Celia Haddon - Cat Expert

Understanding animals through their behaviour

FUN FOR YOUR RABBITS – TOYS AND GAMES (Environmental enrichment).

c. Celia Haddon

Toys are important to rabbits. They enjoy them and if they have toys to chew they are less likely to chew on their cages or hutches (Poggiagliolmi et al., 2011). In the wild rabbits dig with their front paws and chew up roots with their teeth.

Within the play area give him cardboard boxes to hop in and out of, chewing toys like apple tree branches, pine cones, toss toys like old cardboard rolls from toilet paper, or throw away things like tissue or cereal boxes, phone directories. Make a digging box full of hay or straw. Buy a children’s sandpit and fill it with earth or peat or hay.

Make your rabbits work for their food. If they eat pellets hide them (not too many, remember) so they have to hunt for them in the hay or put a few in a food dispenser. Hang up a small carrot (not too much, remember) so that the rabbits have to nose it about to nibble on it. Push hay or clean long grass through a lavatory roll and hang it up. Put hay and wild plants into a paper (never plastic) bag and let the rabbit get them out.  Branches of willow, apple and hazel are nice for them to chew and to strip off the bark.

Rabbits like different levels – blocks of plain wood, small low stools, mounds of earth (Boers et al., 2012). Large cardboard tunnels or large pipes from builders’ merchants provide a hiding place. Take a look at Hop Inn toys here. Some very fancy rabbit “castles” here. A rabbit maze here! There are flat topped ‘houses’ from www.bunnybazaar.com

Chew toys are fun for rabbits and will reduce damage to the hutch or the house (Dykes & Flack, 2003). Domestic rabbits will spend about five percent of the time gnawing mostly at dawn and dusk (Fernandez-Carmona & Lopez 2006). If they have nothing to gnaw or chew, then rabbits will bite the bars of their cage or chew at their feed bowls (Gunn & Morton 1995, Hansen & Berthelsen 2000). Sixty five out of 102 pet rabbits surveyed had chewed their hutch (Mullan & Main 2006).

Special toys include straw plaits, chew rings, and twig balls. A shallow cardboard box will help keep toys visible rather than hidden under the sofa. There are toys from the shop at www.bunnybazaar.com. Willow balls, tepees, chew sticks, willow tunnels and other chew toys available from The Willow Warren, www.willowwarren.co.uk and West Wales Willows www.westwaleswillows.co.uk You may be able to find willow items in junk shops and boot sales.

Toys made with whole sweet corn kernels are sometimes sold in pet shops but they are dangerous to rabbits. Plastic toys are also a danger – if bits are swallowed or get stuck in teeth. Avoid sticky toys with too much sugar or brightly coloured wooden toys.

There are instructions for things your rabbit will enjoy etc here.

Play area for a house rabbit.

Try training your rabbit. Use tiny pieces of herbs, groundsel, parsley, apple, swede, carrot as treats. Rabbits can be clicker trained (www.clickertraining.com ) or even agility trained. Train very slowly, never punish, and never force behaviour. Do not let children do this without adult supervision. Here is a rabbit trained to come to its human by a mouth click.

For more on rabbit boredom busters look here, here and here.


Boers,  K., Gray, G., Love, J., Mahmutovic, Z., McCormick, S., Turcotte, N. & Zhang Y., (2012), ‘Comfortable Quarters for Rabbits in Research Institutions,’ Accessed at http://labanimals.awionline.org/pubs/cq02/Cq-rabbits.html. Downloaded December 12 2012.

Dykes, L. & Flack, H., (2003), Houserabbit, Dorking, UK, Ringpress

Fernandez-Carmona, J.  & Lopez, M., (2006), ‘Behavior of breeding does in cages’, in eds. Maertens, L., & Courdert, P., Advances in Rabbit Sciences, Melle, Belgium, Institute for Agricultural and Fisheries Research, 87-89.

Gunn, D.,  & Morton, D. B., (1995) Inventory of the behaviour of New Zealand White rabbits in laboratory cages, Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 45, 277-292

Hansen, L. T.  & Berthelsen, H.,  (2000),’ The effect of environmental enrichment on the behaviour of caged rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus)‘, Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 68,163–178

Morisse, J.P., Boilletot, E. & Martrenchar, A., (1999), ‘Preference testing in intensively kept meat production rabbits for straw on wire grid floor, ‘ Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 64, 71–80

Mullan, S.M. & Main, D. C. J., (2006), ‘Survey of the husbandry, health and welfare of 102 pet rabbits,’ Veterinary Record, 159, 103-109

Poggiagliolmia, S., Crowell-Davis, S. L., Alworth, L. C. & Harvey, S. B., (2011), ‘Environmental enrichment of New Zealand White rabbits living in laboratory cages,’ Journal of Veterinary Behavior, 6, 343-350

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