, helping to ensure they are as happy as they can be.
Enrichment encourages rabbits to display natural and instinctive behaviours, such as foraging, digging, jumping, hiding and socialising. This keeps them mentally stimulated and avoids boredom and destructive behaviours. According to The Rabbit Welfare and Association Fund, rabbits in the wild will spend about 80% of their time foraging for food. We can simulate and encourage behaviour in our own pet rabbits.
Here are some tried and tested examples to encourage foraging behaviours:
- Hay racks – this allows for the hay to be elevated, preventing it from becoming soiled. You can buy hay racks or mangers from most pet shops, but you can also fashion your own, be it a hanging basket, a plastic carrier bag holder, a willow basket, stuffing hay in toilet roll tubes, cardboard boxes or paper bags.
- Growing grass in a tray or plant pot.
- Bin the bowl – sprinkle your rabbit’s pellets around their enclosure, in some hay, or in a tunnel. While discussing food, we also advise against muesli based diets. Research has shown most rabbits tend to selectively feed on muesli based diets. Eating only the tastiest parts results in an unbalanced diet leading to obesity and dental disease. Instead opt for pellets, making sure these only amount to 5% of the total diet.
- Mixed herbs – sprinkle fresh or dried herbs in with their hay and around their enclosure.
- DIY cardboard bunny mat – cut out the bottom of a cardboard box and fill with strips from the cardboard box, corrugated card is best, hide treats and pellets in amongst the layers.
- Interactive feeders – you can buy these from pet shops or online, these enable foraging behaviours, but also provide mental stimulation. You can simulate an interactive feeder at home using an old muffin tin tray.
- Providing natural forage you could collect whilst out on a walk or snipping’s from trees such as apple and pear. Please note, avoid plants that are toxic to rabbits or that may have been contaminated with insecticide. Have a look on The Rabbit Welfare Association Fund’s website for an in depth list on vegetables, fruits, herbs and plants which are safe to eat.
Running and jumping:
No longer is it commonplace for a rabbit to be kept in a small 4ft, one tiered hutch. These days owners are becoming more aware about the space we should be providing to our rabbits. Furthermore, indoor rabbits are on the increase. The minimum hutch requirements are 6ft x2ft x 2ft, with an 8ft run. The hutch should allow for your rabbit to stand on their hind legs without touching the ceiling, stretch out fully and allow them to make at least 3 hops. We want to allow for our rabbits to tear around in circles, binky, jump on boxes and hideaways. As mentioned these really are only minimum requirements, when researching rabbit enclosures online, there are some amazing examples out there to provide some inspiration.
This natural behaviour can be encouraged by providing your rabbit with a digging pit, be it a litter tray filled with soil, a sand pit or a large shallow plastic box.
Rabbits are a prey species and in the wild, have access to a burrow for privacy and hiding away so that they feel safe and secure. Tunnels and boxes will encourage your rabbit to be more active, but also provide a substitute burrow. Tunnels can be brought from most pet shops, whether plastic or cardboard, or consider purchasing thick plastic drainage piping. Boxes and hideaways come in many varieties, but a homemade hideaway using a cardboard box is just as effective. Due to being a prey species, preferably there should be an entrance and exit. Furthermore, platforms and lookout posts should also be provided.
Rabbits love company and are very sociable animals. Companionship is an important component; it alleviates boredom and provides enrichment. Those in bonded pairs are known to exhibit less stressed and destructive behaviours. According to The Rabbit Welfare Association studies have shown rabbits value the company of other rabbits as much as they value food. Paired rabbits should be neutered, and preferably mixed sex pairs, although same sex bonded siblings should be fine together. Should you require advice on rabbit bonding then please give us a call at the practice.